‘Absolutely ludicrous’ - Residents fume over planned retirement village on edge of Downs for ‘millionaire OAPS’

Former school site earmarked for 122 retirement homes

Angry residents in Westbury Park have banded together over ‘absolutely ludicrous’ plans to build an eco retirement village on the site of the last special needs residential school in Bristol.

SCAN (St Christopher’s Action Network) told BristolWorld that the development, on the site of the former St Christopher’s School at the edge of the Durdham Downs, ‘cannot be allowed to happen’ on a number of grounds including safety, privacy and pollution.

What the residents are saying

Aside from the loss of the the school and the vital SEN provision it offered, the group’s main qualm is that none of the housing will be affordable, something that Bristol is crying out for as it grapples with an ongoing housing crisis.

SCAN residents at the front of the site.

But they also worry that an inadequate number of parking spaces (65 for 122 dwellings) have been drafted up as part of the proposals, which could cause cars to spill out onto neighbouring roads that are already cramped, such as Bayswater Road.

The FORE Partnership say the £85million plans will bring the site, which has been shut off for two years after St Christopher’s closed suddenly in 2019, back into community use - with additional plans to convert the Victorian villas that surround it into a public cafe, gym and wellness centre.

The site has been shut off for years after St Christopher’s school closed suddenly in 2019, leaving parents and pupils devastated.

In the centre of the development will be the 122 ‘extra care’ homes, housed within a collection of two-storey cottages and four three-to-six storey apartment blocks.

SCAN say that developers have been told that they have a duty to provide some form of SEN care at the site by Bristol City Council, but this currently does not feature anywhere in the plans.

An aerial view of the site at Westbury near the Durdham Downs.

Anita Bennett, whose child used to attend St Christopher’s, wants to see at least some of the buildings on the site such as Carisbrooke Lodge used for SEN provision.

She said: “St Christopher’s was the last special needs residential school in Bristol - there’s one up in Thornbury but it has a waiting list a mile long.

“Not many people know that we are in the throes of an SEN crisis as many SEN families have flooded here over recent years.

“The school has saved hundreds of families from collapse and is an asset that deserves to be returned to the community.

An artist’s impression of what the site could look like, according to the FORE Partnership.

“What frustrates me is that there is a respite house on site fully equipped and ready to go, yet it will probably be turned into another cafe that we don’t need. What we need is SEN provision.”

Another group member, Mark Ashford, branded the plans an ‘overdevelopment’ and ‘absolutely ludicrous’.

He said: “We’re not nimbies and we completely understand the need for housing in Bristol - if it’s done in the correct way.

But residents say it will look like more like this.

“We appreciate plans to convert the Victorian villas, which need to be used, but regardless they are about to be ruined by massive modern apartment blocks towering over them in what is essentially a conservation area.

“Ideally this would be a mixed-use scheme. Instead we’re going to have an influx of millionaire OAPs with nowhere to park.”

What the developers are saying

Luke Martin, on behalf of the team behind the proposals for St Christopher’s Square, said since the FORE Partnership acquired the site nearly a year ago the firm had ‘actively engaged’ with the local community, organising event and meeting rased.

He also said the impression created of the development was not accurate.

He said: “Since acquiring the site nearly a year ago, we have actively engaged with the local community, through organising events and meeting directly with residents and community groups to discuss our plans.

“The feedback has been constructive and we have listened to and implemented significant changes to our plans. These include reducing height of some buildings, replacing an apartment building with cottages, improving the positioning of the buildings to maximise green space and reducing the impact on neighbours.

“We have also improved the provision of parking to ensure that there isn’t an impact on the local roads.

“From the start, we have been committed to opening up this walled-off, inaccessible site, to create a place that benefits everyone. We are looking forward to bringing this site back to life for events, social and community activities.

“And of course, meeting increasing demand from local older people for specialist and highly sustainable accommodation, which in turn frees up family sized homes in Bristol.”

A formal planning application has submitted to Bristol City Council for consideration.