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Council delays putting community-led housing in at risk, Lockleaze charity warns

Planning and legal holdups mean two 100% affordable schemes remain stuck in the system, while Bristol City Council’s redevelopment of a nearby community centre has been ‘prioritised’.

Image of derelict land awaiting transfer to Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust sits opposite a new housing association development (credit: Alex Turner)

Derelict land awaiting transfer to Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust sits opposite a new housing association development

Reports

The future of two small 100% affordable housing schemes in Lockleaze is being put at risk by planning and legal delays within Bristol City Council, the charity delivering them has warned.

The blunt remarks by staff at Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust (LNT) come after the organisation was granted ownership of several derelict council sites to build homes for local people, under a pioneering ‘land disposal’ scheme.

The proposed developments were among several highlighted by the Cable’s Future of Cities series earlier this year, in an in-depth look at how Bristol’s policy has been helping citizen groups and local charities deliver community-led housing.

Our reporting warned that the financial landscape for this kind of development has become much bleaker, with LNT benefiting from a type of government grant that is no longer available. But according to the trust, the council’s failure to help its projects move through the system while inflation pushes up construction costs means they are becoming less viable by the month.

The whole situation has been made more galling, in LNT’s view, by one of the council’s own applications to redevelop another nearby site – the Cameron Centre – progressing rapidly through its overworked and backlogged planning department. A decision could come as early as next month.

But the council has hit back, claiming it is natural that it should prioritise the Cameron Centre scheme since it will deliver more affordable homes overall. Cabinet member for housing Tom Renhard told the Cable the council’s “commitment to investing in Lockleaze is writ large across the ward”.

What’s causing the delays?

Back in June 2022, LNT got planning permission to build 19 affordable homes – 11 for rent and eight for shared ownership, with many suitable for families – on two small plots of facing each other where Turner Gardens branches off Constable Road. The sites previously held defective council houses that were demolished during the last decade, and were unattractive to commercial developers so were offered to the trust by the council.

The following month, LNT put in a further application for five homes on another nearby site, occupied by derelict garages, off Turner Gardens.

The smaller of two sites on the corner of Constable Road and Turner Gardens given to Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust.

Between them the homes proposed for the sites form a tiny fraction of the roughly 1,000 new homes planned for Lockleaze. These include big new estates the council has been keen to promote, such as the 268 homes being built at Romney Avenue by its own house building firm Goram Homes, and the now-notorious 185-home scheme off Bonnington Walk by Legal & General. After a ‘launch’ event in autumn 2022, dozens of homes at the latter had to be demolished and rebuilt because of defects.

Despite their small numbers, homes such as LNT’s will play an important role in ensuring that some of the new housing helps Lockleaze residents. Plans for the Constable Road development were shaped by co-design workshops, which LNT held with residents in 2019 and 2020. 

Better still, under a new ‘local lettings’ policy, all social and affordable rented homes built at Lockleaze in small community schemes will be allocated to people with a local connection and in housing need. For larger developer-led projects the figure is 50% of rented homes – but only the first time they are let.

But the neighbourhood trust says both its developments are now stuck in different parts of the system.

“We were successful with the council’s land disposal and with an affordable housing grant [towards] the build [at Constable Road],” explains Suzanne Wilson, Lockleaze Neighbourhood Trust’s chief executive. “But we can’t draw any of that down to do any work until we sign the lease” – which is being held up by Bristol City Council’s legal department, pending some amendments requested by the trust’s solicitor.

Wilson acknowledges the council is “overburdened and doesn’t have enough staff and resources”. But because the delays have prevented LNT drawing down funds, the trust is now facing its own pressures, with housing project manager Alex Bugden forced to cut his hours by more than half.

“My job [at the moment] is literally, ‘can you please move this forward?'” Bugden says of the Constable Road development. “The construction budget itself is always going to be increasing due to inflation, and with each week that floats by, it puts the project in further jeopardy.”

‘Languishing in the system’

In the meantime, the trust’s final site at Turner Gardens has “languished in the planning system for over a year”, according to Wilson, who says there has been only one contact, requesting further information, from the council during the spring.

This related to planning officers’ concerns the new housing could be ‘overbearing’ to residents of existing homes, despite only being two storeys high, explains Bugden. He adds that LNT carried out work, including an analysis of where the sun would cast shadows, to alleviate these. “We said, we could have a very slim window so there’s no overlooking, and a green wall to mitigate any sort of overbearing presence of the building itself,” he says.

Over the past few months, the trust has heard nothing more. Meanwhile the council’s own scheme to demolish the Cameron Centre and build 37 new homes – three quarters of them for social rent – on the site has moved quickly towards a decision, now expected in November, since being submitted in late April 2023. “The same case officer is dealing with it, so we can’t even talk about different people’s workloads,” says Wilson.

The Cameron Centre application has also attracted some local criticism – including from the trust – over potential flaws in its layout and facilities. Two of its apartments will share the ground floor with community facilities, which LNT had pushed for. According to Wilson, having both residential and non-residential rooms on the same floor will “design in conflict, by having someone’s bedroom window right next to that space”.

There are concerns too that the number of parking spaces – only about one for every two flats – will force new residents to leave cars on nearby Gainsborough Square, affecting people who use other community facilities.

“At the moment, the parking situation is fine,” says Richard Reddrop, who owns the Bounce soft play, which shares the Hub building on the square with LNT. But he adds that he sometimes has to park a few hundred metres away, something that could pose problems for people with mobility issues. “There is a fear that people won’t won’t want to come up [if spaces become scarcer].”

After a request from the neighbourhood trust, David Wilcox, one of the local Green councillors, agreed to ‘call in’ the scheme to enable it to be further scrutinised by councillors on the planning committee rather than officers simply granting it. But this can only be done on relevant planning grounds, and Wilcox’s attempt to do so based on the proposed height of the redeveloped centre – a secondary concern – was ridiculed by Bristol’s Labour mayor, Marvin Rees, at September’s full council meeting.

“The Green councillors claim to support house building, but frustrate much needed homes,” said Rees, seeking to draw a contrast between the parties ahead of next year’s local elections. Wilcox, who did not reply to a request for comment from the Cable, withdrew his call-in at the start of October.

What does Bristol City Council say?

Responding to LNT’s concerns, Renhard, who is also the Labour councillor for Horfield, next door to Lockleaze, said he had “worked closely with [the trust], with the support of officers, to realise our shared ambitions of delivering much needed affordable homes for the area alongside improved community facilities”.

“I’ve worked with LNT to bring forward the long-awaited redevelopment of the Cameron Centre that will see more council homes built and enhanced community spaces delivered, designed in tandem with local residents,” Renhard added. “We’ve also invested in improved infrastructure in Stoke Park and are working with LNT on unlocking further affordable development in the area.”

A council spokesperson added that it would continue to work with LNT to ensure affordable housing is built within the area alongside the delivery of a new community space as part of an ongoing commitment to support the delivery of community led housing across the city.

They described the council as having gone “above and beyond” on the schemes within Lockleaze, including by providing sites at no cost for LNT, forgoing the opportunity for the council to develop the sites to enable community-led housing in the ward, and funding almost £2m in affordable housing subsidy to LNT to deliver homes across these two sites.

“Given the greater public and community benefit of the Cameron Centre application, to deliver 37 units and increased community floorspace, people would understand this scheme justifiably being prioritised over a site offering half the number of new homes,” the spokesperson said.

They added that the transfer of the Constable Road site remains ongoing, with delays caused by complications related to the regulation of disposal of publicly owned land. 

“Officers have dedicated a significant amount of time to resolve issues and kept LNT informed,” the spokesperson said. “The schemes have been progressed as quickly as we’ve been able to, following the resolution of issues that we have raised with the applicants.”

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