Agenda item

Planning Application No. 21/1564/OUT - Former Police Station and Magistrates Court, Heavitree Road, Exeter

To consider the report of the Director City Development.




The Director of City Development reported that on 5 September 2022 Members resolved that the above application be deferred and that he had been asked to report back to this Planning Committee with full technical reasons for refusal for the areas set out below:


·         height, massing, design, siting and landscaping of the development having an adverse impact on the surrounding buildings and the street scene of the Heavitree Road approach into the City Centre;

·         insufficient usable external amenity space for both the Co-living and Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) accommodation blocks, allied to a failure to adequately acknowledge the wider impact on amenity space in the surrounding residential areas and also the substandard quality and amenity space offered as part of the living accommodation within the Co-Living block itself; and

·         loss of trees and biodiversity.


Accordingly, the following technical reasons for refusal were recommended:-


1.    The proposed development would harm the character of the area, including the streetscenes along Heavitree Road and Gladstone Road, and the setting of the locally listed St Luke’s College buildings, by virtue of the height and massing of the two buildings, which would be of a far greater scale than the majority of buildings in the area, and their siting in close proximity to the pavement and not in keeping with the sub-urban street scene. The proposed development is therefore contrary to Policy CP17 of the Core Strategy, which requires all proposals for development to complement or enhance Exeter’s character and local identity, saved Policies H5 and DG1 of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011, and paragraphs 130 and 197c) of the NPPF (2021).


2.    The proposed development would harm the amenity, privacy and outlook of the adjacent residential properties, particularly in Higher Summerlands, due to the height, scale and massing of the proposed buildings and their siting in close proximity to the properties taking into account their designs. The proposed development is therefore contrary to saved Policies H5(a) and DG4(b) of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011, and paragraph 130f) of the NPPF (2021).


3.    The proposed development would have a limited amount of external amenity space for use by the high number of residents of the two buildings and the external amenity space proposed in the form of the internal courtyards would be poor quality due to the overbearing design of the proposed buildings. In addition, the small size of the studios within the Co-Living block combined with the amount of internal, shared communal space within the building would provide a poor living environment for residents that would have a negative impact on their health and well-being. The proposed development is therefore contrary to saved Policy DG4(b) of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011 and paragraph 130e) and f) of the NPPF (2021).


4.    Notwithstanding the applicant’s agreement to pay £472,995 for the maintenance and upgrade of off-site public open spaces serving the development (to be spent on upgrades to Exeter City Council parks) and £121,095 for the maintenance and upgrade of off-site play areas serving the development (to be spent on the installation of outdoor adult fitness equipment) in accordance with the consultation response from the Public and Green Spaces team of Exeter City Council to mitigate the impact of additional demand on off-site Exeter City Council public spaces, the proposed development would have a negative impact on public spaces in the locality of the site, in particular Belmont Park approximately 400 metres north of the site, due to the additional use and demand of these spaces by residents of the proposed development and limited amount of on-site external amenity space provision. The proposed development is therefore contrary to Policy CP10 of the Core Strategy, which protects facilities that meet Exeter’s community, social, health, leisure and recreational needs, and saved Policy DG4(a) of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011 stating that residential development should be at the maximum feasible density taking into account site constraints and impact on the local area.


5.    The proposed development would result in the loss of all trees on the site including several category A and B trees which contribute to the amenity of the locality and biodiversity of the site. Without a detailed landscaping scheme as part of the application, there is a lack of certainty that the loss of these trees will be adequately and appropriately compensated for to maintain or enhance the amenity and biodiversity value of the site. The indicative information submitted with the application in this regard does not demonstrate that this can be satisfactorily achieved. Therefore the proposed development is contrary to Policy CP17 of the Core Strategy, saved Policies H5(a), LS4 and DG1(c)(h) of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011, and paragraphs 130 and 131 of the NPPF (2021).

The Director City Development advised that the following reason for refusal should be added:


6.    In the absence of a Section 106 legal agreement to secure the following:


·         20% of the Co-Living units (i.e. 72) will be affordable private rented (5% of which will be wheelchair accessible) and priority will be given to essential local workers.

·         Habitats Mitigation = £370,612.34 (in relation to the co-living development only)

·         NHS Devon ICB contribution = £264,960.00 (£173,312 for PBSA and £91,648 for co-living)

·         Public open space contribution = £472,995.00 (£309,389 for PBSA and £163,606 for co-living)

·         Play (outdoor adult fitness equipment) contribution = £121,095.00 (£79,209 for PBSA and £41,886 for co-living)

·         Student Management Plan for PBSA block

·         Co-living Management Plan/Monitoring for Co-living block


the proposal is contrary to Exeter Local Development Framework Core Strategy 2012 Objectives 1, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 10, and policies CP7, CP10, CP16 and CP18, Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011 saved policies L4, LS2, LS3 and DG4, Exeter City Council Affordable Housing Supplementary Planning Document 2014 and Exeter City Council Public Open Space Supplementary Planning Document 2005.


The Director City Development also reported that the applicants had contacted officers requesting a further deferral of the application in order to revise the proposals accounting for the issues raised by this Committee on 5 September 2022. Subject to an appropriate extension of time being agreed, the Director of City Development recommended that this time be granted so that Members could consider a revised set of proposals that better reflect Members’ aspirations for the site and to ensure that any proposals considered at any appeal are the most appropriate for the area.


The Director City Development stated that the consideration of revised proposals would not preclude the above reasons for refusal. The proposed revisions would be put to a Design Review Panel. He advised that it was considered that changes could be made that would address the matters of concern raised at the 5 September 2002 meeting including those of scale, massing, design and setting.


Responding to Members’ queries regarding the opportunity to either refuse or defer, the Director City Development advised that the recommendation to defer was predicated on providing the applicant a suitable time period to consider the reasons for refusal, the applicant having already provided an undertaking to agree an extension of time and not seek a non-determination decision. He also advised that like earlier iterations of a scheme for this site, further revised plans would be subject to public consultation. A decision to defer did not preclude the Committee from subsequently refusing the application for the detailed reasons set out in the report.


A copy of the original 5 September Planning Committee report was attached to the report.


Councillor Vizard, having given notice under Standing Order No. 44, spoke on the item. He was concerned that the decision reached at the previous meeting and any subsequent decision to now defer may result in public confusion. He stated that any revised application would need to fully address all the suggested technical reasons for refusal set out in the report and if this could not be achieved there may be a fundamental reason why these could not be fully addressed. There was also a need to balance the final outcome of the application if Members remained minded to refuse in relation to any considerations at appeal. A proper further public consultation should also be carried out.


Mr Howells, speaking in support of the application, raised the following points:-


·         My name is Neil Howells, Head of Development at Student Roost, the joint applicants with Devon and Cornwall Police and Nixon Property on this application;

·         Student Roost, is an international operator of PBSA, providing a premium offer to key university towns and cities across the UK. The company is not yet represented in Exeter and is keen to invest the £90 million in developing this site to create one of the highest quality residential schemes in the city. The proposals will meet an identified need for key worker accommodation, graduates as well as students. The proposals are also consistent with the emerging Exeter Local Plan, which seeks to build 12,000 new homes on brownfield sites in the city over the next 20 years;

·         the principle of development was not questioned on 5 September, it was the details associated with the proposals which raised concerns. Height, massing, design, siting, landscaping, amenity impacts on surrounding properties, internal and external amenity concerns for future users, and tree loss, were all cited;

·         these are all matters which can be addressed and the company is committed to making significant changes to the proposals;

·         because of time constraints it is imperative that these changes are made to the current application not through a new submission;

·         the company is committed to taking the proposals to a Design Review Panel later this month and to engage with the Council to make amendments;

·         the company was confident that, in consultation with officers, amendments could be made to develop a scheme which meets the identified needs in a form which addresses the concerns raised by Members to redevelop this key gateway site.


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         it was anticipated that the revisions to the application would be put to a Design Review panel by the end of October for the revisions to be completed within two months and for a report to the December meeting of this Committee; and

·         in the event of a refusal of the revisions to the application the applicant would consider their position


Members expressed the following views:-


·         there had been a number of occasions when the Committee had deferred applications for revisions to be made to planning applications;

·         because of the complexity of planning law, it was understandable that there had been public confusion over the decision to defer at the 5 September 2022 meeting. The reasons for refusal given at the time had been made without the knowledge that the applicant would be asking for a deferral;

·         it was a brown field site, close to the city centre and it was inevitable that it would eventually be developed. It was preferable to build on a brown field site rather than on green fields;

·         there is a desire to consider the best possible alternative and the undertaking to go back to the Design Review Panel is welcome;

·         the application will provide sustainable homes and offer an acceptable housing opportunity for those unable to afford alternative, more costly homes enabling them to get on to the housing ladder and also avoid commuting into the city for work;

·         welcome the intention for a full community consultation and it is hoped that the  concerns will be properly addressed, including the need for sufficient amenity space;

·         the earlier application was unsuitable but it is correct to defer and for the public to have their say in the revisions to be brought forward;

·         it is a balanced decision but it is difficult to see how necessary improvements can be provided on a limited space without a significant reduction in the number of units and a substantially different design; and

·         it is hoped that the applicant will now have taken on Members’ concerns. If the changes are not acceptable the application can still be refused.


The recommendation to DEFER the outline planning application with all matters considered in detail except landscaping, for the demolition of the existing buildings and construction of mixed-use development comprising Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (Sui Generis) and Co-Living (Sui Generis) with associated infrastructure. (Revised plans were received) was moved and seconded, voted upon and carried.



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