What is Happening at the WHSmith Site?

Sep 29, 2019

The present application to build an overbearing modern block on this prominent Clifton site first appeared last February. It was deplored by CHIS as well as by the majority of those who wrote to BCC with their comments. During July the developers submitted a flurry of new documents to the Council, including what some considered to be rather misleading visuals, in an apparent attempt to meet issues raised by planners and public.

Many would consider such tweaks to be utterly futile, so fatally flawed is this application. Historic England considered that the building proposed, with its "unremitting and potentially monolithic elevations..... lacks the finesse required of this prestigious location" and has "a corporate appearance that may not be out of place around Temple Meads but is inappropriate in a Clifton setting". Rarely is Historic England so damning in its comments and these words alone should be sufficient to convince the developers that a completely new approach is needed.

Sir Roger Scruton, co-chair of the government's Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, writing to CHIS in a personal capacity, called the project ".....an example of insensitive development.......the architect does not know how to do anything better...has no grasp of design or of any materials other than those used in standard commercial blocks..."

Planning officers had originally told CHIS that the application would be determined by the planning committee in August or September but their response to our latest enquiry is, "There are outstanding issues relating to highway provision and bus stop replacement. The plans are being reviewed by the City Design Group and alterations to address the concerns over the elevational treatment raised by Historic England and officers have been received." They further say that the application will go to committee once the outstanding highway issues have been worked through, possibly in October or November.

CHIS believes that part of a solution might be for any new building to face onto a pedestrianised Kings Road, with its back to the busy and polluted Clifton Down Road, leaving the bus stop and taxi rank where they are at present. Certainly, the bus stop must not obscure the front of the magnificently restored Mortimer House. Kings Road and Boyce's Avenue could form a pleasant, bustling, pedestrianised area with outside seating and possible market stalls.

We have always argued that it is essential that underground parking be provided and that the building should have excellent 'green' credentials as well as containing facilities that the community actually needs, especially new homes.

It is disappointing that the developers, THAT Group, appear to have no interest in the views of local residents. They have given several presentations but these have in no way been consultations. They have rejected our suggestions of focus groups and now refuse to meet with us to discuss our vision for the site.

Public comments show that the vast majority of people are keen to see the site developed and many who supported the present scheme did so only because they, understandably, wanted a rapid removal of the existing eyesore. Sadly, it now would appear to many that the developers are still dragging their heels, perhaps in the hope that a few token alterations, which resolve none of the major issues, will cause planners and councillors, all extremely anxious to resolve the problem, to accept their ill-conceived plans.

Next: Bristol University's Plans to close Tyndall Avenue
Previous: CHIS Response to Western Harbour Early Engagement Exercise