Shock U-turn is blow to Downs cafe hopes

May 03 2022

COUNCILLORS have made a shock U-turn to reject plans for a cafe on The Downs, just three years after granting permission.

Bristol City Council’s development management committee voted 5-4 against allowing the toilet block to be demolished and replaced with a glass and timber-fronted single-storey building, despite officers recommending approval and warning refusal would not withstand an appeal.

Members said they feared the development, near the Sea Walls off Circular Road, could be a “slippery slope” and set a precedent at the beauty spot.

They were also concerned that the new building’s “footprint” would be much larger than the 1950s loos.

The application, from The Downs Committee, was resubmitted because consent from March 2019, for an almost identical cafe, education booth and replacement toilets, had expired. It attracted 58 objections, including from ward councillors, the Open Spaces Society and CPRE, The Countryside Charity, and 16 letters of support.

Committee member Green Cllr Lorraine Francis told the planning committee on April 6: “Once we start erecting permanent buildings – outside of a toilet which has been there for a long time – then the next thing you know we are building and building ... This is going down a slippery slope.”

The council’s head of development control Gary Collins replied: “A decision on one application doesn’t set a precedent for another. This wouldn’t provide a green light to any other proposal.”

Members heard that since the 2019 decision, a government inspector had approved the necessary consent for the development on common land, which has no time limit, and that the cafe was required to help the Downs Committee meet the £15,000 costs of maintaining public toilets.

Tory Cllr Richard Eddy said he was on the committee three years ago that was “overwhelmingly convinced it was a decent scheme” which remained the case.

He said: “If anything, post-Covid, the demand to open these green lungs for the people of Bristol is even more vibrant, so I urge members to vote for this.”

Labour Cllr Fabian Breckels said: “If there have been no significant material changes since the last time this was granted, we’re going to be on very thin ice if we refuse this now and we then find we get absolutely rinsed at planning appeal. Aesthetically the new building is an improvement on the old. The old toilet block looks quite hideous and almost unsafe.”

Councillors voted to defer the application for officers to bring back a report detailing reasons that could justify refusal, as per council procedure where members are minded to reject plans against officers’ advice.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service