‘Let’s use this site for our community’

THE former WH Smith site in the centre of Clifton Village could be used temporarily – and perhaps even permanently – by the community.

That’s the view of ward councillors Paula O’Rourke and Katy Grant, who say they have been in talks with the property developer THAT Group after its decision not to go ahead with plans for a Marks & Spencer food store, offices, restaurant, a gym and shops.

The councillors say that as it will take some time for the site’s future to be decided they would like to see a Christmas Fair on the site and then a pop-up use, similar to the cargo containers at Wapping Wharf, developed.

Former Lord Mayor Councillor O’Rourke said: “We have also been discussing with THAT the option of a community buyout of the site (or much more likely, part of the site). These

discussions are at a very early stage and the task of fund-raising to purchase the site would be a huge challenge – but if you don’t ask, you don’t get!” 

THAT group, which gained planning permission for a three-storey development three years ago and demolished the derelict WH Smith and six other shops in 2021, announced in July that the project it had envisaged was no longer viable because of soaring construction costs. It said it was reconsidering how best to use the site.

In response, Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society, which objected THAT Group’s scheme,  posted a statement on its notice-board outside Clifton Library Group saying: “Good riddance to such a building” and calling for “an energetic exploration of a number of attractive proposals offered by us and others” for the site.

Councillor O’Rourke said she and fellow Green Councillor Grant had been talking to council officials and business leaders about the site, which has been boarded up for years. It was last used as a Christmas ice rink in 2014 and is now covered in weeds and bushes.

“A Christmas Fair would boost the local economy and bring visitors to the area,” she said. 

Permanent traders could be asked if they wanted to extend their premises and get involved, she added.

The councillors’ plans for the pop-up would be for the containers to be clad in wood or other suitable material to fit in with the conservation area. 

    “The units could first be offered to local businesses as an extension to their present offer” said Councillor O’Rourke.

    “When plans are drawn up for the future of the site, we would want early consultation” she said. 

 THAT Group was approached for comment.