Planning Application 08/0396/F
Our Planning Advisor, Neil Embleton, has written to the City Planning Department to raise his concerns about the development of the site of the former Cheltenham Road Library :-
"As the design architect and partner in charge of this project and the Planning Advisor to The Bishopston Society, I am writing to express my concern at how the design concept of this building has been watered down by a series of planning amendments :-
- 17/00856/NMA - approval of adjustment to window positions and details.
- 17/02803/COND - approval of submitted materials and details.
- 17/03342/NMA - approval of east/front block raised by 500mm to accommodate 'accessible parking'.
- 17/04355/NMA - application to reduce height of chimneys by 1120mm as a Non Material Ammendment. Apparently withdrawn as clearly not an NMA.
- 17/05967/X - planning application to reduce the height of chimneys by 1120mm, objected to by the Montpelier Conservation Group and The Bishopston Society and still pending a decision.
My main concerns are as follows;
1.0 CHANGE OF CLADDING MATERIAL
The original permission was designed in a series of render colours, specifically to blend it into its Conservation Area setting. The design has since been changed to plain red engineering brick throughout, apparently without planning permission but simply by approval of a material sample. The visual effect of such a large T shaped building addressing two streets will inevitably be to emphasise that it is a 'new development' which does not sit well within its surroundings; exactly what we do not want within a Conservation Area, overlooked by the listed buildings of Colston Girls School.
2.0 LOSS OF THE BOUNDARY WALL
The existing boundary wall, which is a prominent feature of the site and a vital link to the former Free Library, has been demolished without planning permission, which is not allowed within a Conservation Area. The current approved drawings refer to the wall being 'rebuilt locally where required to match existing' whilst at the same time showing the wall cut down to low level with the piers, capitals and railings removed. If the wall is to be rebuilt to match existing then it should be built in Flemish Bond with the correct stone banding, tall piers with capitals and tall black railings.
3.0 APPROVAL OF POOR MATERIALS AND DETAILS
Permission 17/02803/COND has approved materials and details which do not reflect the original design intent;
- Plain uniform red engineering brick (almost certainly in modern Stretcher Bond as Flemish is not specified) in lieu of traditional coloured render finishes typical of central Bristol. This brickwork will look plain, modern and out of keeping.
- Concrete roof tiles in lieu of clay. Concrete is a poor substitute and losses its colour very quickly.
- Cast stone detailing in lieu of natural Bath stone. Cast stone weathers badly and is not suitable in a Conservation Area.
- Buff brick pilasters to the West/rear block in lieu of stone. Firstly, we should not revert to a lesser material on the street frontage of a building, where the two are seen side by side. Secondly, the buff brick has not been either specified or approved.
- UPVC sash windows are drawn in detail section but are not specified, so we do not know how the windows will look and whether or not they are suitable for use within a Conservation area.
- Stone quoins reduced in size by the use of a standard cast stone system which is suitable for small domestic buildings.
- Detail of the 'stone' flat arch over the parking entrance extremely weak and unconvincing.
- Wall element of bay windows described as 'rendered blockwork or stone, TBC', but actually detailed with timber corner posts implying that it is lightweight construction.
- Corner post cladding to bay windows is shown as UPVC panelling which is unlikely to have a convincingly traditional appearance.
- Chimneys shown as being all brick with projecting brick bands, whereas (like the boundary wall) the banding on the original planning permission was of stone, to refer to the original Free Library on the site. Furthermore it is essential that the chimneys are not reduced in height. They were designed to 'hold' the large scale of the new building and once again to refer to the original Free Library.
- Reduction of stone eaves course to Cheltenham Road frontage. Reduction to string course proportions.
4.0 RAISED LEVEL OF THE EAST/FRONT BLOCK
We are concerned that the front block has been raised by 500mm, which will make it out of level with the tall terraced houses alongside and make it all the more bulky and alien on the street. We trust that you were convinced that there was an essential reason for raising it.
We do not understand why the many changes to the design were apparently granted so easily, on what is after all a major artery into the city and within a conservation area. The original design was prepared to fit what is a substantial building into its setting and to actively enhance the Cheltenham Road and the setting of the listed Colston's Girls School directly opposite, not forgetting to blend into the finer grain of Winsley Place. We are particularly concerned about the change from coloured render to plain modern red brickwork, as this will immediately draw attention to the building as an alien element within its setting. We can understand that permissions which are not within a conservation area are subject to the inevitable cost-cutting, but surely a prominent site like this with its history and which has been waiting 60 years to be redeveloped deserves better than to be watered down in this way. It is surely the purpose of conservation areas to protect existing buildings of architectural merit from disfigurement or demolition and to control new development such that it positively enhances the setting of such buildings.
I would be keen to discuss the matter further with you to see what can be done at this stage.
I look forward to hearing from you."