New cafe will be built on the Downs to replace old public toilets block

July 25 2022

New cafe will be built on the Downs to replace old public toilets block

A new cafe will be built on the Downs to replace an old “hideous” public toilets block.

Despite concerns about building on the historic parkland, the cafe was given planning permission on June 29 by Bristol City Council. 

The cafe, off the Circular Road near the Sea Walls, will include replacement public toilets and a small education centre.

In April, the council’s development control committee voted against giving planning permission, and asked officers to come back with reasons for refusal. However, when the committee met again to ratify that decision, they instead voted to approve the plans.

The Downs are jointly run by Bristol City Council and the Society of Merchant Venturers, a group of business people. 

The Downs committee, made up of Bristol councillors and Merchant Venturers, said they needed to build a cafe in order to provide income for replacing the public toilets. However, the new toilets included in the plans will be smaller than the ones currently there.

Robert Westlake, chairman of Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge, said: “It’s essential the toilet block is replaced by something that’s fit for purpose. In the current financial climate it’s essential that the Downs generates some income, and this proposal is predicted to generate at least 10% of the running costs of the Downs, through the rent that will be charged.”

The cafe will open from 8am to 7pm Monday to Saturday, and from 10am to 4pm on Sundays. During winter the cafe will close at dusk. The toilets will be free to use for the public while the cafe is open, and will cost a small fee to use while the cafe is closed. 

Cllr Fabian Breckels said: “The cafe will help fund the toilets. These days with less and less government money coming in to fund things like public toilets, other ways are going to have to be found to fund them.”

Other concerns included the loss of biodiversity from building on the Downs. A separate, offsite area will see new flowers planted to offset any loss, although this could take several years to happen. An education board will also be set up in the new building to educate people about the importance of biodiversity. But not all councillors supported the scheme.

Green Cllr Lorraine Francis said: “We’re talking about the Downs committee commercialising and making profit from erecting a cafe on a protected green space. They want to increase the footprint of the building and I think it’s outrageous.

“If the Downs committee wants to rebuild the toilets, then rebuild the toilets. We cannot ignore the value of biodiversity and maintaining habitats which have been in existence way before us or should continue way after we’ve gone.”

Councillors voted five to three to grant planning permission. The cafe was previously granted planning permission in 2019, but this expired after three years.

The cafe and toilets would cover a much larger area than the current toilet block. The footprint of the existing toilets is 43 square metres, with 188 square metres of hard surfacing, while the proposed building would cover 75 square metres, with 239 square metres of hard surfacing.

Planning permission was initially granted for the cafe in 2019 — despite objectors comparing plans to “putting a Starbucks in Stonehenge” — but this expired after three years, so the Downs committee have had to reapply for permission for the new cafe. The committee argued that income from the cafe was needed to pay for the replacement toilets. 

Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service