Go-ahead for 325-home Bournemouth regeneration scheme despite policy conflict

Plans have been approved for a 352-home mixed-use scheme in Bournemouth, despite a recognition from planners that the proposal would depart from local policies promoting leisure and cultural uses for the site and has prompted design concerns.

A visualisation of the finished Winter Gardens development in Bournemouth
A visualisation of the finished Winter Gardens development in Bournemouth

The outline planning application for the scheme was submitted by the Bournemouth Development Company, a partnership between Bournemouth Borough Council and Morgan Sindall Investments.

The plans, submitted last year, include the demolition of existing buildings on the former Winter Gardens concert hall site and the construction of a mixed-use scheme comprising 352 apartments in buildings rising between three storeys and 15 storeys.

There would also be up to 5,284 square metres of leisure space, up to 1,204 square metres of convenience retail space, up to 2,058 square metres of restaurant/cafe space, 774 square metres of mixed-use restaurant/bar space, 370 square metres of offices, and nearly 600 car parking spaces.

According to a planning report, which recommended approval, the application follows a string of previous proposals for the site that were either withdrawn or refused by the council.

The report noted that the scheme would be "predominantly residential led", putting it "at odds with the thrust of the policy to provide a significant element of leisure, cultural, and entertainment uses" for the site.

Officers said that, as a consequence of this, "the development will need to identify significant additional benefits to mitigate this departure from adopted policy".

The report said the site "has the potential to make a significant contribution to meeting local housing need", and would "make efficient use of a brownfield site".

The creation of housing units "significantly above" the numbers originally anticipated in the council’s Town Centre Area Action Plan "is regarded as a positive factor when assessing the benefits of the scheme overall", the report said.

Of the 352 residential flats, 241 would be sold on the open market with the remaining 111 units sold as build to rent.

Planners advised that the level of affordable housing contribution proposed was "significantly below" requirements set out in local planning policy. However, the report said that this could be compensated for by including a viability review mechanism in the planning consent "to take account of any future change in the market".

Elsewhere, the report said the scheme's design aspects were "challenging in policy terms" with "clearly some conflicting views" as to its acceptability.

The report said that "there should also be no doubt that the height of the proposed buildings will create a significant different appearance to this part of the town centre".

As a consequence, the report said that officers "are firmly of the view that it is essential to ensure that an acceptable high design quality is achieved" via planning conditions.

Planners advised that "officers, the applicants, and Historic England agree that the development results in less than substantial harm" to local heritage assets under paragraph 196 of the revised National Planning Policy Framework.

Overally, the report said that benefits arising from the scheme included the delivery of new homes, the regeneration of a long-term underutilised site, the delivery of leisure space on the site, and the reduction in anti-social behaviour issues on the site.

Councillor John Beesley, leader of Bournemouth Council, said: "The Winter Gardens site has been under-utilised for many years and the fact that this scheme now has planning permission marks a major milestone for Bournemouth.

"The Department for International Trade is now working closely with Bournemouth Development Company and the Council to promote this development internationally as a great investment location, and also Bournemouth as a place for delivering ground breaking regeneration."

Savills acted as planning consultant for the scheme.

Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch councils are due to become a single unitary council in 2019. 

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