Rival nursery plan for Bitton heritage building is revealed as office scheme is rejected

Plans to turn a heritage building on Bitton’s new housing estate into office space for Warmley-based company Mobius Works have been refused by South Gloucestershire councillors over parking.

And it emerged at the development management committee meeting that a local family-run nursery and pre-school business is also interested in taking over the old locally listed canteen building on Linden Homes’ Bitton Mill development and has been in talks with the council.

Mobius wanted to turn the building in Champion Road into a 35-desk office with three allocated parking spaces, which council officers felt was acceptable. The council currently doesn’t have parking standards for commercial property. Instead, officers use the maximum parking standards from the former South Glos Local Plan 2016 as guidance. Based on floorspace the maximum number parking spaces required for this development would be seven so the three proposed was considered acceptable.

With the company’s transport plan highlighting there are bus stops nearby, that Linden had provided visitors’ spaces, that there would be a car share scheme and that 10 bike spaces would be provided, planning permission was being recommended by council officers.There were however almost 80 objections from local residents, chiefly concerned about inadequate on-site and off-site parking leading to highway safety issues.

Speaking at the meeting on Thursday, Bitton Mill resident Kieren Shadick, representing others on the estate, challenged the alternative travel options, saying that bus services to both Bristol and Bath are infrequent and that with the village shop and pub not serving hot food, the likelihood is that people will drive to get lunch.

“The applicant (Lee Bignell) is applying to move his head office which is currently located in Warmley. The 35 desks are for the applicant’s existing 21 staff and obviously a further number of staff that he chooses to expand and bring on to the business with the advent of his construction company.

“It fails to mention that this applicant also runs a large fleet of commercial vehicles for his mechanical, electrical and construction companies and therefore those vehicles will be visiting sites in addition to the 35 other vehicles.

“Those particular people will not be cycling, walking or using public transport because they will be arriving by their commercial vehicles. There will obviously potentially be business meetings taking place because you can see in the plans there are meeting rooms.”

Mr Shadick said he understood that contracts between the applicant and Linden had not yet been signed.

Council planning officer David Stockdale told the meeting said that the application was purely for a small-scale office use, not for storage or distribution. He said the main part of Mobius’s business is at another location. Although the applicant said there would be 28 full-time employees and two part-time staff based in the building, Mr Stockdale said it was quite small: “I find it hard to imagine that 30 people could actually work there, or certainly not all at the same time.”

Council highways officer Ali Khayatian pointed out that when the plans for the development were agreed in 2015, community/office use was approved for the canteen. He said that with visitor parking spaces on the estate and all homes having dedicated parking, they would not be impaired by the office proposals.

However, ward councillor Paul Hughes, who is also a Bitton parish councillor, was critical of the council for not having proper parking standards: “If you read the way that it actually works it is absolutely abysmal. To think that someone is going to put a 35-desk office together and the maximum number (of parking spaces) they can go for is seven and the minimum is three, which they’ve gone for, takes no regard for the fact that within their application they’ve actually said that around the area there is plenty of parking space. We need to look at this very, very carefully in the future because this is obviously not the place for an office with 35 desks.”

‘Right solution’

He revealed that there is an alternative that was the “right solution”, explaining: “I have had confidential conversations with an interested party who is very keen to work with the community to develop the canteen into a nursery/pre-school and provide a community facility.

“The interested party are locally based, are a family concern and already run successful nursery/pre-school businesses. They have the necessary capital requirements and have indicated that the works required to convert the building would be completed inside six months. There have been preliminary discussions with South Glos Council planners and they have indicated a positive response thus far.”

The committee shared residents’ concerns about just three allocated spaces for the 35-deak office in the old factory canteen building and voted by a large majority to reject the application on the grounds that insufficient parking provision would have a detrimental impact on the immediate and wider area due to on-street congestion.

Threat to block access

It also emerged at the meeting that residents, through their management company, would be prepared to block the applicant from accessing the three parking spaces at the canteen as vehicles would have to travel over Bitton Mill land, not adopted highway.

That could have invalidated any planning permission granted.

Asked by Cllr Judy Adams whether the management company would fight an application to change the canteen into a community building, residents’ spokesperson Kieren Shadick said: “We don’t think so.”

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