Bristol councillors will check the heights of new houses before they are built at a controversial development in Lockleaze – and can hold up construction if they are not happy.
The 268-home estate in Romney Avenue, which boasts 55 per cent affordable housing, will be the first created by the local authority’s housing company Goram Homes, which has teamed up with Vistry Partnerships for the development.
But a new planning condition has been added to the consent granted in September to address concerns about building height expressed by residents and local councillors who objected to the application.
The planning committee which approved the plans heard the two-storey houses at the estate would be “unnecessarily high” at almost two metres taller than normal and would “tower” over nearby homes in Cheswick Village and Hogarth Walk.
Concerns were also raised about the ground level at the site and the possible redistribution of soil piled up on land to the east of Romney Avenue, opposite the now demolished Romney House council buildings.
Granting consent, councillors asked officers to draft an extra planning condition to check what the finished building heights would be once existing ground levels were taken into account, “particularly where the ground levels appear to have been raised”.
The condition they approved last week will see the developers submit details about the ground levels and proposed finished floor levels, “with particular reference to any increase in existing ground levels”, before the foundations are laid.
The council will calculate the finished building heights from the information provided by the applicant, the planning committee heard on November 24.
If lead members of the committee are happy with the results, they can give the green light for construction behind closed doors, Bristol City Council’s development manager, Gary Collins, said.
If they are dissatisfied, they have the option to bring the matter back for public debate, he said.
The decision whether to hold another planning meeting to discuss the issue is likely to be made early next year, Mr Collins said.
Proposed planning condition labelled ‘an insult’
The new planning condition approved by the committee contained an extra clause which they added following criticism from two local councillors and a resident who said the original wording was “vague” and “wilfully ignored” what members had said they wanted.
The condition originally proposed by officers read: “Prior [to] the construction of foundations, a general arrangement plan(s) indicating the existing surveyed ground levels of the site and the proposed finished floor levels of the development shall be submitted and approved by the Local Planning Authority. Thereafter the development shall be completed in accordance with the approved details.”
Resident Katherine Hill said it did nothing to allay the community’s fears about building heights and was “an insult”.
“It is simply another example of the planning department and developer, riding roughshod over the difficult issues of the height of this area and its impact on existing residents,” she said.
“I consider it to be a dereliction of their duties to you as planning committee members to have so wilfully ignored your intentions.”
Mr Collins said adding the words “with particular reference to any increase in existing ground levels” to the condition would ensure the council was “alive” to the possibility of the developer “building up land levels”.
Fewer units than expected will be accessible
The committee also heard that an “error” in the application meant they had believed the development would be 100 per cent “accessible and adaptable” for older and disabled people when they approved it.
In fact, while two per cent of the homes will be fully wheelchair accessible, as required by policy, only 64 per cent will be fully “accessible for those with limited mobility and adaptable for residents whose needs change over time”, meeting an M4(2) building standard.
This is because the development has no lifts so future occupants will have to climb stairs to reach 84 upper-floor apartments and ten flats built over garages, the meeting heard.
An officer wrote in an update for the committee that the clarification from Goram Homes was “disappointing” as many people on the housing list have mobility issues.
But Steve Baker from Goram said: “This is not a change from the application that was put forward. This is a clarification in a drafting error on the report.
“There was an interpretation based on information provided by us as the applicant that made its way wrongly into the report and overstated the amount of fully compliant M4(2) units.”
Labour councillor Fabian Breckels said 64 per cent was “fantastic” anyway, noting that the inclusion of lifts in the development would have driven up service maintenance costs and affected affordability.
Committee chair, Green councillor Ani Stafford-Townsend, agreed but asked officers to ensure that errors were picked up and corrected before decisions were due to be made.