Student flats approved – but will ‘possibly wreck lives’

Plans to demolish a former garage and build three storeys of student flats in Filton have been approved at the second attempt despite fears it will “wreck” elderly neighbours’ lives.

South Gloucestershire councillors voted 8-1 to grant permission to replace Filton Central Garage with a new block with 75 UWE student beds after the developers changed the design to reduce the height slightly and make the roofs sloping instead of flat.

But 115 residents, the town council and both ward members objected with concerns about the impact on older people living in sheltered housing over the road in Hanover Court, along with road safety, pressure on local facilities, overlooking of nearby homes and the “overbearing” building.

Last month, the development management committee deferred the decision after councillors failed to agree whether it should be given the go-ahead or refused, bizarrely voting against both outcomes by 5-4.

When the proposals for the site between Gloucester Road North and Rectory Lane came back on Thursday, June 6, most members were happy with the changes.

But Cllr Paul Hughes (Conservative, Bitton & Oldland Common), who this time was alone in voting against, told the meeting: “We haven’t really understood the impact this is going to have on elderly people with some vulnerability.

“It will be a huge, overbearing situation there.

“Do we really want Filton to become an annex of the University of the West of England?

“It’s overdevelopment, it will possibly wreck the lives of a lot of people who live there and we should be considering that very hard.

“We are here to help our residents, not to help the University of the West of England or developers.”

Resident Michelle Greaves told the committee the building would be four metres above Hanover Court’s first-floor windows and that the design was “over-dominant” and “overbearing” with an “unacceptable level of overlooking” 

She said: “Approving this development is not recognising the needs of elderly and vulnerable residents who are a priority for South Gloucestershire.”

Ms Greaves said a restrictive covenant prohibited any use that could cause nuisance or for a business that was not a garage and that there had been no public consultation over the revised plans by Sampson Homes, which reduced the building height by 70cm.

Ward cllr Monk (Labour, Filton) said previous planning applications next to the site that were rejected were “significantly smaller” than the proposed student block.

Ward Cllr Alex Doyle (Labour, Filton) said the developers had improved the design but he added: “We need to consider the weight of objection in the community which is significant.

“Residents are looking to move away from Hanover Court because of this development.”

He said the plans would not stop family homes in the town being turned into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) because students would need to find somewhere else to live after their first year in the accommodation.

Planning agent Paul Jobson said factual inaccuracies from the previous meeting needed correcting, including the false claim that UWE had objected when it had only provided suggestions to the town council for improvements and had now written in support.

He said covenants did not apply to the site and were not a planning consideration even if they did.

Cllr June Bamford (Conservative, Hanham) said: “The design is slightly better.

“I feel for the elderly people of Hanover Court. They become very vulnerable, they do not like change and they are concerned when perhaps they needn’t necessarily be so concerned.

“It’s going to be student accommodation, it’s not going to be a centre for addicts or a home for released prisoners, it’s going to be students – I know they can make a lot of noise but they will probably be at the university most of the time.”

Cllr Mike Drew (Lib Dem, Yate North) said: “Such accommodation would reduce the pressure for HMOs elsewhere in Filton and could free up more domestic accommodation.

“The design is a vast improvement.”

South Gloucestershire Council development manager Marie Bath told members: “The recommendation again is approval.

“We consider that the applicants have listened to the concerns of members at the last committee.

“We deem the impact on residential amenity to be acceptable.

“Of course it will impact on the residents – they’re going from quite low garage buildings to quite a tall building, we can’t dispute that.

“The noise at a garage could be worse than student accommodation.

“There is no planning reason that proves this would have an adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of residents.”