Councillors have expressed alarm after plans for the University of Bristol’s flagship new library were pulled at the last minute.
Members were due to decide proposals on Wednesday, September 16 for The Hawthorns – a former hotel on the corner of Woodland Road used as student accommodation, catering and offices – to be replaced by a seven-storey “landmark” building, plus two floors below ground.
But after initially recommending approval in a 118-page report to Bristol City Council’s development control committee, planning officers withdrew the item from the agenda to carry out more work to assess the impact of proposed road closures.
These include the effect on St Michael’s Hill, the emergency transport measures introduced by the local authority during lockdown, such as pop-up cycle lanes, and the Clean Air Zone.
The remote meeting was told that since the papers were published, more objections had been received about the traffic and transport knock-on effects.
The plans include a new public plaza, closing Woodland Road to general traffic between Tyndall Avenue and St Michael’s Park, and making St Michael’s Park one-way eastbound from Woodland Road to Osborne Villas.
A two-way cycle track would be created through the pedestrianised area, along with two raised pedestrian crossings in Elton Road and a “bus hub” in Tyndall Avenue to consolidate campus bus stops in one location.
There would be a net loss of ten on-street car parking spaces, from 86 to 76, and 524 more cycle spaces.
The report said a total of 176 objections were received over two rounds of consultation, including one following changes to the scheme in July, with 142 in support.
City council head of development Gary Collins told the meeting: “I would like to apologise to the committee because this was pulled at short notice which is far from ideal.
“Since the committee report was published, we have received further representations from local stakeholders, particularly questioning whether the proposed transport mitigation was adequate to deal with the impacts of the development, which is obviously a major consideration.
“Following receipt of those, as an officer group we felt that the proposed mitigation package, especially relating to St Michael’s Hill, was worthy of being reexamined by us.
“And also that we should provide the committee and interested parties with a clear narrative about how those proposed works would integrate with the Emergency Active Travel Fund that members will have seen being put in place around the city, such as the temporary cycle lanes, and also the plans for a Clean Air Zone because the site is in fairly close proximity to that.”
Councillor Jo Sergeant said: “It concerns me that this sort of thing can happen so close to an application being heard. I appreciate this is important but it does concern me that things are being held up when everyone has had access to this information.
“I know we’re living in difficult times but it feels like the planning process is being interfered with. I’m sure that’s not the intention but I’ve been in situations where I’ve wanted to put a statement in and I’ve been told I’ve hit a deadline, it’s too late. It feels we have one rule for us and another rule for people higher up.”
Councillor Clive Stevens said: “Some people who were going to speak this afternoon might have booked time off and they will be unimpressed, and as a demonstration of democracy it’s very poor.I am displeased on behalf of those residents who were going to speak.”
Mr Collins said it had been a “very difficult call” to withdraw the item for more assessment work to take place.
The plans will come back to committee on October 14.
Adam Postans is a local democracy reporter for Bristol.
Main image: Hawkins Brown and Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects