Response to Cambridge Crescent Application

REF: REVISED PLANNING APPLICATION (-registered 14th January 2022) FOR APP. NO 20/05326/F

This application was originally listed for full comment in February 2021 and to which 16 residents and planning groups responded. It has remained without an officer’s response/report for nearly a year, until the last fortnight, when notifications of the REVISED plan from BCC Planning, referring to its appearance on the website, were received on Jan 22nd - from an outsourced Wakefield address. However, these arrived AFTER emails had been sent out by Development Management - dated 20th Jan-announcing a referral to the Planning Committee A meeting on Feb 2nd 2022, with a recommendation to accept.
THIS APPEARS TO BE A CASE OF MUDDLE AND POOR ADMINISTRATION: Previous respondents have not been given the statutory period of notification of the revised (in other words NEW) plans from the Developers or the opportunity to hold their own meetings/discussion or deliver their comments to the planning officer, before he/she wrote the report-which has clearly been done in advance of the new application and without reference to the significant alterations that have been made to the original submission, but recommends acceptance!
Before sending comments on the revised plan, I therefore wish to lodge a strong protest on behalf of the Society and local residents on the lack of correct procedure, and most particularly because of the significance of this application to the conservation area of Westbury on Trym. Thus, my summary will go simultaneously to the website and to the planning committee for the meeting on Feb 2nd, which is irregular, but what these circumstances must demand.
I must apologize therefore in advance, if this statement runs to more than one page, because space is needed in order to make the necessary points. These otherwise would have gone to the relevant planning officer via correct procedure, in advance of a meeting referral, to be noted and absorbed into a report by the officer for the committee - thus giving time for it to be read in advance and compared with the original application, which has been summarily altered without reference to residents’ opinions being recorded.
1 Visual Impact on the main Westbury Conservation Area: unacceptable style of architecture and its inappropriateness for the surroundings alongside other historic buildings/terraces in the vicinity
2 Size and massing of the proposed buildings in relation to the site itself and neighbouring properties
3 Lack of various amenities for the occupants of the two houses proposed – giving rise to poor quality living conditions now and in the future
4 Additional Office accommodation not needed in this area - too much existing already unoccupied
5 Effects on lifestyles of existing residents
1 The Conservation Area in Westbury on Trym has recently been revised and extended, with members of the Society undertaking the character appraisal with the help and supervision of the Council’s own conservation planners/advisors. Cambridge Crescent, Stoke Lane (village end) and Southfield Road are now within its boundaries. It is characterised by a variety of styles of housing dating from circa 1750, via early 19thC Georgian, small scale Victorian, through to late 19thC terraces and early 20thC shops, originally with living accommodation above. Shore House - shops and offices - is the only modern building (1980s), built however with some traditional features to blend with buildings opposite and the Health Centre, although also recent, has a Gothic character design to compliment the well -known 15thCentury Church behind it. The present design for 2no three stored houses alongside a ‘tower block’ of offices, is of too great a height and scale for the context and has clumsy, contemporary facades that deny any shade of reference to the refined rhythms of the Cambridge Crescent terraced housing or the dignified lines of the Georgian buildings in the area. Please see pages 2, 3, 6, of my original response for details but the design does not meet requirements of policies: BCS 21 ‘contributing to an area’s character and identity: reinforcing distinctiveness’; BCS 22 ‘safeguarding and enhancing existing heritage assets’; or para 131 of the NPPF: ‘raise standards of design…so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings’.
2 Size and Massing of the proposed combined houses and an office block: It is difficult to understand how this new version of the design differs in its impact on the street scene from the original. All that has happened is that the former plan for two first and second floor flats above the Kitchen Design shop has been removed. This begs 2 questions: will that design intention re-appear once permission has been gained for this rear extension? -if it is- or has a problem arisen that precludes building on top of the single storey shop-that used to be Westbury’s first Bank - because structurally it cannot bear the load?! Is that why the tall end building- 53 Westbury Hill -taken as the measure for this oversized development to its rear, has now been redesignated as office accommodation instead of part of a conversion to flats?
At all events, the new version does not accord with Policy DM 27 of Bristol’s Core Strategy namely: “The height, scale and massing of development should be appropriate to the immediate context, site constraints, character of adjoining streets and spaces, the setting…and its location within the townscape”. The nature of the surrounding conservation area, as discussed, clearly demonstrates that this is not the case and these massive buildings cannot possibly be made to fit happily into this streetscape in their present form.
3 Lack of amenities for occupants of these two houses and poor living conditions in future-particularly in terms of viable outdoor living space for what are purporting to be 5 person homes-ie suitable for a family. The rooms are small and cramped – (it is claimed that the design has minimum room sizes of 90m2); there does not appear to be much space for storage on any floor, with roof space occupied by bedrooms and apart from cycle stores in the end passage, the pocket-sized gardens will not allow of storage for garden, out door sports, or children’s equipment, like prams, scooters etc. Worst is the size and aspect of the two, so called ‘court-yard’ gardens. I live two doors away from the Crescent and know exactly when and how the sunshine hits my back and front gardens, their aspects and where the areas of damp, dark shade occur. These houses will be South facing at their frontages and the sun will move around to the West in the afternoon. Given their overwhelming height -at the same level as the tower block at 53 Westbury Hill, those small patches will be overshadowed all day long, be dark and damp and even grass will have sustainability problems. Given the recent needs for access to green space during the pandemic and the healing qualities of trees, shrubs and green walls-even on a small scale- I beg the committee to consider these matters.
If one house only, or two maisonettes-one per floor- were to be substituted and the office block removed, then a strip of viable garden could be provided to right or left of the property and receive sunshine until about 3.0pm in winter and 4.0pm in summer. I refer you to Policy DM29 of BCS: ‘Design of New Buildings’: ‘Proposals will be expected to- “Ensure existing and proposed development achieves appropriate levels of privacy, outlook and daylight and ‘incorporates opportunities for green infrastructure, such as green roofs, green walls and decks that may be accessed and used as appropriate”. This dictum can hardly be satisfied in the circumstance of this design!
In mitigation of this failure, the applicants have stated elsewhere that there are A) Numerous parklands within walking distance in the vicinity and B) Plenty of car parking!
A) There is ONE park and that is the other side of the very busy main A4018 Road -small children cannot possibly walk there alone to play out and will require parent transport to other woods and the Downs areas.
B) Apart from the small car park opposite (privately owned) there is insufficient on street parking now in the area for office workers and residents and the Council owned park on Westbury Hill is timed & filled to bursting point with shoppers and patients all day.
4 We do not need any more offices in this area. The applicants have already turned the existing ‘tower block’ back to this function on their new plan, there are surplus offices in Southfield Road, 1.400 m2 of floor space in the redundant Job Centre in nearby Church Rd that has been empty for at least 5 years and our former Crown Post Office ground floor has been up for rental for 2 years. Shore house also has offices regularly advertised for rental.
5 Effects on lifestyles of residents - Car Parking density from commuters into Westbury for work purposes, plus car ownership locally has reached maximum break point. The massing of the building design is oppressive and intimidating and there is overlooking of others’ privacy through windows and over walls. Will the design therefore satisfy the NPPF para 38-in securing a ‘development that will improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of the area’? Hardly….
Finally, I wish to make clear that the Westbury Society is not against re-development in principle, nor are we against the provision of more housing. Everyone has sons and daughters or grandchildren desperate to find homes of their own and the need is very great all over Britain. All we ask is that what is created has privacy, is as spacious as possible for good mental health and that everyone has easy and rapid access to fresh air, sunshine and green space attached or close to their home, with ideally enough space to grow plants/vegetables and a tree. This design does not satisfy these criteria or fit its local context architecturally.
Hilary Long pp The Westbury on Trym Society
January 30th 2022