Here are some notes I made at a public meeting held on Friday 4 January 2013 which BHT and our partners, QED Property, had organised for residents and businesses neighbouring Richardson’s Yard, the site at the bottom of New England Hill (behind the Cobbler’s Thumb pub) where BHT and QED are seeking planning permission to locate 36 converted shipping containers to be used as temporary housing.
Chris Gilbert explained that the site is an employment generating site but there are no firm plans for its redevelopment for the five years for which we are seeking planning permission. Therefore, we are proposing to use the site through this planning application.
I explained to the meeting that BHT, who will manage the accommodation, intends to allocate it to people who are in housing need. They will be carefully screened to ensure that the prospective tenants are “tenancy ready”. We are currently working with people, for example, who are holding down jobs but, because of the housing market in the city, are living in cars and vans. Consultation we have undertaken with BHT clients has suggested that this will be sought after accommodation because it will be self-contained and residents will not be required to share bathrooms and kitchens with other households.
As far as BHT is concerned, we cannot afford to get this wrong since we have both finance and reputation at risk. We also want to prove through this pilot that the use of converted containers can provide viable, attractive and sought after accommodation.
It was suggested that there may be concerns about using this site for temporary housing given the perceived problems associated with the drug clinic that was previously located in the neighbourhood. I assured the meeting that, while BHT has a proactive housing management approach including policies and procedures relating to antisocial behaviour, we did not envisage any significant issue beyond that which might be found in any housing development, private or public. I acknowledged that management is the key. There will be a named contact person and telephone number should any issues arise.
I was asked and agreed that there should be post occupancy reviews to see how the scheme has worked, monitor the heating costs and experience of residents in order to make an informed assessment of its success.
Ross Gilbert spoke about the joint work between QED and BHT’s Client Involvement unit and food charity Harvest who, together with QED, are looking at the management of the planting areas on the site. There will be 25 m² of raised beds to be used for the growing of food.
Ross also explained that, while the containers would not meet current building regulations regarding thermal mass, the combination of thermal mass and air tightness means that good levels of thermal comfort can be achieved. There will be a communal plant for heating with traditional wet radiators.
There was concerns expressed regarding parking and we were asked to ensure that all residents were unaware that they would not be eligible for a permit for the surrounding Controlled Parking Zone.
Probably the most interest and debate at the meeting related to the decoration of the converted containers! Some people thought that we should be bold, recognising that they are converted shipping containers, and that this is Brighton! Street art was suggested as one possibility with Chris Gilbert saying he thought we should do something a bit funky! I am somewhat conservative by nature and I’m not sure about street art although I could be persuaded to have the units painted in bright colours. I agreed to consult clients about what they think.
It was suggested that we consider establishing green walls. However, it is unlikely that we would be able to cultivate anything adequate in the five years planned for the scheme, and to acquire mature growth to cover the exterior and walls would prove to be financially prohibitive. While it would be lovely, it is unlikely to happen.
It was suggested that we should not be defensive about this proposal (I don’t think we are!) and acknowledge that the development will be bringing something positive to the neighbourhood. There was a consensus at the meeting that this would be a development that clients and neighbours could be proud of.
There was some debate about what we should call the development. Everyone agreed that we should retain the word “Yard” as it is currently known as Richardson’s Yard.
Finally, when it was suggested that a named person should attend the London Road LAT, I said that I was already a member but it was likely that residents would wish to become involved themselves. This was warmly welcomed.
I was really encouraged by the very positive response from those present. I think this is a great scheme, and I think that Ross Gilbert should be praised for his vision, Chris Gilbert for his commitment, and Scott Marshall for his sage advice!
If you were at the meeting, please let me know if you think I have missed anything that was raised. If you weren’t please feel free to comment about our plans.