Plans for 75 new student flats on hold after councillors fail to agree

CGI of three-storey brick building
How the student flats would look -Credit:Sampson Homes

Councillors have delayed a decision on plans to bulldoze a former garage in Filton and build three storeys of student flats after bizarrely voting against both granting and refusing permission. South Gloucestershire Council development management committee asked planning officers to go back and negotiate with the applicants over the height of the building that would replace the former Filton Central Garage between Gloucester Road North and Rectory Lane.

It came amid unusual scenes where a proposal to reject the plans for 75 student beds was voted down by 5-4 votes and then another to approve them fell by the same margin, with one councillor voting “against” both times. The application by Sampson Homes sparked an “unprecedented” level of local opposition, with objections from 115 residents, Filton Town Council and both ward councillors.

They raised concerns about the impact of the “overbearing” new building on neighbouring properties, including sheltered accommodation for older people at Hanover Court, and the influx of the extra students on local facilities and parking. Students would be banned from owning a car or parking within two miles as part of their tenancy agreement but this was not properly enforced, councillors heard.

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Ward Cllr Adam Monk (Labour, Filton) told the meeting that UWE had backed two recent applications for student flats but did not support this. He said: “We are not against developing this site, it’s just the current application does not consider the impact on the immediate neighbours.”

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Ward Cllr Alex Doyle (Labour, Filton) said: “It’s an unprecedented level of opposition, I’ve never seen it before in a local application.” He said there was a dispute over whether the land was covered by a covenant preventing development that would block the view of the nearby rectory and also prohibited commercial purposes.

Sampson Homes’ planning agents said the restrictions did not apply and council solicitor Tonya Meers told members that covenants were a civil matter and not a planning consideration. One resident said the building’s “poor” design would create a “severe and significant impact on neighbouring properties” in terms of privacy, noise and daylight.

Filton Town Council planning committee chairman Alan Bird said some residents had already sold up and moved away because of the proposals. He said the location of some bedrooms meant students would be trapped if a fire broke out, although a South Gloucestershire Council planning officer, who recommended approval, said a sufficient fire escape would have to be included to pass building regulations.

The applicant’s agents said the flats would ease pressure on family homes being turned into shared houses and that the building would be lower than the adjacent Charlton House and only 1.6 metres taller than Hanover House when the site’s slope was factored in. A planning officer said: “The council's conservation officer does not consider the proposals would result in a change of setting that would cause harm to the architectural and historical interest of the heritage assets – St Peter’s church and Pegasus House.” Both buildings are Grade II-listed.

He said the authority had received no comments from UWE. But committee member Cllr Tony Williams (Lib Dem, Severn Vale) told the meeting on Thursday, May 9: “I’m worried about the height of the building and its overpowering impact on neighbouring properties.”

After both votes – first to refuse consent and then to grant permission – were lost 5-4, Cllr Paul Hughes (Conservative, Bitton & Oldland Common) said it was a slight contradiction that he voted against each one but that the issues needed further examination. He said: “You’ve got such a huge amount of opposition to this thing.

"We seem to be going absolutely berserk in student accommodation. Before long, Filton will be absolutely full of students, which is fantastic for them but not very good for the community.” Councillors then voted 7-0 in favour of deferring the item so officers could seek a change in the design or a reduction in height from the developers.