There were tears of joy this evening as plans for a block of deaf-friendly flats were approved.
Members of the Plymouth deaf community were visibly moved and broke into applause as councillors voted in favour of the proposals at a city planning meeting.
The block of ten apartments in Mannamead will be purpose-built for deaf people and, as such, will be the first of their kind in the UK.
They will be built behind Blake Lodge in Seymour Road after the demolition of the present gym.
Revenue from the project will be reinvested into the lodge, the home of Plymouth Deaf Association (PDA), and the apartments will be used exclusively by PDA members.
Speaking at the meeting, Daniel Atkins of Crayon Architects and agent for the applicant Andy Atkinson (trustee of the PDA), told councillors: “Since its formation in 1897 the PDA has been renowned for its outstanding work in supporting those in need across the city and further afield. The current board has vision where the charity can continue this work for the next hundred years and beyond.
“Barriers in communication make it very difficult for deaf people to build a community. This encourages loneliness and isolation. There are nearly a million severely or profoundly deaf individuals in the UK which is set to increase significantly by 2035.
“The deaf community is strong and pro-active but average housing does not accommodate their specialised needs. It lacks the necessary sensory technology and a poor design layout can impede visual communication.
“Building upon its current status as a dementia-friendly city and mindful of the affordable flats for the elderly in Millbay, Plymouth could again lead the way nationally in supporting an under represented part of the community.”
Nearly 60 letters of objection had been received by the Council regarding the application. Reasons included concerns over traffic and highway safety on the proposed access route – Mannamead Avenue, the flats’ design and whether this was in-keeping with the surroundings and conservation area, and the size of the development.
Objections were also raised at the meeting from Compton ward Councillor Richard Ball and local resident Steve Jones.
“Mannamead conservation area and a listed building within that area is a very important consideration when planning something in the rear garden,” Cllr Ball said.
“This development will consume about 70 per cent of the rear garden. Those that visited the site may be under the impression that the garden is a brown field site, but from the various legal submissions since 2010 there can be little doubt that gardens in built up areas are regarded as a green space and can be protected by local authorities from inappropriate developments.”
Resident Steve Jones added: “I live in an adjacent property with my family. From our own perspective, yes the southern boundary wall is in a state of decay and has been for 10 plus years. Part of me is delighted to see it would in fact be rebuilt as a special condition of this planning application. But I’m concerned this may not happen properly.
“Another big concern is that since the recent minor excavation works on the Blake Lodge side, water has come through the wall onto our drive into our garage and we’ve had to endure this flooding quite regularly. With the giant excavations for the new flat development our concern is what this will do to the water table and in turn the flood waters we’re already experiencing.”
Mr Jones also voiced his concerns about access to Mannamead Avenue, telling councillors he was “gobsmacked” at the Highways Authority’s approval of the road as a suitable access point.
Several pre-conditions have been set on the development including ensuring management of construction and adequate surface water drainage.
Much debate was made by members of the meeting before the plans were finally approved after two hours.
The plans were narrowly voted through – seven in favour, six against.
Speaking after the meeting Daniel Atkins and wife Andrea, also a partner at Crayon Architects, said they were extremely pleased about the decision.
“We’re so happy. You could see by the reaction of the applicants what it meant to them,” Daniel said.
“We weren’t surprised at how close the vote was. Any kind of works in a residential area are going to bring certain matters to the fore, but we’re thankful that the committee were able to look at the wider issues which are that this is a minor community that needs support and against the backdrop of government cuts and public money waning these kinds of charities working in a proactive way are going to help minorities in the future.”
Andrea added: “There were so many generations at this meeting. The flats are designed for the over 55s that are most isolated in the community, but there were young people here as well.
“The PDA relies on donations and this plan allows them to take hold of their future a little bit more.”
Councillor Bill Stevens was also pleased by the outcome: “I was delighted that we were able to this much-needed scheme. Blake Lodge’s work speaks for itself – these plans tick all the boxes and gives the ability to be even more inclusive as a city.”