A group of residents are fighting against plans to build new homes on a green space in South Bristol that one local councillor has labelled a ‘drama’.
The small strip of land in the Windmill Hill area is currently unused and is surrounded by existing properties along Marksbury Road, Dawlish Road, Lynford Walk and Brixham Road. The proposals submitted to Bristol City Council in February 2021 include the demolition of a property on Marksbury Road to make way for five new single-storey, flat-roofed homes in 2024sqm space.
This scheme proposes a detached three-bedroom, four-person dwelling and two pairs of semi-detached two-bed, three-person dwellings. Green roofs are proposed, with water butts, and hedgerow planting to the boundaries, supplemented with trees, although no off-road parking would be provided.
Documentation seen by Bristol Live shows that Alex Fry Rental Properties bought the land for £6,009 in 2017. A report to the committee published on March 29 said the proposal “accords with the relevant local and national plan policies being a sustainable form of development that makes a small but valuable contribution to the supply of housing”.
When the council sold off the space in 2017 they imposed a protective covenant on the site, a legally binding agreement in the UK to protect landscapes. This meant the wasteland could only be used for agricultural use and only single-storey agricultural buildings could be erected, such as a shed or greenhouse.
The proposals, however, breach the laws of the covenant, which would have to be lifted for residential buildings to be erected on the site. Bristol Live approached planning company Stokes Morgan for comment on behalf of its client who referred to the report released on March 29.
The report states: “It is important to note that restrictive covenants are not considered in applications for planning permission. Equally, the granting of planning permission does not quash or override any restrictions on title.”
One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “If the protective covenant is lifted that puts all green spaces in Bristol at risk because it means the covenant is useless. Nobody in the community knew you could apply for planning permission on an area with a covenant because we thought it protected it – but it won’t.”
Another person said: “The residents whose gardens back onto the land have been totally misled. If they’d had any inkling that the land was not protected and that the protective covenant could be in any way lifted, then they would most certainly have got together and applied to buy the land between themselves for its safe keeping.”
When approached on the case, a Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “A planning decision on the application for this site is still to be made and will be made at a Development Control Committee meeting of cross-party councillors.
“When the land was sold, a covenant was created to restrict its use as a garden or amenity purposes. This means the landowner is obliged to use the land in accordance with the covenant, which remains in place. Covenants on land restrict its use and are legally material at the point at which any land is no longer used in accordance with the covenant.”
Councillor Lisa Stone spoke to Bristol Live to say she has been working alongside Councillor Ed Plowden to understand “this complicated – and controversial – application”. They have been discussing it with council planning officers and seeking external legal advice on planning law and the covenant.
On the proposals, she said: “It is very important that the land proposed for planning is left to nature and continues to provide a habitat for local wildlife. Local residents have spotted badgers, foxes and slow worms in this local nature reserve – it would be tragic to lose it.
“However, the applicants have bought the land for a low price because it has a covenant restricting buildings to gardening facilities only. They have applied to planning to build five residential buildings on it, their application is yet to go to the planning committee. As I understand it the covenant does not prevent this application being legally applied for – but it would prevent residential properties on this space, even if planning permission were to be granted.
“I feel that the applicants may be planning to fight a legal case to eventually have the covenant removed. Only then would they be able to actually build their plans. Ed and I will continue to work hard as green councillors to protect this much needed green space in the heart of the city, as this drama unfolds.”
A neighbour consultation revealed the impact on wildlife, parking, air quality, privacy and flood risk as some of the main concerns of residents. Marksbury Road lies near the River Malago and was the area hit by the Great Bristol Flood in July 1968 where eight people died and thousands of homes were affected after two months of rainfall fell in less than two days.
Although the flood defences are better there is still a risk of damage to gardens in the area if construction was to occur, residents have said. In March, a flood risk assessment stated more information was needed in the application to demonstrate adequate prevention of the increased risk of flooding.
In an objection submitted publicly, Councillor Christopher Jackson said: “As you may know, the River Malago is prone to flooding and in past, Marksbury Road has become quite badly flooded. For this reason, the Council’s Flood Officer’s approval is necessary to allow development, but as you will see, the flood officer is objecting to this.
“Councillors on the Development Control Committee also need to keep in mind that there is a covenant on the land that means it’s not allowed to be developed.”
Meg Trump, a resident in the area, also opposed the plans: “Green spaces are the most valuable spaces of hope for a future for the generations that come next, I believe it is one of the most powerful things we can do to save them now! We have forgotten how to value spaces that aren’t just for human use and this narrow-mindedness will bring retribution in the form of flooding and air pollution that will damage the health of the local community.”
Neighbours involved in the action group are trying to obtain evidence of protected species living on the site. An ecological plan suggested breeding birds may be disturbed in the complete re-clearance of the site due to damage to nests. No sett holes were noted on site, but there is a small chance that badgers, hedgehogs and urban foxes may cross the site, it read.
Residents will have to wait until a decision is made by cross-party councillors at a committee meeting in the future.