Bedminster towers plan criticised

November 07 2015
Bedminster towers plan criticised

HALF of the homes in the major redevelopment known as Bedminster Green should be classed as affordable housing, a newly formed residents group has said.

HALF of the homes in the major redevelopment known as Bedminster Green should be classed as affordable housing, a newly formed residents group has said.

Calling itself Wham – Windmill Hill and Malago community planning group – its members have issued a statement calling on developers Urbis to meet 10 standards.

They call for the height of the many buildings in the
£100 million scheme to be reduced – several are expected to be between eight and 12 storeys but Wham asks for the heights to be “appropriate to the amount of open space”.

Carlton Bodkin, who chairs Wham, said members are unhappy at the sheer scale of the development.

Many in Windmill Hill are upset that the 16-story St Catherine’s Place was approved, he said, and they do not want the skyline further disrupted by a range of more tall buildings.

“We are concerned that they are going to be sticking very large blocks up in an area that is not used to it,” he said.

“We say to Urbis, we have the opportunity to do something unique,” he said. “This could become an international exemplar of development. It needs to be dense but it needs to be ground breaking.” He said Wham wants to work with the developer to find a better solution.

The call for half the housing – envisaged to total up to 800 homes – to be made affordable is likely to spark the biggest disagreement.

Residents have already voiced concerns that with house prices rising fast, buying a home is impossible for many young people and low-paid workers.

However, planning guidance provides for only up to 30 per cent of new developments to be affordable.

Mr Bodkin thinks the figure should be higher – and even these low targets are being missed all over Bristol. St Catherine’s Place has no affordable homes because Urbis says it would cost too much. 

And even “affordable” rents can be too expensive for many – because they are linked to the current market rents in the area, which are currently rising alongside property prices.

Richard Clarke, managing director of Urbis, said the demand for such a large proportion of affordable housing is “not realistic.”

“The average contribution is seven to 10 per cent, and we are offering 20 per cent or more,” he said.

A larger proportion of lower-rent homes is only possible in more affluent locations, he said, where property values are higher.

He said Urbis is determined to build a high quality development that will not cut corners and will improve not only the Bedminster green area but also give a boost to the tired commercial area of East Street.

The higher density is intentional, he said, because Bristol is not building enough homes for the people who work in the city. He said the city is effectively passing part of its housing burden to North Somerset and South Gloucestershire – meaning workers who drive into the city form a large part of the local traffic in peak hours around Bedminster.

Urbis has carried out a transport study which found that a large proportion of the cars  passing through the area are commuters from out of town.

“We are trying to create a transport hub to bring together the Metrobus, the railway, cycle and pedestrian routes, and making walking a pleasant experience,” said Mr Clarke.

Urbis believes it has dealt with many of the other demands made by Wham.

The Malago river – which is currently hidden or buried, and often an eyesore – is a central part of the Urbis plan, with riverside walkways and green spaces around it. The developer is working with Avon Wildlife Trust to create the green corridors and open spaces which Wham wants.

More trees, cycle routes, pavements and public transport improvements are likewise central to the plan. 

The adjacent St Catherine’s Place development – where a 16-storey tower will have 188 homes – will also accommodate a dentist’s surgery and a gym as well as an open space where farmers markets and other community events are envisaged.

A detailed traffic plan has been prepared, and already the buildings are designed to Code 4 insulation standards – the second highest used in the UK. The district energy centre is featured in the story on page 10.

 After consultation, a planning application for the energy centre should follow by the end of the year. Further applications of rother stages of  the scheme will follow next year.