Community hits out at plans for Bedminster Green
Published on: 28 Jul 2017
An open letter to Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees about the developments at Bedminster Green
Dear Mr. Rees,
We are a diverse group of Bedminster residents who love our neighbourhood and are actively engaged in our community. At a recent meeting of the Windmill Hill and Malago Community Planning Group (WHaM), we heard about the latest proposals for the Bedminster Green area. From it we understand that the council is in pre-app talks with the developer Urbis regarding Bedminster Green.
We have been informed the proposals include amongst others, an 18-storey building, 300 units of student accommodation bridging over Whitehouse Lane, and a new square. This has been the second time Urbis has informed a selected number of community representatives about their intentions.
As part of the neighbourhood planning network, WHaM commented on their initial proposals in January 2017. Revised proposals were shown to two of the WHaM group in June, and to our dismay seem to entirely ignore any concerns or suggestions previously voiced in the feedback of the initial pre-app. We understand that the council own much of the land that is within Urbis’s Bedminster Green plan.
We are in utter shock that these proposals have even been tabled by the developer as something to be seriously considered given their inappropriate scale, density, and disregard for any sustainable, long-term regeneration of the area. We are pro-development but feel that Bedminster could become an anonymous zone of badly thought-out tower blocks, in order to provide a short sighted quick-fix for providing housing without any consideration for creating long-term healthy neighbourhoods and a sense of community (i.e. housing at whatever the cost). We are concerned that the whole area is being considered for piecemeal development rather than completing an over-arching sensitive masterplan, before selling off council land.
The proposals seem to be driven by little but commercial greed with no thought as to what the proposals would be like to live in or near. In contrast, we have seen the site brief that has been prepared by WHaM in consultation with their local community, which seems to suggest an alternative model where high-density housing can be provided in a much more attractive, community-focused way.
We are extremely concerned, especially about the following:
1. In 2014, Urbis gained planning permission from the council for St Catherine’s Place, a 15-storey, fully private apartment scheme, under the promise that this would be a one-off landmark development for the area. The committee members who ruled in favour of the scheme against the planning officer’s advice were told that building could start as early as 2015. Three years later nothing has started on site and we have since heard that Urbis have sold St Catherine’s Place to another developer. Urbis seem to have a track record of gaining planning consent and then selling off the land. This makes us nervous about their commitment to South Bristol. The heights of the buildings proposed to be built over the Malago Road green and the NCP car park are even higher and bulkier, totally inappropriate for the whole area, and (again) fall outside the guidance of the adopted Tall Buildings Policy. This would also contradict the idea that St Catherine’s Place would be a landmark building.
2. The existing Green (at the bottom of Windmill Hill), with its established trees and open spaces, would be completely lost. Two storeys of basement car parking are planned in its place. The new space on top would be much smaller, eaten up by the rerouted Whitehouse Lane. All mature trees would be felled, and any new green landscape would be very limited as it would be above a car park. The existing mature trees and green space are the main feature of the development site that is worth protecting.
3. The public square above the basement car park would be in shadow from lunchtime until evening because of sunlight being blocked by the surrounding high rises, making it undesirable to use for any outdoor activities, not to mention potential draughts and wind turbulence caused by high tower blocks.
4. The new student housing would be built in the form of a bridge over Whitehouse Lane, creating a dark and unsafe undercroft.
5. There was no mention of additional infrastructure such as surgeries or schools - the local GP has already had to close its new patients’ list, and the schools are oversubscribed.
6. It appears an Energy Centre is proposed, but there is already another application nearby ongoing – is there no co-ordination?
As a community, we welcome development and new neighbours and recognise that more housing needs to be built, but new development needs to be sustainable, encourage communities and be in character with the area. A good example of this is the recent Wapping Wharf development, which works well regarding its massing, housing mix (affordable and private housing), streetscape, active frontages, etc. We assume that this is a commercially viable scheme, being six storeys tall and including affordable housing, so why can’t Bedminster Green take leads from this?
Given that BCC owns much of the land to be developed, the community of Bedminster appeal to the council to act responsibility and ensure a long-term, sustainable development that will enhance the existing area, not destroy it. The council could, for example, not sell the land but create a Community Land Trust, with proposals to be built that are driven by the need of the community. Another consideration could be a sustainable brief for the site that is opened up to a competition. An approach is required that ensures a development is delivered that will not be seen as a regrettable mistake in the future.
We are an active community, and have, together with WHaM, established a site brief, developed over the course of over a year where we met, discussed and developed a Malago Green Site Brief -a vision document for the area with input from hundreds of residents - that could form the basis of a community-driven masterplan and ultimately a council development. (http://www.whambristol.org.uk/wham/)
We have faith in you, Mr Rees, and the council to act in the interests of your community.