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People block developers profiting from Bristol’s housing crisis

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Campaign against the Chocolate Factory development in Greenbank kicks back into action as developers begin work – minus any affordable housing.

Local residents cheered on protesters from local union, Acorn, on Thursday morning, as they gathered outside the old chocolate factory in Easton where controversial development of the site began today.

The site is being developed by Generator South West, who despite stressing their ‘commitment to responsible development and social value’ are developing unaffordable housing in Greenbank. Despite huge profit turnovers, the developers told the council that it would be ‘economically unviable’ to include the council’s criteria of 40% affordable housing in any new development.

The Cable first questioned the development in November 2016 when it obtained a viability report for the development. The report, when scrutinised by the Cable, highlighted the shaky ground on which Generator South West was claiming that affordable housing in the scheme would prove ‘unprofitable’.

These findings kick-started a campaign to show the secretive measures used by developers to exploit loopholes in planning law. This resulted in a victory for the Cable and people of Bristol when the council agreed to begin publishing viability reports.

An impassioned campaign led by Acorn and local residents, with the support of many members of the council, delivered a concession by the developers to include six units of ‘affordable’ housing. The council deferred the final decision to give planning permission whilst it explored other options – and for then the Acorn campaign was put on hold.

It wasn’t until earlier this month that an update appeared on Generator South West’s website stating that work would begin on the site today. Frustrated with the council’s refusal to agree to the development, the company had skipped democratic process and secured planning permission straight from the planning inspectorate in central government. This time it seems minus the promised six units of affordable housing.

A speedy response from Acorn mobilised members and local residents this morning, with around 35 people turning up at 7.30am to ensure any start to the work was met with the opposition so clearly felt by the community.

Bristol’s affordable housing crisis

Bristol has seen house prices and homelessness almost double in the last decade, whilst wages have remained the same. In December 2017 there were 476 households placed in temporary accommodation compared to 160 just five years ago.

Just around the corner from the site is the recently evicted Greenbank van encampment – a stark reminder of the consequences of a shortage of affordable housing.

Duncan Stanway, Acorn member and local resident, still has his two children (23,16) at home and explains that as things stand, the chances of them being able to move out and live locally continues to diminish. “The local support shown this morning only goes to highlight that the developers ‘vision’ for Bristol is way out of kilter with the reality of housing need in the city” said Stanway.

As confused looking contractors began to arrive this morning, they were temporarily blocked from gaining entrance to the site by the 30 plus Acorn members, who had already adorned the hoardings with banners and ‘alternative’ visions of plans for the development.

A woman living next door to the site was quick to point out rubbish on the road left over from painting the hoardings – not a good sign of things to come she felt.

Afzal Shah, a Labour councillor and local resident, also came to the site entrance today to show his support. He stresses “the plans are not a forgone conclusion at the moment and discussions are ongoing between the council and developers. We are working hard behind the scenes.”

He also highlighted the additional need to change the narrative to one about social housing rather than affordable – the meaning of which continues to be criticised.

No-one at Generator South West was available for comment but Acorn are clear that the campaign has been resurrected and will continue to demand that any plans for the site include the required 40% of affordable, if not social, housing.

ACORN’s Poster

The developers are hosting a drop-in event for the local community this Saturday at St Anne’s Church between 11am – 2pm. Representatives from Speller Metcalfe and Generator South West will be on hand to answer any questions from the public.

Surprisingly, local residents passing by the protest hadn’t heard about the event. But Acorn are keen to promote it on behalf of the developers and so are also asking people to join them there this weekend.

With local feelings running high, a local authority seemingly on-board, and Acorn committed to not letting yet another opportunity to address housing need slip through the city’s fingers, make sure you watch this space for further ‘developments.’

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