An Amendment Sheet was provided to the Committee in advance of the meeting, detailing changes since the publication of the original report.
The Planning Officer summarised the application as follows:
a. The proposed location contains lots of existing attractions and listed buildings, including the We the Curious science museum, cathedral, cathedral school and central library.
b. The committee was shown the existing elevation of the We the Curious building alongside the Planetarium, and then with the addition of the Arc. The capsule rests on the roof of the WtC building. Total height of the Arc is 79m. The cabin floor is 67m from ground level. Base is 3m diameter. 42 people are carried in the capsule for 20-minute session including boarding and offloading. There will be a guide on board to describe points of interest. It will operate for a maximum of 18 hours per day. It will be in the air for 60% of the run time and be at its highest point for half of that. It is expected to draw around 250k visitors per year.
c. Some views have been raised from the Bristol Walking Alliance and the Bristol Civic Society about the impact of the Arc base on traffic flow and the fulcrum going overhead distracting people in Millennium Square. It could inhibit use of the fountains, pools and there may be insufficient space for cyclists and pedestrians in the pinch point between Millennium Square and Anchor Square.
d. The Arc will be visible from College Green over the Cathedral, impacting on the skyline. It would also appear above the Cathedral School and the historic gatehouse. It will be visible from most parts of the harbourside. Planning within the harbourside has a general principle of keeping views of the cathedral unobstructed.
e. There have been 35 responses. 32 in support and 3 against. Points in support are tourism, economy, employment, raising Bristol’s profile and education. Points against are the impact on the square, harm to the skyline, bulky design, exclusivity of use and similar views being available elsewhere.
f. There were mixed views on the design. In itself, it is a high-quality design but very different to the existing context. Therefore, there is not a conclusive stance on design. There is harm to heritage assets, but this is classed as ‘less than substantial harm’ so should be weighed against the public benefit. It is the view of Historic England that the public benefit does not mitigate harm to the existing heritage assets.
g. In terms of education, there will be a guide on the Arc talking about the history of Bristol. 10% of profits would go to a social innovation programme to improve access to the Arc for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This would work out to 1% free tickets of the projected 250k annual total. The economic benefit will be significant. National policy is that great weight must be given to heritage asset protection, in this case the Cathedral, other grade II* and grade II listed buildings, and harm to the character and appearance of 3 conservation areas (College Green, City and Docks and Queen Square).
Questions for Clarification:
h. When Millennium Square was being proposed, what weight was given to heritage assets then? MS is now a mix of old and new, with the planetarium, fountains, aquarium and WtC all in modern style. Officers accept there have been a lot of changes to the area. WtC received awards for the roof extension as it was sensitive to the style of the existing building.
i. There was a discussion about the new University Library , which had similar arguments about heritage assets. The library does have an impact on heritage, but the public benefit outweighs this. Heritage assets in this case are more significant, Bristol Grammar School versus Bristol Cathedral. Heritage harm vs public benefit is a subjective decision and committee will have their own view. Members should not make comparisons with the library.
j. Conditions have not been agreed yet, officers would have to wait for the outcome of this committee. If approved, committee would delegate to officers to agree the conditions, including s.106 funds.
k. The only issue raised by BCC legal is the percentage profit to charity and the suitable vehicle for that (legal agreement or planning condition). 3000 social tickets per annum is only an estimate, we cannot be certain how many people this will attract. WtC already has an outreach programme so the Arc would likely be an extension of that. It is difficult to predict tourist numbers over the next couple of years considering Covid. If the Arc is unsuccessful it can be removed relatively easily.
l. There have been some questions about potential noise, however Pollution Control officers have determined this will not be significant.
m. RE commented that members and officers will sometimes disagree on applications and this is one such case. Modern stylish structures can complement the existing buildings. RE intends to move for approval subject to officer conditions being agreed.
n. FB agreed with RE and believed the importance of the view to the cathedral from the harbour was being overstated. The harbour has several modern structures such as the serpentine bridge which complements the area. The Dean of the Cathedral supports this application, which is significant. Bristol will need economic boosts when coming out of Covid restrictions. Would ask officers to consider out of sight storage at night for the Arc as a condition.
o. FH thought this was a challenging application for officers but intends to approve. There have been applications with considerably bigger impact on the skyline approved recently. FH was not convinced the economic arguments were as strong as presented.
p. LA intended to approve the application, saying Bristol was often behind the curve in respect of modern developments.
q. OM said he was unlikely to use it personally but recognised the appeal it would have. It is important to have tourist attractions in central Bristol, but he agreed with FH that it would not be as popular as projected. OM was encouraged by the support of the Cathedral Trust and that the Arc can be removed if it is not successful.
r. CJ was interested in the public statements, with many positive submissions from leaders in the area, and one negative statement about noise, which officers have refuted. CJ was convinced the benefit outweighs harm.
s. SK thanked officers for their detailed work on this application. He also thought benefit outweighed harm and was reassured by the community support, including the cathedral. He thought it would be an asset for the future and complemented existing assets.
No Councillor moved to vote to refuse the application as per the officers’ recommendation.
Cllr Richard Eddy proposed, seconded by Cllr Fabian Breckels, to approve the application based on the public benefits of heritage, design, education and economy outweighing the harm to heritage assets, and to delegate conditions to officers.
RESOLVED: (8 For / 0 Against / 0 Abstain) that the application be approved and delegated to officers.