Almshouses Redevelopment Approved

    Historic almshouses in Exeter that provide affordable homes for over-55s are to be knocked down and replaced with bigger and modern versions after councillors gave the go-ahead. Hurst Almshouses in Fairpark Road, St Leonards consist of three 2-storey blocks and 12 apartments. Built in 1928, they are owned by Exeter Homes Trust, a charity.

    Historic almshouses in Exeter that provide affordable homes for over-55s are to be knocked down and replaced with bigger and modern versions after councillors gave the go-ahead.

    Hurst Almshouses in Fairpark Road, St Leonards consist of three 2-storey blocks and 12 apartments.  Built in 1928, they are owned by Exeter Homes Trust, a charity.

    The replacement four-storey buildings will still be exclusively for the over-55s, but provide an extra 19 affordable homes, bringing the total to 31.

    Exeter City Council’s planning committee gave its approval this week, despite Historic England and a large number of local residents objecting.

    Historic England claims the new buildings and the loss of the existing houses will harm the St Leonards’ Conservation Area, while there is also the possibility of archaeological remains on the site. Council planning officers said the public benefits of the scheme outweighed this.

    An earlier version of the application included parking spaces and a turning point for traffic behind the almshouses on a section of Bull Meadow Park. These were removed after almost 130 objections from the public and a 400-signature petition were received.

    However, speaking against the proposal, Councillor Matthew Vizard (Labour, Newtown & St Leonards) said the public objections “were and remain wider” than the shelved plans to build on part of Bull Meadow Park. He said residents are worried about extra traffic on the adjoining Temple Road and the three four-storey blocks would “permanently alter the character of the area, overlooking and overbearing a public park.”

    He continued: “As we have said all along, residents aren’t essentially opposed to any redevelopment of the almshouses and do understand the need for these to be updated and for the access issue to be resolved.

    “But we want it to be sensitive, proportionate and in-keeping with this important and attractive area of the city and in-tune with the park and local homes within an historic conservation area. Regrettably, this application delivers none of those things.”

    Local resident Juliette Stephenson told the committee: “I have spoken with and listened to many local residents and, overwhelmingly, people are opposed to the current plans for this development and the harm it would do to this very special area.

    “Most people who are regular users of the park live in houses and flats in the streets adjacent or west of this proposal – people who have small back yards or balconies and no gardens, so Bull Meadow is hugely important to us.”

    Echoing Cllr Vizzard’s comments, she said the plan was “completely out of proportion, too dominating and would harm the character and environment of both the park and the surrounding streets”.

    Steven Sitch from Exeter Homes Trust outlined what he called “many planning and public merits” of the scheme. He said:  “Currently the buildings consist of 12 apartments – well below the national space standards and local authority requirements. The 31 new larger homes will meet modern building regulations and will be considerably more energy efficient and low carbon.”

    The developement will consist of 25 one-bedroom and six two-bed homes,two of which will be accessible units. Each will also have a living/dining room, kitchen and bathroom. It is now billed as a ‘car-free’ development, with no on-site parking.

    Backing the application, Councillor Rob Hannaford, (Labour, St Thomas), said: “I have heard all the issues around the conservation area etc, but there are other issues that the city faces  including – as with the rest of the country – a housing emergency, and particularly around affordable and social housing.

    “As members know, we have thousands of people on the social housing register and, in addition to that, we know … we have thousands of people living in poor quality private accommodation.”

    Cllr Hannaford added: “This site will increase to a great degree the amount of affordable housing in our city and city centre.”

    Councillor Rachel Sutton (Labour, Exwick) said that while she agreed with Cllr Hannford on the need for high-quality, affordable housing in the city, “we could and should have a better scheme in front of us to decide on” and was critical of its scale and design.

    Committee chair Councillor Emma Morse (Labour, Mincinglake & Whipton), described the application as a “Sophie’s choice” between protecting the conservation and historic setting of the area – calling the objection by Historic England “damning”. However, she said the need for affordable housing was a “strong enough reason” for her to vote in favour.

    A majority of the planning committee voted in favour of the development, meaning the current 93-year old almshouses will be demolished to be replaced by the 31 news ones.

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