Students could be banned from the first co-living flats planned in Bath.
Watkin Jones Group wants to redevelop the Regency Laundry with 155 en-suite studios with kitchenettes where residents would share facilities including a gym, communal kitchens and dining areas, reading room, TV lounge, laundry room, co-working lounge and landscaped gardens.
Despite the laundry occupying St Peter’s Terrace for 140 years, the developer said another commercial use was unviable and warned the land would lay empty if its application was refused.
Bath and North East Somerset Council’s planning committee will visit the site before making a decision to weigh up providing housing against the impact on neighbouring residents and the loss of employment land.
Objectors slammed the plans as “student housing in disguise” but councillors were told a tenancy agreement could require the flats to be occupied by professionals in full-time employment.
Representing Watkin Jones Group, Kenny Oke said the firm abandoned previous student housing proposals for the site and put forward co-living that will help to retain graduates and young professionals with “no choice but to leave Bath”.
Planning officers recommended refusal due to the excessive amount of industrial land in Bath but Mr Oke said that position was “highly debatable”.
He said: “The site’s specific constraints render it wholly inappropriate for ongoing industrial use, not least its highly restricted vehicular access and proximity to neighbouring houses and the adjacent primary school.
“These are among the reasons Regency Laundry has decided to relocate to modern, purpose-built industrial premises.
“Refurbishment or redevelopment of this site for employment use is fundamentally unviable.
“If residential proposals cannot be consented this site will likely be demolished and sit vacant, generating no income for B&NES Council and a blight on the community.”
The plans split opinion for Westmoreland ward members June Player and Colin Blackburn.
Cllr Player said the four-storey building would harm the residential amenity of neighbours and the would-be occupants of the flats, adding: “No joy has been designed in.”
But Cllr Blackburn was a keen advocate, saying conditions could be used to ensure only full-time employed workers could rent a property, thereby allaying fears it is a “back door way of creating more student accommodation”.
He added: “This site is now wholly unsuited to commercial activity.
“Why would we want a site surrounded by residential properties being used by lorries to support a factory, where all the potential staff would have to commute in? We have plenty of office space coming on stream but no way of providing workers unless they commute in.
“The economic benefits of local workers paying council tax and not polluting while trying to get work will allow these developments to be viable.”
The site has been used for commercial laundry since 1879 but Regency Laundry, which employs 85 people, has outgrown it and is moving to larger, more modern premises in Corsham in Wiltshire.
Planning committee members voted to pay a visit to St Peter’s Terrace before they make a decision.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter