On the glorious afternoon of October 2nd 2014, there was an informal meeting held in the Dream Café on the Gloucester Road, which signalled what we hope will be a new vision for planning in Bristol. Various representatives of local amenity societies, including The Bishopston Society, were invited to meet Barra Mac Ruairi........
.........who was appointed to Bristol City Council in April 2014 as one of four strategic officers responsible for policy and management, working directly with the Mayor. His official title is Strategic Director of Place and his remit covers Property, Transport, City Planning and Design, Economy, Culture and Major Projects. Barra has extensive qualifications and experience in architecture, town planning and urbanism and, along with the Mayor, would seem to bring a new dynamism to planning within the city. Our meeting marked the end of a day-long fact finding cycle tour Barra undertook with local councillors, starting in Henbury and taking in Horfield Common and the Memorial Ground. The purpose of the tour was to become acquainted with the northern parts of the city, to dialogue with local residents and to view the problems and opportunities at first hand on the ground.
After years of political infighting and lack of strong concerted leadership in the city, this feels like the beginning of a new era of more progressive joined-up thinking on planning and community matters. Bristol is after all a city of great character and potential with a formidable heritage but also with heavy demands upon it, which would benefit hugely from a more creative and consensual approach to development. Some of the current policy issues within the city are set out below;
Extensive development is proposed in the Temple Meads area over the next 25 years including the Enterprise Zone, which is projected to create 17,000 new jobs, and the long-awaited 12,000 seat Arena, which the mayor has said will be opened in 2017. In addition, there are proposals to bring the original Brunel terminus back into active use for the proposed electrified service to London. Another element which we dearly hope will be achievable at Temple Meads is a much improved transport interchange, as the station has always suffered from being at a distance from the city centre.
View of Arena within Enterprise Zone at Temple Meads
Current proposals are for the Metro Bus to link Hengrove and Long Ashton with Emerson’s Green and Cribbs Causeway via the city and the M32. Unfortunately, the route alongside the M32 is contentious at the present time as it requires the use of allotment land. The city urgently needs a proper coordinated public transport system to combat the ever increasing congestion and pollution created by motor vehicles. One factor which is concerning about the proposed transport strategy is that the new provisions such as the Metro Bus are seen as being in addition to the existing bus network. But one would have to question whether being reliant on a huge fleet of diesel-powered buses is an acceptable option, at a time when the city is struggling with increasing problems of air quality. We all remember the Green Hydrogen Bus about 6 years ago. It was exciting and innovative, but it was only one bus for one year.
Proposed routes of Metrobus
RAIL BRANCH LINES
The re-opening of certain local branch lines has now become an urgent priority, considering Bristol’s new status as The Green Capital. The re-opening of the Portishead Line is years overdue and this has created very real difficulties for the increasing number of people commuting from Portishead to Bristol on a daily basis. The Henbury Line is also rapidly becoming a necessity in the light of the extensive development proposed at the Cribbs Patchway New Neighbourhood, as mentioned below.
The closure of Portishead station in 1954
CRIBBS PATCHWAY NEW NEIGHBOURHOOD
As set out in our Summer Newsletter, the imminent development of 5,700 houses and associated employment uses in what is technically South Gloucestershire (rather than Bristol) is likely to have a considerable impact on North Bristol, in terms of traffic congestion/pollution and possibly even flooding. Although plans are already well advanced, we need Bristol City Council to pressurise South Gloucestershire to ensure that the impact on North Bristol is kept to a minimum. On reflection, it does seem arbitrary that large parts of outer Bristol fall within the adjoining counties of Somerset and South Gloucestershire. There is a strong argument that the Greater Bristol should be one entity.
Well publicised teething problems with traffic and parking at the newly opened Southmead Hospital beg the question as to whether the site chosen for the hospital, in the middle of a dense residential area, is appropriate for a new regional hospital when a more obvious alternative out by the M4 was available. It seems that the question of property values may have influenced the strategic planning in this case. The impact of ever increasing numbers of emergency vehicles speeding along densely packed arterial routes like the Gloucester Road is a serious concern for the safety and amenity of areas like Bishopston. It is crucial that major strategic decisions are taken with long term vision rather than short term expediency.
Aerial view of Southmead Hospital surrounded by existing housing
2006 saw the start of a strategy to create employment opportunities and new housing within the Hengrove area to bring it up to par with areas in the north of the city. The first element of this strategy, the South Bristol Community Hospital, is already in place. Other new employment uses are following in its wake. It is anticipated that overall approximately 8,000 new houses will be built in South Bristol in the period from 2006 to 2026.
Neighbourhood Plans are a mechanism whereby those living within a neighbourhood can have more say in deciding the priorities for their area and go some way to ensuring that they get the development that they need for the future in terms of new homes, job opportunities, leisure and community including schools, health services and shops. There are currently 5 Neighbourhood Areas adopted in Bristol:
• Old Market
• Redcliffe Way
• Knowle West
• Lawrence Weston
Once adopted, the strategy set out within the Neighbourhood Plan becomes statutory planning guidance, in addition to the Local Plan, to be taken into consideration in all subsequent planning applications.
FUTURE HOUSING REQUIREMENTS
Bristol City Council’s Core Strategy of 2011 confirmed that 26,400 new homes will be required within the Bristol area in the period from 2006-2026. This includes 6,500 affordable units. The projected allocation within the various parts of the city is as follows;:
Inner East 2,000
Rest of Bristol 6,000
This sounds dramatic but in fact 13,606 homes had already been built in the period up to 2013 and much of the remainder are either planning permissions already in place or further sites actually identified.
Coming closer to home, planning activity has been relatively quiet within the Bishopston area over recent months. However, there are four topics which feature in the local scene at present:
• Two new school buildings
• Design of roof extensions
Much concern has been expressed in response to Wetherspoon’s application to open a new drinking establishment at 349-353 Gloucester Road, with opening hours up to midnight generally and 0100 at weekends. The reputation of the company for large-scale alcohol outlets goes before it and many local residents have lodged objections with the planning department, particularly those living nearby. Bishopston is primarily an area of family houses and there is a concern that, in addition to the large number of existing pubs and late night bars which already exist, this application would have a highly detrimental impact on the quality of life in the area, particularly with regard to late night noise and anti-social behaviour. Many residents have stressed that they would not like to see the Gloucester Road ‘alcoholised’ like the Whiteladies Road in Clifton.
A TALE OF TWO SCHOOLS
We must congratulate St Bonaventure’s School on the completion of their new school building. Constructed in four separate phases, it has been a great work of coordination and patience on the part of all involved. The improvement over the previous 1960’s building with its portakabins is immeasurable and the end result is excellent and a credit to the parish. Hopefully, the new building will carry the school through for the next 60 years plus.
First three phases of St Bonaventure’s Primary School
By contrast, we have to say that Bishop Road school has been somewhat spoilt by the new extension to its main frontage. This is not a bad building per se, but is certainly not appropriate for this location, projecting out into a Victorian street. The Bishopston Society and many local residents expressed concern at the angular modernist character of the draft design right at the outset. The old school building is full of character and detail with very little having been altered over the years. Unfortunately, we tried without success to have it listed, in order to give the building protection. Our concerns were dismissed by the Local Education Authority and the planning permission was granted almost without debate by the Planning Committee. As a result, the integrity and character of the building has been lost and community democracy has been undermined.
New front extension to Bishop Road Primary School
The problem of overdevelopment is more and more common these days of high demand and property values. Existing properties within the Bishopston area are often enlarged to the very maximum such that they no longer suit their setting and start to impinge upon the amenity of their neighbours. One example is 15 Upper Cranbrook Road; a typical 3 bed 1930’s semi. The initial application was for a large roof extension with a dormer on the side and an even larger dormer at the rear, with French doors overlooking adjoining gardens, a massive rear kitchen extension and a very long parapetted side extension tight to the boundary. The impact on the neighbour’s property was made worse by the fact that there was a significant change in level between the two and the proposed side extension was extremely domineering and blocked out daylight from the neighbour’s habitable rooms at the rear of their house. The initial application was to increase the existing floor area of the house by approximately 40%. Fortunately, through the persistence of the neighbour and the planning officer, the impact of the proposals has been reduced.
DESIGN OF ROOF EXTENSIONS
The golden rule when it comes to roof extensions is that every effort should be made to achieve the required accommodation in such a way that the end result looks completely at one with the original house and with its surroundings. There should be no unsightly bulkiness visible from the public realm either at the front or the side. The roof conversion recently completed at 95 Berkeley Road is a classic example of how not to do it. In this case the ridge of the roof was raised specifically so that a boxy mansarded extension to either side could be added within the height of the ridge, under Permitted Development Rights. At the insistence of the planning department the extension has been set back approx. 1m back from the front gable end but is unfortunately, with its ungainly irregular shaped windows, still clearly visible from the street. The roof and extension have then been covered with artificial black slates which are alien both to the house itself and the local area. The end result is ugly and discordant. The better way to add an additional storey to a house is to actually design a proper additional storey to look as though it could have been part of the original house. Local examples which have proved extremely successful and actually enhance their setting are 25 and 38 and 40 Egerton Road.
To sum up, it is encouraging that a new and more visionary regime is now at the helm at Bristol City Council. We have confidence that more coherent strategies for the city will emerge which will enable Bristol to develop as it must without the loss of its great character and for the general betterment of its residents.