Frenchay residents vow to fight approval for nearly 500 homes on hospital site
PLANS to build up to 490 houses on the Frenchay Hospital site have been given the go ahead despite overwhelming objection from residents.
There were shouts of ‘shame on you’ and ‘you have ruined our village’ from the public gallery at a meeting of South Gloucestershire Council’s development control west committee, which agreed North Bristol NHS Trust’s planning application on a vote of nine to four on Tuesday (December 10).
More than 200 villagers packed into Filton Community Association in the hope of persuading councillors to go against officer’s recommendation and turn down plans for the site which will be left vacant when hospital staff move to Southmead in May next year. They say the number of houses planned is too many and although residents accept housing is inevitable on the site, they want a plan that respects the history and characteristics of the village.
They claim the outline application is almost identical to one thrown out by the council and should not have even been considered as the authority’s own policy states a full and detailed plan must be submitted for any site of historic interest.
But health bosses say they have tried to be sympathetic to the village of 658 houses but they must sell the land for an estimated £29million to repay Department of Health loans and fund new equipment.
The Frenchay Residents’ User Group (RUG), which has 1,100 members, believes the trust’s refusal to meet with the group unless it agreed not to pursue a judicial review should planning permission be granted showed the NHS had something to hide.
Group chairman Alan Joeclyn said: “Residents have not been invited to a single meeting and feel totally excluded from the planning process.
“This will swamp the existing village and the current congestion will become gridlock. Do not allow self-imposed timescales by the NHS to intimidate you into a rushed decision. This is forever and we must get it right.”
Cllr David Fletcher, vice-chairman of Winterbourne Parish Council and a member of Frenchay Preservation Society, said the village was a jewel in South Gloucestershire’s crown which would be overwhelmed by the plans.
“We want developers, residents and councillors to pass by this site in future years and be proud of what we have achieved,” he told the meeting. “This will not be the case with the current application.”
The site will help to meet the council’s housing supply of 28,000 new homes and major sites team manager Helen O’Conner told the committee the Core Strategy, which identifies Frenchay for housing development, should be afforded considerable weight. She said there was no ‘procedural bar’ to considering the application because it was only an outline plan.
Highways officer Tom Roberts said current congestion caused by hospital staff and patients would largely be eased.
“The proposal is expected to generate significantly less traffic than the existing site,” he said.
The committee's concerns over the scheme’s inclusion of a new primary school and its impact on Frenchay Primary School were allayed with assurances that discussions between the council, existing school and planning agent GVA for a two-form of entry single school would continue.
Cllr Howard Gawler (Lib Dem, Ladden Brook) said: “There is nothing more decisive in a community than two small schools and it makes total common sense to me to have one school on one site.”
Recommending the plans for approval, Cllr Pat Hockey (Lib Dem, Frampton Cotterell) said: "This council has done its best to find plans which are as close as possible to what residents want. We all know we have a traffic problem and whatever development goes in South Gloucestershire, that is not going to get better."
Director of strategy and planning at North Bristol NHS Trust, Dr Mike Coupe, said the land was an important asset to the NHS.
He said: “We need to maximise the value of the land otherwise we could face staff reductions which would be undesirable to employment levels and the quality of care we are able to provide.”
After the meeting he told the Gazette preparatory works on site would take nine to 12 months.
“It is pleasing to get to the next stage,” he said. “It is not just about selling the land at any cost - we have a responsibly to work with Frenchay residents. But we serve between 900,000 and three million people in the South West and our responsibility is as much to them.”
RUG is now considering taking the matter to judicial review.
Mike Pick, a member of the executive committee, said: “This is not the end of it. We will raise funds and we have the energy and determination to go for it.”
Fellow member Bob Woodward, who founded charity CLIC at Frenchay, added: “We are gutted, we expected them to turn it down.
“They are saying all the reasons why they turned down the original application don’t matter. It is unbelievable and will be a travesty for Frenchay.
"I can’t believe councillors have let us down in the way that they have.”
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