More student housing approved after Hartwells garage decision overturned

Another 186 student flats bedrooms have been approved on appeal in Bath, and government officials think the city needs yet more student accommodation.

The proposed site plan | Image © Oakhill Group Ltd

Planning inspector Nick Fagan rejected Bath and North East Somerset Council’s claim the student housing could prejudice the delivery of 104 flats also planned for the Hartwells site.

He did not agree that the former garage would be overdeveloped and said introducing more diversity would benefit the residential area of Newbridge.

Mr Fagan said a £260,000 cycle path contribution will create “a vital and important recreational facility”, outweighing the lack of green space in the scheme.

Residents said they feel ignored and that the system was geared towards wealthy developers who could “throw money” at appeals to get their plans approved.

The inspector said in a ruling published this week: “It appears that there is still a need for additional student accommodation in the city.

No To Hartwells Student Build protesters | Photo © Stephen Sumner

“I acknowledge the comments made by the councillors at the inquiry that there is a surplus of unlet student accommodation in the city at present and that attempts are being made to let it out for short-term holiday accommodation.”

The owners of Twerton Mill have applied for temporary permission to turn part of the student block into an aparthotel after the coronavirus crisis impacted on demand.

Mr Fagan seemed unaware of the plans and said the councillors’ claims were “unevidenced”, adding: “Even assuming they are accurate, such a situation does not surprise me because the Covid-19 pandemic has led to many students returning to their family homes.

“The PBSA [purpose-built student accommodation] element of the development would contribute positively to the scheme’s housing mix.”

Rejecting the proposals in March last year, planning committee members said the site was only allocated for up to 100 homes – not student accommodation – arguing what was proposed was inappropriate and failed to provide an appropriate mix of housing.

Mr Fagan disagreed. He said the developer had maximised the use of the brownfield site, it was in a sustainable location and would be attractive to students and young professionals.

The application was allowed on appeal despite racking up 470 objections.

Ward councillor Michelle O’Doherty said: “A lot of Newbridge residents feel like they haven’t been listened to, yet again.

“We were viewed as nimbys. That’s really disappointing. Most people want to see that site redeveloped – if it’s left it will decay and become a magnet for antisocial behaviour.

“If they [Oakhill] had come up with a more modest development they probably would have got more support.

“The developers are sweating every inch of the asset, and they didn’t engage with the community.”

Alan Champneys, who led the Say No to Hartwells Overdevelopment campaign, added: “Planning laws are stacked against communities in favour of rich developers who can afford very expensive barristers.

“The feelings of the neighbourhood don’t seem to count.

“There’s nothing being provided for older people or those on low incomes, only young professionals in rabbit hutches that aren’t suited to the suburbs.

“It’s a sad reflection of the way the planning system is set up. Property seems to be about profit rather than need. It’s left a nasty taste in people’s mouths.”

Oakhill was approached for comment.

A spokesperson for the firm previously said its application followed 11 months of detailed scrutiny by council officers but councillors went against their recommendation for approval.

It said: “The Hartwell car dealership on the site closed down in February 2019 and it is necessary to find a new long-term use for the site that is viable and compliant with the council’s development plan.

“The Oakhill proposals do that by providing over 100 apartments for rent, purpose built accommodation for 186 students, and a small retail unit, and will deliver the missing elements of the Bath sustainable transport route.”

Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter

Bath Echo