Bristol Zoo Redevelopment (includes latest letter 14/3/21)

Feb 28, 2021

Many of you will be aware that the Zoo will be moving in 2022 from Clifton to its Wild Place Project site at Cribbs Causeway. The intention is to redevelop the Clifton site for housing.

The first phase is to be the submission, this spring, of a planning application to develop the Zoo's West Car Park on College Road, with a 4.5 storey apartment block along College Road and 2 storey mews houses on the western part of the site, 65 dwellings in all. There will be only 45 car parking spaces but 'plentiful cycle parking'.

Prior to making the formal planning application the Zoo says it is 'consulting widely' on its proposals by writing to more than 200 local houses and businesses and that it will 'take into account feedback'.

CHIS representatives have attended two Zoom meetings about the project and our architectural advisor has studied the plans. We have already been contacted by a considerable number of members voicing concerns about the proposals. CHIS has written to the Zoo's Chief Executive, Dr Justin Morris, with our comments and suggestions :

Dear Dr Morris,

First, thank you for the recent Zoom presentations, to local residents and interested organisations, of the Zoo’s proposals to redevelop the West Car Park area for housing prior to the move to the Wild Place Project site. CHIS is duly appreciative.

Brian Worthington, Chair of CHIS, will contact you individually in the coming days, but the following constitutes our official initial response to the scheme as it has been outlined, and is informed by the views of our Architectural Adviser.

We share your view of the importance of the site within the Conservation Area and applaud your ambition to leave a legacy of which we can all be proud. Unfortunately, in our view, the scheme fails to match those ambitions.

Our concerns are three-fold.

  1. We appreciate the assurances that future residents without allocated parking on site will not be eligible for residents’ parking permits. However, in light of the extent to which the system has been exploited and manipulated in the past, we would need to have credible guarantees on the matter.

  2. The Zoo’s broadsheet does not identify the Architects responsible for the scheme. This is unfortunate since it would seem reasonable to ask to see relevant projects from their portfolios, their track record for comparable developments and any awards they may have obtained.

In very general terms we would argue that there are three main approaches to residential (or, indeed, other) developments in historic areas : Modern/Contemporary; Pastiche; Facsimile. Facsimile is always the preferred option for elevations facing onto the public domain and which will become part of the ‘character’ of the Conservation Area. Modern is often appropriate for public buildings - for example, the new extension to St. George’s. All too often pastiche ends up being (as here) little more than a watered down, half-hearted attempt at ‘reflecting’ the local built environment and the ‘local vernacular’, rather than being in keeping with the local architectural language.

The front elevation of Block A on College Road and the front and rear elevations of Block B on Cecil Road will be of critical importance. The existing houses on College Road are three substantial storeys above ground level. The proposal is not a series of terrace houses with front doors on the street but a five storey block of flats. The top floor masquerades behind a continuous fake ‘mansard’ reminiscent of some of the worst post-war neo-Georgian flats in many cities - for example, to the north of the Hyde Park Estate in London Paddington. This part of the proposal would do great harm to the Conservation Area. The published photomontage attempts to minimise the bulk and height of the block, and the extent to which it would be utterly out of keeping in height, scale and appearance with the existing terrace of houses. In our view, what is needed is either a series of terrace houses comparable to the new facsimile house on the corner of Clifton Park and Pembroke Road, or a very modern block of flats designed by an architect of national calibre - possibly white rendered or Bath stone.

  1. It is only to be expected that ‘sustainability’ is central to the proposals. But it is not clear that the scheme goes beyond simply conforming to the mandatory planning and Building Regulation standards. Surely this project could be more ambitious. Attached is a copy of the visionary submission put together by the Greenwich Millennium Team for a redevelopment of a site on the Greenwich Peninsula which might be seen as a model for environmentally sustainable development. See especially Section 5.

We feel, in short, that the proposal's lack of aspiration fails to reflect the importance and potential of the site.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Jefferies

Second letter

Dear Dr Morris,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment further on the current proposals to re-develop the Zoo’s West Car Park.

There is an important precedent for the position CHIS argued in our earlier submission. Almost 20 years ago the site in Canynge Road then occupied by Squash Courts and a Rifle Range (both belonging to Clifton College) was sold for re-development. A modern block of Flats was proposed. The Development Control Committee refused to grant Planning permission on grounds of the harm that would result to the Conservation Area. An Appeal was lodged. The Inspector dismissed the Appeal arguing, crucially, that unless of truly excellent design in itself any building should blend with its surroundings and not stand out as an assertive feature (Appeal decision APP/Z0116/A/03/1114350 dated 14 November 2003). Two subsequent Appeal decisions relating to the same site (APP/Z0116/E/05/1186528 dated 11 April 2006 and APP/Z0116/E/07/2036806 dated 25 October 2007)re-affirmed this principle. The result is the two near-facsimile buildings at 46 and 48 Canynge Road.

The consequences to this decision, which encapsulates the meaning and the intention of both national and local Planning Policy, is that any proposal within the Conservation Area should either be a facsimile design or a modern scheme by a practice of national importance and recognition, or of national award or competition winning excellence. The scheme for the block of Flats on College Road is neither facsimile nor can it be considered of ‘excellent design’. Rather it is a pastiche building designed to achieve the maximum number of units without making any real effort to blend with the historic context or aspire to a vision of excellence.

In short, we believe the proposal fails to address the requirement of Section 72 (1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 which demands of decision makers that they ‘have special regard to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of a Conservation Area’. Nor do we believe the scheme accords with Bristol City Council Core Strategy Principles as set out in BCS 21 (Quality Urban Design) and BCS 22 (Conservation and the Historic Environment) - Policies aimed at ensuring that all new development safeguards or enhances that historic environment.

We also do not accept that the scheme as it stands would cause no or less than substantial harm to the setting of the Listed Buildings on Clifton Down. It should be stressed that, under the 1990 Act referenced above, when a development harms Listed Buildings or their setting (and/or a Conservation Area) considerable weight must be given to that harm, giving rise to a presumption against the grant of Planning permission.

We hope that the Zoo will have regard to its legacy and its reputation and seriously re-think these proposals.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Jefferies - on behalf of CHIS

The plans are on the Zoo website. Plans Here

The Zoo says that its 'ambition is that the scheme should be of the highest quality and sensitive to the surrounding conservation area'. In our opinion these plans fail to achieve that goal.

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