St Christopher’s: Row over £85m development intensifies as residents lodge more than 600 objections

‘The people have spoken’

Residents in Bristol’s Westbury Park have made their feelings towards plans to redevelop a special needs school into an eco retirement village clear after a whopping 612 objections were lodged against the project.

The FORE Partnership want to build 122 ‘extra care’ homes on the site of St Christopher’s, a former school off the Durdham Downs, and submitted a planning application outlining the proposals to Bristol City Council in March.

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The £85million scheme would see parts of the school such as its main hall demolished to make way for a six-storey apartment block, with a number of Victorian villas dotted around the site refurbished for further housing.

Residents from SCAN (St Christopher’s Action Network) gather at the front of the site in Westbury Park.

But SCAN (St Christopher’s Action Network), a group of residents in the throes of a fierce campaign against the development since its launch, remain unconvinced.

What are opposing residents saying?

St Christopher’s closed in 2019 and the site has been sealed off ever since - developers have promised it would be opened to the community if the plans are given the green light, so what’s the issue?

The main issues SCAN have with the plans relate to:

1) Lack of parking (65 spaces) which will lead to increased congestion on already swamped roads

2) The loss of Bristol’s ‘last’ special needs residential school which they say is ‘desperately needed’

3) The height of the proposed proposed apartment block which they fear will ‘tower’ over other houses

4) The fact that no provision for affordable housing has (as of yet) materialised within the plans

David Haves, a spokesperson for SCAN, said the group knew the comminity felt strongly about the development but had been ‘blown away’ by the flood of objections.

He said: “People are not just concerned the plans will damage local heritage, the environment and road safety.

An artist’s impression of what the retirement village could look like, according to developers.

“Many want to know why there’s no affordable housing or SEND provision on the site of what was a vital and treasured school for Bristol's vulnerable children.”

Mr Haves said the developers had ‘completely misjudged the values of not just the Westbury Park community but the city of Bristol as a whole.

“It’s unbelievable they think they can get away with a total lack of affordable housing despite trying to push through six storey buildings and crass overdevelopment,” he added.

“The people have spoken and the message is clear.”

What are the developers saying?

When BristolWorld visited the site in May, Soicus project manager Luke Martin said the plans were ‘ever evolving’and developers would continue to make every effort to engage with the community over them.

He 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 told BristolWorld that Bristol City Council had investigated and confirmed that there was ‘no specific need’ for an SEN residential school in the area.

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

Mr Martin also drew attention to the positive work developers were doing at the site, such as opening the school hall to local groups and putting plans in place to refurbish one of the Victorian villas first so it can be used to temporarily house Ukrainian refugees.

A bird’s eye view of the site.

With regards to parking, a spokesperson for Soicus issued a new comment.

“We are aware of the concerns raised by local residents regarding parking provision,” they said.

“Our proposals for the St Christopher’s site include 65 dedicated parking for residents, staff and visitors and these will be supplemented with a car club, shuttle buses and cycling provision.

“The site is in a very accessible location and as such, we anticipate that people will make use of the regular public transport services along Westbury Road and easy walking routes to local shops and services.

A Victorian villa at the site that will be transformed into further housing should the plans go ahead.

“We are in support of a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) being introduced in the area for local residents and businesses.

“Should a CPZ be introduced, we will work with the Council to ensure that no resident, staff or visitor from the St Christophers site will be eligible to access this.”

What do the objections say?

In her comment on the Bristol City Council website, long-term resident Mrs Smith told the authority: “We have been privileged to live in the area for more than 60 years.

“This beautiful site should be kept for the community. What has happened to your policy on affordable housing?”

Another resident, Matthew Bishop said the consultation process had been ‘disengaged, obstructive and frankly dishonest’.

A SCAN sign on the boundaries of the proposed development site.

He added: “Of course, cities are dynamic and ever-evolving places. But our urban spaces are handed down to us for safe keeping, and it is our responsibility as a society to ensure that they are well looked after for generations to come.

“As such, I believe it would be a complete dereliction of duty to allow these short-sighted and insensitive proposals to be passed in their current form.”

The project has also attracted critcism from the managers of Aurora, an adult care home for people with learning difficulties that borders the site, wwho argue the tower block would ‘overlook their safe space’.

MP for Bristol North West Darren Jones, as well as ward councillors Geoff Gollop, Steve Smith and Sharon Scott, have also raised concerns about the project - particularly over parking and traffic issues.

A small handful of comments (seven) were submitted in support of the project.