PLANS REJECTED: University of Bristol’s proposed library is thrown out by councillors
Plans for the University of Bristol’s flagship new library and a public plaza have been thrown out by councillors.
Members branded the proposed nine-storey building that would replace The Hawthorns, on the corner of Woodland Road in Clifton, a “monstrous carbuncle” and voted by 5-4 against accepting officers’ advice to grant permission.
The city council’s development control committee decided that the design, pupils’ road safety concerns and the impact on the surrounding conservation area were unacceptable.
But because that was contrary to the recommendation to approve, a report has to come back to members’ next meeting with suggested reasons for refusal that could withstand a planning appeal.
The development would have included a public square, shut Woodland Road to general traffic between Tyndall Avenue and St Michael’s Park, and make St Michael’s Park one-way eastbound from Woodland Road to Osborne Villas.
A two-way cycle track would have been created through the pedestrianised area, along with two raised pedestrian crossings in Elton Road and a “bus hub” in Tyndall Avenue.
It received objections from 176 residents and organisations including Historic England, Bristol Grammar School, Kingsdown Conservation Group, The Victorian Society and The Christmas Steps Arts Quarter, as well as 142 letters of support.
The controversial application had been withdrawn from the committee’s agenda at the 11th hour in September so officers could carry out more work to assess the impact of proposed road closures on St Michael’s Hill, the recently introduced Covid emergency transport measures and the impending Clean Air Zone.
Although that work has been completed and the council’s transport department remains satisfied with the scheme, the local authority is now developing a policy to create liveable neighbourhoods across the city with measures to improve walking and cycling, such as traffic bans on rat-runs.
Bristol City Council cabinet member for transport Cllr Kye Dudd told the committee on Thursday night (February 25) the proposals required a traffic regulation order (TRO) which could not be considered in isolation.
He said: “The design of the building only works with the point closure on Woodland Road, and it is highly likely a TRO for that will only be authorised if it’s brought forward as part of a wider scheme.”
A planning officer told the remote meeting that the proposed building, which includes two floors below ground, replacing The Hawthorns – a former hotel used as student accommodation, catering and offices – would not overshadow the grammar school’s great hall.
But he said it would “dominate” that historic building as well as others in the Whiteladies Road Conservation Area.
“It is undeniably very large but the public benefits outweigh the less than substantial harm to the heritage assets, and the highways proposals are acceptable,” he added.
Cllr Richard Eddy said: “I’m concerned about the pedestrian safety.
“The closure of Woodland Road and part of Tyndall Avenue will put a huge amount of traffic on Elton Road.
“We’ve heard it could lead to increases of about one-third at times and we’ve also heard lots of pupils, including some as young as four, cross Elton Road.
“I am concerned about the impact on the junction with St Michael’s Hill.
“This proposal will damage the character of the conservation area and cause harm to the heritage assets locally.”
He said the brutalistic design was “quite ugly”.
“I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but with excess massing it does remind me of the words of Prince Chalres who talked about plans as being a monstrous carbuncle,” Cllr Eddy said.
“I hope we don’t repeat that mistake.”
Cllr Olly Mead said the building itself was brilliant but in the wrong place and would dominate the area in a “very negative way”
Cllr Mike Davies said: “It’s a great building. It looks to be a world-class library and I like how they’ve got some attractions for the general public.
“The public realm improvements will be a big gain for anyone walking, cycling or spending time in that area.
“It’s a great development.”
Cllr Stephen Clarke said: “The building is Marmite. I like Marmite, I happen to like the building.
“I really love the way the ground floor is left open to the public.
“That’s a very innovative idea.
“I love the concept of turning that fairly grotty road into a public square.”
Members agreed a motion by 6-2 votes saying they were minded to refuse permission.
The library would have housed 420,000 books, 70,000 journals and the university’s special collections and theatre collection and had 2,000 new study seats and research space.
It was seen as a new gateway to the main campus.
A ground-floor exhibition space, gallery and café would be open to the public.
Words: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter
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