A government planning inspector has sided with developers in the battle over controversial apartments that now look set to be built on one of the last empty patches of land on the Newcastle Quayside.
The contentious Plot 12 was the subject of a public inquiry in March, where neighbors claimed that £40m proposals for a 14-storey block would “devastate” their living conditions and destroy views to and from a historic church. But the 289 flats will now be given the green light, after Newcastle City Council’s 11-1 decision to reject them last year was overturned.
Planning inspector Claire Searson has ruled in favor of appellants Packaged Living and Robertson Property to develop the Homes England-owned site, which has lain vacant for decades. In a verdict issued to the local authority last Friday, Mrs Searson said she was satisfied that the block “would not appear clumsy or out of keeping along the Quayside”, despite it being labeled “monolithic” and “painfully poor” by critics.
Vocal opponents to the plans, which had attracted more than 300 objections, had urged the developers to rethink and build something smaller on the site, with fears that the new complex will block out light to residents of the St Ann’s Quay building next door. However, Mrs Searson concluded that there was “no justification” to deny planning permission in order to wait for an alternative design to come forward on what is “an exceptionally difficult site to develop”.
She added: “Is the architecture exceptional? My answer is no. But, in design terms the policy conflict is limited, the development does have positive design attributes and has sought to balance a number of competing site constraints. The benefits offered are significant and crucially, I have found that substantial weight should be attributed to the fact that the development is in public ownership, fully funded and deliverable in the context of a site which has never been realized in over 30 years and with significant remediation needs and viability issues.”
The inspector also dismissed concerns that future residents of the new apartments will be forced to live in flats that do not meet minimum space standards and, while she could “appreciate the frustration” of St Ann’s residents over the loss of light, felt there were “ no unacceptable effects in respect of living conditions”. Fr Allan Marks, of nearby St Ann’s Church, had warned that the Plot 12 development would “destroy an historic and significant setting”, but Mrs Searson decided that the harm to the grade I listed building was “less than substantial”.
She said that improvement to the churchyard and to St Ann’s Steps, that will be paid for by the developers, alongside the wider economic, social and environmental benefits of the project were “more than sufficient to outweigh the lower level of less than substantial harm to the significance of St Ann’s Church”. It is claimed that the scheme will support hundreds of jobs and and boost spending in the local economy by an estimated £4 million a year.
A council spokesperson said: “Naturally we are very disappointed given our concerns and those of residents about the design quality and space standards of the proposed development. We will consider the decision to see if there are any grounds to challenge it or not.”