CONTENTIOUS plans for more student accommodation in Leamington have been unanimously thrown out by councillors following impassioned opposition.
Warwick District Council’s planning committee had been recommended to grant plans for the demolition of existing buildings in Althorpe Street and “the erection of a mixed-use scheme comprising commercial floorspace and purpose-built student accommodation” when they met on Tuesday February 28.
The proposal attracted staunch opposition from across the town with Leamington Town Council, South Leamington Area Residents, the Conservation Area Forum and even Warwick District Council’s own councillors speaking out against the proposal at the meeting, which followed on from a protest on the steps of Leamington Town Hall.
Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western also formally lodged his objections.
Top of the list of concerns were there already being enough student accommodation in the town and fears for the future of the businesses currently based on site.
The student accommodation would have been in three buildings of up to six storeys high with a total of 328 student beds, divided into 18 HMOs and 230 individual self-contained studios. There would also have been communal areas such as lounges and dedicated study spaces.
The Althorpe Street site currently comprises a range of trade counters, workshops and industrial buildings and is designated in the Local Plan as a Protected Town Centre Employment Area. Businesses currently operating on the proposed development site would have been relocated, it was promised.
Speaking at the meeting, Leamington Town councillor Ruggy Singh said: “If this is approved it will literally rip the heart out of south Leamington. It is out of keeping with the surrounding properties in terms of height and scale.”
Town councillors were also concerned about inadequate car parking and support for the relocation of existing businesses from the site.
A spokesman for the Conservation Area Forum slammed the design of the student accommodation as “oversized, bland blocks in a style which can only be described as 21st century international dull” that would overpower the grain of old Leamington.
He continued the proposal would damage both the canal conservation area, and to a certain extend, the Leamington Conservation area.
Judith Swinson, speaking on behalf of the businesses on site, called on the committee to throw out the application.
She continued: “Having overcome the pandemic we are back on track which is a real indication of our resilience and ongoing viability. This development proposes to demolish nine B class premises which will lead to 50 immediate job losses of local skilled people.”
She added it was simply not the case that businesses would be relocated. Only one of the affected businesses, she claimed, had a verbal promise of being relocated and the rest could invariably have to cease trading.
A spokesperson speaking on behalf of the applicant said the scheme would regenerate the area and remove “outdated industrial buildings that are inconsistent with the council’s creative quarter vision”.
He continued the majority of businesses had relocation plans in place and discussions were ongoing with those who did not, adding it provided employment space on the ground floor while providing “purpose built student accommodation in a high quality living environment which will meet demand for existing students who have chosen to live in Leamington”.
Planning officers confirmed there had been no demand from Warwick University for more accommodation in the town and this was a private venture.
There were some 900 letters of objection from residents and 16 letters in support.
Members of the planning committee voted unanimously to refuse the planning application on numerous grounds including breach of the local plan, noise, parking and conservation concerns.