Published on Saturday, 5th March 2016


The city's most prominent derelict building could be about to be converted into flats little bigger than a large hotel room. Located opposite the main entrance to Gunwharf, Brunel House was built back in the 60s and was used by the MOD. It's been empty for years now and is unquestionably an eyesore and a waste of a prime site. Now however the owner is giving the council notice of his intention to divide it up into 242 flats.

A year ago the building was the subject of a planning application for what would have been Portsmouth's tallest building. It was refused primarily on economic grounds - the tower would have dominated the area, but this harm could have been outweighed by the benefit of getting (say) a hotel instead of the student rooms proposed for the lower floors. I think that was the right decision and I am still hopeful that a hotel will be built. What has changed though is the outlook for the economy, which is less certain than it was and that means some big development schemes no longer look viable.

The council has received a Prior Notification for the conversion of the building. It is important to note that this is not a planning application - a couple of years ago, the government changed the rules so that existing office space can be converted to housing without the need to obtain consent. Owners still have to get council sign off over contaminated land, flooding and traffic impact, but otherwise they are free to do whatever they want. This has some perverse impacts.

Any normal development has to provide funds for public infrastructure, any flats have to be of a certain minimum size and generally some parking has to be provided. Not so with office to residential conversions though: the flats in Brunel House will range in size from 19.4m2 to 25.2m2 (or possibly 22.4m2 to 29m2 - it's not clear whether the bathroom area is included in the main room size or not). By comparison any newly built flat must be at least 45m2 whereas a large hotel room is perhaps 15m2.

The submission documents are all dated January 2015, so this plan has clearly been kicking around for some time even though it has only just been lodged. It would be best for the area for it not to go ahead and for the existing building to be demolished.

You can see some pictures of the inside of Brunel House, as it now is, at . The application reference number is 16/00003/PACOU

Tags: Planning, Old Portsmouth