Cliftons

The site of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children on Dyke Road has had more than its fair share of publicity in recent years. If only its developers had paid more attention to the building work taking place across the road on the hospital’s former car park.

The car park, said to have once been home to Vine’s Mill, was sold off as part of the hospital redevelopment and came into the charge of River Oaks Homes in 2008, one year after that firm bought the three Italianate villas to the west, Nos. 5, 6 and 7 Powis Villas.

Regular readers should know that I am a huge fan of ‘planning briefs’ – plans that set out a general framework for the development of a sensitive site. Difficulties at so many sites locally, including that of the Royal Alex itself, could have been nipped in the bud if the council had taken the trouble to pro-actively put in place planning briefs to set out exactly what should be built. Whether it be Brighton Marina, the Queen Square ice rink or Shoreham Harbour, without a planning brief in each case, developers have upset residents by proposing something inappropriate.

In the case of the car park, the developer has got the general principle exactly right without such heavy-handed persuasion being necessary. Rather than more higgledy-piggledy blocks of flats, like those under construction on the hospital site across the road, the car park is now home to five incredible houses. Three face Clifton Hill and two face Powis Grove, just like they would have done if they had been built in the 1850s like their neighbours. The local architectural practice Morgan Carn did not resort to pastiche though – or ‘fake old buildings’ as I like to call such dreary creations – but instead have built the modern equivalent of an Italianate Victorian villa.

White render and grey roofs, whose colours may be attributed to dirt-repelling paint and zinc cladding respectively, may be seen as nods to the past but there are many explicitly modern features as well such as solar thermal panels, underfloor heating, instant boiling water taps and a shared underground car park.

River Oaks Homes has produced its own glossy brochures that describe how incredible these four-storey three-bedroom homes, named The Cliftons, really are. These sleek houses should be seen in the flesh though, particularly by other developers, to be truly appreciated.