St Christopher’s: Campaigners ‘furious’ at revised plans for retirement village on site of Bristol school

The new plans have been described as ‘disappointing’ by the local residents campaign group, especially the lack of ‘meaningful’ SEND provision for children

Campaigners have slammed the revised plans submitted by developers hoping to build an ‘eco retirement village’ on the site of St Christopher’s school in Westbury Park.

The St Christopher’s Action Network (SCAN) was set up by local residents to campaign for a ‘sensitive and appropriate’ development of the five-acre site at the edge of the Downs.

Real estate investment firm The FORE Partnership, extra care provider Amicala and developer Socius want to create 116 ‘extra care’ homes on the site of the former school and lodged a planning application for the £85m proposals with Bristol City Council in February.

The team behind the St Christopher’s Square development plans say it will be designed to ‘the highest standards in sustainability’ and will address the ‘shortage of accommodation in Bristol for older people, and free up under-occupied family homes in the local housing market’.

They also claim the site will offer residents the opportunity to receive ‘increasing levels of extra care and support as and when they need it, reducing the pressure on the NHS and wider care system’.

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.

Other school buildings dotted around the site, such as the Grade-II listed 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.

Part of the five-acre St Christopher’s site near the Downs

But the project has come under fierce opposition from SCAN, who have slammed it as a ‘greedy and excessive overdevelopment’ in a much-loved conservation area close to the Downs.

Hundreds of formal objections have been submitted in recent months - the main qualms from residents being lack of adequate parking, 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’ SEND (children with special educational needs) residential school.

Revised plans submitted this week have been described as ‘disappointing’ by SCAN, who claim there are ‘no substantial alterations’ and ‘only a few minor tweaks’.

Campaigner Pam Kaye, who lives nearby, said: “Yet again, the developers have failed to listen to the concerns of our community, national bodies and independent experts.

“Nothing substantial seems to have changed; a few tweaks here and there that do not amount to the radical rethink this scheme needs. There will still be 116 housing units crammed onto the site - that’s a reduction of just six from the original 122.

“The bottom line is that it’s still too densely packed, there’s no increase in parking spaces, no meaningful SEND provision, no affordable housing and a questionable landscape strategy.

“To return with only a few minor alterations shows a complete lack of respect to the vast numbers of people who gave up their time to write in with their thoughts and suggestions.”

An aerial view of the plans at St Christopher’s in Westbury Park

SCAN say only one block has been reduced by a storey and there will still be four blocks of flats, which they describe as ‘completely out of character with a conservation area’.

They also highlight the fact there has been no increase in parking spaces, which will impact traffic and safety in surrounding streets. SCAN describe the scheme as ‘overwhelming, overbearing and densely populated’.

The campaigners are also concerned that there is no commitment to honouring the site’s SEND legacy of the past 70 years other than occasional use of a room rather than any significant SEND provision which Bristol desperately needs.

A SCAN spokesperson added: “There was 70 years of specialist education on the site and the lawful use is still as a residential school for children with special needs.

“What we understand the SEND offer is at the moment is occasional use of a room in the gardener’s lodge, shared with residents who also use the space as well. This clearly would not work from a safeguarding point of view. I understand from my investigation with our local councillors about this offer that the developers ‘don’t mind’ what the space is used for but clearly saying SEND helps them tick a box.

“Bristol desperately needs SEND provision for all children - there are simply not enough specialist places and the problem is getting worse by the week.

“We would want to see substantial provision - a specialist school that can serve an decent intake of children, ideally residential or respite, to make up for the shortfall in places across the city.

“Many of these children are currently going out of county at great cost to the council tax payer. We don’t want to see an occasional use of a room - we want classrooms, teachers, resources and use of Grace House, which was designed for SEND children.”

There now follows a further consultation process over the Christmas and New Year period.

People can register their comments on Bristol City Council’s planning portal here.