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After having two planning applications blocked, Hamilton House’s owners aim to keep development plans alive by stopping it being given community centre status.

Photos: Matty Edwards

Bristol City Council have rebuffed claims by Connolly and Callaghan (C&C), the owners of Hamilton House, that artists are breaching planning permission after more eviction threats were issued earlier this week.

In the bid to get planning permission to convert part of the space into flats, C&C has said all artists, community groups and social enterprises with spaces that aren’t used as offices may have to leave the building by the end of June. This comes after around 200 tenants were evicted from block C of the building in March.

C&C’s redevelopment plans were recently thwarted after the council rejected a second planning application to build flats through Permitted Development Rights (PDR) that allows eligible applications to be fast-tracked and subject to less scrutiny.

The council decided that the building’s current use did not meet the necessary requirements of being used solely for office space, as the building is also used for studios, events spaces and a kitchen among other non-office uses.

C&C have now said tenants of Hamilton House are in breach of planning rules by not using the building for office spaces, and will have to vacate. It remains unclear whether the evictions would be temporary or permanent.

“We recognise the value of Hamilton House to the community and the fact it has continued to operate in this way for some time with no issue”

However, Bristol City Council said they had “no complaints about how the building is currently used” and “wouldn’t pursue any enforcement action against how it’s occupied at present”.

The move by C&C was announced in a press release on Monday without pre-warning Coexist – the social enterprise that manages the building. Coexist said the relationship had “been strained further” and that the threats had “caused alarm and uncertainty for the community working within Hamilton House”.

Yet another development in this saga may explain the latest sudden and unexpected eviction threats by C&C.

A supporter of Hamilton House recently made an application to the council to grant the building ‘community use’ status under planning law. This application would be boosted if it can be proved that Hamilton House has had 10 years of uninterrupted community activity.

If achieved, this status would prevent C&C gaining planning permission through the fast-tracked Permitted Development Rights process, and force them to go through a lengthy full planning application. C&C are trying to avoid a full planning application to save money, which they say will be invested in maintaining the other two blocks.

With several months left until there has been 10 years of provable community activity, the Cable understands the true motivation behind C&C’s eviction threats is to break up the continuous use and block the granting of ‘community use’ status.

In a statement, C&C said they were forced to “defend against this action”, which had “jeopardised” their plans and the future of Hamilton House as a whole. They have also accused the council of “endangering” the building by blocking their two planning applications, and vowed to appeal the council’s decision.

On the other side, campaign group Save Hamilton House have been trying to gather evidence of community use in the building in the first half of 2008, to prove there has in fact already been 10 years of continuous activity.

A spokesperson for Coexist said: “A part eviction for non-office use (class B1a), for an undefined period of time, provides no clarity or certainty for the future of the Hamilton House community.” They said this would force out artists, outreach programmes and community projects, such as the Community Kitchen and Wellbeing therapy centre.

“Coexist will endeavour to fight for the continuing community use in Hamilton House. Our main intention is to support a process that secures arts, creative and community resources in our city to the best of our ability.”

Fran Connolly, chief operating officer at C&C has hit back, saying that the application for community use status has “has jeopardised our plan to pay for the necessary upgrade of all three blocks by developing just the minimum footprint of Block C as residential.

“Hamilton House cannot have long-term security as a community hub without a viable financial plan, so we are now faced with having to defend against this action to ensure that the mutually agreed plan to secure the long-term future of Hamilton House can continue,” he said. In the meantime, C&C intend to evict

“Until the city council’s decision has been overturned at appeal, which we have lodged, then we must ensure that Hamilton House is used in accordance with that decision. Therefore, we are now forced to formally require Coexist and its licensees to comply with the existing lawful use of Hamilton House, which is B1(a) – office use.”

However, the council’s current position doesn’t look favourable to C&C’s bid. A council spokesperson said: “We recognise the value of Hamilton House to the community and the fact it has continued to operate in this way for some time with no issues. At this stage there is no intention to carry out an enforcement investigation at the premises.”

They added that they were currently considering the lawful use certificate application, and would also entertain a planning application for the existing uses.

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