Fears that Bedminster Green could become “an anonymous zone of badly thought-out tower blocks” have prompted a collective of residents to issue a public appeal.
Early proposals for an 18-storey building, accommodation for 300 students and a new square have sparked a backlash among the local community, who have outlined a raft of concerns about the development.
A number of residents have penned an open letter to mayor Marvin Rees outlining their fears and calling on him to ensure the regeneration of the council-owned land reflects the best interests of the wider community and will not become a “regrettable mistake”.
“We are in utter shock that these proposals have even been tabled by the developer as something to be seriously considered, given their inappropriate scale, density, and disregard for any sustainable, long-term regeneration of the area,” says the letter, which is signed by Graeme Eglin on behalf of the group.
It goes on to say the latest proposals from developer Urbis, which are still at the pre-application stage, do not take into account feedback and concerns already voiced by the community.
The company has defended its proposals, arguing that it has taken every attempt to be transparent and consultative in its approach and has taken objections into account, while still including provision for 30 per cent of the scheme to be affordable housing.
Specific concerns outlined in the letter include the fear that the whole area is being considered for piecemeal development, driven by commercial greed rather than community need and the loss of the existing green at the bottom of Windmill Hill.
It says: “We are pro-development, but feel that Bedminster could become an anonymous zone of badly thought-out tower blocks in order to provide a short sighted quick-fix for providing housing without any consideration for creating long term, healthy neighbourhoods and a sense of community.”
The collective calls on Bristol City Council to ensure a long-term, sustainable development is planned that will enhance the existing area, not destroy it.
The residents suggest creating a Community Land Trust to develop the site, with proposals that are driven by the need of the community, or creating a sustainable brief for the site to be opened up to a competition.
Chairman of Howard Purse the Windmill Hill and Malago Community Planning Group (WHaM) said while the group did not instigate the letter, it does echo the feelings of members.
“The call for the local authority to be responsible in this situation and ensure the development is the best it can be so that the area can thrive is absolutely essential,” said Purse.
Richard Clarke, managing director of Urbis, told Bristol24/7 he was disappointed to hear the group feels their concerns have been ignored.
“I do not think any developer goes further to try and reflect the interested of the community,” he said.
“They have obviously raised concerns about other developments in the area and I have read every single comment left about those. One of the things that is always the highest issue is affordable housing, or the lack of it, and this scheme will supply 30 per cent of affordable housing.
“There is a cost to affordable housing, so we have to deliver more units. To put infrastructure in place, it needs to be a certain scale.”
He stressed that while it is an important scheme and the community need to be fully briefed and consulted, it is still very early days and there has only been one pre-application meeting.
Addressing the accusation that the plans are driven by greed, Clarke said: “Where possible, I will be showing community groups the development framework, I do not see any other developers offering that level of transparency.
“The fact is, we have been given a very exacting brief by the council. It’s important that whatever we deliver, it is to the best possible standards. The last thing it is is greed driven, it has to be financially viable.”
Clarke added that a number of site-wide schemes are being implemented to address traffic and parking, flood and excess water management and energy to mitigate against any effects of ‘piecemeal’ development.
The letter suggests an alternative regeneration model, prepared by WHaM which outlines ways in which high-density housing can be provided in “a more attractive, community-focused way”, but Clarke argues this scheme is not financially viable.
A council spokeswoman stressed that the mayor and cabinet members do not actually have any power or role in determining planning applications, which is either delegated to planning officers or Development Control Committees.
She added: “The Bedminster Green area incorporates a number of development sites which are in different ownerships, including land owned by the council. None of the sites have been allocated for development in the current Local Plan and as such there is no site specific guidance as to how they should be redeveloped.
“However, the council as the planning authority, will assess planning applications received in accordance with its planning policies and secure sustainable development of the wider area. The planning process will include consultation of local residents and other stakeholders.
Read more: Bedminster community’s open letter to mayor