Council in talks to sell school site after developer wins appeal

SOUTH Gloucestershire Council is in discussions to sell the site of the former Staple Hill Infant School to the developer that won a planning appeal over the site.

Churchill Retirement Living submitted plans to build 42 retirement flats in four-storey apartment buildings on the council-owned corner site in Page Road last year.

The developer appealed to the government’s Planning Inspectorate in April because the council had failed to make a decision on planning permission within the legal three-month time limit.

The council fought the appeal, saying it would have rejected the plans on six grounds: massing and density that did not “respect the character” of the surroundings; inadequate private or communal amenity space; insufficient parking, with no disabled parking; no safe non-vehicle access route; no provision of public open space to mitigate its impact on the area; no appropriate provision for affordable housing.

Five people objected on similar grounds, and Staple Hill & Mangotsfield ward councillor Katie Cooper told the appeal inspector: “There seems to have been little or no consideration to residents’ privacy, or quality of life. Many of the flats are overlooked and there is little private amenity space.”

Churchill said the site of the old school, demolished in 2019, is a “highly sustainable location” and its plans “accord with national and local planning policy”.

After the two sides came to an agreement over parking, road safety, access and payments towards affordable housing elsewhere, the appeal hinged on the plans’ effect on the appearance of the surrounding area, whether occupants would have satisfactory living conditions and whether there was appropriate public open space.

The government inspector concluded that the proposal “would result in harm to the character and appearance of the site and the surrounding area”.

But he granted permission, saying that the harm was “outweighed by the benefits” of providing specialist older people’s accommodation, for which there was a critical need and a scarce supply of sites – Churchill said only 40 units had been built in South Gloucestershire since 2019.

The inspector said the scheme’s mixture of private and communal patios and balconies would provide “satisfactory living conditions” for residents.

The plans involved no new public space provision, with the developer saying residents could visit Page Park and the council asking for a contribution of around £111,000 towards upkeep of local open spaces.

After the verdict a council spokesperson said: “We accept the decision of the Planning Inspector in relation to this appeal. The appellant will be paying their own costs.

“Following the decision of the Planning Inspector, discussions are taking place with Churchill Retirement Living around their potential acquisition of the site for the development of retirement homes.”

The council did not reveal the costs of contesting the appeal.

Churchill Retirement Living did not respond to the Voice’s request for a comment.