Planning officers recommend refusal   –   but scheme ‘acceptable in principle’

Campaigners fighting the controversial St Christopher’s development in Westbury Park hope to have won a battle – but say there is still a long way to go.

As the Voice went to print, Bristol City planners published a 75-page report recommending refusal of the scheme to build 116 retirement flats on the site.

They said it should be rejected because the design and scale of some proposed five-storey blocks which would “crowd and overbear”.  

They also warned about the impact on local traffic and parking, and the detrimental effect on the green environment including the loss of 38 trees.

A City Council Development Control committee was due to consider that advice on Wednesday May 31.

Despite advising refusal, the report said the development was “considered to be acceptable in principle”. So it’s likely if councillors throw out the plan, the developers will either appeal or submit a revised proposal.

Residents’ campaign group St Christopher’s Action Network (SCAN) said they were relieved the officers had taken on board local concerns.

A spokesperson said: “From the moment these plans were submitted, thousands of people across Bristol have told the developers this scheme is damaging and dangerous to our environment, our heritage and our roads. 

“It fails to offer any genuine community benefit either through affordable housing or by respecting the site’s legacy of SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) provision.

“SCAN fully supports Bristol City Council’s recommendation to refuse this insensitive and inappropriate planning application. We are relieved officers have seen through the marketing spin and we trust that our elected councillors will robustly refuse the plans outright.

“We look forward to the future and the whole site being sensitively developed by people who really understand the needs and values of our community and the wider city.”

Westbury Park Community Association said it supported the idea of extra care housing on the site but felt the scheme was “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,” a spokesman said.

The planning report said the development was acceptable in principle, subject to agreement of a contribution towards alternative SEND provision, which was lost when St Christopher’s, a private school, closed.

But it said the proposed development was unacceptable in terms of design, “in particularly in relation to its scale and massing given the context of the Conservation Area and the Grade II Listed building, Grace House, on the site”.

“The proposed new build ‘Villas’, which are blocks of flats ranging between three- and five-storeys in height, would be above the prevailing height of existing retained buildings on the site and in the surrounding area.”

The report said concerns about impact on traffic and parking overspill could add to safety concerns – though this may be overcome with new parking restrictions in the area.

There were also concerns raised by officers and an objection from the council’s sustainability officer about the quality of living environment for future occupiers. 

The report said: “Insufficient information has been provided to determine whether the apartments would be adapted to future climate impacts in accordance with Policy BCS13, and the new build Villas would likely create a sense of overbearing for new occupiers on lower levels based on the proximity.

The loss of 38 trees including a possible “veteran tree” would affect the “verdant landscape character” of the site, and officers felt it “unfeasible” for the proposed landscape scheme to deliver sufficient tree planting in accordance with the Bristol Tree Replacement Standard.

The report said other issues, including drainage, contamination and highway mitigation could be controlled through conditions and obligations placed on the development.

The report said the scheme provides a number of benefits, including the provision of much-needed housing for older persons, and  reopening of the site to the public and increased visibility of the Listed building.

The report also recommended, following legal and expert advice, that the application should fall into a category C3 development – which means the developer would not be liable to provide affordable housing on site.

The developers, investment firm FORE, in partnership with developer Socius, and care provider Amicala, were not available for comment.

The plan attracted more than 1,300 objections from people living nearby, local councillors and MP Darren Jones. 

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