Bristol news: hospital refusal double whammy for city’s waterfront

James Edwards

Bristol City Council’s decision to throw out ambitious plans for the redevelopment of the General Hospital has left key elements of the city’s waterfront heritage at risk of falling into disrepair, according to James Edwards at Colliers International.

The industrial heritage specialist, who has campaigned for the restoration of the city’s maritime features, believes the council has missed two opportunities.

Which are to preserve one of Bristol’s most familiar landmarks but and revamp the surrounding area.

He said: “This decision is a real double whammy for Bristol.

“Not only have we missed the chance to bring an outstanding historic city building back into the public realm but we have also turned our backs on the potential knock-on effects, which could have helped revamp the Bathurst Basin and – by – extension – the New Cut.

James Edwards’ comments follow the city council’s decision to reject Essex-based City & Country Group’s plans to convert the former General Hospital into 300 apartments.

The developers, who paid £6m to the NHS for the three acre site, planned to include an arcade of shops, boutiques and cafes on the former hospital’s waterfront on Guinea Street, overlooking the New Cut.

The plan foundered over the question of how much the developers were prepared to pay towards the local infrastructure under a section 106 agreement and also on the lack of any affordable housing within the complex.

The council had requested the developers agree to a section 106 agreement paying £1.2 million towards education and recreational facilities as well as earmarking 20 per cent of the apartments for affordable housing.

City & Country offered £120,000 and there was no provision for affordable housing.

But James Edwards – who has a successful track record advising developers seeking to obtain or overturn planning decisions – said the city council’s case appeared to be out of step with current Government policy drivers.

“We recognise the council’s desire to ensure that important infrastructure be provided through contributions, but it is important to find the balance – a balance which stimulates growth and injects a bit of positive energy into Bristol which in turn makes a statement of intent about how Bristol wishes to move forwards and not stagnate.

“Just this week David Cameron has reaffirmed his intention to cut through what he sees as the “paralysis” which holds up many potential new housing developments resulting in lengthy planning inquiries.

“In addition a recent government commissioned report into the private rented sector by Sir Adrian Montague argued that councils should be allowed to waive requirements to build affordable homes in order to increase the number of properties built to let.

”This new emphasis would seem to undermine the council’s position. I believe the developers stand a very good chance of overturning this decision at appeal.

”But in the meantime the refusal will see an iconic Bristol building in a prominent waterfront position near the city centre having an uncertain future.”

The Broad Quay based heritage specialist said: “In addition to saving this wonderful building I believe the General Hospital plan would also improve the public realm in the Bathurst Basin and along the New Cut, encouraging the full use and enjoyment of the watercourse rather than avoiding it.”

Developers City & Country group have vowed to challenge the refusal. They claimed the city council has failed to take on board the risks associated with developing the hospital complex and made unrealistic demands as to the level of developer contributions and affordable housing required from the scheme.