Campaigners have said they are “massively disappointed” after a decision was delayed on proposals to redevelop the former site of a Bristol school, when it appeared set for refusal.
Councillors had been due to meet on Wednesday (May 31) to consider plans to transform a five-acre site at Westbury Park, once the location of St Christopher’s School before its closure in 2020, into an £85m retirement community and leisure hub.
In an update sent out on Tuesday afternoon (May 30), Bristol City Council’s Development Management team said consideration of the application had been postponed “at the request of the applicant”.
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It came after planning officers recently recommended that councillors refuse the development, called St Christopher’s Square, with a report saying it would be “unacceptable in terms of design”.
On Wednesday (May 31) bosses from the group behind the scheme, which includes investment firm FORE Partnership, care operator Amicala and development manager Socius, told BusinessLive it had requested for the decision to be delayed, “to allow officers more time to review their report”.
CGI impression of proposed St Christopher’s Square development in Bristol. (Image: FORE Partnership/Amicala) They added that the companies had received confirmation that the plans were now expected to go to Bristol City Council’s planning committee a month later, on July 5.
St Christopher’s Action Network (SCAN), which is opposed to the project, accused the companies of “filibustering”, and described the postponement as a waste of council resources.
The group said: “SCAN is massively disappointed that at the eleventh hour the developer chose to pull out of tomorrow’s planning meeting to decide the future of the former St Christopher’s School site.
“We don’t know why this happened and no-one has given us an explanation but it’s clear the developers didn’t like the recommendation for refusal much or the negativity in the planning officers report!”
SCAN went on to describe the plans for the site as “insensitive”, adding the environmental credentials of the proposed retirement scheme, which developers say could be one of the few extra care communities in the country to operate with net-zero carbon emissions, were in “tatters”.
It added: “But this sort of last minute change of tactics and filibustering is totally unacceptable – it wastes council resources – and delays key decisions costing us all time and money. No-one is fooled – we can see right through it.”
On behalf of the team behind the scheme, Basil Demeroutis, managing partner of FORE Partnership, commented: “We requested for the decision on our plans for St Christopher’s Square 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.”
The companies previously said the project could provide around 120 extra care homes for older people. Under the plans the site’s existing buildings could be refurbished, including the villas fronting Westbury Park and the Grade II-listed building Grace House, while others could be demolished and replaced by new blocks of flats ranging between three and five-storeys in height.
The site, which borders Clifton Downs, could also be opened to the public for the first time in years, with residents of the retirement community and wider local area having access to a new leisure centre, including a café, an urban village hall, a wellness centre featuring a hydrotherapy pool and gym, plus activity rooms.
The planning officer’s report highlighted the proposed scale of the project, adding it would be out of context with the surrounding Downs Conservation Area and the heritage buildings on the site. Planning officers also noted the work could result in the loss of “important existing trees”.
Planners added that the application for the development did not demonstrate a resilience to climate change through its site layout, nor through its approach to design and construction.
According to the report the plans have received objections from Historic England, local councillors and residents, who have voiced concerns about the impact the scheme could have on traffic and parking.
FORE Partnership previously told BusinessLive the group stood by its plans, which it said could deliver “important benefits” for the city.
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