Architects drawing of the planned cafe on the Downs
The future of a controversial new cafe on the Downs is still uncertain, more than two and a half years after it got the green light from city planners.
Plans to replace the old public toilets at Sea Walls with a steel and glass cafe were approved by Bristol City Council in March 2019, despite objections from nearly 100 residents.
But the cafe, which would include free public toilets, is still unbuilt as the group behind the plans is still waiting on confirmation from the Government that it can legally build the structure at the edge of Clifton Down.
It has already, after an initial rejection, obtained permission from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to build the cafe on what is common land.
Now the Downs Committee, which manages the public common on behalf of the council and the Society of Merchant Venturers, is waiting to hear whether the cafe is allowed under the Clifton and Durdham Downs Act (Bristol) Act 1861, which protects the land from development.
The planning consent is due to expire in March next year.
When the Downs Committee applied to build the new cafe, one opponent likened the venture to “building a Starbucks in the middle of Stonehenge”.
Bristol North West MP Darren Jones noted there were concerns about it “being ‘the thin edge of the wedge’ in respect of further commercialisation and development on the Downs”.
But the committee says the cafe is simply replacing an existing structure and the profits would fund the provision and maintenance of public toilets at the site.
The approved plans show the new, single-storey building would be about twice the size of the existing public toilets.
Its male, female and disabled toilets would be open to the public during the cafe’s proposed opening hours of 10am to 4pm on Sundays and 8am to 7pm every other day.
A single unisex and possibly coin-operated toilet would be available overnight, when disabled users would be able to access the disabled toilet by Radar (Royal Association for Disability Rights) key lock.
Discussing the latest delay to the project on Monday (November 15), the Downs Committee heard there was no way of knowing when they would hear back from the Government about the legality of the cafe under the Downs Act.
Merchant venturer Jonathan Baker, who wrote asking for clarification in February at the request of the council, said: “I’m afraid when you write to a government department, there’s a long piece of string, and sometimes that piece of string is longer than one expects it to be.
“But we hope we will get an answer. We have made some inroads in the last week.
“I’ve been doing this for five years. I’d quite like it to happen.”
The committee agreed to ask the council to renew the planning consent for the cafe just in case the existing consent expires before the Government replies.