Totterdown residents tell university what they think of campus plan

Published on: 24 Nov 2017

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Pictured top: The view of the main campus building, which will replace the derelict sorting office, from Brock's Bridge off Cattle Market Road, and below, from Temple Meads station  

 

THE UNIVERSITY of Bristol has been challenged to come up with ways in which it can help Totterdown and other parts of South Bristol meet the challenges of the huge tide of development which is about to sweep the area in the next 10 years.

At a meeting called to discuss plans for a 3,500-student, £300m campus at Temple Meads, a university team heard pleas from the public to help the community thrive in the face of major building plans for the Temple Quarter enterprise zone and beyond.

Simon Hobeck, chair of community group Tresa, which called the meeting, said that as well as the university plan, Totterdown and the Arnos Vale area face a wave of developments in the next few years.

It could mean an extra 3,000 residents in the Bath Road corridor, and 1,500 extra vehicle movements or more, he said.

Mr Hobeck asked the university’s team of four academics, who are leading the Future Campus programme, if they would move in to acquire the rest of Arena Island if the Bristol arena is not built there.

Professor Dave Cliff, a computer scientist and the university’s academic lead for the project, said it was possible that the university might take an interest in the arena site if it became vacant, “but we don’t have any inside information.”

HIGHER THAN THE HILL

Many have criticised the plan for a 24 or 25-storey building of student accommodation on Arena Island. It would be the tallest building in Bristol (though other planning applications are expected for still higher buildings elsewhere in the city centre).

The height and the density of the development have been encouraged by the city council, said the university team.

“This is a monstrously tall building,” said Tresa member Julian Noble, “it’s taller than Totterdown hill. Most of us won’t be looking down on it, we will be looking up at it. You haven’t made a good case for it.” And several people pleaded for Totterdown’s unique views to be protected. Jon Ross, new owner of part of the Totterdown Centre, asked if the three buildings on the arena site could be evened up. If instead of 24, 18 and 11 storeys they were all of similar height, “it doesn’t take the brains of an archbishop” to see that the same amount of space could be accommodated, he said.

Unfortunately, said Neil Bradshaw, the programme manager for the campus, there is a major water main under the site, and the buildings probably can’t be built in that way. 

STUDENT HOUSING

Concerns were expressed that half the campus’s students will need to find somewhere to live, as there will be a maximum of 1,500 student rooms built.

“You may not be able to control this, but it may have a major impact on us if a number of houses in multiple occupation are taken over by students,” said Tresa director Anne Silber.

“A lot of houses in this area are let, not owner occupied, so it is going to be an issue.”

Mr Bradshaw said students now seem to prefer to live in city centres, not in shared housing in the suburbs. 

The new campus will be mainly for postgraduates on one- or two-year courses, he said.

Cllr Jon Wellington, who chaired the meeting, said it was likely the council would put a limit on HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) if the campus goes ahead.

• The meeting was told that there would be roughly 3,000 students  but plans seen later by the Voice speak of “a minimum of 3,500” students, with the implication that more could follow.

CASH FOR THE CITY

The Temple Meads enterprise zone could be an important source of revenue for cash-strapped City Hall. But students don’t pay council tax, and the university, a charity, doesn’t pay business rates. “How can you get more cash into the city when we are facing £100m cuts in the next five years?” asked one attendee.

It’s a valid point, said the university’s Professor Rich Pancost, but it’s hoped big firms like HP will want to have a base  on the campus, and they will pay business rates.

Mr Bradshaw told the Voice that the effect of the university occupying the site, rather than a commercial user, would have a relatively modest effect on the council’s income.

The new campus will be funded by borrowing – the university will issue bonds to investors such as pension funds.

HELP THE COMMUNITY

What will be the benefits of the campus to Totterdown, asked Gina Lewis, head teacher of Hillcrest primary school (who was thanked for providing the venue for the meeting).

The university works with many primary and secondary schools, said Fiona Hyland, a university public engagement manager. It runs Digimasters classes for Year 5s, and has helped pupils make computer games exploring Bristol’s multicultural heritage.

It also works with retired people at the University of the Third Age and will look at creating more degrees which can be done over several years by people who are working or don’t fit the conventional university entry requirements.

The meeting heard a plea for a new community arts facility at the new campus. “There are lots of creative people in Totterdown,” said a creative writing lecturer. “It’s a real opportunity to have a creative hub which could involve artists, musicians and the spoken word.”

The university has already offered to open up facilities on the new campus wherever possible, such as a gym, a creche, and perhaps a theatre space.

BRISTOL IS UK’S TECH No.1

The Bristol and Bath region is by far the most productive technology cluster in the UK, said Prof Dave Cliff, explaining the need for the new campus.

Even London is a long way behind the hi-tech innovators in Bristol; if London doubled its productivity, Bristol would still keep its first place, he said.

The university and the city council back the Engine Shed business incubator, based in the Passenger Shed at Temple Meads. It was recently granted planning permission to expand into a controversial glass cube on the island site opposite the station. 

Engine Shed is one of the world’s most successful business incubators. Hi-tech firms, often a spin-off from university research, start with one or two people. 

When these start-ups expand they often want to stay rooted in the harbourside and Temple Meads area, where there is a pool of hi-tech expertise.

Many larger tech firms have a presence in the city centre – vacuum cleaner maker Dyson has its software office here. The Future Campus is designed to meet the challenge of new technologies – both in designing them and in helping cope with the changes they bring.

“It’s clear that there are going to be really big changes in the pattern of work in the next three decades. Some jobs you need a degree for now, a machine will be able to do in 15 years,” said Prof Cliff. 

Already announced for the campus is a £43m Quantum Technologies centre in the new field of quantum computing.

A TRANSPORT HUB

One of the attractions of the Temple Meads site is that it is next to a major railway station, soon to be redeveloped (though Brunel’s Grade 1 listed buildings, and their views, are protected).

The new Metrobus and road changes will help make the campus an easy place to get to by public transport. The university is viewing it as “car free”.

But Temple Meads is only “half a transport hub,” said Tresa member Julian Noble. “Everything including Metrobus goes north – they have forgotten that we are to the south, we haven’t even got a safe and viable cycle route.”

The university is talking to the council and Network Rail about transport issues, said Mr Bradshaw. It’s hoped to open up new walkways, including along the harbour, and to have a tunnel leading into Temple Meads station from the campus.

PARKING AND TRAFFIC

The campus for 3,000 students and several hundred academics has virtually no parking except for disabled spaces. Students and staff will be strongly encouraged not to drive there, said the university team.

This did not stop residents voicing fears.

As well as students, “we are going to have retail outlets, offices and the general public [visiting the site] and they use cars!” said one woman.

Another said that if there is a theatre, that will attract more car-users.

“Totterdown is already used as a park and ride,” said Tresa director Rebecca Mear. Residents sometimes can’t park anywhere near their homes and emergency vehicles can’t get through, she said.

Prof Cliff said he lived in Southville, which had similar problems until a resident parking scheme was brought in, which he thought worked very well. 

The university has offered to pay towards a residents parking scheme near the campus – a measure that seems to be getting increasing support.

Cllr Wellington invited residents to contact him if they had concerns about traffic, parking, or anything else connected with the scheme.

MORE CHALLENGES

The university could put its expertise behind research to find solutions to some of the problems that new developments will bring to Totterdown and South Bristol, Prof Pancost said.

He was responding to a plea to do something about the number of lorries using the A37 as a short cut through Bristol.

“The air quality is appalling on the Wells Road – this is a very low-lying area,” said another.

Prof Pancost said he thought there would be lots of students who would love to look into issues if it seemed research could show benefits to the community.

Could the university design a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists to remove them from the dangerously narrow walkway on Wells Road? This impassioned plea won support from the hall. The arena plans called for a Bath Road Promenade – a walkway from Temple Meads to Three Lamps. But the need for bridges over the railway and the river mean the bill is certain to be millions of pounds.

Before construction can begin, the council has to demolish the sorting office and clear a possible cholera burial site underneath.

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