Government inspectors begin takeover of Bristol's planning decisions

A view of Promenade House, overlooking Clifton Down, which is the Bristol offices of architects Stride Treglown
-Credit: (Image: Google Maps)

The Government takeover of some of Bristol City Council’s planning department has started - and the first application to be dealt with by Whitehall civil servants has been refused.

Ministers put Bristol City Council into special measures in March after ruling that the time taken to decide on hundreds of planning applications made by Bristol’s residents and businesses was far too long, and there were no signs that the then-ruling Labour administration was sorting out the backlog.

The takeover means that people can apply directly to the Government Planning Inspectorate for planning permission, bypassing the lengthy delays at City Hall, and the first applications are beginning to be dealt with by the Government-appointed inspectors.

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Around half a dozen applications have so far been lodged with the Government instead of at City Hall, and the first decision has been made. The application was made by Bristol architect firm Stride Treglown, the design practice behind some of Bristol’s biggest developments over the years.

The firm wanted to install a tent canopy to provide a covered area in the garden of Promenade House, its Bristol headquarters in a large Georgian house overlooking Clifton Down. The tensile stretch tent canopy would have been six metres wide and ten metres long and be up to four metres high, anchored with steel posts.

Stride Treglown’s application would have seen three trees cut down in its garden, and the firm told the Government Planning Inspector the sand/chino-coloured would ‘provide an outdoor space for staff to have lunch, hold meetings, workshops and outdoor events’.

Planning inspector Bhupinder Thandi decided that, although the effect on the trees wouldn’t be too bad, and the canopy would be a benefit to Stride Treglown’s employees, the canopy would be out of keeping with the local area.

“Its temporary appearance would jar with the ornate design and grandeur of the building resulting in an uncomfortable juxtaposition with Promenade House,” the inspector said. “Overall, on account of its position, scale and materiality the tent would diminish the contribution the garden makes to the setting and significance of Promenade House,” he added.

An aerial view of Promenade House, overlooking Clifton Down, which is the Bristol offices of architects Stride Treglown
An aerial view of Promenade House, overlooking Clifton Down, which is the Bristol offices of architects Stride Treglown -Credit:Google Earth

“I conclude that, on balance, the proposal would fail to preserve the setting of the Grade II* listed building and the character or appearance of the Clifton and Hotwells Conservation Area,” he added.

Bristol Live first revealed that the planning backlog at City Hall was so bad that the Government was threatening to step in, back in mid-February, and then broke the news that the council's planning department had been taken over, in March.

Stride Treglown's canopy is the first application to be decided by the Government’s Planning Inspector after the Whitehall department took City Hall’s planning department into special measures in March.

For ordinary Bristol residents and businesses, the special measures mean that they can choose to submit everyday, regular applications to the Planning Inspectorate rather than to Bristol City Council, to avoid being stuck in the planning backlog which has seen small-scale applications like changes to shopfronts, extensions and conversions take more than a year to be dealt with.

The application from Stride Treglown was first submitted on March 26. The planning inspector visited the site in April, and made the decision on May 29 - just over two months later.

Four other applications have so far been taken on by the Planning Inspector in the past month or so, and are still waiting decisions. Three of them are planning applications to convert regular homes into Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) - in Hotwell Road in Hotwells, Ruby Street in Bedminster and Conway Road in Brislington.

A fourth application is to convert the third and fourth floors of The Old Port House in Prince Street, Bristol from a hostel to a hotel.