Decision on Premier Inn redevelopment flawed

Lawyers acting on behalf of Bristol Civic Society have written to the Council setting out concerns about the decision to approve the redevelopment of the Premier Inn at The Haymarket. The proposals include a 28-storey tower for student accommodation.

In what’s called a Pre-Action Protocol (PAP) letter, lawyers explain that critical matters were missed in the information given to councillors and mistakes were made in how councillors were advised to approve the planning application. The PAP (link below) says this means the councillors’ decision, through no fault of theirs, was legally unsound. Lawyers say councillors should be given the opportunity to reconsider the application with all the information they need and in the correct way.

Lawyers were instructed to look at the advice to councillors because some of it didn’t look quite right. The Society considers such a controversial proposal with longstanding and widespread impacts should be considered properly, not least when a number of councillors said their decision was finely balanced. Previously, including in a Public Forum Statement to councillors, the Society has said Bristol deserves better than what has been proposed, explaining ‘We can house our citizens in decent, affordable homes and densify with dignity, keeping the essence of Bristol.’

The Society has also made the point that having concerns about specific proposals should not be caricatured as NIMBYism. Setting up such a false choice does a disservice to serious consideration of important issues. Like anybody who cares about Bristol, the Society wants to see more affordable homes, and in numbers that make a difference. But the Society doesn’t support cutting corners: in liveability, tackling the climate emergency or in delivering good design.

Bristol shouldn’t be panicked into accepting second-best. The sad legacy of previous ‘statement’ developments shows what happens when you do.

PAP Letter

13 thoughts on “Decision on Premier Inn redevelopment flawed”

    1. We can live with a referee’s decision, but when the rules have been broken we’ve a responsibility to point it out. We don’t want to waste everyone’s time and money going to court which is why we’ve asked for the application to be reconsidered. This time without the flaws in the earlier advice.

      1. Please expand on what material evidence has been missed that will actually impact the decision … you’re just being difficult

        1. We are seeking to ensure that councillors reach decisions having considered all relevant material considerations. The PAP (Pre-Action Protocol) letter explains what was missing from the planning balance.

  1. I cannot understand the Civic Society’s irrational dislike of high rise buildings. Whenever I read an article in the local press about a newly proposed tall building(s) the BCS always objects. This particular structure will be a massive improvement on the current high rise. You just have to look to New York and London to see how tall buildings can fit in well next to historical older buildings and obviously serve a housing purpose.
    I really think the Society should concentrate it’s efforts at getting the remains of the Grosvenor Hotel demolished, the graffiti removed from the rocks adjacent to the suspension bridge, the defunct fountains at the Victoria Rooms including the weeds and more graffiti. In fact the whole central area is filthy and covered in graffiti. The sporting stadia is positively third world as is the transport network (no trams) and no major arena in the centre – thanks to Mr Rees! Surely the Society should be concentrating on the aforementioned issues and forget the small handful of tall buildings which I think will add something positive to the city skyline.

    1. Steven, there are many issues to tackle in Bristol to make it a better place to live, which is why the Society is active across a number of fronts. There are updates on the website explaining our work.

      It’s worth bearing in mind, on high rise towers, the clear majority, when asked, have consistently said they do not want them.  The last time any serious effort was made to test opinion, the consultation on the Urban Living SPD, and the “quick survey… designed to gauge general views on higher density development and tall buildings”, what the local community wanted was made very clear:

      • 613 answered the question “Bristol should extensively promote high-rise tower blocks to meet its housing need” – 85% disagreed.

      • 610 answered the question “new residential units should primarily be provided in low
      and mid-rise developments (places like Wapping Wharf, Paintworks, Junction 3) rather than high-rise tower blocks” – 87% agreed.

  2. In response to your comment, Jack, about the continued objection to the building on the Premiere Inn site being embarrassing: If environmental activists in the 1960’s and 70’s had taken your approach, Bristol’s City docks would have been completely filled in, the proposed ‘Outer Circuit road’ would have put a Spaghetti Junction style road interchange where the SS Great Britain now sits and a huge extension to the Avon Gorge hotel would be sticking so far out into our precious Gorge itself that if you were standing on the Portway you would no longer be able to see the Clifton-side tower of the suspension Bridge. All these schemes had been granted Planning permission but were prevented by the vision of clear sighted activists who would not allow the vote of a few ill-informed councillors to go unchallenged. The Bristol of which we are all now so proud would have been unrecognisable. I for one am far from embarrassed by the Civic Society making huge efforts to ensure that, at the very least, the planning process is implemented fairly and properly.
    Out of interest – did you read the full submission of the developer and the thorough and well reasoned objections made in response by the Civic Society? One can only feel sorry for the Councillors who have to try and properly understand the significance of these lengthy and complicated documents.

  3. Responding to Steven Smith’s thoughts that a dislike of High Rise buildings is ‘irrational’ – for many of us it is totally rational. Bristol has remained until recently, a human scale city with a unique character that has attracted people from across the world to make it their home. It’s hilly landscape offers many beautiful views in all directions that bring joy to residents and visitors alike. The intrusion of huge, ugly concrete rectangles springing up indiscriminately, one after the other without even some sense of design or connectedness that one would hope to see in a progressive and creative City, is offensive to people who have known and loved Bristol all their lives. I would say that it is unhelpful to make comparisons with London and New York. New York has none of the history that Bristol has – it is a much younger city designed on a grid style layout. High rises are the norm – not a totally out of keeping ‘add-on’. London is a much larger City than Bristol where the average height of buildings in the centre is again much higher than here. The streets are wider, the river is much larger and it is much flatter.
    I agree that the current Premiere Inn building is exceptionally ugly but why can it not be replaced by a more beautiful building of similar height (or perhaps a little smaller) which would not destroy views and dominate the historic buildings nearby. The new building is going to be almost half as high again! The ‘sweetner’ with all these developments is that there will be improvements made to the ‘public realm’ but those could take place with a building of any height. As for the contribution they can make to the housing crisis – 28 stories of Student accommodation with windows that won’t open because of the pollution rising from the traffic filled road below seems like a lose lose situation to me.

    1. In response to Kim Hicks yes I agree that Bristol is a very striking city with some beautiful views, however there is a place for tall buildings in the right locations. The area around the Premier Inn is mostly run down and very flat for a city scape. Can’t think of any historic buildings that would be blocked from sight within the proximity of the building? You dismissed the two cities I offered as examples, so how about Liverpool and Manchester who are of a similar size to Bristol and have had an influx of high rise buildings over the last few years. It is the sign of a dynamic, prosperous and forward thinking city. I doubt very much that the aforementioned towns have less historical buildings than Bristol. They have found a way to successfully integrate their tall structures. As a Bristolian I’m fed up with this sleepy backwater culture being embraced by the BCS and certain facets of the city council. We aspire to be a 21st century modern city so need to encourage such developments and show that Bristol can be flexible when considering major new construction projects. I note that Kim Hicks didn’t respond to any of the other concerns I raised concerning the graffiti, Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria Rooms et al. The one thing I would agree with is that the building plans do always seem to be very bland in nature and would welcome some innovative agricultural designs as per other cities.

      1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that Steven. As a quick look at the objections on the planning application website underlines.

        In your reply to Kim Hicks you say “Can’t think of any historic buildings that would be blocked from sight within the proximity of the building?” Historic England, the government’s statutory adviser on historic buildings, would differ. They told the council that “The proposed development will have marked and harmful impacts on the setting of highly graded heritage assets, notably the Priory Church of St James and other key historic buildings throughout the city. By virtue of the dominant visual impact of the proposed 28 storey tower, the cumulative impact on the historic environment is cause for us to raise very strong concerns.” They’ve also been very clear that some eight storeys needed to be shaved off the tower’s height.

  4. The existing building on this site is awful and the proposed development seems like it would be a significant improvement. Bristol civic society seems to have started to automatically object to any tall building even where it would be a significant improvement on what is there at the moment. I can only see this being damaging to Bristol’s development.
    I would love to see the society focussing more on larger development frameworks to ensure that architectural and civic concerns are properly considered and so push new development in a positive coherent direction.

  5. Alex, this is what we said in our response to the draft local plan (there’s an article on the website):

    “Spatial clarity about tall buildings, including height and location, should be central to this plan. Deferring such a fundamental concern to placemaking in Bristol to some future, informal framework, or a (long) promised tall buildings strategy is not consistent with national policy for an effective plan. The approach is even more frustrating when frameworks such as the recently approved City Centre Development and Delivery Plan in effect kick the can further down the road, notwithstanding the clear strategy for tall buildings in the city centre we, and others, have repeatedly called for.

    Deferring this matter omits from the plan the most appropriate and effective means of steering tall buildings to suitable locations in a transparent way. Deferral also risks any tall buildings strategy being too late to have a meaningful impact on the way Bristol’s townscape is changed.”

  6. Alasdair Grant

    I have just joined the Bristol Civic Society and my views on tall buildings is that it very much depends on the impact that they have on the character of the surrounding area. High rise buildings themselves are not that bad themselves if they are appropriately designed and appropriate to the character of the surrounding area. The centre of bristol has a lot of historic buildings and is a historic city centre. It is an issue of finding an appropriate solution to the housing crisis verses the need to protect the countryside from excessive development. The current building does look like it needs to be made a bit smaller in height. The centre of Bristol is not New York. Planning is complex and all the relevant issues need to be carefully considered. The Premier Inn redevelopment doesn’t look quite right. Having had a look at the proposals. The building is much too high and is higher than the existing building. The existing building is already a maximum height and is detrimental to the character of the surrounding area.

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