'A visual disaster' - plans for 800 homes on Bristol shopping centre site refused

Councillors unanimously rejected the plans to build more than 800 homes on the shopping centre site in Knowle. Credit: Redcatch Quarter

Controversial plans to demolish a shopping centre in Bristol to make way for 850 homes have been refused by the city council.

Proposals for a new development on the site of Broadwalk Shopping Centre in Knowle were unveiled last year.

But planning committee members have now voted against officers’ initial recommendation to grant permission for it.

The unanimous decision followed concerns about a lack of affordable housing and the high number of buildings planned.

Councillors said it was like “trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot” and branded the idea that the development, known as Redcatch Quarter, was a 'new village' as “an insult to villages across the land”.

'A visual and social disaster planned in the heart of Knowle'

Some of the buildings were planned to be as tall as 12 storeys high. One resident claimed it would be an “ongoing visual and social disaster planned right in the heart of Knowle”.

The proposals, which have divided the community, involved bulldozing all the buildings on site, including the snooker hall, bingo hall, multi-storey car park and shops.

They included a cinema and theatre community space, dental surgery and a pedestrianised high street connecting Redcatch Park to Wells Road.

The buildings were planned to be as tall as 12 storeys high. Credit: Redcatch Quarter

Almost 250 objections were received with concerns such as overshadowing of neighbouring properties and a lack of space at local GP surgeries and schools.

The scheme was backed by several other residents and the two Knowle Community ward councillors, as well as the council’s planning officers who said the outline plans were acceptable and that detailed designs would be considered later.

An officer told the development control committee on 31 May that the developer had agreed to increase the number of affordable homes from 55 – seven per cent – to 80, or 9.8 per cent.

He said that despite council policy aiming for 30 per cent affordable housing on new developments in this part of Bristol, schemes had to remain financially viable to build, so the figure of less than a third of this meant it was still policy compliant.

Committee members heard the project would have seen a £200million investment in the area, unlocking more than £150million of social and economic value.

'The lack of affordable housing is a kick in the teeth'

Cllr Andrew Varney, Lib Dem, Brislington West, told the meeting: “Broadwalk has had its day, it’s not the kind of place people want to go to, it’s a failing shopping centre, pretty much everyone here agrees it needs to be redeveloped.

“The improved public realm should be applauded, the idea of having an east-west pedestrianised street is a fantastic idea for Knowle and biodiversity net gain is enormous – there is no ecology on site at the moment apart from rats.

“However, to achieve 850 units, the buildings will have to be unacceptably tall.

“Having buildings up to 12 storeys is really inappropriate in a mature suburb of largely two-storey buildings.

“The development will be unacceptably dense, leading to far too many single-aspect apartments.

The plans for the 800 homes divided opinion within the community.

“The lack of affordable housing is a real kick in the teeth.

“I know it’s a difficult site but we have lots of applications on complex brownfield sites and they are able to achieve much higher levels of affordable housing, so why can’t this one?

“To describe the scheme as a ‘new village’ is an insult to villages across the land.”

'Squeezing a quart into a pint pot'

Cllr Ed Plowden, Green, Windmill Hill, said: “Clearly the traders need to see some regeneration. They are suffering.

“The height, density and mass seems to be trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot.”

He said having so many flats in such a small space would harm residents’ health.

Cllr Chris Jackson, Labour, Filwood, said: “The place is just a mess at the moment but I can’t bring myself to vote for this, purely because it’s 850 dwellings in a very small area and the affordable housing is nowhere near the level it should be.”

'People in Knowle recognise the need for regeneration'

Addressing members earlier, Cllr Gary Hopkins, Knowle Community Party, Knowle, who is not on the committee, said: “The vast majority of people in Knowle recognise the need for regeneration.

“Something has been put around that if this plan is rejected today, a new one will come forward and we will all be happy.

“Officers have made it clear that this application is all in line with council policies.

“The only thing that will happen if we get a rejection today will be an expensive trip to the Planning Inspectorate, a delay and a nasty bill for this council.”

Officers were asked to come back to the next meeting with reasons for refusal, which is the usual “cooling-off period” for Bristol City Council development control committees if they reject plans against a recommendation to approve.

Credit: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter