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Explained: what vision for major 2,000-home development could mean for Bedminster

The regeneration of Whitehouse Street will change the face of Bedminster. So how does the masterplan shape up on affordable housing, high rises and protecting jobs?

Area in Focus

“We definitely need more homes… Our children are having to move much further away because they can’t afford properties here and that’s splitting up families that were once a community,” says Julie Nash, 60, a lifelong resident of Bedminster. 

This week, plans were unveiled for how a part of Bedminster will be redeveloped in the next 15 years. The Whitehouse Street area between Bedminster Parade, the New Cut and Victoria Park will become the site of up to 2,000 homes, no net loss of jobs, new green spaces and walking and cycling improvements. 

The masterplan document, which was approved by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday, sets out the vision for redeveloping the predominantly industrial area. It will inform whether individual planning applications for the nine plots will be approved. 

Bedminster is the site of an emerging housebuilding boom, as Bristol attempts to build its way out of it’s housing crisis. Julie is aware that new homes are needed, but she can’t help but worry – what impact will thousands of new people moving to the area have in decades to come?

A map of the Whitehouse Street development area

The Cable recently spoke to local residents and businesses about their hopes and fears for BS3’s transformation – with a predicted population growth of 40% in the next 20 years, many worried how local services would cope. Affordable housing, protecting green spaces, limiting high rise buildings and boosting local services were chief among residents’ concerns and priorities.

The vision for Whitehouse Street and a more consultative approach by the council has been welcomed by local councillors. But anxieties remain on whether the views of the community will be truly reflected when developers submit concrete plans. This lack of optimism has been influenced by controversial neighbouring developments at Bedminster Green and Mead Street.

So how does the vision shape up against residents’ priorities? 

Falling short of affordable housing targets? 

The Whitehouse Street proposal is an important opportunity for much needed affordable housing to be built in the city. Plans state that affordable housing will be relaxed to just 20% of the 2,000 homes planned in the first phase of the regeneration – a relaxation of the council’s general policy that at least 30% of new homes in a development should be affordable.

The authority said this was down to financial viability, which has been affected by rising construction costs and inflation along with the costs of developing other things such as public spaces and travel routes.

Green councillors for Southville and Windmill Hill told the Cable that although they welcomed the framework overall, they were concerned about affordable housing commitments being reduced. “We do not understand why the requirement for 30% affordable housing is being relaxed,” they said. “This remains a high density development framework and this should already be advantageous to developers.”

Tom Renhard, the council’s housing chief, said: “You have to make some compromises at times, so slightly relaxing the affordable housing requirement has been one of them. There’s still a minimum of 20% we expect. 

The council owns some of the land that will be redeveloped in later phases, on which affordable housing would be “maximised”.

Community consultation – will it count this time?

Better community consultation has been a clear aim of the Whitehouse Street project so far in response to local people feeling powerless as they see their areas changing around them.

Ellie Freeman, the chair of Action Greater Bedminster, who were involved in collecting the views of the local community and developed a community manifesto, said: “AGB have been very involved in the creation of this document, which will be a material consideration in the planning process, and hope residents can see their voice reflected in this.”

Dianne James, from Windmill Hill and Malago Community Planning Group (WHAM), told the Cable the recent Bedminster Green development lacked co-ordination and did not take into account the interests of the local community. “I hope the council has learned from their mistakes,” she said. 

Nicola Beech, the council cabinet member for planning, said the approach to Whitehouse had been, “a different way to how masterplans have been done in the city in the past”. She admitted Bedminster Green was a bad example and that the council had learnt lessons for how to do better master planning to build a “healthy and balanced community that is people centric”. 

Steve Sayers, the CEO of Windmill Hill City Farm, which is located in the redevelopment area, told the Cable he welcomed the council’s willingness to engage with communities, but remained worried about how much influence over the final result local people could really have, when the council will be out of pocket if planning decisions are overturned at appeal. 

“The developments on Mead Street are an example where the council tries to put in place a framework only to find that one of the land-owners jumps the gun and gets a scheme approved, against the advice of officers. People are left wondering why they put their time into it.”

Will there be high rise blocks?

One topic that always gets people fired up is high rises. Elsewhere in the city there has been vocal opposition to building new homes on green spaces.

In the framework, Mayor Marvin Rees says building homes in central, well-connected areas like Whitehouse Street on previously developed land can help protect greenspaces elsewhere.

In the community manifesto, it says: “High rise buildings should be kept to a minimum and should not impede views to Victoria Park.”

The current prevailing heights in the area are 3-4 storeys and the framework says the views from Victoria Park towards the city centre should not be obstructed. The document says buildings on the edge of the area should remain at this height, but those in the centre could be built up to 8 storeys. There is the possibility for taller buildings of up to 10 storeys in a small area that is already covered by mature trees. 

Whitehouse Street. (Credit: Reinventing Cities)

The local Green councillors said: “It is good to see the framework includes a commitment to [high rises] being limited, which demonstrates a better attunement with local residents’ concerns. 

“We would urge that anything going higher than 4-8 storeys is very carefully considered and subject to genuinely exceptional design inside, and outside as part of a quality public realm. 

“Residents and users of Victoria Park remain anxious about the impact of the framework on the views from Victoria Park, although we do recognise that the location for proposed significant height is attempting to be sensitive to the Park in its placing.” 

Business as usual? 

The area has been mainly industrial since the slums were cleared after the war. The mixture of light industry and other businesses is thought to support up to 400 jobs, and the council said there would be no overall loss of jobs. 

The community manifesto called for current businesses to be able to stay if possible, with support for re-location, and creation of new spaces for businesses, particularly the creative sector.

The framework says there will be up to 15,000m2 of employment space, including workspaces for makers and small scale industry, creative studios, office and coworking spaces.

While businesses on the edge of the area, especially on struggling high street East Street are keen for new customers to move to BS3, others may have to move.

George, owns Vehicle Clinic, has lived in Bristol for nearly 20 years. Over that time, he has seen other local garages close down. “Now if you live in Bedminster you’ve got to take your car elsewhere to repair it; it’s creating problems for everyone because there is no local repair

George is sceptical about the new development, largely due to a fragile relationship with the council. He feels the council should have done more to help out his business, which was hit hard recently by road works on Whitehouse Street. 

Although Vehicle Clinic has not officially been ordered to move, George says they are indirectly being squeezed out of the area. “The reason we’ve got to move is because of parking, the congestion charge, and the traffic around here,” George explains. “Realistically we should get help from the council. They wouldn’t even give us a call… At the end of the day, we have to move out.” George is in the process of arranging a move to Downend for the business, where he believes work will be less stressful.

What about green spaces and sustainability?

Current cycling infrastructure on Whitehouse Street. (Credit: Action Greater Bedminster)

The importance of green space was brought up time and again during the public consultation. 

The framework sets out aspirations for high-quality public spaces and green infrastructure. Potential examples include keeping current trees ‘wherever possible’, creating space for new street trees that would help separate pedestrians from road traffic, creating pocket parks and turning undevelopable space on Willway Street into a community garden. 

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The vision for the area also suggests introducing sustainable urban drainage as well as creating new play areas and improving existing play spaces in Victoria Park. The council has also announced plans to restore biodiversity at the Malago River to the south of the regeneration area. 

Another aspiration is to reduce the carbon footprint by connecting the new buildings to a local heat network, avoiding the need for gas boilers. An energy centre will be developed to serve the wider area. 

The masterplan also says all development proposals should seek to increase biodiversity by 10%.

How will people get around?

Some residents are worried that existing problems with traffic and parking will get worse when new people move to the area. Since the introduction of the Clean Air Zone, there has been a reported increase in cars rat-running through the narrow streets of Windmill Hill near Whitehouse Street. There have since been calls for BS3 to become the second area in the city to become a ‘liveable neighbourhood’ where through traffic is restricted to make it easier to walk or cycle.

Julie, who lives on Windmill Hill, is just one resident worried about the knock-on effect on parking in the new development: “Sometimes you can’t park anywhere near your own house and now they’re going to build flats that are going to contain all these people that are definitely going to have cars, where are they all going to park?” 

The framework commits to improved walking and cycling routes connecting the area to Temple Meads and the city centre, including creating new pedestrianised streets. Philip Street, which runs along Windmill Hill City Farm to Bedminster Parade, could become one way and the pavements widened. There could also be further consultation on pedestrianising the street with no through traffic.

So what next?

There is very little detail in the framework on how services will be expanded to cope with extra people – which has become a key concern for local residents. 

The council said they would continue to liaise with the local NHS about areas of population growth, and there will be further community conversations about what facilities are needed for the area. 

On the framework itself, the Green councillors said: “So far so good – especially in relation to the public realm, ongoing employment locally and a greater level of prescriptiveness and local sensitivity than previous neighbouring frameworks. However, the devil will be in the detail, and there is still a lot to do to make the vision a reality.”

Significant effort seems to have been made to include the view of local people, but there is still a lot of work to be done to reduce anxiety about the impact of regeneration. The details of the developments on each of the nine plots will only become clear when planning applications are submitted over the coming years. 

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  • There is no mention of council or social housing in what I have read above. If some of the land is council- owned, would this not make secure rented accommodation a viable option? So-called affordable housing is, as we all know, unaffordable for most people.

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