Gladman Retirement Living Ltd, who also trade as Adlington, have put in a planning application for a development of retirement flats on the former Mary Gee Houses site on Ratcliffe Road.  The application can be viewed on the Council’s website: http://rcweb.leicester.gov.uk/planning/onlinequery/Details.aspx?AppNo=20190433 and comments can be made until 22nd April 2019.  The documents that make up the application can be found at: http://fdweb.leicester.gov.uk/planning/fdweb/Search.aspx?CabID=1D251D6A&DocTypeID=8c5b208a&FDX_D73E5959=20190433.  Residents may want to respond to this planning application with comments or objections.

The Forum responded to the original consultation that Adlington did (sending out leaflets to residents in the area and advertising in the Mercury).  The content of our letter was as follows:

I am writing to you as the Chair of Knighton Neighbourhood Forum in Leicester.  Knighton Neighbourhood Forum is the designated Neighbourhood Forum for the Knighton Designated Area in Leicester under the Localism Act 2011.  We are currently working on a Neighbourhood Plan for the Knighton Designated Area, which includes Ratcliffe Road, and had identified the former Mary Gee Houses land as a potential development site in the area, for which we have developed draft policies.  Other more general draft policies also apply to the site.  Although the Plan has not been ‘made’ within the terms of the Act, the policies reflect our current understanding of the views of residents in the area, and I am therefore responding to your consultation with the unanimous support of members at our most recent open meeting, who agreed that we should communicate our views based on the draft policies.

We see the key differences between your proposal and our policies in the following areas:

  • No housing mix in terms of properties suitable for anyone but retired people;
  • No affordable housing, and linked to this, we have a concern about leasehold property and recent issues of large increases in ground rents and service charges;
  • Design does not take account of conservation area;
  • Buildings go up to four storeys.

Knighton has a distinctly older age profile than other wards in Leicester.  Many older people live in large properties, and we recognise the need for smaller properties to allow them to downsize and free up larger properties for families.  However, we also have a gap in our age profile in the area in the 20 to 30 year-old age group, and we see the provision of smaller housing units to allow young people to buy within the area as essential to maintaining a balance of ages in Knighton.  Therefore, while we welcome the idea of smaller housing units, we would prefer these to be small houses and bungalows that are suitable for people of all ages, creating a mix of housing types and residents.

The area to the east of the site already has a high concentration of specialised accommodation for older people.  A neighbouring Lower-Level Super Output Area (LSOA) had an average age of over 63.4 in 2011 according to the 2011 census data.  We would prefer not to see a further concentration of older people in this area.  Four adjoining LSOAs have the highest percentages of residents whose mobility is ‘limited a lot’ (10.3%, 11.6%, 14.9% and 17.7%) – the four highest in the Neighbourhood Area.  There is also a reduced availability of doctors’ services in the area, following the closure of a surgery on Queens Road.

The proposal makes no mention of affordable housing.  For a development of this scale, we would expect to see specific provision of affordable housing.  This is particularly important given the need to allow younger people to buy in the area.  We have a concern that the type of housing you are proposing will be leasehold, and there have been many cases recently of freeholds being sold to investment companies, who then increase service charges and ground rents to maximise their return on investment.  This again has an impact on the affordability of the housing and the ability of residents to sell their leaseholds.  If the property must be leasehold, then we would prefer a model where the leasehold is owned by a company controlled collectively by the leaseholders.  We know of examples of this model that work well locally.

The site is within the Stoneygate Conservation Area, and Ratcliffe Road contains architecturally significant properties, including two that are on the City Council’s Ernest Gimson Walking Trail and some listed buildings.  The design seems to make no concessions to the historic nature of the local architecture.  We would see any development on the site as an opportunity to create something that is more in keeping with the area than the existing student accommodation that was built in 1971 and 1972 a few years before the Stoneygate Conservation Area was designated.  While we are not looking for pastiche Arts and Crafts design, the current proposal is not sympathetic to the character of the area.

The proposed development is four storeys high in places.  We are opposed to buildings that are out of keeping with the general style of property in the Knighton area, which is an area of predominantly two storey houses, with some areas of three storey Victorian and Edwardian houses.  A four-storey building is out of keeping with the area.

I am including the specific draft policies that we believe apply to this development.  As you will see, some of them have been respected by your proposal, in particular those concerned with retaining green space and trees as features of developments.  However, we believe that the proposed development does not respect the points outlined above that have been developed by members of the local community.

The relevant policies that we included are as follows.

Housing and Planning Policies Relevant to Mary Gee Site

These draft policies have been developed by the Housing and Planning Working Group of Knighton Neighbourhood Forum and have been extracted from the draft policy document.

Relevant Policies

Residential development at Mary Gee Houses will be supported where:

Development would retain the current spacious, verdant and open character of the current site and not lead to the appearance of cramming.

Developments in the Conservation Areas will be permitted where:

Special regard is had to the impact on the Stoneygate and Knighton Conservation Areas, nearby listed buildings and buildings of local heritage interest.

Large Developments will be permitted where:

Affordable housing is proposed in accordance with the policy below and opportunities to accommodate key workers explored; and

The necessary infrastructure is provided to support development including school and primary health care provision and transport improvements.

On schemes of more than ten dwellings, a mix of dwelling types and sizes to meet the needs of current and future households in Knighton will be sought. The provision of up to two-bedroom houses and bungalows is strongly encouraged to meet the needs of those requiring smaller properties including downsizing households, younger families and people with limited mobility.  Developments consisting exclusively of house types with four or more bedrooms will not be acceptable.  Provision of housing accessible to people in wheelchairs is strongly encouraged.

On schemes where there is a net gain of more than ten dwellings, affordable housing will be sought. Developers are required to provide a Specific Affordable Housing and Dwellings Mix that reflects the identified needs of Knighton and demonstrate how the proposed development addresses those needs. In particular, the information should set out the type, size and tenure of affordable housing (social rent, affordable rent, low-cost or discounted market housing or shared ownership) and how the mix meets local needs.

Developments will be permitted where:

There are no demonstrable adverse impacts on the amenity of neighbours, for example light, aspect, overshadowing, enclosure, noise and disturbance; and

Houses are sympathetic to the scale, mass, height and form of neighbouring development; and

Houses use materials and architectural detailing sympathetic to the character of the area; and

Important trees are retained on site and incorporated into the development; and

Important site features including but not limited to hedges and ponds are retained on site, mitigated or incorporated in the design; and

Adequate amenity, refuse and recycling storage is incorporated into the scheme to minimise visual impact.

Trees on the boundary of a site, trees visible from the public highway and mature trees within the site.