St Christopher’s: Developers defend plans for eco retirement village on site of former Bristol school

Developers have responded to residents’ many concerns over the proposals

Developers hoping to build an eco retirement village in Westbury Park have outlined why they think the scheme will be ‘pioneering’ for Bristol - despite a fierce campaign against the plans by a local resident action group.

The FORE Partnership want to create 122 ‘extra care’ homes on the site of St Christopher’s school at the edge of the Durdham Downs, and in February lodged a planning application for the £85m proposals with Bristol City Council.

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The scheme would see parts of the former special needs residential school, which closed in 2019, demolished to make way for a six-storey apartment block and a collection of two-storey cottages.

The Grade II listed Grace House will be transformed into a wellness centre and cafe under the plans, opened to both residents and the public.

Other school buildings dotted around the site, such as the Grade-II listed brutalist Grace House along with five Victorian villas, will be retained and transformed into housing, a wellness centre and cafe.

Meanwhile, a 19th Century coach house on the edge of the site has been earmarked for an ‘urban village hall’ and the allotments that surround it have been gifted to pupils at Westbury Park Primary School.

A sign put up by the St Christopher’s Action Network on the boundaries of the proposed development site.

The ambitious project has come under fire by the St Christopher’s Action Network (SCAN), formed by a group of residents who have slammed it as a ‘greedy and excessive overdevelopment’ in a much-loved conservation area.

But speaking to BristolWorld at the site, project manager Luke Martin of Soicus insisted he wasn’t frustrated by the group’s stance, nor by the signs that have been put up around the site’s boundaries urging residents to object.

Developers are hoping to turn this 19th Century coach house into an ‘urban village hall’.

Hundreds of formal objections have been submitted so far - the main qualms from residents being lack of adequate parking (65 spaces), which could cause cars to spill out onto already busy roads, the ‘towering’ height of the apartment block and the loss of a ‘desperately needed’ special needs residential school.

Mr Martin said: “I grew up in this area and it hasn’t seen a lot of development over the years. Ultimately, residents aren’t used to it.

“But we have engaged with the community from the very beginning and will continue to do so. Not everyone will agree with our position but there are still lots of conversations to be had.”

An artist’s impression of what the new homes could look like.

Responding to residents’ concerns, Mr Martin said that the highest buildings throughout the development would be positioned at the centre of the site, easing any ‘towering’ effect over the surrounding houses.

He also said that Bristol City Council had confirmed to developers that there ‘wasn’t a specific need’ for a special needs residenial school in the area.

Some residents have questioned why the proposals fail to mention any affordable housing provision, but Mr Martin said that ‘hadn’t been decided yet’ and would be discussed by developers should the plans be greenlit.

A bird’s eye view of the site.

With regards to parking, he said: “We don’t underestimate the challenges of parking but, statistically, just 35% of people moving into retirement properties keep their car.

“The focus of the development is not just about providing extra care homes, it’s on environmental sustainability.

“The demographic moving here will be active people looking to use public transport links on their doorstep and we already have significant travel plans in place that include improving access across the Durdham Downs to the bus stops.”

Mr Martin added that the plans for the retirement hub were ‘ever evolving’ and centered around what buildings developers ‘could retain, rather than lose’.

The modern section of St Christopher’s which houses a reception and a small theatre will be demolished, but are being used in the meantime by local groups such as bands and scouts.

A small theatre housed within a modern part of the former school is currently being used as a rehearsl space by local groups, but will eventually be demolished to make way for the apartment blocks.

There are also plans to start work on one of the Victorian villas that need to be refurbished first, so that Ukrainian refugees can be housed there while the rest of the development takes shape.

What makes the development ‘pioneering’ for Bristol is that it will open the entire site to the community and make it inter-generational when it would usually be shut off, Mr Martin added.

It is hoped that Ukrainian refugees could be housed in one of the site’s Victorian villas while the rest of the development takes shape.

He said that similar schemes have proved successful in Europe but haven’t really been seen yet in the UK.

If plans are given the go ahead, the development is expected to be completed by 2025.