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Dow Jones finally gets go-ahead to extend nursery in listed church hall


Dow Jones has been handed planning permission to almost triple the size of a day nursery in a hall at St Thomas the Martyr Church in Redcliffe, Bristol

The 452m² Becket Hall scheme next to the Grade II*-listed church is backed by former senior editor of The Architectural Review and now associate at Purcell, Rob Gregory.

The architect had previously used the former church hall building as his home, then converted it into design studios for start-ups before it became a nursery in 2010.

Gregory ran an invited competition in 2015 to find the design team, choosing Dow Jones ahead of Studio Weave, Ordinary Architecture and Stonewood Design.

Explaining his choice, Gregory said: ‘I was immediately impressed with how simply and directly Dow Jones had understood the special qualities of the site; the simplicity with which they had nailed the brief; and how, despite producing the least quantum of work and having the highest fee, they’d responded to the invitation to tender with poetry and pragmatism.

‘For [my business partner] Danielle, it was more about rapport, with Biba Jones standing out as the most approachable and client-focused of all contenders.’

However, the proposals, when submitted in January 2018, stalled in planning. According to Gregory, the Bristol City Council missed its ’own determination deadline by an eye-watering 34 weeks’ before the local authority eventually approved the scheme ‘without a single material change’.

Work is expected to start on the scheme, which features a timber-framed structure that wraps around and extends the original stone building, later this summer.

Ground floor plan

Ground floor plan

Architect’s view

The existing building is a single-storey ragstone building with a series of small ancillary stores and an internal mezzanine providing additional accommodation. The former churchyard provides a generous and open space with mature trees for the children to play in, and the nursery also leases a four-storey building across the churchyard for additional teaching and staff space. The grouping of buildings around the garden feels both secluded and lively, sitting as it does in the city centre.

The nursery is expanding, and our proposal responds to a brief to provide additional class spaces, to improve the connections between the church hall building and the garden, and to provide covered play areas.

Sketch of nursery

Our design responds with a timber-framed structure that sits on the site of the existing stores, providing deep play areas on both the ground and mezzanine floors, and a whole new floor above the church hall for two new classrooms opening onto roof terraces.

The timber framing wraps and extends the existing stone building, providing generous covered play areas around it which will be enclosed as classrooms in a future phased expansion of the nursery.

The form of the timber envelope cloaks the church hall, originally built in a tight and un-overlooked site, and responds to the stepping jetties of the 17th century buildings facing it across the churchyard.

Project data

Location Redcliffe, Bristol
Type of project Day care nursery
Client Becket Hall Day Nursery
Architect Dow Jones Architects
Planning consultant n/a
Structural engineer Momentum
M&E consultant OR Consult
Quantity surveyor Mildred, Howells and Co
Planning supervisor n/a
Main contractor TBC
Funding Private
Tender date TBC
Start on site TBC
Completion date TBC
Gross internal floor area Currently 188m²; proposed addition 300m². Total 452m² (with stores demolished)
Form of contract and/or procurement Traditional


Related files

Readers' comments (5)

  • Great scheme! But you were lucky with a 34 week overrun for determination: I received planning permission from Bristol City Council last Friday for a house-holder application registered on 29/03/18. 44 weeks in total - 36 week overrun! It took 3 case officers, two team leaders with a final nudge by the local Councillor. In all that time not one telephone call answered or replied to by the case officer. Shocking.

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  • Hi John.

    Yes. This really is a big problem, and I am not sure what can be done.

    In my capacity as a Bristol Urban Design Forum member, I effectively work alongside the Council and know that within the department there are many highly committed officers, urban designers and heritage experts.

    There does, however, seem to be a big issue with resource and capacity within Development Management. I wish I knew how to help.

    That said, literally within the last ten minutes I just got approval through to extend my house (18/06042/H), 10 minutes before the Council’s determination deadline.

    To achieve this I was careful to monitor progress at each key stage, emailing to ensure prompt validation; emailing after the neighbour consultation period; emailing to check on late request for a site visit; emailing to explain why knee jerk requests for additional information was not needed... generally making a nuisance of myself and countering all potential delay tactics. This seemed to work.

    (p.s. glad you like the scheme)

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  • Without wishing to make excuses for Bristol City Council, could all the comments on development control delays be down to the increasingly obvious and ongoing 'hollowing out' of local authorities by central government?
    The ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's success in dealing with the fallout from the 2008 financial meltdown is looking increasingly as if it was bought at the expense of creeping meltdown across the board in the services typical of a civilized country ranging from planning through public health and policing to social services and rural public transport.

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  • I'm not sure if you can attribute an 8 month delay to lack of funding - we pay for applications after all - but despite that, there's absolutely no excuse for the lack of courtesy by case officers and team leaders in ignoring emails and phone calls. Rob Gregory seems to have had better response in his latest application.

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  • Of course, if you're happy to pay a bigger planning fee, you may benefit from more attentive service under a planning performance agreement. But these seem more relevant to major applications.

    I wonder if this subject warrants an AJ roundtable event, bringing together architects, local authorities and leaders of new initiatives such as PublicPractice.org.uk

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