Bristol council taxpayers will foot the bill for more “frustrating” appeals by the owners of Hamilton House to turn part of the iconic Stokes Croft building into flats.
Connolly and Callaghan (C&C) originally applied to convert part of the premises into apartments more than a year ago, but the plans were blocked by Bristol City Council.
After C&C appealed the decision and lost the case, they lodged seven more applications in an attempt to “break down” the original application into bite-size pieces.
When council officers refused these applications too, the Hamilton House owners lodged seven more appeals with the planning inspectorate challenging each decision.
This means that the council will have to defend each refusal before a government planning inspector, and that costs time and money.
Councillor Stephen Clarke expressed his concerns about the number of appeals related to Hamilton House and the resulting costs to the council at a recent planning meeting.
He asked if the “ruse” by C&C would cost the local authority “a lot of money” if the owners were successful and whether the council could apply to get the extra costs back.
The council’s chief planning officer, Gary Collins, said C&C’s approach was “incredibly frustrating” but they were legally entitled to take it.
“And yes it will cost the Bristol council taxpayer for us to defend each of those appeals, albeit, because it’s the same site, they’ll all be rolled up together,” he said.
“If we can put forward a case where we feel that the appellant [C&C] has behaved unreasonably then we can apply to have an award of costs in our favour.
“I can’t guarantee that’s what we would do but we’ll certainly look into that,” he told members of development control A committee on June 10.
Mr Collins said the council was liaising with the planning inspectorate over when the informal appeal hearing would take place after it was postponed by the Covid-19 crisis.
“The inspectorate are currently trialling a number of virtual hearings during this month so I think we’ll know more after then,” he said.
An abandoned 1970s office block, Hamilton House has become a much-loved and well-used community and arts hub over the past decade.
C&C originally applied to turn 45 “offices” at the premises into apartments.
The subsequent applications sought permission to convert a total of 27 “offices” into flats.
Council officers turned down all eight applications because they did not consider that any of the units were actually being used as offices.
Units must be in legal office use before their conversion to housing can be granted under permitted development rights without the need for full planning permission.