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Owner of ex-pub and cinema should up his landlord game before developing more flats, say tenants

High-profile plans to turn a former Wetherspoons on Church Road into housing have been withdrawn this week. Some tenants of the developer, Landrose, say it needs to improve its service to people already living in its properties.

External shot of a boarded-up Wetherspoons in Bristol, which contains the remains of an art-deco cinema.

“They’re unresponsive and just useless when it comes to getting maintenance to do anything – I don’t think they have a team, or the capacity.”

Charlie* is a tenant of local property developer Landrose, which this week has withdrawn its high-profile application to develop the former St George’s Hall Wetherspoons on Church Road in Redfield into 13 ‘cluster’ or ‘co-living’ flats (see box). The move came less than two days before it was due to go before a planning committee

Landrose has said the development – which officers recommended for refusal based on inadequate parking provision – can offer relatively affordable, good-quality accommodation for keyworkers and young professionals. Others disagree. The plans have attracted outsize interest because the building also contains a partly intact 1930s art-deco cinema, closed in the 60s, which a group of residents have been campaigning to save. 

The cinema campaigners’ long battle has included trying to register the building as an ‘asset of community value’ (ACV) by the council, something which was confirmed earlier this year. ACV status does not constrain any planning decision to redevelop the former pub and cinema. It means though that should the owner decide to sell it at some point, local people will have the right to bid.

But aside from the controversy over the former cinema, Landrose has already developed cluster-type flats in several historic buildings around BS5. Some residents, like Charlie, have now told the Cable they are unhappy with how these buildings are managed, with repairs often taking a very long time. 

Others say the design of this type of flats mean they can be uncomfortable places to live – hot in summer, cold in winter, and not very sociable. These concerns are pertinent beyond Landrose’s buildings, given that other similar, and often bigger applications are coming before Bristol’s overstretched planners.

‘There seems to be a disconnect’

Over several weeks we spoke to around 10 people who have lived in Landrose’s properties. These are at Deben House, the triangular block between Old Market and Lawrence Hill roundabout, the former Three Crowns pub on Blackswarth Road, and two buildings further up Church Road that used to be shops with flats above.

After visiting the properties and following up with more detailed interviews, several concerns emerged. We agreed with tenants not to publish any names or identifying details in case people faced repercussions.

Not everyone we spoke to was unhappy, and several had no issues. But most said they have been frustrated at how long repairs, which are carried out by a separate firm, take to get done, both in individual flats and in communal areas. In some cases the delays have interfered with the quality of people’s lives.

Residents have to get in touch with a third-party service via WhatsApp in the first instance.

“You send a message and get an automated response,” explains Sasha, one resident we speak to who has been waiting on a repair since last year. “Then you just repeat the same message and then they’ll write back – but they’re terrible at sorting problems out, which has been my main gripe.”

Another tenant, Alexis, says they waited months for a repair to be completed after moving into a Landrose property.

“I messaged after I moved in, to notify them of the problem,” Alexis says. “Then, every month, following on I’d send a message and say, ‘Hey, any update?’” When maintenance staff eventually turned up, the issue still was not properly fixed and Alexis is still waiting for a resolution.

Alexis is aware some other residents have personal contact with William Woodward, the director of Landrose who effectively runs the firm as a one-man band. But they tell the Cable they are not, and are unsure how to progress the issue.

“I don’t know where I stand with things – the block itself, to get in contact with maintenance, it seems to be separate from a Landrose company,” Alexis goes on. “It’s hard to know how much the actual landlord is aware of the issues – there seems to be a disconnect between the property management and an actual person responsible.”

Alexis says they have not so far considered escalating the problem by complaining to the council, in part because they worry about their tenancy.

“At the end of the day, it’s easier to fight a losing battle trying to eventually get a problem sorted, than throw myself back into the rental market,” Alexis says. “I’ve moved several times since being in Bristol and the risk is that it’s either going to be the same sort of level or worse.”

‘It’s like an oven’

Aside from the long waits some people have faced around repairs, other people we spoke to had issues around the environment of the flats.

These are divided up by self-closing fire doors, with many rooms only having ventilation on one side via a window that opens a limited amount. Several people said their rooms can feel unbearable in the summer months, with no means of mitigating the heat.

“It’s hot, humid, like an oven – I sit there sweating, trying to work, not getting much done,” says Robyn, another tenant.

“It’s mainly the heat in my place [that’s the issue],” says Sasha. “It’s above 30C in the summer and there is little ventilation.”

Such complaints are not unique to Landrose’s properties – and raise wider potential concerns in the context of more co-living type flats being developed in Bristol. Single-aspect flats are known for being prone to overheating due to lower ventilation. It’s something that was highlighted in the notorious 2023 application to redevelop the Broadwalk shopping centre in Knowle. This was first rejected by a Bristol planning committee, partly over concerns about the quality of the housing, before being controversially approved.

Other tenants though say they also have issues with cold – and in particular having no control over when heating, which is included in rents, is switched on and off.

In Deben House, we hear the period property’s windows are draughty and that the limited hours of heating can leave some flats freezing during colder months of the year.

Meanwhile at the Three Crowns, now renamed Kings Court, a number of people tell us that radiators had been removed without warning from communal areas several months ago.

This is not a problem for everyone, with many people emphasising that this type of flats does not promote socialising with others. But some add that their communal areas have been so cold over the winter that they have only used them to cook in before retreating to their rooms. Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 places responsibility on landlords to maintain installations such as boilers, pipes and electrics, and covers common areas of buildings.

There have been further issues at the Three Crowns over a new postbox system, which is controlled by Landrose meaning residents only have access to their mail three or four times a week. At one point some residents also received alarming letters suggesting utilities could be cut off because the landlord had not kept up with payments.

‘He needs to resolve the problems first’

Most people we spoke to said there were positive things about living in Landrose’s properties and did not feel the firm was wilfully causing them problems. But several said they feel the company should be focusing on getting its services up to standard rather than trying to develop a larger building, the former Wetherspoons on Church Road.

“He needs to resolve the problems in his current properties before taking on the responsibility of any more,” says Alexis. “I mean, it’s not on for the new tenants – or for the current tenants – it will only stretch maintenance even further than it already is.”

What happens next with Landrose’s planning application after its sudden withdrawal on 8 April, and what this means for the cinema campaigners, was unclear at the time of writing. The developer has previously withdrawn its plans only to revise them and submit a fresh application.

A report by planning officers prepared ahead of the council’s Development Control Committee B on 10 April had said Landrose’s plans “would exacerbate demand for on-street parking in an area of existing excessive parking pressure, such that the likely additional parking demand generated cannot be accommodated on surrounding streets, and would result in dangerous/illegal parking to the detriment of highway safety”.

Narrow residential streets off Church Road are frequently snarled up with parked cars. The developer had said it would attempt to stop any future residents from owning a car, to avoid adding to the parking pressures. But planners said this would neither be “reasonable or enforceable”.

Landrose has also been in advanced negotiations with a local cafe operator to reopen the commercial space on the ground floor of the building on Church Road, which formed the public parts of the Wetherspoons. The immediate future of these plans, which could proceed without the wider redevelopment – also potentially impacting the cinema campaigners’ aspirations – is also uncertain.

Barry Parsons, a Green councillor for the Easton ward in which the building sits, who has backed the cinema campaign, said: “This site presents a real opportunity to create a landmark for Church Road, but Landrose have squandered that opportunity by taking a cookie-cutter approach and failing to engage with the community.

“This type of development has been touted as the solution to the housing crisis, but it mostly serves the interests of investors, and too often leaves tenants at the mercy of capricious landlords,” Parsons added. “The application offered low-quality accommodation that wouldn’t have addressed the housing need in an area where families living in social housing are often overcrowded, and I’m glad it’s been withdrawn.

Parsons said that with the historic cinema largely intact, “an imaginative developer could create a commercial and social hub” for the neighbourhood.

William Woodward, the Landrose director, said: “We are proud providers of sustainable developments on disused brownfield sites, regenerating them into entry-level, flexible, rental properties for young professionals and key workers.

“We have been heavily subsidising energy costs during the crisis as part of our rental packages, and currently pass on less than 25% of the actual cost to us as a business,” he said. “We rectify any issues as soon as possible through our property maintenance partners: anti-theft mailboxes and PAT testing/replacing electronic radiators to name but a few examples.”

He declined to comment on the future of the former pub and cinema premises.

*All names have been changed.

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