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Local housing for local people in Lockleaze: can it work?

Hundreds of new homes are coming to Lockleaze, but some of the developments have not been popular. Can a change in the rules on who gets new social housing in the area bring benefits for locals?

Image of Maria Perrett and Alex Bugden of Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust, which developed the concept of a local lettings policy with residents (credit: Alex Turner)

Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust’s Maria Perrett and Alex Bugden worked on the local lettings policy (credit: Alex Turner)

Area in Focus

Lockleaze is changing fast. 

On Romney Avenue, graffitied hoardings advertising Bristol City Council’s housebuilding firm Goram Homes surround a vast cleared site that will hold 268 new homes.

A five-minute walk, across Gainsborough Square onto Constable Road, reveals the Shackleton Heights development springing up on land where demolished council homes once stood.

Stroll round the corner and the roofs of new homes off Bonnington Walk are rising, directly behind the back gardens of older ones on Landseer Avenue. In all, around 1,000 homes across 30 sites are in the pipeline.

New homes at Bonnington Walk (credit: Alex Turner)

Not all of this has been welcomed. The 185-home Bonnington Walk scheme, previously a cherished local green space, attracted particular opposition from residents who feel change is often inflicted on Lockleaze without involving them.

More recently, in October 2022, plans were approved to build another 140 homes on a former council depot off Dovercourt Road despite locals’ concerns about access to the site being inadequate.

“Investment in this area only started since the new houses [the Cheswick Village development northeast of Lockleaze] have been built,” says Neil Robins, a train driver who’s lived by the Romney Avenue site for 20 years.

“You see things like [the new sports centre] round the corner, which locals can’t afford to use, and it feels like the area’s being built up to push people out,” adds Robins, 48. “You question anything that’s being put in Lockleaze – is it for Lockleaze people?”

Now, the council is hoping a change to the rules for new social housing in the area can provide an answer to these questions. Half of all new affordable homes for rent on the various sites, dozens of which are due in the coming months, will be set aside for people in housing need who have a connection to Lockleaze. 

People in Lockleaze make up at least 700 out of the 18,000 on Bristol’s social housing waiting list, and the council hopes its policy can help some of them stay close to family, work and other support networks. In the face of Bristol’s ever-worsening housing crisis, can it make a difference?

Making the case

The Lockleaze local lettings policy originated not from the council but local people themselves, via Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust, the charity that runs the Hub community centre on Gainsborough Square.

For five years, the neighbourhood trust has worked with residents to explore possibilities for developing community-led housing in Lockleaze. A site at the junction of Turner Gardens and Constable Road, which was acquired through the council’s land disposals scheme and recently approved for 19 homes by planners, will be the first tangible fruit of this work.

But community surveys also made the case more broadly for new homes in the area being targeted towards local need.

A site being developed by the housing association Abri on Crome Road, where old council homes were demolished some years ago (credit: Alex Turner)

“The general sentiment has been that housing isn’t going to be delivered, if it is delivered, it’s unlikely to be affordable, and if it is affordable, it’s not going to be for local people,” says Alex Bugden, the neighbourhood trust’s community housing project manager. 

About 200 people helped develop the local lettings policy through surveys and focus groups, according to Bugden, which fed into a draft document. Discussions between the trust and the council intensified, with officers deciding in 2021 to trial the policy for all new housing developments in Lockleaze.

Under the policy, which was finalised in spring 2022, all social and affordable homes built in community schemes like the one at Turner Gardens will be allocated to people with a local connection and in housing need. 

Among the bigger developer-led schemes, the ratio will be 50% of social and affordable rent homes – but only the first time they come available, or if the initial tenants move out within the first year. This measure is broadly similar to an earlier, smaller local lettings policy covering Lawrence Weston, set up in 2016.

Local quirks

Significantly though, Lockleaze’s policy also covers older council homes with three bedrooms or more, where a household moving out takes a home on one of the new developments. Where this happens, the older home will also be prioritised for people with a local connection.

The rationale is that the policy can help people by making use not only of the unusual number of new homes coming available in Lockleaze, but other quirks of the area.

The existing council estate has a high proportion – about two-thirds – of large semi-detached houses, ideal for families. But many of those houses are home to people who’ve lived in them for decades and are now ‘under-occupying’ after children have gone. 

The council, which offers its highest ‘Band 1’ rehousing priority to people willing to vacate homes with two or more spare bedrooms, found there was a greater proportion of households in this situation in Lockleaze than Bristol as a whole.

The same analysis, done in late 2020, found rehousing applications from Lockleaze households had double the level of need for four-bed homes compared with applications from the whole housing register (5% vs 2.5%).

These kinds of “discrepancies” make a local lettings policy viable, says Liz Dewing, a council project manager who’s been leading on the nuts and bolts of the Lockleaze scheme.

‘I can’t deal with all this now’

Maria Perrett, a Lockleaze local who is the neighbourhood trust’s community engagement lead and also chairs a residents’ planning group, says she’s confident the scheme can make an impact.

She mentions local families who have had to leave Lockleaze, because the only suitable properties to rehouse them were on the other side of the city, making getting to school and work a struggle. Other, older people sometimes discuss how they have difficulty managing their homes, which often have big gardens, Perrett adds.

“One lady said, ‘I’m not ready to go into a gated community, but I can’t deal with all this now’,” Perrett says. “She thought it was fascinating that by meeting her own needs, she could also help a family.”

Perrett acknowledges though that not everyone in the area is switched on to the policy or will fancy moving – something that a morning’s door-knocking on the estate confirms.

On Landseer Avenue, 69-year-old retired chef Keith Williams says he’d consider downsizing from his home of more than 20 years. But only, he adds, if the council can find him a house swap in a picturesque bit of Cornwall (something that’s theoretically possible but not likely). 

“This house is better than the crap they build nowadays, and better than a lot of the [existing] ones on here,” he says. “Why would I move?”

While few people we speak to have a clear idea of what the lettings policy is about, most are generally in favour. “Of course I am, 100%,” says Neil Robins. “I’ve seen it a lot, people getting moved over to Hartcliffe or somewhere, where they know no one at all.”

‘This could be popular everywhere’

A review of how the local lettings policy is doing, which will help inform whether to bring in similar rules elsewhere, will begin a year from when the first homes are let under the scheme.

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“I won’t say it’s a silver bullet – we all know the reality is more complicated,” says Tom Renhard, Bristol City Council’s cabinet member for housing. “Obviously, we’ll need to look at how many people move within Lockleaze, but it’s also about the knock-on impacts.”

Initial analysis of a much wider survey by the council on housing allocations suggests similar moves could be popular “everywhere”, Renhard adds. He mentions St Pauls as another possible neighbourhood that could work well, given its well-defined limits, engaged citizens and new housing developments taking place.

“Lockleaze is a good example of partnership working with the local community, where they’ve really influenced something the council is doing,” Renhard says. 

The coming months and years should demonstrate whether the council’s response can give something in return to Lockleaze, and other communities in Bristol.

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