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Bedminster tower blocks: the only way is up?


Bedminster locals remain concerned about proposed high rise flats as the consultation period draws to a close.

Picture: Omega3 Studios, scheme architects.

Housing in Bristol is a critical issue and Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, has pledged to build 2,000 new homes – 800 affordable – a year by 2020. Construction sites are popping up across the city like mushrooms, but not all are welcomed.

This Wednesday (7 February) the consultation period will end for one of the proposed high-rise developments in Bedminster Green – the first of many tower blocks planned across Bristol.

The council was able to secure 15% as ‘affordable’ housing, a mere 30 units

More than 400 people have objected to the proposals and locals have continued to express concern at community meetings over the impact of the development on traffic, the environment, infrastructure and neighbourhood cohesion.

The property developer, Rollo Homes, applied for planning permission in December 2016 for two 6-10 storey flats and an adjacent energy centre on the former Pring And St Hill premises on Malago Road.

After negotiations with the council, the plans were revised in December 2017, reducing the height of the buildings, reducing the number of units by 11 to 183, and abandoning the plans for the energy centre. Of the 183 units, the council was able to secure 15% as ‘affordable’ housing, a mere 30 units.

“They only reason why this [the revised proposal] went through is because people commented on it after we advertised it,” said Cynthia Goldstein, a representative of WhaM, the community planning group for Windmill Hill and Malago Road.

The start of a trend?

There are other four property developers – Firmstone Consortia One, Deeley Freed, Dandara and Urbis – that are planning to develop in Bedminster Green and they are not shy about pushing for height.

“It makes me nervous to think about the development (in the Pring and St Hill premises), as it shows the power that developers have over the council,” said Dr Adam Nieman, a Windmill Hill resident.

One main concern that locals expressed during the last community meeting – held on 29 January – was that if Rollo Homes should succeed in their proposal, it could prove to be the first step towards a proliferation of high rise buildings in Bedminster, and maybe across the city.

“We don’t get any sense that we are being listened to by both the developers and the council, despite the lip service,” said a member of WhaM. “It’s not a case of stopping the development but to ensure quality of living through low-rise and high-density. A dwelling is a home for someone and it’s bigger than just a place to rest your head at night.”

It could prove the first step in a proliferation of high rise buildings in Bedminster, and maybe across the city

Living mainly in terraced houses with small back gardens, residents spoke about the fear of feeling trapped and isolated amongst tower blocks. Privacy and security was also raised when discussing the idea of a long-term construction site in a family-oriented area.

Charlie Bolton, Green councillor, also objects to the development of the site, raising concerns about air quality in the area, already designated an air quality management area due to air pollutant levels which breach legal limits. He further questioned the small numbers of affordable housing and lack of local services to support the numbers.

WHaM’s concern is the stress it will put on the medical services, schools and infrastructure (i.e. roads and public transport) unless new provisions are made.

“It is cheaper to build a block of flats than to carefully plan around the ecosystem preserving the already built-in community. We absolutely support density with mixed tenure, in fact many times we have offered to work with developers with our architects,” said Nick Townsend, WHaM co-founder.

Others were more concerned about the affordability of the proposed flats. “If locals can’t afford to buy the apartments, then they shouldn’t build them,” said a resident of Quantock Road.

Not everyone was critical of Rollo Home’s plans. Jasper Thompson, founder of Help Bristol’s Homeless, who has converted shipping containers for rough-sleepers on the Rollo Homes land said, “They allowed me start this up, if they want to build 10-storey flats, let them”.

“As bad as it sounds, I don’t want to see a bunch 10-storey flats being built but we desperately need housing,” said one resident of Malago Road.

At public meetings, Marvin Rees has said that he is “not against” high rises. “It depends how you build them” he argued at a January public meeting. “We don’t just want to provide bricks and mortar for people to live in, but cities that are sustainable”.

Nevertheless, some Bedminster residents have criticised the mayor and council’s response to the community’s concerns.

“The community are getting frustrated by the mayor’s inaction and Bristol City’s lack of coordination over this,” said Elfyn Griffith, a freelance journalist for Bristol 24/7 and WhaM’s publicity person.

The consultation is open on the council’s website until Wednesday 7 February. The final decision regarding the developments is due in April.

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