St Leonards eco homes turned down after architect’s allegations of ‘discrimination’ refuted

Two applications to build zero carbon eco homes in St Leonards have been refused by town planners. 

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 2:10 pm
The terraced housing version of the St Leonards development scheme

On Wednesday (November 10), Hastings Borough Council’s planning committee turned down two applications for development on a patch of land at the junction of Newts Way and Darwell Close. 

The applications, both put forward and designed by the architect Elsie Owusu, sought permission for either a single family dwelling or a terrace of four houses on the same site, all to be built to a Passivhaus energy-efficiency standard.

However, officers had recommended the proposals be refused on several grounds, including: the loss of an important green space; the designs being out-of-keeping with the surrounding area; and the potential overlooking from neighbouring properties. 

These recommendations were strongly disputed by Ms Owusu, who argued the applications would make good use of the site and provide much-needed housing. She also took issue with how the council officers had reached their conclusions.

Speaking at the hearing, she said: “We have experts, we have technicians, we have arboriculturalists, we have engineers, who make a statement and those statements are just not listened to.

“They are overridden and the continuing assertion that this is not a suitable site is just not sustainable. 

“I guess it will all resolve itself at appeal, but to me it just seems a terrible waste of time and everyone’s money not to listen to the experts.”

The committee also heard about a letter the council had received from Ms Owusu’s barrister, which said she had faced ‘institutionalised discrimination’ from the authority in its dealing with the application.

This letter argued the officer’s recommendation showed ‘unconscious bias’ and their design considerations were inappropriately based on an ideal of a ‘male-dominated, white nuclear family’. 

As a result, the letter said, the reasons for refusal were based on assumptions and cultural and social norms which are prejudiced and outdated. 

The letter also said some of the public objections to the scheme had been based on prejudiced assumptions.

This was disputed by ward councillor Karl Beaney (Con), however, who said residents had been hurt by the accusation. 

He said: “Myself and local residents were extremely disappointed by the applicant’s comments in the planning statements, which suggested that residents held prejudiced assumptions based on the applicant’s ethnicity, cultural background and that of prospective residents. 

“This was highly offensive, upsetting and completely unfounded, so I would ask the committee to accept the officer’s recommendation and refuse this application.”

While the committee ultimately rejected both proposals, opinions were split among its members, with several arguing the proposals would make good use of the site and provide good quality homes.

Speaking about the single dwelling scheme, Cllr Helen Bishop (Lab), said: “There seem to be a lot of ifs and buts [in the argument] for a refusal.

“To me the application site seems to make use of what land is available. I am keen in this town, as well, we are not building in green fields. This to me seems to be a use of a gap that is available.”

Similar views were voiced in support of the four-home scheme, although both proposals were considered separately. 

Despite some vocal support, both schemes were refused in line with the officer’s recommendation as the majority of committee members felt the proposals were unsuitable for the location.

Speaking about the single dwelling plan, Cllr Ruby Cox (Lab) said: “I think it is a beautiful building and a lovely design and I don’t have a problem with it except I think it is totally inappropriate in this particular location, surrounded by much more modest dwellings.

“Although obviously in Hastings we have a huge need for homes of every description, but what we need are affordable homes. With the best will in the world, I can’t imagine that this house would be affordable to any of my residents in central St Leonards.

“I think it is a beautiful building, but I think it belongs elsewhere.”

For further details of the proposals see references HS/FA/20/00959 and HS/FA/20/00715 on the Hastings Borough Council website