Thursday, 18 September 2008

Rise Carr Social Club: developer's consultation

Yesterday afternoon, from 3 to 6.30pm, I attended the consultation exercise held in the foyer of the old Rise Carr Social Club building. The owners plan to develop 20 flats and bedsits within the building, for rent. A representative from the architects' firm was there, together with a freelance planning consultant, Mike Cox, who used to be Chair of Housing on Middlesbrough Borough Council.

Many local residents attended: younger residents helping the more elderly along and everybody seeming to know everyone else. It was clear what a good community spirit there is in Rise Carr despite, or perhaps because of, the perception that "the Council never does anything for us round here". Which, apart from the investments made in North Park in recent years, is substantially true.

I had expected there to be objections based on increased pressure on car parking in Eldon Street and Lansdowne Street. And indeed there was. However, being able to see the full colour plans and internal drawings for the scheme, the residents had more pressing complaints: that of a lack of privacy which would be caused by having new windows at first and second floor levels knocked into the north, east and south walls of the building. I was invited into one resident's house and it was immediately apparent just how intrusive windows in the north wall would be: looking straight into the gardens, kitchens and bedrooms of the residents at the top end of Lansdowne Street.

The developers said they would raise the sills of the offending windows and install obscured glass up to half the height of the windows, in an attempt to protect residents' privacy.

Other comments from residents concerned the need for a gate to prevent unwanted access to the rear of the building, which would be exposed by the new scheme. There were also concerns about where rubbish bins were to be stored - something the architects didn't appear to have considered!

Some people were concerned about the type of tenant who might be attracted to these units and the potential for noise. Some thought there were too many units proposed in a relatively small space.

Generally, people wanted the club replaced before it deteriorated physically and became a magnet for anti-social behaviour. The preferred option would have been demolition and its replacement with terraced housing to match the rest of the street. Failing that, some residents would have been happy with the removal of the top story from the building, to bring it to a more sympathetic height.

The developers were given plenty of food for thought and were left in no doubt that the local residents expected to see their concerns reflected in the final plans for the site when they go before the Planning Committee. Otherwise there will be objections and I shall be happy to support the residents.

Tellingly, however, at one point the planning consultant said the dvelopers would be quite happy to go to appeal if necessary, and "win it there": a recognition of what we have seen elsewhere recently, with the Snooker Club and Skipbridge appeals, that local feeling counts for nothing when the inspector from Bristol arrives in town.

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