Plans for flats at Merchants Arms are withdrawn

January 29 2019

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save a pub in Stapleton are breathing a sign of relief after plans to turn the building into flats were withdrawn.

Residents have missed the Merchants Arms in Bell Hill since its sudden closure in December 2016 and  hoped it would open again.  Last July, they managed to get the building listed as an "Asset of Community Value" (ACV)  to give it some protection against development.

But they were dismayed when just months later plans were submitted by owners Red Rock Developments to change the pub, which had been trading since 1938, into six two-bed maisonettes.

Members of the community rallied round to unite against the proposals, lodging 112 objections with Bristol City Council. However, they suffered a further setback when they realised Red Rock Developments were challenging the building's ACV status.

Their objection led to a review hearing on November 2 where an adjudicating officer listened to the case for and against keeping the protected status.

Now it has been announced that the ACV listing has been upheld - promptly leading the Bristol-based developers to withdraw the planning application.

Chris Faulkner Gibson, representing Colston Estate Community Association, which was leading the fight against the plans, said: "We were absolutely delighted to learn that the ACV listing had been upheld. The adjudicating officer found in our favour on all points. It is still open to the owners to appeal to a First Tier Tribunal, which would basically be a re-run of the recent review hearing but this time chaired by a judge in a more formal courtroom setting, and the result would be final. 

"They have 28 days from the decision date to lodge an appeal. For now, we are celebrating a clear victory."

Eastville councillor Mhairi Threlfall said the application would have been "called in" - decided by a planning committee should council officers recommend approval. However, the plans were withdrawn before it reached that stage.

Mr Faulkner Gibson said it was disappointing no decision could be taken.

"In sporting terms this is the equivalent of a ‘no-score draw’. We would have preferred to have the matter properly decided but if necessary we will repeat our opposition to any further planning applications that would spell the end of the pub."

Mr Faulkner Gibson added: "The association would like to thank the 112 people who submitted objections for their invaluable support. We'd also like to put everyone on notice that we might have to do it all over again if another application is submitted. 

"We’re certainly not nervous about what happens next – whatever happens we’ll deal with it as energetically as we have before.

"Having had the ACV listing upheld is a huge boost in terms of fighting any planning application for change of use, as the developer’s arguments have already been tested and found wanting, and our planning objections are stronger as a result. 

"Overall, the outcome is a clear victory as far as the ACV is concerned, but neutral as far as the planning application but we’re in a better position to fight the next one as a result."

Unless overturned, the ACV status will stay in force for five years.