Plans for Suspension Bridge visitor centre are approved
PLANS for a new £1.8 million visitor centre for Clifton Suspension Bridge have been approved, despite objections from residents.
North Somerset Council's north area planning committee approved the plans by Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust to demolish the existing stores, workshop and offices on part of the existing maintenance yard and build a new heritage and learning centre.
The new two-storey centre would house an exhibition space, a small shop, toilets and an office.
A new operations building for the bridge master would also be created, housing offices, toilets and storage areas.
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On show would be information displays, images, hands-on exhibits and artefacts, some of which have been in storage since the Bridge House Visitor Centre closed eight years ago.
But the scheme has not been welcomed by all, with neighbours raising objections to the design of the building, describing it as boring and having no connection with the style of Brunel's legacy.
Residents have also raised concerns about the height of the building and the extra traffic the visitor centre could generate as well as fears that the cliff face near the proposed site could become unstable as a result of the development works.
Leigh Woods Village Society chairman Kate Buss said: "The style of the building does not complement the bridge. The development will have an adverse impact on the area in terms of parking and litter and is out of character with the area."
Architect and member of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, David Mellor, said the bridge attracted between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors a year, 60,000 of which used the visitor centre. He said he expected the new visitor centre to attract around 100,000 people a year and that most people visiting the landmark came in from the Clifton side rather than from Leigh Woods.
Mr Mellor said: "We have provided a building which is highly respectful of the bridge itself. It is intended to be discreet and complementary to the bridge and it is a good piece of architecture for our time."
Trustees have already passed the first stage for Heritage Lottery Funding for the project and are due to submit a phase two bid for funding in November.
Trustee Charles Cave said: "I know local people have legitimate concerns about parking and parking of coaches, but there is a traffic management proposal in place.
"I understand the concerns but know they can be dealt with."
Councillors agreed to approve the plans subject to a number of conditions.
The bridge's trustees hope the heritage and learning centre can open in time for the 150th anniversary of the official opening of Brunel's masterpiece, in 2014.