Agenda item

Planning Application Number 21/06762/F - Public Convenience , Circular Road

Minutes:

The Chair referred to the first line of the application on the presentation and expressed concern that this could be misleading.

 

Officers confirmed that, whilst any previous application needed to be taken into account by Councillors in making their decision, the weight which they chose to give it was up to them.

 

Officers introduced this report and made the following points as part of their presentation:

 

·       A previous meeting on 6th April 2022 had considered this application. This report was attached for members. Officers had recommended that this was approved but it was not carried. The Committee had deferred the application to a future meeting with  a request for officers to include reasons that the Committee could use if they chose to refuse It in relation to biodiversity, the change in footprint and the case for the Education Centre if it was deemed ancillary to the development

·       Following the last meeting, further representations had been received and consultation taken place

·       The site was indicated showing the Downs Conservation Area within which it was located and neighbouring the Sneyd Park Conservation Area. The Downs are in an area of nature conservation interest, local historic garden and important open space. It was noted that the Avon Gorge nearby was an SSSI and special area of conservation

·       The adjacent building known as Towerhirst is Grade 2 listed

·       The existing toilet block was constructed in the 1950s and was in a poor state of repair

·       Images across the Downs were shown which indicated the toilet block from different locations

·       The proposed building would be a single storey building of lightweight construction with a frame to floor ceiling glazing. The toilet  block would be clad with timber – the flat roof includes a green roof. The site layout plan has been updated following the 6th April 2022 meeting to include details regarding existing footprints

·       The existing toilet footprint is 43 metres with the hard surfacing and footprint taken together being 188 square metres

·       The proposed building would be located slightly to the south of the existing toilet block but in a broadly similar position

·        

·       The café, toilet block and education both would be 75 square metres with the hard surface and building taken together being 239 square metres

·       The floor plan showed there would be a timber decking surrounding it with chairs and café one end, toilets centrally and the education booth at the other end

·       The wider site plan showed the potential for offsite planting in the form of a proposed wildflower meadow 200 square metres in area. The applicant was in discussion with the Parks department concerning this issue.

·       An updated biodiversity net gain assessment had been provided by the applicant from their ecologist which was included in the report

·       Following a further consultation,  an additional 45 objections had been received since the last meeting, including from both Ward Councillors

·       Biodiversity – further comments had been received from the Council’s nature conservation officer on the further information submitted by the applicant. They have identified that there is a need to update the ecology report. They also requested the location of the offsite planting which were in the calculations  that were in the applicant’s latest submission. Whilst a location for offsite planting had now been identified, a condition would still be required to secure this and identify the required species

·       Officers do not consider reasons for refusal based on biodiversity would be appropriate as the conditions could address this issue

·       Change in footprint – with the new proposals, there had been a change in footprint on site – 32 square metres for the building and 51 square metres including the hard surfacing

·       Education Centre – the case remains as previously proposed with the booth providing a base for the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project

·       Ancillary – the Downs is important open space. Policy DM17 states that development on part or all of an open space will not be permitted unless the development is ancillary to the open space used. Officers acknowledge that the café could be considered the least ancillary element of the proposal albeit needs to be considered as a whole. This policy does not define what is ancillary although in planning terms it would normally need to be clearly linked and of a relationship which is subservient. However, the Committee should note that the approval of a similar planning application in March 2019 was not ancillary to the use of open space and therefore not conflicting with Policy DM17

·       Officers consider there has been little change in circumstance since the previous application on the site which should be considered sufficient weight.

·       If the Committee were minded to refuse the application, suggested reasons for refusal were set out in the report. Members’ attention was drawn to these

 

Officers then responded to members’ questions as follows:

 

·       The café was required to be a certain size to be viable which resulted in the area for it being larger than the other two parts of the development. However, the application should be considered as a whole, regardless of how ancillary each element was to it

·       The plan was based on the Ordinance Survey and had been corrected by the applicant

·       Whilst members’ concerns were noted about the Downs not allowing commercial development, the current application was based on the previous one and had been subject to re-consultation

·       The entire Downs was in the SSSI area but this also included other building such as the Water Tower. It was important to note that open space had been used for many years for temporary events since any structures built for these would be removed at the end of the event. Since this was permanent, the Committee needed to bear this in mind in making their decision

·       There was no viability report submitted by the applicant to provide an assessment of whether or not the development was dependent on it

·       The applicant was proposing that the café would be open 8am to 7pm Monday to Saturday and 10am to 4pm on Sunday (with possible earlier closures in winter Monday to Saturday subject to dusk). The toilets would be available for use outside these hours subject to payment of a contactless fee to deter vandalism and misuse

·       Any current provision of an electric socket for ice cream vans that use the site would be subject to existing licensing rules

·       The application would be approved under proposed land use terms. Therefore, any proposal to remove the toilets would not be possible. In addition, the Committee had been requested to guarantee a mix of uses

·       The application could be conditioned to ensure to keep the toilet area discreet and also to require continued access to the toilets if it was approved. This would also help to ensure the use of the toilets was limited to the public

·       It was not possible to ring fence the revenue stream from the café to ensure it was limited to the toilets and education facility since the Committee could only determine the land use planning issues

·       Cycle provision would be provided for staff and the education facility. Since there was a condition relating to this, it would be possible to consider whether or not a cycle path could be provided through this

 

Councillors made the following points in relation to this application:

 

·       The commercialisation of the Downs was a concern and also any impact on biodiversity. If there was a need to change the toilets, then this should take place through a separate development

·       The addition of a condition to require continued access of toilet facilities for the general public would help to make the development more ancillary in this respect. This was an attractive building which would fit in with the area and mainly provide a service for people visiting the Downs. The new toilets would be a great improvement on the existing ones. The education both would provide a good opportunity. The application should be supported

·       This application which had been approved by the Downs Committee would commercialise a café on an existing green space. Any replacement for the existing toilets should take place separately. The provision of a café would not help in terms of any potential loss of biodiversity

·       The scheme should be supported. There was nothing within the scheme which could justify refusal on planning grounds

·       Whilst there were concerns about this scheme that had been identified when it had originally come to Committee on 6th April 2022, it was clear that to have more public toilets in the city was a good thing. The design was also architecturally extremely good. Although the ancillary issue remained a concern since approving such a scheme might set a bad precedent for what was a commercial venture, there was a civic body overseeing it with democratic representation to guarantee that too great a level of commercialisation would occur. Therefore, the scheme should be supported

·       Although the issue of biodiversity remained a concern, there did not appear to be any grounds to object to it on these grounds. All the elements of the development could be deemed ancillary to open space even for the café area. It was important to ensure that the Downs was available to purchase refreshments and, whilst a greater area dedicated to the toilets would be better, Councillors were not free to re-design. The proposed building was also attractive and should be supported

·       The building was attractive. It was hoped that the Downs Committee would exercise its democratic governance to retain the café as a small ancillary use. There could never be enough educational facilities to advise concerning biodiversity and promote the beauty of nature. The scheme should be supported

·       The importance of biodiversity should not be underestimated since no patch of land was too insignificant to be considered in any development. Whilst the issue of the ancillary nature of the development was important, the case for the café as part of the development was also important

·       It was also important to take into account the people who worked on site. They would help to take care of the building and the educational facility would have a long term impact

 

Councillor Breckels moved, seconded by Councillor Brown and upon being put to the vote, it was

 

RESOLVED (5 for, 3 against, 0 abstentions)  - that the application be approved subject to an additional condition requiring that the toilet facilities are available for use by the general public.

 

 

 

 

Supporting documents: