Yesterday, with my colleague Phil Oakley, I attended a couple of meetings of residents in Saltdean who are concerned about BHT’s plans for Southdown Court. The meetings were called by Simon Kirby MP and attended by Councillors Mary Mears and Lynda Hyde. Unfortunately, Councillor David Smith was unable to attend.
What was most impressive about the meetings was the display of the strength of community that exists in Saltdean, the measured way that most raised their questions, and the respectful manner in which they listened to the answers.
I hope that we were able to reassure residents, although I recognise that there are some people who are so anxious that nothing would have reassured them. I hope that, in time, they will come to recognise that their fears were unfounded. And then there were one or two comments that were clearly not representative of the people of Saltdean.
I will formally respond to the petition organised by and presented to me by Simon Doyle in the next few days.
- that I underestimated the very strong sense of community in Saltdean (that does not exist in many other areas where we work);
- that I need to review the balance between the need for information and the right of our tenants to privacy and anonymity.
Residents are very proud of their community and understandably want what is best for themselves, their families, and their neighbours.
When we decided to take on a 10 year lease for Southdown Court we assumed that this would go ahead without comment from neighbours, in the same way as all similar leases have gone ahead without comment elsewhere in Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Hastings.
How wrong I was! It is a sign of the strong sense of community that neighbours talk to neighbours, and residents to councillors. I actually welcome that. It culminated in Simon Kirby, together with the ward councillors, calling yesterday’s meetings. Phil and I were very happy to attend and we are willingly to attend future meetings if they are called. BHT will remain in touch with the LAT and resident association. Hopefully this is the start of healthy engagement between BHT, residents and their representatives, and in due course our tenants in Southdown Court.
Several residents felt that BHT should have been proactive in distributing leaflets in the neighbourhood about our plans. Some felt that we have been secretive about our plans.
We haven’t attempted to be secretive. We had simply assumed that there was no need to be public about our plans because what we are intending to do at Southdown Court is simple and straightforward – provide housing to men and women in housing need because of the shortage of housing. Our tenants could be the sons and daughters, or brothers and sisters of existing residents of Saltdean. No planning permission is required for a change in use since there is to be no change in use. This was helpfully clarified by Councillor Hyde.
There is a balance to be struck between the privacy and anonymity of our future tenants and the concerns of neighbours.
With the wonderful benefit of hindsight, would I have approached the situation differently? Yes. I would have engaged with the three ward councillors earlier, informing them of our plans and providing reassurances to any concerns that they might have had. They would then have been in a position, when approached by residents, to say that Southdown Court was being brought back in to use as housing.
Should BHT have put out a leaflet to neighbours explaining our plans. No, I don’t think we should have since we are not proposing something out of the ordinary. We will simply be providing housing in a residential area.
So thank you to all those who attended yesterday’s meetings, and for your questions, no matter how challenging. Thank you, also, to Mary Mears and Lynda Hyde for their attendance and robust comments on behalf of their constituent. And finally a thank you to Simon Kirby for organising the meeting.