The developer of a scheme rejected by John Prescott last month after a public inquiry, has accused Bristol Civic Society (BCS) and the city's Government Office of collusion in killing off the project, writes Ed Dorrell.
Barlow Henley's £35 million mixed-use project for the McArthurs Warehouse was called in following opposition from the Civic Society, which claimed the redevelopment would have had a negative impact on the docks conservation area.
It also argued that the height of the buildings would have damaged the setting of the Brunel steamship SS Great Britain. The public inquiry was hailed by developer QuADA as a test case of the civic society's local influence.
However, QuADA director Richard Bellman is now furious that the minister has decided in the BCS's favour. He told the AJ he is likely to push for a judicial review of the decision. Bellman has also accused the civic society of being in a 'cabal' with the Government Office in Bristol in blocking the scheme.
In the run-up to the inquiry eight months ago, Bellman pointed the finger at the BCS, claiming it was distributing misleading images of Barlow Henley's scheme (AJ 31.1.02). And now he is accusing Bristol's civil servants of misleading the minister. 'The Government Office told the minister that local opposition to the development was widespread when there was only ever one formal objection from the general public.
'The Civic Society has built up a coterie with English Heritage and the Government Office that has far too much influence locally, ' he added.
Barlow Henley director Nick Henley agreed that Prescott's decision did not make any sense.
'The scheme was everything the government purports to want from a regeneration project and yet it was quashed, ' he said.
'We are looking at all the legal options we have.
But the more I think about taking the decision to judicial review, the more I like it.'
However, Bristol Civic Society's chief publicity officer Charles Fox dismissed the suggestion that the society is in collusion with the Government Office. 'It simply took a lot of time and a lot of effort to ensure this outcome, ' he said.
'Prescott's decision answers our critics back.
We could see there were serious problems with the scheme and it seems the government agrees with us, ' Fox added.