Response to Redevelopment of High Street Toilets

8 Southdown Road
Westbury on Trym
29 September 2022

Dear Councillor

Planning Application 22/03873/F: Toilets, High Street, Westbury on Trym

As you know, the Westbury on Trym Society believes that the action of the council in closing and then selling a community asset – the High Street toilets – is unacceptable and has objected in principle to the previous planning application for change of use and the current application. We asked you if the application could be called in to Committee, but we understand you feel that whatever the rights and wrongs of the closure of the toilets, the decision has been made. Having discussed this further at the committee’s meeting on 13 September, we would ask you to reconsider your position.

The Society considers that there is a substantial difference between closing toilets, maybe due to a need to refurbish or repair or simply for budgeting reasons and one of closing and then disposing of the toilets. This has allowed a new owner to apply to change the use of the premises. In the first instance the building is not lost, but could be reopened at a future date when resources allow – the transfer of money to reserves instead of using it for re-opening toilets shows that there was potential funding for re-opening toilets. Selling off the toilets was designed to prevent any re-use.

The Society has no quibble with the applicant, as the sale particulars indicated that alternative uses might be possible, though it is up to the purchaser to consider the risks. Sale by auction, as was the case, did not permit the prospective new owner to purchase conditionally subject to planning permission, which would have been the correct way of dealing with the situation.

In the Society’s view there are clearly fundamental local planning policy tests which the change of use has to pass and we are firmly of the belief that these have not been passed.

Policy BCS12 of the Bristol Core Strategy (2011) states that community facilities should be retained unless it can be demonstrated that there is no longer a need to retain the use or where an alternative provision is made. Then development management policy DM5 sets out the position when a planning application is submitted which involves the loss of a community facility:

Proposals involving the loss of community facilities land or buildings will not be permitted unless it is demonstrated that:

i. The loss of the existing community use would not create, or add to, a shortfall in the provision or quality of such uses within the locality or, where the use has ceased, that there is no need or demand for any other suitable community facility that is willing or able to make use of the building(s) or land; or

ii. The building or land is no longer suitable to accommodate the current community use and cannot be retained or sensitively adapted to accommodate other community facilities; or

iii. The community facility can be fully retained, enhanced or reinstated as part of any redevelopment of the building or land; or

iv. Appropriate replacement community facilities are provided in a suitable alternative location.

We have pointed out that we do not consider that these tests have been passed. Parts i to iii of the above policy have not been demonstrated, and we have shown that replacement facilities, allegedly the Grupo Lounge in Canford Lane, Canford Park and the Crematorium are not suitable replacements.

It is worth noting that the officer’s report on the earlier planning application acknowledged that the toilets were a community facility and that these policies applied, but brushed off the Society’s arguments with the following statement.

It is evident that site was previously in use as public toilets owned by the Council, however they are no longer in use and were sold to the applicant at auction. The site was auctioned in 2019, following closure in 2018. It is evident that following auction the site was not purchased by an individual or community group seeking to retain the existing public convenience provision at the site. It is also evident that the Council considered the existing toilets surplus to requirements in 2018 hence they were closed and put to auction. It can therefore reasonably be assumed that there is no longer a demand or need to retain the existing use in this location.

In order to circumvent BCS12 and DN5, the officer suggests that there must have been no demand for the toilets. They were not surplus to the community’s requirements. The idea that there was no longer a demand or need to retain the existing use in this location is not based on any credible evidence. Given the large numbers of elderly in the local population, who have a greater need for such facilities, this is particularly unacceptable.

We consider that the planning system is now the only way of enabling the possibility of retaining the toilets to be achieved and we would again ask that you support us in this.

Alternatively, should this not have the desired impact, we would ask for your support in the provision of a replacement public convenience for Westbury. One suggestion put to the committee is providing a single new wheelchair accessible wc module by the entrance to the Westbury Hill car park. Another option might be through the redevelopment of Carlton Court but that seems to be a very long way off.

Yours sincerely
A C Renshaw MRTPI
For the Westbury on Trym Society