Reigate and Banstead approves green belt retirement housing by virtual committee

Plans to transform the former Surrey headquarters of pensions giant Legal & General into a retirement complex featuring 280 assisted living units were approved by a virtual planning committee this week, after "very special circumstances" were found to justify the green belt site's redevelopment.

A visualisation of the Kingswood scheme. Pic: Legal & General
A visualisation of the Kingswood scheme. Pic: Legal & General

Reigate and Banstead Borough Council’s planning committee decided, at a meeting held over a video conference on Wednesday, to approve an application for the redevelopment of Legal & General House, which was used by the company until 2017.

It was one of the first planning committees to be held virtually following the introduction of the government’s new rules allowing remote council meetings in its recently fast-tracked coronavirus crisis emergency legislation.

Under Legal & General's plans, the Grade II* listed HQ building itself will be converted into 130 assisted living and respite units for the local health service.

A further 131 assisted living units will be housed in ten apartment blocks and 36 villas which are due to be developed on the site’s existing car park. In addition, another 19 assisted living units will be provide in the locally listed St Monica’s House.

The assisted living units would all fall into the C2 residential institution use class, according to the council committee report.

The building's rotunda would be converted to provide a cafe, cinema/theatre, library, creche, restaurant and wellness centre and shops.

While the new development would take place mainly on existing car park areas, the committee report by planning officers concludes that it constitutes "inappropriate development" as the site lies wholly in the green belt.

However, officers judged that the benefits provided by the scheme, particularly the need for development within the grounds to fund the repair of the main Grade II* listed building, comprises the "very special circumstances" required to outweigh the identified harms to the green belt.

Further benefits cited in the report include the contribution to identified housing need that the scheme would deliver.

The council concluded that the loss of this employment site to residential use is considered acceptable because it has been "comprehensively" marketed and "no viable alternative proposal has come forward".

In addition, the project would also retain many of Legal & General House’s set piece interiors, while seeking to reintroduce a number of lost internal, external and landscape details, says the report.

The building was classified Grade II* in 2017 as a "fine example of a modern campus office headquarters", according to the committee report by officers.

The scheme also proposes opening up 16 acres of parkland, surrounding the headquarters, for the use of the local community in perpetuity.

The site will be run by Legal & General’s later living business, Inpired Villages.

Phil Bayliss, CEO of Later Living at L&G, said: “This planning permission allows us to breathe life back into this previously obsolete scheme and maintain our legacy, while bringing jobs to local people, creating an important asset for the local community and much needed accommodation for the over 65s.”

Works are due to commence later this year, according to the applicant.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is thought to have been the first council to hold a virtual planning committee meeting under the new rules following a meeting last Thursday.

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