One of the very few surviving ‘green’ areas in the urban surroundings of Redland and Bishopston is imminently threatened by development.  This is the site of the old New Church building on the corner of Cranbrook, Kersteman and Elton Roads.

The site is just over a quarter of an acre in extent and is up for sale by tender through Maggs and Allen, the closing date for bids being Feb 11th. The market value is estimated in the region of £600,000.

However, although Maggs and Allen describe this plot as ‘excellent potential for development’ there are serious reasons for doubting this is a realistic assessment of its development value.

Firstly and perhaps most significantly, the site is within the Redland and Cotham Conservation Area. As such there is a strong presumption that both the building (although holding no particular architectural merit and therefore not listed) and the mature ash trees in and around the site would be protected; or at least permission would have to be granted by the Council if any work on the trees was planned. It is also believed that the church building is used as a summer bat roost. Bats have legal protection, so if roosting is confirmed by the Avon Bat Group, this would theoretically help support a case for conserving the building.


Secondly, the site is situated on a busy traffic lights-controlled junction surrounded by three roads. Vehicular access to any housing on site would be extremely difficult and there would be repercussions for any on street parking, particularly with a Residents’ Parking Zone soon to be established in the area.

Thirdly, the Cran Brook is culverted directly under and across the site. Regulations stipulate that building work could not approach closer than 3 metres from access to the culvert. Damage to this drainage system could clearly have implications for flooding of the area. Indeed, a developer would inherit ‘Riparian Rights’ to the site which would oblige them to protect the integrity of the culvert and preserve its banks and environment, just as if it was an open stream.


In an attempt to stop insensitive or unsuitable development of the site, a new community group has formed – Protecting Redland from Overdevelopment (PROD). PROD has been formed with the help of Stella Perrett, independent campaigner for Redland. The group is appealing to any interested buyers who are willing to work with the community to get their bids in quickly, as the tenders deadline of 11th February? Any interested readers are invited to contact the PROD Secretary, Mrs Siusanidh Hall on 0117 942 0873

PROD is hoping to have the building added to a list held by the Council of ‘Assets of Community Value’. This will not happen quickly enough to affect this sale, but can affect any re-sale in the future.  In order to support an application to have the building/site registered as a community asset it is necessary to establish that the building is currently in use as a community facility and that the loss of that facility would adversely affect the benefit to the local area.  This, in the view of the Council’s planning coordinator, is not easy to establish.  Furthermore, a business plan for the ongoing management and maintenance is required. 

However once a building is accepted on the ‘Assets of Community Value’ list, it gives the local community the chance to have a say through the ‘Community Right to Bid’ process.  In recent times, as well as being a church, the building has regularly been used as a polling station and has hosted mother and toddlers and brownies groups.  Residents’ suggestions for potential future uses of the site include a Community Centre, a playground for local children and a wildlife nature reserve.

Another approach, again, from the Council’s perspective, is given by Alison Bromilow of Bishopston, Cotham and Redland Neighbourhood Partnership. She says: ‘We took a view at the committee meeting that we would not get involved in a campaign to stop development on this site because we do not think that this is achievable. The most effective way to go about protecting this site would be to do a site brief before a developer starts work on it or even before the site is sold with an (associated) but unachievable ‘hope value’.

 ‘Planning officers would not be dismissive of a community input on this site development and do encourage local communities doing site briefs. I have worked with a number of groups across the city which has been involved in this type of project through the Neighbourhood Planning Network. If there is a local community group who would like to take this on I am happy to come and help and alert people to previous examples.

She continues: ‘Communities are very much encouraged to get involved in guiding development before planning applications are submitted. Bristol leads the way in the country on community involvement at the pre-application stage and officers are fully supportive.

Developers are expected to have pre-application discussions with local communities as set out in the Statement of Community Involvement: Statement of Community involvement

We would like to thank the Redland, Cotham and Westbury Park Directory editor for providing some of the information in this article

The Bishopston Society’s view is as follows:

It would normally be our aim to retain a local piece of history, but the church is small and rather awkwardly positioned, almost tight up to the houses alongside, such that there is no southerly aspect or external area. The building is not listed or classed as a Historic Landmark Building and, whilst being a local historical feature, has little presence on the street, being small and low and dominated by the tall trees around the site.  If anything it is the gap on the street frontage and the welcome green area which makes the most significant contribution to the streetscene.  A carefully designed extension to the building on the north side would be required to boost the amount of accommodation provided.  The building is limited by its shape to a maximum of 2 storeys.  So in summary, it would be nice to save the church as a piece of local history, but the building is small and will not convert easily to provide sufficient good quality residential units.

We therefore take the view that realistically, the best option is to demolish the church building and redevelop with residential units.

Demolition and redevelopment is the developer’s preferred solution as it provides the opportunity to move the building across on the site and also to go up to 2 1/2 (modern) storeys.  Even redevelopment is restricted by the old sewer along the rear of the site and a recent linking sewer across the site. Rebuilding would provide the opportunity to have a larger building which is more in scale with the terraced houses on the street.  This is also the preferred option of Redland and Cotham Amenities Society as they feel that the planners would find it difficult to refuse the demolition of the church as it has little other than local historical character.  The challenge is to get a good quality new building.

We would nevertheless recommend the following principles with regard to the planning negotiations on this site:

-    the trees on and around the site should be retained
-    the existing garden area should be retained and enhanced
-    the biodiversity of the site should be enhanced by careful design


  A brief history of The New Church

The New Church movement began life in 1783. Its founders were Anglican and Methodist clergy.  The first Bristol New Church, the ‘New Jerusalem Temple’ was opened in June 1792. Its first minister was the Rev. Robert Brant who lived in the rural and then unfashionable community of Bedminster.

As well as in Bristol, New Church Societies (as they were first known), were also formed in Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Wolverhampton and Dublin. The church also spread to Sweden and America.

Divisions within the Bristol Society around 1821 led to a breakaway group. There was a temporary but unsuccessful attempt at reunion, but the church finally closed. The Society’s building, adjacent to the Bridewell Police station was destroyed by fire during the Bristol Reform riot of 1831.

In Bath, a New Church Society was founded in 1830. A chapel was designed by Henry Underwood and built for the congregation in 1844 in Henry Street. Its rich, late Georgian furnishings are now incorporated in the New Church at Combe Down. It was the success of the Bath Society that brought about a revival of the Bristol Society, which rented premises at the Clifton Triangle.

The first purpose built home for the church was opened in 1878 on Terrell Street on the site of what is now the Bristol Royal Infirmary. The building took the form of a small iron church. Later a stone façade was added. This was seen as a temporary structure until funds were available for the construction of a permanent stone building. In 1891, at the height of the church’s membership, an appeal was made for the building of a new church on Terrell Street with seating for 350. This was never built and plans show a building, not of stone but of wood and corrugated iron, with a tower and spire of wood and a wooden hall at the back of the building; the cost would have been £1600, a third of the cost of an equivalent stone building.

In 1898, the Board of the Bristol Infirmary bought the little iron church which was demolished to allow the construction of the hospital. With the money from this sale, land was acquired on Cranbrook Road, in the newly developed suburb of Bishopston. An offer was made for the site at a ground rent of £6 -15 - 0 per annum. The frontage would be 50ft, widening to 100ft at the back. The total cost of fees for ground rent and surveying was £15-10-6. A small portion of additional ground was added to the sale of the site. Mr Paul, the surveyor and architect drew up designs for the new building along the lines of a church he had designed in Melbourne, Australia. 

In April 1899, a letter was sent to the builders, Bennett’s, stressing the need to complete the building within five months, though there was some concern that the firm of Bennett’s might become a liability, as they had, in the past, been in financial difficulties. Bennett’s tendered an offer to build the church at a cost of £1180-7-9. Subsequently this offer was withdrawn. Another builder, Mr Perkins was appointed instead. He suggested a saving of £269 could be made by not building a front entrance porch and cloakroom, using instead a temporary wooden porch. The opening service for the New Church building was set for Dec 25th 1899.

The present church building is a single cell ‘gothic’ church with lancet windows and a quirky geometric west window. It is a building typical of the turn of the century, although many chapels of this type have now been demolished. The few unusual design features are the dormer clerestory windows and the hammer beam roof with its four pointed arches. The church is built on a steep gradient and has basement rooms beneath. At the chancel end is a set of brick built vestries, kitchen and stores.

With thanks to Neil Marchant, whose full history of the Bristol Society of the New Church, ‘Like a Great River Flowing’ was used to write this short website summary