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A population explosion is coming to Bedminster. So what does the future look like?

A wave of new housing developments is coming to Bedminster, Southville and Windmill Hill. So a new community project asks what the future should hold for the area.

Area in Focus

Tucked away between Bedminster Parade and Victoria Park is Windmill Hill City Farm. On a sunny afternoon, the usually peaceful place is disrupted by the hum and banging of building sites all around, as cranes and scaffolding loom.

Maureen, 74, has lived in nearby Totterdown for almost 20 years. “It’s ridiculous,” she says. “There’s already housing stacked together. It’s bad for mental health.”

She’s referring to the housebuilding boom underway in Bedminster, Southville and Windmill Hill. With thousands of homes being built or awaiting approval, the population of BS3 is expected to grow by 40% in the next 15 to 20 years, prompting concerns about stretched local services.

This is why local community group Action Greater Bedminster is embarking on a project to empower local people to have their say on proposed developments and help build a vision for the area. 

Maureen lists her priorities: “More schools, dentists and doctors. No high tower blocks. And don’t take away any bloody green space – we need more if anything!”

Population explosion

Roadworks on the junction between Malago Road and East Street
Roadworks on the junction between Malago Road and East Street

Green councillor for Southville Tony Dyer has calculated there are 6,640 homes and 2,400 student beds in BS3 either being built, with planning permission, or planned for the future. 

The major development underway along Malago Road is Bedminster Green, which could see more than 2,300 new homes. Just up the road is another regeneration area – Whitehouse Street – with the development framework to be released for consultation this year.

And next to that are the Mead Street developments: part of the Temple Quarter zone, which last year made headlines when plans for an 11-storey block were approved on the old Barts Ingredients site on York Road, despite complaints from local residents about the quality of housing and impact it would have on the iconic view of the Totterdown escarpment. 

Maria Clarke has lived in the area for nearly 40 years. “While I know there is a demand for good quality housing, I don’t think much of what is being built are good homes for families and young people. There needs to be more social housing with less high rise, more green spaces and enough GPs, schools, community venues.”

“I don’t know why there is so much building in South Bristol. It’s now so crowded I have thought about moving out for the first time. I love living here but it’s becoming somewhat oppressive at times. Why can’t developments happen in other areas of the city?”

Priorities that recur are protecting green space and limiting high-rise blocks. Green councillor for WIndmill Hill Ed Plowden, who also sits on one of the council’s planning committees, says: “There is massive evidence for high density without high rise. High rise is not good for health or sustainability.

“Lots of developers are forced to have a bit of open space on their plot, but it’s often small and overshadowed by large buildings.” 

Community consultation

An image of construction work on one of Bedminster Green's plots off Malago Road.
Construction has begun on one of Bedminster Green’s plots off Malago Road.

In Bedminster, there are cranes on the horizon, something mayor Marvin Rees uses to show the council is taking action to fix the city’s housing crisis, with 19,000 households on the social housing waiting list. 

Rees has set the target of building 1,000 new affordable homes a year by 2024. In 2021/22, 474 affordable homes were completed, the highest number since 2010 but still well off the council’s own target for next year. 

Bristol also has a housebuilding target of 3,300 homes a year set by the government. Dyer recently brought a motion urging the council to ditch this unrealistic goal, because if it isn’t met it allows developers to ignore planning rules. The council has since written to the government, calling for a discussion about a more realistic figure.

Ellie Freeman, chair of Action Greater Bedminster
Ellie Freeman, chair of Action Greater Bedminster

Combating this sense of powerlessness in the face of a complex planning system is top of the agenda for Action Greater Bedminster’s ‘BS3 Beyond 2025’ project. 

Ellie Freeman, the chair of AGB, says, “We’re all aware of the pressure on schools, how long it takes to get a doctor’s appointment. All this is going to get worse.”

“There have been times where we’ve been burned [by the planning process], thinking we’d get loads of affordable housing, and not getting any.”

AGB wants to create a comprehensive online resource to help residents understand the various developments, so they know how to have an impact.

Alongside the website, AGB is going to organise a series of community meetings over the next six months, before a closing celebration in September where a vision for the future of the area is presented. 

For Freeman, two major developments a stone’s throw away from each other show contrasting approaches to community consultation. First is Bedminster Green: “The point at which they started listening to us was too late in the process,” she says. The group did create a manifesto based on community meetings, but it didn’t have much impact.” 

By contrast, the consultation so far on the Whitehouse Street development has been much more proactive, Freeman says. “The council brought us on board from the beginning. It was about trying to reach people who wouldn’t usually feed in.”

The manifesto they created is being considered as part of the framework document for the development, due to be released this year for consultation. Applications for nine plots will then be submitted, and it could take 10 years before everything is completed. 

The prioritisation of community consultation was made easier by the council being a majority landowner. But Freeman hopes lessons can be learned for other areas of the city. 

“The issue is what gets built at the end; will people see that their voices go all the way through and…therefore get involved again with the next development?”

Services under strain

One of the main concerns about population growth in BS3 is the impact on local services already feeling the strain, a concern shared by local MP Karin Smyth.

Jaime Breitnauer lived in the area with her family until 2013, before moving away and returning in 2019 when there was a noticeable difference. 

“We have been unable to register with a dentist since our return. We attempted to live car free but the bus service is now so appalling that we are unable to and have invested in an EV which is very expensive.

“My husband was recently very ill and we could not get an appointment after several days of trying,” she adds.

Parking has long been an issue in Southville with streets on the edge of Residential Parking Zones filling up with parked cars. And with the closure to Malago Road combined with the introduction of the city’s Clear Air Zone, some streets in Windmill Hill have become rat runs for people driving into town. 

Dyer says: “We’ve already seen 15% growth in the last 10 years. Now we’re looking at 40% growth in the next 10-20 years. If we don’t start to address the facilities that people need then we can end up with a very divided community.”

A boost of businesses?

In the heart of Bedminster is East Street, the rundown high street that has become well-known in recent years for its shuttered shops and need of rejuvenation. It’s currently being disrupted by the Bedminster Green developments, which will eventually give shopping centre St Catherine’s Place a much-need facelift.

“It’s been a nightmare,” says Aaron Rhodes who works at East Street Fruit Market, explaining how building has disrupted the business.

The shop, famous locally for Darren Jones the ‘singing greengrocer’, who announced he would be selling up after 30 years, is now under new management. 

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Rhodes says the business didn’t get any heads up about the development. “Now it’s going to be like this for two and a half years.”

“But once it’s done, it’ll be perfect for the road.” 

Freeman thinks new people coming to the area is an “exciting opportunity” for places like East Street. 

“I hope that we don’t get swamped and we embrace it.” 

She points out wider implications for the city too. “Can we do it in a way that is more engaging? Then as a city we shift how we approach these things so that the community is more involved…rather than having stuff just happening to us.”

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  • Key to the map would be helpful! if there is one it’s really well hidden! So no idea what the colour coding or circle sizes represent

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