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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Tristan Cork

Tower block plan scaled back after complaints it would spoil the view from Ashton Court

It’s a classic view the richest family in Bristol, and their renowned landscape architect, made sure of.

Sir John Smyth, the owner of Ashton Court in the 18th Century, employed the era’s finest landscape gardener, Sir Humphry Repton, and the result was one of the now-classic views in the city - from the front of the huge mansion, two miles across Bristol to the unmistakable spire of St Mary Redcliffe Church.

And now, the importance of that view seems to have helped scupper developers who wanted to put what heritage experts have described as an ‘incoherent mass’ in the way of the vista.

The development firm Vistry wanted to build a row of tower blocks on the edge of Bristol.

But they have now scaled back their plans after the Government’s heritage experts said it would ruin the view of the famous church spire from the famous mansion.

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Historic England told council planners the proposals for the nine-storey blocks of flats just off the Brunel Way flyover in Ashton would ‘spoil the setting’ of two important listed buildings two miles apart - St Mary Redcliffe Church and Ashton Court Mansion.

The plans were submitted by developers Vistry - formerly known as Galliford Try - on the site of the old railway depot at Clanage Road, a site next to the Festival Way cycle path between Ashton Court and the city centre.

But the nine-storey buildings lining the edge of the city before it becomes semi-rural with allotments, Bedminster Cricket Club and into the Ashton Court Estate, met a barrage of criticism from local residents, campaigners and official heritage experts.

Bristol's Civic Society objected back in May about the size of the development, and questioned whether it would spoil the views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge from Bedminster Down.

And among scores of letters of objection to Bristol City Council were two from Historic England, the Government’s official heritage expert organisation that used to be known as English Heritage.

It objected to the scale of the development - but with specific issues connected to the setting of Ashton Court.

The proposed development, to the left of Brunel Way flyover, at Clanage Road is directly on the line of sight between the front of Ashton Court mansion, on the left, to St Mary Redcliffe Church on the right (Google Maps)

Historic England complained about the “urbanising effect that the proposed development would have on the setting of Ashton Court’s II* registered landscape, and the adverse impact the proposals would have on the semi-rural character and appearance of the Bower Ashton Conservation Area”.

“The massing of the proposed buildings will create a significant visual intrusion in views both from and to the registered park…the adverse impact that the proposed development would have on the setting on the spire of St Mary Redcliffe in views from the south front of Ashton Court mansion.

“The spire presently rises from a canopy of trees, in the manner of the picturesque style of landscape design associated by Humphry Repton, the celebrated landscape designer of Ashton Court’s park. Under these proposals the spire would instead rise from an incoherent mass of built form,” the objection from Historic England said.

“We acknowledge that views of the spire itself would remain unencumbered, but consider that the proposals will still have a damaging impact on the setting of the Grade I church and the Grade II* landscape,” it added.

Original plans for the former Ashton Rail Yard in Clanage Road, Bower Ashton (Vistry Partnerships)

But now Vistry has told planners it is scaling back the size of the buildings they want to build - from 253 flats to 242, and the size of the buildings from nine storeys to between three and eight.

In a letter to planners on behalf of Vistry, Charlotte Taylor-Drake, from planning agents Avison Young, said: “Vistry Partnerships have entered into extensive discussions with Bristol City Council and have accordingly worked hard to formulate a development proposal that balances the tensions between the issues raised and the viability of the site’s redevelopment.

“Overall, the revisions to the development proposals have resulted in the loss of 11 dwellings and reduction in the tallest building from nine to eight storeys,” she added.

She said the other changes included realigning the Festival Way cycle route back to its existing route on the western edge of the site, putting some of the car park underneath the buildings, and replacing some of the townhouses with three-storey buildings.

It remains to be seen if the revised plans, submitted to the council this week, will be enough to persuade the council planning officers to recommend the plan for permission - it is yet to be discussed by councillors.

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