Officers gave a presentation on the above application and made the following comments:
· The issue of the land ownership of the site had been assessed. The land adjoining the public highway was owned by Picture House Court residents
· The proposed development would take it across private land. Whilst it was possible to make an application for a site including someone else’s land, the applicant was required by law to make every effort to notify all owners in advance.
· In accordance with this requirement, an advert had been placed in the Evening Post and a response received from one of the Public Participation Speakers confirming the list of properties affected. Four of these properties had not yet been contacted. In the event that the application was approved, these 4 properties would need to be contacted and 21 days’ notice would need to be given prior to any approval
· Details of the location of the site were provided
· The proposal would demolish the existing building and replace it with a 5 storey building
· The scale and massing of the building was considered out of character
· The proposed reduction in A2 Floor Space was not considered problematic
· The scheme proposed 20 co-living apartments
· An area of communal living space was proposed with 80 square metres internal space. It was devised as short term accommodation for young people
· The draft London Local Plan recommended a minimum of 50 units. However, there was no national policy guidance to follow for these type of units.
· The only comparable scheme was at Unity Street where 107 co-living units had been approved comprised of 7 to 10 unit blocks. This was fairly typical student accommodation with smaller rooms approximately 20.5 square metres
· Whilst the overall accommodation was larger than proposed at Unity Street, the communal areas were smaller
· There were a number of rear windows proposed for the development. These had prompted concern from occupiers of neighbouring properties. However, these did not affect any habitable rooms only the staircases
· Whilst there were objections raised by urban design officers, any refusal needed to be made under an existing policy
· Other objections were that the site did not comply with amenity needs, that was in a Conservation Area and it was deemed harmful to this
· The development would improve pedestrian movement
· Details of arrangements were provided for refuse and recycling, drop kerb access and the response on sustainability. It was noted that the shading caused by solar collectors would impact on the sustainability credentials of the neighbouring development
· A concern about cleaning maintenance for some of the proposed windows on the site had been addressed by the applicant by changing the angle
· Whilst there had been a number of concerns expressed about the size of the unit, this was better than other examples of co-living and so refusal could not be made on this basis
· Officers were recommending refusal due to the impact on the Conservation Area through the removal of existing buildings or merit, due to over scaling and also due to the lack of mitigation for sustainability
In response to members’ questions, officers made the following comments:
· Officers had chosen to go to Committee directly with a recommendation for refusal since there was a policy vacuum for the type of co-living units proposed in this application since these were a type of accommodation in between student accommodation and HMSO’s. In addition, officers had referred to the Unity Street scheme which was the only comparable scheme in Bristol available
· The standard conditions concerning noise pollution control would apply. Enforcement could be trickier concerning the occupiers. This could be arranged through hours of usage and enforcement through environmental health as applied generally across the city
· The policy concerning undeveloped plots was outlined. There was no reason for officers to recommend refusal on that basis. Planning Permission could be sought anywhere if reasonable steps were taken to ensure the landowner was notified.
· Access negotiations were a private matter between different parties and were not a planning issue
· If Councillors felt that the cramped living conditions were a reason for refusal, they should include it in any refusal decision they made at this stage
· Whilst officers noted that policy research was required into these types of developments and in comparing differences with the Unity Street scheme, this could not be provided in this instance. The application would need to be assessed on its merits
· There was no specific policy in respect of the pump, If the application was approved, there would be a standard noise condition limiting the noise to 5 decibels below background noise
· It would not be practicable to make a condition of approval if one of the occupants had a child
Councillors made the following points:
· Co-living could and should be a solution to the housing crisis in Bristol for some people. This was not a particularly objectionable design and should be supported
· The issue of COVID-19 and its impact on co-living was an important for consideration in future developments
· Since the advice from the Conservation Advisory Panel and Archaeology Officer was that this development was contrary to Heritage Policy, the application should be refused
· Whilst there were a number of features of this development that were good such as the cycle racks and charging points, it should be refused on the grounds of visual amenity
· It was unacceptable that the Committee had to set policy on a new form of housing. The space standards for the UK were the smallest in Europe and these were cramped even by these standards. There was not enough communal space. For that reason and the damage to the Conservation Area, this application should be refused
· It was important that people should have a roof over their heads at an extremely difficult time when some people were struggling with rent. If people did not follow hygiene requirements necessary under COVID-19, then this was at their own risk. The applicant had made efforts with the development, such as the provision of appropriate charging points. The application should be supported
· This application was entering a new policy area and the Committee needed to be very careful in respect of co-housing. Whilst there were good elements to this scheme, it was too overcrowded with very limited communal space. There were also implications for people’s mental health. The officer recommendation to refuse should be supported
Councillor Clive Stevens moved, seconded by Councillor Jo Sergeant and upon being put to the vote, it was
RESOLVED - (6 for, 2 against) that the application is refused on the grounds that the small individual private unit sizes, many of which are also single-aspect with limited outlook, along with the limited extent of communal living space, are such that the proposed residential accommodation would be cramped and of poor quality, with an inherent inability to be flexible or adaptable.
As such the development would fail to provide an adequate living environment for future residents, to the unacceptable detriment of occupier amenity. The proposal is therefore contrary to policies BCS18 and BCS21 of the Bristol Local Plan: Core Strategy (2011); policies DM2, DM27 and DM29 of the Bristol Local Plan: Site Allocations and Development Management Policies (2014), and the guidance within the Urban Living SPD (2018).