CHIS Newsletter March 2020


A Sorry Tale: the former W.H. Smith/Clifton on Ice site.

CHIS has always judged its local councillors by their commitment to the Society’s founding purpose – the Improvement of the special qualities of Clifton and Hotwells. For fifty years our councillors could be relied upon to give due weight and consideration to the experienced concerns and values of CHIS. Not so now. ​In supporting THAT Group’s development plans Cllr O’Rourke and Cllr Thomas have chosen to ignore both the views of CHIS and those of a vast number of their constituents. Speaking at the Development Committee hearing on January 22nd, Cllr O’Rourke claimed that 80% of an unspecified number of respondents supported the development, totally ignoring the solid evidence that there had been nearly 400 letters from residents sent to Bristol City Council objecting to the scheme. Whilst our Green Party Councillors might be forgiven for accepting the mediocrity of the design in its setting including its gross massing, it is surely astonishing that they are perfectly ready to condone the building’s high carbon emissions and lamentable lack of sustainability. It is shocking that both planners and councillors are prepared to accept a building revealed by CHIS’s experienced architectural consultant to conform with national sustainability standards set as long ago as 2014. This building will hinder Bristol’s commendable aim to become carbon neutral by 2030. The mediocrity of the design in its distinctive setting, its gross massing and the fact that the last thing needed in the Village is more retail units including a third mini-superstore – all were ignored, with no positive reason being expressed. There is an old trick of developers: leave a site to become so squalid that the vapid cry goes up: “Anything will be better than this.” CHIS had hoped that in the face of condemnation by Historic England, and by the Chairman of the ‘Commission, Build Better Build Beautiful’, Sir Roger Scruton, Bristol City Council would not revert to the dismal judgments of the 60s and 70s that blight the City. At the Development Committee hearing a majority of the eight councillors showed no sign of having read the documents or making any comment on the scheme or its impact on the individual setting of Clifton. By contrast, Bedminster was luckier on a later day when its councillors and residents worked energetically together to obtain rejection of a gross local development of shops and high-rise flats. The design approved for the Clifton Down Road site might be appropriate for Milton Keynes. It is no disrespect to that particular town to say so or that they might have good cause to reject for their setting a design suitable for Poundbury.​The inverse is the case here in Clifton. CHIS created an Award for Excellence plaque, recognizing two distinct types of building: one in traditional Victorian style in The Avenue, Clifton, and the other for the contemporary-style Bristol University Life Sciences Building and Gardens off St Michael’s Hill. The sole possible plaque for the Clifton Down Building (too big, too high, too mundane) would be for the Opposite of Excellence. For years and years in the RIBA annual awards for imaginative architecture (large or small-scale) Bristol has NEVER featured. All the above shows why.

Talks. Interesting aspects of past and present Bristol were featured in the recent two addresses. Adam Sisman investigated Wordsworth and Coleridge’s time of residence in the city and its impact on their work and personal development. Jeff Lucas’s history of Bristol’s 45 Bridges impressed another sizeable audience by its range of social records, engineering, geology and aesthetics, not to forget the challenge to members to undertake the 26-mile one-way walk across all of the bridges. The not unrelated topic of ‘The Hidden Rivers of Bristol’ by Melvin Wood. Please note that this talk will be held as usual in the Apostle Room but it will be on WEDNESDAY 25th March. THIS TALK HAS BEEN POSTPONED.

Plaques. April 25th sees the dedication of the green plaque to Beryl Corner, the distinguished paediatrician and one of the first women consultants in Bristol. She herself spoke at the dedication of our plaque in Oakfield Road to the pioneer female doctor, Eliza Walker Dunbar. Details are to be found later in the Newsletter, from the Plaque Organizer, Paul Main.

Planning. Two massive building projects are causing major concerns: 1. development of the Cumberland Basin/Western Harbour 2. demolition of The Hawthorns in Woodland Road and construction of Arts Library for Bristol University with seven storeys above street level, a lower ground floor and a basement level.

Traffic. Paul Main and Peter Stanley had some success in persuading Bristol City Council to make more prominent the 20mph speed limit by Christchurch roundabout, where speeding vehicles are all too present. Roundels have been painted on Clifton Down Road and metal signs will go up soon. This will benefit pedestrians crossing the road.

Other matters. The Clifton Village Walking Tour App. Last November our Treasurer, James Simmonds, put forward the idea of CHIS making an app as a new venture for CHIS. He has worked fast and hard on this idea and as you will see on the insert, it will be ready for use in April. This is a novel scheme for CHIS and we hope it will enlighten visitors and residents to the distinctiveness of our area. Included in the app tour is St Andrew’s Churchyard under its correct name, the LIME WALK, not the misnomer Birdcage Walk, which is the path across Victoria Square.

We are grateful to Cllr O’Rourke for arranging the takeover of volunteers working in St Andrew’s graveyard, after 22 years of devotion to its clearance and care by RoseMary Musgrave and a loyal team of helpers, aided by the CHIS Millennium Fund.

Soon our long-planned Information and Interpretation board by the site of the church will be in place, to the great benefit all round.

Finally, it is good to be able to publish the following letter in appreciation of our positive input. Brian Worthington