We just want to do the best we can for Bristol
A CABINET councillor has answered critics who believe the city council is deliberately trying to slow down Bristol's growth and prosperity.
"We are not trying to slow things down, we just want to make sure we get things right and the best that we possibly can for Bristol," said Anthony Negus, the Lib Dem councillor in charge of regeneration in the city.
He said there had been some sniping since councillors turned down planning permission for the redevelopment of the General Hospital site in Redcliffe. The plan was to transform some of the old buildings into apartments as well as demolish some of the later additions and build a new block of flats.
But the scheme was turned down after the council and the developers City and Country failed to agree over finances.
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The council asked the developers to contribute £1.2 million towards improvements in the area under what is known as a Section 106 agreement.
They also wanted the developers to provide some low-cost homes as part of the scheme.
But the developers were only prepared to pay a contribution of £120,000 and no affordable homes.
The project is now expected to go before a planning inspector at a public inquiry.
Mr Negus, an architect by profession, said: "The perception is that it is difficult to get things done in Bristol whereas nothing could be further from the truth. We work very proactively to encourage developers to come to Bristol."
He said they had a planning blueprint in place called a Core Strategy which sets out what kind of development can go on specific sites or zoned areas of the city.
The council's planning officers also hold pre-application meetings with developers so that by the time the scheme is put before councillors, it may have been changed or improved so officers can recommend approval.
Mr Negus said the Government was relaxing planning regulations to try to help the construction industry to weather the economic recession.
But he said the council had been working with developers for years to help them overcome planning issues so that new schemes could go ahead.
He said there were examples where the council had relaxed Section 106 contributions in order to allow new development to start.
One of these was Finzel's Reach, the redevelopment of the former Courage Brewery site into apartments. The scheme was in danger of being mothballed because the developers could not afford the contribution.
Another example was the former Megabowl site at Ashton Gate where a block of new flats has been built.
The scheme was in danger of faltering because the developers could not afford the 106 contribution at the beginning of the project.
The council agreed to "back end" the payments so they were made after the flats were sold.
A third example is the Wapping Wharf project to build new homes behind the M shed museum. The council is helping the developers to negotiate funding for affordable homes from a Government quango called the Homes and Communities Agency.
Mr Negus said they understood that developers worked to tight profit margins, especially in these days of recession.
But he said a balance must be drawn between allowing any development to go through without controls and imposing so many restrictions that nothing gets built at all.
He said: "We have a responsibility to make sure that quality is maintained and that new schemes are sustainable – that doesn't mean they have to be bristling with solar panels and so on, it means that new development helps to create an environment where people want to live, work and play in safe and comfortable surroundings."