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Bristol planning decision hailed as 'crucial' for architecture

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Architects who won a 'Nimbyism' battle over a £10 million serpentine-shaped housing design for a conservation area have called the decision crucial for architecture, writes Jez Abott.

Ferguson Mann Architects last week won its planning appeal for an 'unashamedly, though not aggressively modern' design for 65 flats on five storeys in the wealthy Redland suburb of Bristol.

Director George Ferguson hailed the result, which came after Bristol City Council threw out the plans for the flat-roofed design with landscaping and 90 basement car spaces earlier this spring. Planners were scared about its visual and traffic impact on the area. The architect scaled down its original scheme by 20 flats and one storey.

Ferguson said: 'The area is a fine Victorian suburb with vociferous middle-class residents. There was no shortage of Nimby arguments.' However, Bishop's Palace, with 11 affordable homes, is due to start shortly for a late 2002 finish. It will replace an old hostel on the former site of the Bishop of Bristol's home, bombed in the Second World War.

Ferguson said the problem stemmed from 'planning officers not being properly equipped to discriminate between decent and second-rate schemes. There isn't enough reward for good architecture because planning officers do not recognise it when they see it, except in extreme circumstances.'

He said a welter of 'extremely second-rate schemes' won approval in Bristol and this sent out the wrong signals. 'It means box builders in the city centre feel there is not enough reward for good design. Decisions like this are therefore very important, ' he said.

Developer Edward Ware Homes managing director Ed Ware said: 'More articulate, well-heeled neighbours make the process harder. The local authority seems to wane every time.' He called on planners to encourage good design, materials and finishes with 'carrots and sticks'. 'Those who do it properly should be eased through the planning system on a fast-track route. Those that don't should be kept in the system longer.'

Some of the cost-cutting bigger developers were missing out because people were prepared to pay for quality, he said. This project is part of a £70 million regeneration of the area, on 16 different sites that will produce more than 200 new homes.

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