Controversial plans for church on Siston Common are refused

Controversial plans to build a church at the old farm shop on top of Siston Common have been refused by South Gloucestershire Council.

Planners turned down the proposal for the Bridge House Farm site, saying the overall scale, size and appearance failed to demonstrate how it would respect, reflect and be in-keeping with the surroundings, given the sensitive nature of the site.

The congregation of the St Thomas Syro Malabar Catholic Church are currently based at St Joseph’s in Fishponds. Worshippers want their own church, with a dedicated focus for worship to maintain their Indian heritage and promote cultural activities.

The planning application was to demolish the existing commercial building at Bridge House Farm and build a two-storey church and community hall with a café that would be available to the wider community. The farmhouse would be kept as a presbytery.

There were 247 comments of support for the scheme. Among them was The Very Rev Canon Gregory Grant, who is Dean of East Bristol. He said that there are about 1,000 people from the Kerala state living in Bristol, and more than 50 members of the congregation are nurses working at city hospitals and many more in care homes. He said there was a real need for the Keralan culture to be preserved.

There were also 46 comments of objection to the plans, raising issues including the size of the proposed building, the impact on wildlife, parking problems and the increased danger of the extra traffic to cyclists and pedestrians. The church had said that typical congregation of 200 would be expected at services and as many as 450 worshippers for occasions such as Christmas. Sixty parking spaces are shown on the plans and the church was proposing minibus pick-ups for members of the congregation to keep traffic impact to a minimum.

Council planners said the site is in an exposed and highly visible position, see below. They spoke to the applicant about the proposed scale of the development and a compromise was put forward by way of the church being set into the ground by around 2.5 metres. However, the planners felt the result would be “a contrived development that is still not representative of its surroundings”.

They said a simple chapel-like building could be acceptable, but the church said that due to liturgical requirements, a very much smaller scale structure would not be suitable.

Highway officers did not raise concerns about road safety and were satisfied that speeds on Siston Common are low and that the road up to the site would be adequate, adding that there are footpaths and cycle routes in the area which connect to the application site.

Planning permission has previously been granted for eight homes to be built on the site.