The new owners of the Queens Hotel in Southsea have put in a planning application to turn most of the Queens Hotel into flats leaving just 28 hotel bedrooms. They also want to build two blocks of flats adjacent to the current building; one facing the sea between the Queens hotel and Homeheights block and the other would be facing Osborne Road.
They already have planning permission for this but are required to provide 30 affordable flats in the block on Osborne Road (ie no sea views) as a contribution towards the city's social housing. In their new application, however, the developers are saying they can't afford to do this as their profit margin would be below 20%. They have instead offered the council £332,000 to get out of their commitments. This would only buy around two properties for social housing meaning 28 families in need of decent housing would lose out.
The only way to make sure that developers are sticking to the rules and not ripping off the people of Portsmouth is to get external professionals to go through their business plan to check if they are trying to pull a fast one. Many councils around the country already do this as standard practice. We convinced councillors from all political parties to agree with this at a Full Council meeting before Christmas but things are not moving forward quick enough. We met with the new Director of Regeneration at the City Council last week to get the council to start taking action.
This was due to be presented to the Planning Committee on Wednesday 10th January. Unfortunately, the application was withdrawn from the Planning Committee agenda.
The Applicant has decided to bypass Portsmouth’s Planning Committee and go straight to the Regional Inspector in Bristol, citing 'non-determination' (ie that Portsmouth has taken too long to deal with their proposal).
Lib Dem councillors met with officers the day before the Planning Committee meeting and made it clear that we have a lot of questions that we wanted the developer to answer at the meeting. We were pushing for an independent company to review the financial figures. We wanted to know why certain valuations had been used to justify removing the Affordable Housing element.
We will continue to argue that this should not be decided by a government appointee in Bristol but by the Planning Committee in Portsmouth. Developers cannot be allowed to simply bypass local democracy in this way.