Plan for 20-storey block at former Gardiner Haskins Soapworks site approved

A CGI of how the Soapworks development could look. Credit: Visulent AB/First Base

A new 20-storey tower block will be built in Bristol city centre as part of a £175million project to transform the former Gardiner Haskins building.

The Grade-II listed Soapworks in Old Market is set to be turned into a tower block housing 243 homes, a food and drinks hall and space for work, retail and leisure.

Bristol City Councillors approved the plans after previous proposals to create a hotel with self-catering accommodation were dropped.

The hotel would have reduced the amount of affordable housing in the scheme, which will now be 20 per cent.

The plans were given the go-ahead despite objections from neighbours, who fear the new buildings will dwarf their block and mean they lose sunlight and privacy.

Elliot Davidson, who lives in nearby Kingsley House, said the overshadowing of his block would create a “dark and depressing environment" and the loss of light would be “devastating”.

Almost 250 homes will be created on the site of the old soapworks. Credit: First Base

Neighbour Peter Dunn said in a statement to Bristol City Council's development control committee it would feel like he is "living in a goldfish bowl with no real privacy at all”.

But officers said the public benefits outweighed the impact on residents and recommended approval.

Addressing neighbours’ loss of light, a planning officer said: “It is quite complicated.

“The blunt answer is there will be an impact in terms of lighting in some of the properties in the nearby area.

“At the moment you’ve got a car park, so any development on that car park of any scale whatsoever will have some impact in terms of lighting.

“This is a high-density residential area and there are elements which, if it was a suburban area, we would perhaps say weren’t acceptable.

“There isn’t any case where a property will be impacted all day or in its entirety.

“It’s a balanced view but officers were satisfied the harm wasn’t significant enough to warrant refusal.”

The project must now be signed off by the Secretary of State. Credit: Bagot/First Base

Cllr Marg Hickman said Kingsley House had mostly council tenants who felt “beleaguered” and victims of a “pincer movement” from nearby building work in recent years.

But she said the developers had promised her they would work with the block’s community group to mitigate some of the impact.

Now the project must be signed off by the Secretary of State because of an objection from Historic England regarding the harm to heritage assets.

Historic England principal inspector of historic buildings and areas Simon Hickman said the “substantial demolition” of ancillary buildings would cause “considerable harm”. He said they were also concerned about the height of the 20-storey tower.

Cllr Olly Mead said he "understands" the concern, adding: “It’s beautiful, I love the brickwork, but equally it’s not somewhere I would go particularly to look for this kind of thing. It’s not a tourist hotspot.

“The big public benefit is there could be some decent housing there and that’s desperately needed.”

First Base project director Lucinda Mitchell said the firm is "delighted" the plans have been approved.

She added: “These proposals will help drive Bristol’s inclusive and sustainable recovery by delivering the new homes and modern flexible workspace needed in the city.

“Soapworks will be a live, work, play neighbourhood, supporting people and planet with a new ecology of independent retailers, food operators and cafes, as well as cultural uses, to attract and retain talent in the city centre.”

Credit: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter

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