Councillors today backed down to developers over the controversial Chocolate Factory site in Easton. In a case that has become emblematic of the housing crisis in Bristol, the development will now go ahead with 4% “affordable” housing, 36% below council targets for the area.
Councillors expressed dismay at the fact the developers, Generator Group, had not changed any plans since councillors made suggestions in November, with Labour councillor Jo Sergeant saying that she felt she was being blackmailed. Nonetheless, facing the threat of being dragged into a costly legal dispute, most councillors followed the recommendations made to them by council planning officers. Green councillor Stephen Clarke stated that he “did not want throw good money after bad” defending an appeal the council would be likely to lose due to policy so heavily stacked in favour of developers.
There was general approval that, in the right case, councillors will have to stand up to developers in the fight for affordable housing in the city. Councillor Steve Pearce said that the dodging of affordable housing obligations by profit hungry developers was “was starting to piss him off, and that you don’t want to piss [him] off”.
The viability report, the document that forms the basis for Generator Group to avoid their housing obligations, has not been made public, despite being revealed as very questionable. When asked why, a planning officer responded that the developer said they would “treat any breach of confidence as a very serious matter”, implying legal challenges. While the report may be released after today, the planning officer admitted that it would then be useless. The failure to disclose the report is despite Bristol Council now beginning to release the documents relating to other developments following pressure from the Cable and councillors.
The decision is a blow to campaigners such as ACORN who have led the , who have gathered momentum around the Chocolate Factory along with revelations published by the Cable about the developer’s fudged profit calculations and tax-dodging activities, along encouraging outcomes from previous council meetings. Vowing to keep up the fight, attention will now be turning to other controversial large developments, such as Blackberry Hill, Broadmead, ND7 and Bedminster Green.
Stay tuned for the latest and join the Cable to keep our reporting alive! thebristolcable.org/join