Over 30 people came to the Carriageworks Community meeting on 2 June to hear the latest about proposals for redevelopment of the site. Unfortunately, due to injuries recently incurred, we couldn’t be joined by Marc Pennick from developer Fifth Capital although he had provided updates to members of the CAG Liaison Group.
Last October the City Council’s Planning Committee resolved to give planning permission to Fifth Capital. However, this isn’t formalised until the S.106 Agreement is completed (the agreement sets out undertakings by the developer to provide affordable housing and make payments towards various off-site works e.g. road improvements). Because it’s a binding agreement it has to be signed by the Council, the developer (Fifth Capital) and the landowner (Opec Prime / Comer Homes). The wording is all agreed but the landowner has yet to add his signature.
Fifth Capital have a legal option to buy the site from Comer Homes. The option is triggered by the grant of planning permission which itself is dependent upon the signing of the S.106 Agreement. We understand that Fifth Capital will actually buy part of the holding company (Opec Prime), rather than take a conveyance of the site.
Many people have said that progress on the scheme is very slow but this is often the case, especially with complex developments. Members of the Liaison Group are keeping an eye on the situation and maintaining a dialogue with Marc about it.
Once planning permission is granted and Fifth Capital has taken ownership they will be able to progress with meeting all the pre-commencement conditions set out by the Council. Once everything is submitted the Council has up to 8 weeks to give approval, but would hope to do it quicker. CAG will be consulted on some of the conditions but we hope that we will have been able to make constructive contributions well in advance of them being submitted to the Council.
Once the pre-commencement conditions are all met Marc will be able to start demolition. He has told us that he hopes this to be in November this year.
Westmoreland House will be demolished and the Carriageworks stabilised so that further survey work can be undertaken. That will then enable detailed plans for the Carriageworks to be worked up which will then enable the main construction contract to be awarded.
Marc is holding discussions with a number of Housing Associations for them to buy the freehold of the completed development. One of them is considering using all but the 10 affordable units for private rented accommodation. So every unit would be rented out by the Housing Association at market rents (not social rents and not affordable rents). This would mean that no units would be available for sale and that in turn would mean that there would be no buy-to-let landlords. This would be more in line with the European model where many people rent from institutional landlords with high quality terms and conditions. Elsewhere in Bristol there is much interest in developing an ethical private rented sector to replace sometimes expensive and poor quality buy-to-let landlords. Carriageworks could be trail blazer.
if the scheme does become private rented housing there are some questions about the 3 x 4 bed houses. They would probably not let to families in the area given their level of rent. Some proposals to reduce them to three bed (of which there are five currently proposed) or even to convert all the housing units to apartments.
Back in December Spaceworks was being considered as the owner of the ground floor. However, their financial offer was a long way from what Marc could accept so that is no longer the proposal. Instead Marc is thinking about taking a long lease-back of the ground floor from the Housing Association. He would then create a management company to take care of letting the commercial and community units while a specialist market operator would run the market. He is open to ways of the community being involved in how the ground floor is managed. Marc has visited the ground floor of Jamaica St studios and was very inspired by Jacknife and the PRSC pottery and would like to see similar businesses in the Carriageworks. There was much enthusiasm in the meeting to this approach – Marc seems to be speaking our language.
Discussion and Questions
How will the impact of the demolition be controlled? Answer: Via the construction management plan which has to be approved before any works begin. This will deal with site access, lorry movements, scaffolding, noise, dust etc etc.
What’s happening with the Travellers? Why the need to move out if there won’t be any work on site for some months. Travellers have provide good security for nine years. Communication with Marc has not been good. Note that children have been getting through a hole to play on the site. Travellers have prevented them and covered the hole but as future on the site is uncertain they can only do so much.
Discussion about what happens if Comer does not sign the S.106 Agreement. Various options explored. Agreed that these need to be pushed via BCC if there is no progress by September.
Someone who was attending his first CAG meeting asked what CAG is trying to achieve. Answer was for the site to be developed in line with the Vision via the Fifth Capital proposals. Aside from a small number of abstentions everyone else agreed that this was the right approach.
Would right-to-buy apply to a Housing Association’s private rented units? Answer: No. As they are commercial the new law would not apply.
Comments: a) The Housing Act is still going through Parliament so there remains uncertainty about what Housing Associations will have to do or not do. b) Shared ownership does not always work for the Housing Association. Affordable and social housing are not synonymous. Affordable can be up to 80% of market value. c) If Bristol sets up its own Housing Company (as is proposed), it could buy the scheme (although noted that timescale for that may make it unrealistic).
Would private rented units be accessible to people on benefits? Answer: One of the Housing Associations that Marc is talking with has said that they would need evidence of income from employment for all tenants. However, if a tenant is made redundant and then claims benefits they will have no problem with that so long as the rent continues to be paid.
Discussion about whether the scheme is addressing the real social need in Bristol. Suggestion that the 2011 consultation is out of date and that the Vision needs to be rethought with more social housing required. Other people pointed out that Carriageworks is doing better than many other developments in Bristol. Rethinking the plan would take years to resolve. If you keep rethinking it you never make progress.
Suggestion that losing the 4 bed houses should only be supported in return for more affordable units.
Suggestion that changing house sizes will require change to the planning permission. New housing focused agenda within BCC will be more likely to object.
Ground floor should create a magnet for the applied arts (reflecting Godwin’s work). This should be a feature of the cultural strategy that has to be written. Would be good to discuss with Marc at an early stage.
The groups that people signed up to in December have not yet had the chance to start – we really need Marc to complete the purchase of the site before any progress can be made.
Meeting ended at 8:40pm. Agreed that the community now knows way more about planning and property development than we ever thought likely!
[Please note that these notes aim to give a logical account of discussions rather than an accurate chronological record]