Developers hit out over ‘unfair, misleading’ report

Developers behind a controversial retirement village in Westbury Park have launched a blistering attack on city planning officers.

They claim a council report recommending refusal of the scheme is “inaccurate, unbalanced, and unfair”.

Residents who oppose the plan say they are surprised by the outburst, and say the developers are “throwing their toys out of the pram”.

The application to build 116 homes on the former St Christopher’s school site was due before city planning committee on May 31, and was expected to be refused after a highly critical planning officers’ report. But it was pulled days before by the developers, and is now due before the committee later in the summer. 

Now the developers, investment firm Fore, in partnership with developer Socius, and care provider Amicala have issued a seven-page “rebuttal” in response to the committee report (CR).

In it they say: “The applicant must raise and put on record their very strong concerns regarding the CR. These concerns relate to matters of fact, missing information and analysis, misleading comments, and an overall failure to provide a balanced review of the application.”

The 75-page planning report said the scheme should be rejected because of the design and scale of some proposed five-storey blocks which would “crowd and overbear”.  

It also warned about the impact on local traffic and parking, and the detrimental effect on the green environment including the loss of 38 trees, and it questioned the claimed eco design.

Fore claims the CR presents “a one-sided summary of the perceived harms of the scheme only, and fails to consider properly and robustly the very clear public benefits”.

“It is worrying, deeply frustrating, and fundamentally unfair that so many of the public benefits of the scheme are ignored.”

It says the planners’ report only includes two sentences about the scheme’s public benefits.

“We therefore conclude that the CR is flawed and misleading and strongly urge officers to provide a full and proper assessment of the benefits in their Amendment Sheet to the committee.”

It also says the planning report’s conclusions regarding the preserving the heritage of the site is “based on a flawed, unbalanced analysis. And Fore says conclusions regarding the scale and density of the new buildings, suggestions buildings could over heat, and querying sustainability are all “flawed”.

“We have set out strong rebuttals to each of these grounds for refusal and we will be respectfully asking that committee members approve the proposals and allow this derelict site to be brough back to life, for the benefit of our elderly citizens and indeed the wider Bristol community.”

Basil Demeroutis, Managing Partner of FORE Partnership, said in a statement that the developers had asked for the decision to be delayed “to allow officers more time to review their report in light of our feedback”.

“We have worked hard on this scheme for two years, and while a delay is not in our interest, it would have been a disservice to the merits of the scheme and the many individuals, organisations and associates who have supported us to this point, had we gone ahead.

 “We’ll continue to work closely with Bristol City Council during this period, while we await the outcome of our application to be determined.”

At the time of going to press the council had not responded to a request for comment.

But Richard Eddy, chairman of the Development Control ‘A’ Committee, said: “Determination of the St Christopher’s School planning application was postponed … since the applicant strongly felt that aspects of the scheme’s evaluation were deficient without further clarification. 

“The Planning Officers were convinced this was not the case.  It was deemed that a short ‘breathing-space’ whilst these matters were looked at again was desirable.”

A spokesperson for residents’ campaign group St Christopher’s Action Network (SCAN) said they hoped the council officers would stick to their original findings.

“It looks like the developers are throwing their toys out of the pram! 

“They just don’t want to accept the council’s recommendations. But no amount of delay tactics are going to change the reality that this proposal is truly horrendous.

“Across the board there is very little support for this scheme. Countless council departments, from the conservation officer to the nature officer, all agree it’s completely inappropriate. 

“It’s hard to see any real merit in it – the 1300 people who objected certainly don’t – neither do respected bodies like Historic England or the Civic Society! We trust the expertise and experience of our planning officers to do the right thing for the city of Bristol and continue to recommend refusal. Sadly, this deliberate delay is only causing more stress and anxiety for people living nearby – many of whom are elderly.”