Main image by Danica Priest. Friends of the Western Slopes.
Local people attending a meeting this week to showcase plans for 157 new homes on Novers Hill have vowed to continue fighting to save the nature-rich land.
The Zoom session held by developer Lovell Homes – often heated at times – lasted nearly two and a half hours.
It showed the strength of feeling, with most people against building on the Western Slopes – an area of picturesque meadowland and trees which stretches from Novers Hill down to Hartcliffe Way.
Members of campaign group Friends of the Western Slopes, which is battling to protect the land, were also present.
The group feels as the area is a Site of Nature Conservation Interest – it should be preserved for future generations.
The session was part of a two-week consultation period run by Lovell – which wants to develop part of the Slopes to the north of the land, which is privately-owned.
People have until 3 August to have their say before plans are submitted to Bristol City Council. If successful – work would start on the site at the beginning of 2022 and last three years.
The council has also earmarked the southern part of the Slopes – which could see up to 440 more homes built on the land.
The session was led by Andrew Smith from Conversation PR who admitted this was a very “sensitive site” and they knew many people “would not like it developed at all”.
But Lovell says the land was allocated for development by Bristol City Council in 2014 as part of the Local Plan.
The proposed housing will be in two areas, on the north part of the Slopes near the industrial units and to the south further up Novers Hill, with a green corridor in between.
Forty-seven of the homes will be affordable, with 11 shared ownership and 36 for social rent. Four apartments will be included in the scheme which will be kept to three storeys and the housing to two storeys ” to protect the views”. A proportion of the homes will also be designed to be wheelchair accessible.
Development Manger for Lovell, Jon Davies, said “biodiversity” was key to the scheme which is why they had incorporated a green corridor as well as a bat corridor.
The hedgerow along the boundary of Novers Hill would also be protected – and as connectivity was a “key design concern” they had also included a 3m cycle path behind the hedge.
Maria Duignan, talking about the landscaping of the site, said part of the green corridor would be fenced off for wildlife but a section would be opened to the public with tree planting and woodland walks – incorporating a natural play area.
Concern for wildlife
Residents were concerned about the wildlife on site being moved to the green corridor – and the fact that only the protected bats and badgers were considered in the scheme.
James from Friends of the Western Slopes said the value of the site also came from the wildflower meadows which included calcareous grasslands.
He said: ” I am really disappointed that you guys aren’t thinking about ecological need. There is really good stuff in the meadows, they are really species rich…”
But Jim Philips, who was looking at the ecology of the site for Lovell, said surveys had been taken and informed the development proposals.
He said: “At the end of the day… you can’t retain all of biodiversity, you need to compensate. If you put houses on a green site there will be some biodiversity loss.”
He said there would be 12 units of biodiversity loss which would be compensated by 19 units of biodiversity net gain – which could mean enhancements elsewhere in the local area. But legally they could be anywhere in the local authority area.
Increased traffic on Novers Hill
People were also worried about the increase of traffic on Novers Hill – which Lovell intends to make one-way.
Residents living on the road were annoyed that a decision has not yet been made as to which way the traffic will flow.
Tony Jones from Pegasus Group said they were still looking at the different options and their data was taken from a strategic traffic model set up before the pandemic took place.
Nick Haskins said Novers Hill had always been two-way and was used as a rat run by youngsters at night.
He said: “If you make it one-way it’s going to cause so many problems at Parson Street and Hartcliffe Way. It is short cut for getting round traffic…”
Lovell said the alternative was to widen Novers Hill – but that would mean removing all the vegetation. There would also be traffic calming measures within the scheme.
Ken Jones, a member of Knowle West Future, said Novers Hill was very narrow and some of the hedge was protected so it couldn’t be widened. He said it had been looked at before and in the Knowle West Regeneration Framework, Option 2, planning was refused in January 2011.
“The council will waste a lot of money for nothing,” he added.
The developer was also asked if it had mitigated for the new Reuse and Recycling Centre planned for Hartcliffe Way. Local people are already worried about the extra traffic which will be generated.
But Lovell did not seem to be aware of the centre and Tony Jones added he would submit that evidence as part of the transport analysis. The Highway Authority would “have the final say” on any changes to Novers Hill.
Other criticisms levelled at Lovell included the fact “everything seemed rushed” and some of the residents at Inns Court hadn’t been informed.
Emily Smith from Knowle West Alliance (KWA) said developers were supposed to follow a pre-planning protocol – a set of guidelines to engage with local people. But when KWA was approached it was at a “much later stage” than they had hoped.
Lovell say they had meetings with the Alliance and Knowle West Future at the end of June and also distributed over 1,000 postcards in the area about the consultation – which has been extended.
“How can you justify building houses in an area that locals are not happy with?”
Resident Nasim also asked how Lovell could develop the land from a moral point of view
She said: “How can you justify building houses in an area that locals are not happy with? This is the only place for clean air and a place for people to recharge …..The pollution and bringing extra traffic in the area is not going to benefit anyone.”
Lovell’s Regional Technical Director Shane Jay said If the site wasn’t allocated for housing they wouldn’t be progressing the opportunity.
They had a legal commitment with the landowner to purchase the land which would be fulfilled when planning permission was given.
He said: “The fact is it is allocated, is not the issue of Lovell’s – it’s down to the local authority We are already committed, we need to strike this balance.”
But Friends of the Western Slopes are determined to continue with the fight – with member Danica Priest saying at the end of the meeting “they could work with the landowner” and raise the money for the land through Crowdfunding.
To view the plans and make comments by 3 August visit: www.novershillconsultation.co.uk