This planning application, which can be seen here, is for an unusual and sensitive site, with about 35 metres of quay frontage. The only part which is visible from the quay is a long low wooden building which in recent years has housed the Quayside restaurant and Fairways chandlery-cum-gift shop, and behind it is a large Second World war era Nissen hut, currently used as two houses, Starboard Cottage and Gull Cottage. There is no road access to the site, and currently the residents of the cottages reach them by steep steps down the back of the sea wall beside the building.
This site was recently bought at auction by a company owned by two members of the Royal Burnham Yacht Club, who have been putting together a residential and commercial development plan which they describe as “altruistic” and is intended to help secure the long-term future of the RBYC. Under this scheme, the club will provide access to the site over their land (in fact under their building) and will receive in exchange the freeholds of the development, which will probably not be very valuable in the case of the residential units, but should see a considerable income stream from the commercial property.
This all sounds an admirable proposition, but the plans as submitted, despite having been the subject of much work, are very problematic, and appear to be based on some flawed statements, as well as being bizarrely over-ambitious. The council will probably have no alternative but to reject the plan, and we hope very much that the principals of the company will find another way to benefit the club that they clearly love.
To give an idea of the arguments ranged against these plans, we quote from the public comments made to Maldon District Council:
From Anthony Law, a long-standing member of the RBYC and a near-neighbour
Anthony Law (Objects)
Immediate neighbours to the West are Meroë Candy and Greg Shannon: Greg is an architect and his objections are pretty damning:
This is our second response to this application. The first, sent before Christmas, dealt with the specific harm this scheme will cause to our amenity as residents of Fourteen, The Quay in terms of daylight/sunlight, privacy and overlooking of our external and internal spaces which contravene standards set out by the BRE. We would argue that this technical contravention of standards adopted by MDC would give grounds for a rejection of this application.
We have now reviewed and read in detail all of the documents which comprise this application and now wish to express our wider concerns for the Quay and the town. As we write, there is still no site notice displayed which contravenes article 13 of The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2010. Given that the 21 days consultation phase ended on 4th January we would expect this to be extended so that the rest of Burnham has an opportunity to comment on these significant proposals for the town.
We love living in Burnham and we were aware of this forthcoming development when we moved here. Therefore, we really wanted to like and support this application. Any enhancement to the Quay should be applauded. It is a site that requires improvement, and we fully understand the pressures on the RBYC. But so often when we interrogated the proposals, we found the ambition is not reflected in the detail. It’s a poor scheme. It’s not as viable as described, its benefits to the RBYC are overstated, and it will harm the character of Burnham. The right scheme would be more sensitive to its surroundings and history, show a greater regard for its setting and deliver stronger, more tangible benefits to the town and the RBYC. The site has so much going for it, the much referenced ambitions are of course laudable and the result could be an exemplar on how to regenerate towns – but it isn’t.
We can only conclude that the philanthropic intentions of this project have eclipsed all other reasonable measurements: including the local neighbourhood plan (which is quoted extensively and then ignored); technical constraints of the Town planning system, impact on the waterfront, issues of bulk mass and design, financial viability, environmental sustainability, inevitable restrictions to the operation of the RBYC and relationships with its direct neighbours. If you take away the stated ‘purpose’ and assess the building by its physical merits, which we think you have to, then it falls short of what should be acceptable.
- Quality of design: The building is too big, monolithic and insensitive to its location. It takes the visual elements of the local vernacular and wraps them around a large unimaginative box. The details which might elevate this beyond a pastiche are not drawn, and therefore cannot be discussed. All of the drawings remain at a distant scale of 1:100 making it impossible to judge the refinement of the detailing. We would urge the audience not to rely on words – it is very easy to ‘describe’ high quality, but if not evidenced, easy to omit, misinterpret, or remove through cost cutting later.
- Goodbye clock tower: As mentioned in another response, at low tide when viewed from the water, the clocktower will be fully obscured. At high tide only the very top of the tower will be visible. This eclectic and historic silhouette will be replaced with an impermeable block. The building is also pretending to be lower than it will be and it already will be the highest building at that point of the Quay. A storey higher than recommendations in the Neighborhood Development plan, in fact. The ceiling heights in the drawings are lower than national standards would permit and lower than a volume house builder would be able to sell. The structural zones between floors are too small, and the servicing zones absent. A commercial kitchen, toilets, and a single sided restaurant will need mechanical ventilation and its not clear how this can be accommodated within the space. In the fullness of time should consent be granted there will be a different reality required to deliver this building, and that will mean the building will grow upwards in our estimation by as much as 1.5m. This creeping upwards is hard for local authorities to resist down the line so should be addressed head-on now.
- Impact on RBYC operations: The RBYC has many evening events throughout the year – on average 21. Many of these involve loud music, live bands and stretch into the small hours. This is great and adds to the vitality of the club and the Quay. This is not so great if you now live 5m from the source of this noise. Whilst you can assume prospective buyers will have empathy for the club you cannot take away or restrict their basic rights as residents. The Acoustic Survey attached to the application is essential reading. There are many detailed implications the club will have to absorb in order to provide satisfactory amenity for the 6 new dwellings. From restrictions on frequency of events, their duration (shorter hours), adoption of Outdoor Noise Management Plan and its costs and many costly physical upgrades to the club’s fabric. Add to this the proximity to the horn on race days, the smells and noise omitting from the nearby kitchen, the backed up Amazon delivery vans, lost visitors, security issues (strangers on site) and on-going building maintenance. When taken altogether, this gift starts to feel more like a burden. All of this will have a capital cost and will restrict the revenue earning potential of the club.
- Viability: We have doubts over the financial feasibility of this scheme. We have calculated using locally weighted construction costs, site costs, and property value per square foot, that the development could cost well over £1million above the value that could be achieved from the sale of the flats.
This calculation also doesn’t include estimates for site anomalies such as: demolition of retaining structures, works to the Quayside, restoration of the crane, refurbishment of the jetty, enabling works to RBYC, fit out of units / restaurant, section 106 contributions, legal fees, mitigation works to accommodate acoustic considerations as required by the applicants’ Acoustic Report, archaeological investigations, Party Wall agreements, professional fees, flood mitigation measures as referenced in the ECC Sustainable Drainage team’s response (18th Dec 2018), statutory costs, cost of finance, cost of sale, and the not insubstantial complexities of building on a site by a river with no vehicular access.
This conclusion suggests that the applicants’ investment in this scheme appears to be a very substantial gift of well over £1million – which could rise given that many of the above costs are open ended. If the applicants want to offer this size of patronage to the club and the town, could a smaller sum be invested in renovating and enhancing the current structure and the remainder invested in an endowment to protect the longer-term future of the club? No one would surely object to that.
In the absence of better evidence from the proposals, the RBYC should be concerned as to what happens if the size of the investment outstrips the notional budget (referred to in the proposal as break even at best). What happens if the applicants desire to recover their original investment of the land purchase as stated in the Design and Access Statement is not achieved? Does the build quality decrease further? Does the rent still get returned to the RBYC, and the burden absorbed by the applicants? Does the site get sold with planning consent attached and the new owners secure access off the high street without a relationship with the club? Are any of the proposed outcomes protected when they have not been set down or agreed with the RBYC? Given that the primary purpose of this application is as stated for the benefit to the club it seems unusual if not bizarre that this proposal doesn’t come with their official support.
If you take away this proposed philanthropic aspect which may not materialise if construction costs become too high, you would conclude this proposal only reflects the ordinary commercial concerns of any developer, which would be to maximise a site in order to turn a profit.
- Services: There is little evidence building services have been considered. We can’t see a plant room, lift motor room, allocated plant space on the roof, adequate vertical ducting, enough rainwater pipes, soil vent pipes or any evidence of other sustainable devices to help reduce environmental impact of this application. All of the above will materially affect the nature of this development.
- Rubbish: This also doesn’t seem well catered for. It seems far from ideal to still have this on the Quay for the restaurant, and tortuous for the club and residents to drag bins through the car park to an undefined collection point. There also doesn’t appear to be an alternative strategy for the removed existing bin store belonging to the Club (for the 2nd entry option) and no provision for commercial waste and recycling.
- Parking: The scheme just does not work. The need to park one car in front of another, reverse one out, jump in the other, reverse that out, past the one you have just moved, move the first car back – and then exit the site trying to avoid a new car entering through the one way system is surely an indication of over development. This situation is exacerbated for the parking spaces at both ends of the development that also have to navigate a raised planting bed and an entry/exit point. We cannot see how deliveries are made, removal trucks catered for, and visitor parking accommodated.
- Amenity: The amenity figures blend private and communal arrangements. The private amenity provision falls short of what should be permitted, and communal is hardscaped and unobserved which makes it notoriously difficult to manage – other indicators of over development.
- Visitors Centre: We understand that the current tourist information resource is under threat, and seen as unaffordable. If this is the case we fail to see how an alternative which still requires rent and rates etc is any better. Have they been consulted? Are they on board with being moved to a less prominent location with no parking? We haven’t seen evidence of their support.
- Existing residents: No consideration has been made in the proposals as to the impact on the residents of Gull Cottage and the business operators of the Quayside café and Chandlery. Both will have to close and will find it difficult to sustain themselves during the construction period making it challenging for them to re-open in the new spaces.
- Alternate facts: There are many mistakes or misinformation scattered across the planning documents: such as inaccurate descriptions of our home (referred to as a 4 storey building in the Planning Statement (it is 3); factually incorrect conclusions about the lack of harm laid at our doorstep as mentioned previously: very selective editing of the public consultation we observed (our concerns were fundamentally omitted and the previous public consultation event revealed a considerably different version of the scheme). Conclusions offered with no evidence. We understand that planning applications seek to offer their scheme in the best light, but without balance and due consideration for facts it’s hard to sustain confidence in other areas of the application.
- Visuals: There are none. There are 37 documents, reports, a number of compliant flat 2D drawings, tens of thousands of words but not a single visualisation, not a model, not a 3D diagram, not a montage, not even a sketch. The town and the planning committee are expected to make this important decision without enough information. A handsome watercolour on top of a flat façade does not tell you what this proposal will look or feel like from all perspectives.
- Lastly, but really importantly, the unnecessary introduction of glass barriers onto the jetty will destroy the timeless quality of Burnham’s historic waterfront.
We are confident that a different scheme that addresses the above issues could deliver a lasting legacy for the town and long-term sustainability for the RBYC.
Greg Shannon and Meroe Candy