This is a short account of what the Committee and other members have been doing in the past year on behalf of the Group. If you would like a formatted version you can find one here:
1. MEMBERS AND COMMITTEE
Around 100 households are members. The Committee consists of:
Pauline Allen (Treasurer), John Frenkel (Minutes Secretary), Charles Grant, Tony Kerr (Website), Nick Kidwell, Andy King, Jeremy Newick (represents us on Bristol Conservation Panel), Helen Phillips (Secretary), Ottilie Shorcott, Nigel Tasker, Mary Wright.
Bridget & Malcolm Parker are our Membership Secretaries. Peter Ferne kindly provides free hosting and technical support for the website.
We meet each month to respond to planning applications and to consider possible future developments and the effects on Kingsdown of national and Council priorities. We are all indebted to our Secretary, who organises the correspondence and administration of the Group, and to John Frenkel, who takes minutes and prepares the monthly summaries. These are posted on our noticeboards and on the website, which was visited by over 1700 people (‘Absolute unique visitors’) in the last 6 months, of whom several hundred were ‘regulars’. There have been over 20,000 ‘views’ of our online photo collection. 65 people get informed via our email list when there is new material on the site. You can join this via the website, or give us your email address. We now have two brand-new noticeboards, making a total of four places where our information is displayed (including Alfred Harris).
As usual, our business in 2008 has ranged from small but important local matters to city-wide policies and programmes which affect Kingsdown.
We study each application, either at the planning department or online via the Council’s website. We don’t usually comment on the minority which are well-designed and comply fully with the Council’s policies and the Conservation Group’s aims, but many schemes are for intensive or unsuitable development, such as converting shops and houses into multiple occupation or putting blocks of flats in gardens. We talk to neighbours and other interested parties, and then decide whether to comment. Among other activities this year:
We successfully opposed the three unsuitable applications from the United Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust (as they are now called) for intensive housing development on sites in the Conservation Area, but under planning law the Hospital Trust can appeal when such decisions go against them, or just come back with minor revisions. They intend to appeal against the refusal to let them build flats in the garden of the listed building (no 42) at the bottom of Alfred Hill.
We also successfully opposed various applications, including some to destroy garden walls, demolish part of a pub (the King Charles in King Square), convert buildings to multiple occupation, etc.
But we don’t just oppose things. Working with various Council officers, we have continued to arrange local improvements – a new tree at Prior’s Hill, a wildlife hedge on Montague Green, a box lantern (paid for, but not yet installed) on Spring Hill and another (provided by the hospital trust, we hope) on Alfred Hill. We even got involved in requesting the unblocking of drains (a matter on which the Council have been quick to respond) and asking for the Premier Inn sign lights to be turned down.
As always, we have had to follow up several breaches of planning law, in respect of illegal conversion to multi-occupation, concreting of gardens, installing visible satellite dishes, replacing traditional walls, roofs and windows unnecessarily and (Somerfield) piling rubbish in the street,. Often these seem minor (particularly to the householders concerned, and sometimes to the City Council who are supposed to take action), but their combined effect, if allowed to proceed, would be to degrade the whole area. We are encouraged by the increasing numbers of people who now talk to us first, which can often lead to a sensible solution rather than an expensive and stressful conflict.
3. NEIGHBOURING AREAS
Because of Kingsdown’s geographical position, we need to keep an eye on developments outside the Conservation Area boundary:
a) The Hospital. As well as the housing developments mentioned above, we have had regular discussions about the need to reinstate the rights of way, and improve public access, round the new Heart Institute. We decided not to oppose the helicopter pad, on which we felt there was no prospect of success. We understand that the hospital plan to seek new permission to leave in place the ugly laboratory building which a planning inspector decided should be removed by this summer. In summary, a lot of work with only mixed success and a clear need for continued vigilance. We are cautiously optimistic that the new regular meetings, and the City Council’s increasing support for community involvement, will lead to at least some improvement next year.
b) The University. A lot of time and effort has again been spent on pressing the university to either stick to its own (and Council-approved) masterplan or produce improvements. We have repeatedly expressed our support for the principle of developing the University’s facilities, but, just like the hospital, they don’t yet seem to understand that positive dialogue is perfectly possible if there is goodwill and a bit of listening on both sides. They, too, expect to hold regular meetings with local groups, so, again, something positive may emerge from all the effort.
c) Stokes Croft. We take an interest in this area because there are few residents to speak for it. We would like to think that our extensive and constructive responses helped to influence the improved designs to redevelop Hamilton House and the DHS building in Stokes Croft, and the former A’Court Electrical Contractors building in Jamaica Street. We were disappointed to hear that the City has abandoned its plans to compulsorily purchase Westmoreland House and Godwin’s Carriage Works because its development partner has withdrawn from the regeneration scheme.
d) King’s Square House. KCG made an extensive response to the planning application to convert the former NHS administration building into student accommodation. We expect work to start soon. The Council negotiated a payment of £180,000 from the developers to mitigate the impact of the development, and we will press for most of this money to be spent locally to improve Spring Hill.
4. WIDER POLICIES and DEVELOPMENTS
We try to influence the City Council and to contribute to the development of better local policies:
We congratulated the Planning Department on the excellent Kingsdown Conservation Area Character Appraisal, published in March 2008. The final document is beautifully produced and illustrated, and a credit to the Department. It is available from the Planning section of the Council’s website and from Brunel House. The Committee worked hard to help produce the Appraisal, and are very pleased that the Conservation Officer adopted nearly every suggestion that KCG made. This is a very important policy document for Kingsdown.
Neighbourhood planning network. We continue to contribute to this important local community-based network, which exchanges information and ideas between community and amenity groups so that they can learn from each other and have more influence. The City supports the Network and we hope that it will help us to improve our dialogue with our dominant neighbours, the University and the Hospital authorities. We are represented on the City’s Conservation Advisory Panel and the Civic Society Executive.
Residents’ Parking Scheme. The City has resolved to pilot an RPS in Kingsdown, and the Highways Department will write to all local residents before Easter to tell them what it proposes. KCG will work closely with the RPS group to ensure that there are as many parking spaces as possible and that the impact of the signage is minimised.
tk/4 Mar 2009