Avalanche of objections to St Christopher’s plans

Opponents of a proposed £85 million retirement village in Westbury Park are calling on planners to reject the scheme next month (March) after an avalanche of opposition.

More than 1,300 objections have been lodged against plans to build apartment blocks on the former St Christopher’s School site.

There have been just 18 comments supporting the plan.

The Voice understands Bristol City Council is scheduled to make a decision in March.

St Christopher Action Network (SCAN) say the strength of local opinion shows the developers have got it wrong.

Zoe Eastwood, local resident and member of SCAN said: “For goodness sake – when will the developers listen?

“For more than a year, the community has been telling them this scheme is completely inappropriate – in so many ways. But they just keep pushing.

“Can’t they hear us? 99% of people who’ve made a comment say they want the plans rejected. We are confident councillors will consider this strength of feeling when making their decisions.”

As reported in January’s Voice, the team behind the St Christopher’s Square redevelopment  submitted changes to their plans in December.  They say they have made the amendments in response to feedback and they remain “unwavering’ in their belief that the redevelopment will be positive for the area. 

However, SCAN and Westbury Park Community Association dismissed the revisions to the scheme as “minor”.

WPCA submitted a ten-page response to the changes.

They said they supported the idea of extra care on the site but said: “We wish to re-affirm our objection concerning the amount of development crammed inappropriately into this site, the height of all the new blocks and the distances between the new blocks and from the new blocks to surrounding properties. This is massive overdevelopment which damages the recognised character of this area as a whole.”

The development of 116 retirement homes is being put forward by investment firm FORE, in partnership with developer Socius and care provider Amicala. 

They say the site will offer residents 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, the developers say, could “support local Special Educational Needs provision in consultation with Bristol City Council”.

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 SCAN says concerns about lack of replacement for the Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision is becoming an issue for opponents.

Green Party councillor Christine Townsend said the SEND provision was needed.

She said: “This developer is not interested in providing SEND provision. SEND is this council’s largest budget deficit year on year with much caused by the need for out-of area provision – our children need more specialist provision, not less. If SEND provision is lost from this geographical location now it will never return.”

Councillors for Westbury on Trym and Henleaze Geoff Gollop, Sharon Scott and Steve Smith, issued a joint statement saying:  “This application is not appropriate and falls well short of addressing residents concerns. The area is already saturated for parking, and the loss of trees and so much green space is also a matter for concern”

Among the comments in favour, Barry Williamson said the concept of an Extra Care development was “excellent”. 

He said: “I like the fact that it will incorporate at its heart in Grace House, facilities for creativity, learning and socializing; all contributing to a well-lived old age. Best of all, I’m enthusiastic about the emphasis on links between the retirement village and the local community.”

Another supporter of the project said Bristol is badly in need of housing, and the diverse mix of retirement and extra care homes proposed would be a good addition to the area. 

A spokesperson for the developers said:  “Since our initial submission in March 2022, our ambition for this project has been to bring new life to this previously neglected plot and create a first of a kind, ultra-sustainable extra care community.    

“Our aim has always been to bring positive benefit to the local and wider community – above and beyond simply developing land. It’s about helping to solve a specific housing need, investing in the neighbourhood, being an exemplar for low carbon construction and operation, and recognising the needs of local residents in Westbury Park, Henleaze and beyond.     

 “The consultation process is an integral part of making this vision a reality.  Inevitably, all development brings change, and of course local opinion matters. We have listened to our neighbours regarding their concerns about views, parking, and other issues relevant to them and have adapted our plans accordingly.    

“We firmly believe that the extensive, positive benefits of this scheme will realise the potential of this incredible site and contribute significantly to the local economy at a challenging time for many.   

 “For these reasons, our commitment to this development remains unwavering.”