Final visit as St Christopher’s site redevelopment decision day looms

COUNCILLORS are due to see for themselves the site of a controversial retirement village in Westbury Park, before making a decision on the proposal.

Members of Bristol City Council Development Control Committee will tour the five acre site at the former St Christopher’s School  this month.

The committee’s chair, Councillor Richard Eddy, told the Voice the £85m scheme will then go to a committee meeting on either March 15 or April. 26. 

The site visit will be conducted by the developers – investment firm FORE, in partnership with developer Socius, and care provider Amicala.  They want to build 116 retirement flats. 

Local campaign groups will not be allowed to attend to voice objections. 

Bristol city councillor for Westbury on Trym and Henleaze Geoff Gollop told the Voice this was normal procedure for such visits.

He said he’s never seen a planning application in Bristol that has attracted so much local concern.

He said: “This is the biggest planning application we’ve ever see in this ward, and we do want to see the site redeveloped, but our biggest concern is transport and access to the area. 

“It is congested already and has narrow roads with heavy parking. The scale of this proposal and little onsite parking in this plan will cause more congestion.”

The imminent decision comes as a row has broken out between opponents and developers over new artist impressions of the proposed  buildings, published by local campaign group St Christopher Action Network (SCAN).

SCAN says the images show the site before and after development and “were created on architectural software using the measurements provided by the developers in the plans”.

Members have condemned the planned new buildings as “giant apartment blocks… an absolutely shocking sight”.

Spokesman Robin Hambleton said: “The developers have spent over a year not showing images like this as they want to disguise the true impact of their appalling scheme.”

The developers dispute the accuracy of the images.

A spokesperson said: “This interpretation of the scheme is unverified and factually inaccurate. 

“There are several points of difference between the actual proposals for the site and what has been conveyed in SCAN’s visuals. Namely, discrepancies in boundary positioning, building proximity and most significantly, the heights of the properties.”

More than 1300 objections have been registered on Bristol City Council’s planning portal, including the size and scale of the proposed new apartment blocks, and the lack of Special Educational Needs provision. The old St Christopher’s independent school provided for special needs until it closed in 2020.

The developers say the proposal meets local housing needs for an aging population and will include a café and community hall which will benefit local people.

Westbury Park Community Association submitted a ten page response to the latest plans, saying they supported the idea for extra care provision but felt the plan damaged the character of the area and objected to the height of some new buildings and the way they were “crammed inappropriately” together.

Committee chair Councillor Richard Eddy told the Voice:  “At present, the Development Control ‘A’ Committee is expecting to determine the St Christopher’s School site in early Spring, most probably in late  April. However, at present, there is a small chance it could be referred to our DC ‘A’ Committee meeting on 15th March 2023

“A Members’ site-visit has been arranged, which will inform councillors in advance of our decision-making meeting. If residents have views on this planning application, I urge them to submit their opinions to:”

Mark Ashford from SCAN said: “Despite all the glossy brochures and press releases sent out by the developers over the last year, we felt we still hadn’t been given a clear sense of what these giant apartment blocks would actually look like. And now we have it! Even after the so-called “revisions”, it’s an absolutely shocking sight – right on the edge of the Downs and slap-bang in the middle of a conservation area. How on earth can this be allowed to happen?”

Phil Gittins, also a member of the group, said: “The new images show how little the developers have listened to the community.  Their proposed development is still way too large for the site, cramming in as many units as they can, with no thought for the consequences. It will ruin the current green space, home to so much wildlife and ignores the views and needs of the local community. That’s why so many of us have objected to these amended plans and hope our voice is heard by the council.”  

Artist impressions of the proposed new buildings produced by opponents are disputed by the developers