Outcry over changes to St Christopher’s plans

REVISED plans for a retirement village on the site of the former St Christopher’s School in Westbury Park  have failed to win over objectors.

The developers of the St Christopher’s Square scheme say they have made changes to their proposals to take account of local concerns but two groups opposing the plans say the tweaks do not address the fundamental problems.

The public has until January 5 to comment on the latest plans, to the annoyance of  the St Christopher’s Action Network and Westbury Park Community Association, who suspect the timing over the festive period is deliberate.

 SCAN says the proposadl include “four huge blocks of flats, completely out of character with a conservation area”.

The revisions come as it is revealed that part of the site is now being used temporarily to house refugees from around the world. 

Refugees from around the world have started moving in to the former St Christopher’s School site in Westbury Park.

Developers who want to build a retirement village including apartment blocks on the site say it’s a temporary proposal while they wait for planning permission.

A spokesman said: “It’s a very small community from a number of countries who have been granted refugee status in the UK. Some of the countries they’re coming from include Afghanistan, Sudan, Russia and Ukraine.”

He said some had already moved in to the revamped Hampton Lodge, and others would follow. 

Campaigners opposed to the scale of the retirement development have welcomed the decision to rehome refugees there – but say it has no bearing on the planning application, for which the developers have just announced revised proposals.

A spokesperson for St Christophers Action network (SCAN) said: “It’s wonderful that the idea of housing refugees on the St Christopher’s site came from someone in the community back when Russia first invaded Ukraine – so we hope they feel very welcome in Westbury Park.”

The development is being put forward by investment firm FORE, in partnership with developer Socius, and care provider Amicala. 

They want to build 116 homes on the site. The latest revisions to the plans they put forward early in 2022 have been dismissed by opponents of the scheme as “disappointing”.

 St Christopher’s School was founded in 1945 by Catherine Grace as private residential Steiner school for children with learning difficulties. 

It closed in 2020 and campaigners say they want future use to include some replacement for the Special Education Needs provision.

Pam Kaye, SCAN member and lives close to the site said: “The developers haven’t listened – again! 

“This so called ‘revised’ plan completely fails to respond adequately to the loud and clear objections expressed by our community and independent experts regarding over development, road safety, loss of heritage, wildlife, trees and SEND provision. 

“Surely it’s now time for the developers to accept this site is fundamentally unsuited to the size and scale of enormous development they are wanting to impose?”

SCAN say the proposal includes “four huge blocks of flats, completely out of character with a conservation area”.

Westbury Park Community Association is also scathing, describing the changes as ” positive but also very minor, almost cosmetic … no more than ‘rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic’”. The association is urging residents, who have already submitted more than 750 comments, to put in new objections to the revised plans.

The developers propose an extra care development to offer private retirement homes and care facilities to older people. 

They say the site will offer residents the opportunity to receive increasing levels of extra care and support as and when they need it, reducing the pressure on the NHS and wider care system. 

The site will include a new café, an “Urban Village Hall”, wellness centre, and activity rooms. These facilities will be shared with the neighbouring school and community groups, and support local SEN provision, an approach developed in consultation with Bristol City Council.

Mike Dodd, development director, Socius, said: “Since our initial submission, we have been engaging with Bristol City Council officers, collating the statutory responses, and comments made directly to us and via the planning portal. With this feedback in mind, we have updated our plans to improve St Christopher’s Square.”

Changes include reducing the number of homes from 122 to 116, reducing one building from six to five storeys, and relocating the parking in the northeast corner of the site that joins Etloe Road in order to retain more of the existing trees.

He said the scheme is designed to achieve the highest standards in sustainability, one of the only Integrated Retirement Communities in the UK to be net zero carbon in operation.

Local resident and SCAN campaigner Mark Ashford is encouraging everyone to have their say.

He said: “It’s extremely unfortunate that this new consultation period falls over the festive season. 

“You could argue it’s a deliberate attempt to put us all off commenting. But if people want to influence what happens in their neighbourhood, then they need to let the council know what they think – even if they’ve done so already. 

“The community spoke out in a strong voice before – and we can do so again.”

Westbury Park Community Association said in a statement: “First of all, the developers for this very important site claim to have built their original proposals on the results of ‘extensive consultation and engagement with the community last year’. Unfortunately, as we and others have shown with detailed evidence, the plans then submitted completely ignored what everybody said. Furthermore, there has been no consultation at all on the propose revisions, as there should have been.

“Secondly, this process of submitting late revisions is a deliberate ploy commonly used by developers (along with the fact that it is all happening over Christmas as it did last year) to, in effect, tire out local people and community organisations and make it difficult to get a further round of community objections. Sorry developers; that won’t work with us!

“Thirdly, the original proposals received fundamental objections from almost all city council departments and teams, from many outside organisations – including the WPCA and SCAN locally – and around 750 individuals. The revisions are positive but very minor, almost cosmetic, and amount to no more than ‘rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic’. They go no way at all to addressing what is clearly the central issue of titanic potential overdevelopment of an important site in an important Conservation Area with an historically important Listed Building.

“This revised application must be refused.”

The deadline for comments on the plans is January 5, 2023.