No change over the summer

2016-05-26 The Kiss, Carriageworks, Stokes Croft, Bristol
The summer has been, autumn is approaching but nothing has really changed at the Carriageworks.

The last significant development was the completion of the S.106 agreement and the final grant of planning permission in July.

The next steps that Fifth Capital need to take are:Completion of the purchase of the site from Comer Homes. We understand that Fifth Capital will buy the special purpose vehicle that owns the site, rather than take a conveyance of the land.

  • Agreement with the end purchaser. We understand that Fifth Capital are in negotiations for a housing association to buy the completed development. The last community meeting supported a housing association owning and managing the units in the private rented sector as opposed to it being in a proliferation of small private owners and landlords.
  • Agreement with the contractor. The cost of building the scheme has got to be less than the final sale price plus the developer’s profit element. There has been a lot of inflationary pressure in the construction industry and Brexit has added to the
    uncertainties. This makes for a difficult negotiation.

We’re hoping to get an update on these issues from Marc Pennick of Fifth Capital now that the summer holidays are over (we’ve had a couple of conversations with him through August but he and his advisors have been away much of the time).

Once we know more, and hopefully get confirmation that Fifth Capital have ownership of the site, we will call a community meeting to discuss all the other topics of interest:

  • Timescale for development from demolition through to flats and commercial units being ready for occupation
  • Managing the impact of construction on local residents and businesses
  • Management of the ground floor units and market
  • Proposals for public art and the cultural strategy
  • Ongoing opportunities to have a say in the scheme

Just one more thing to add; the Carriageworks has been shortlisted for a Sunday Times British Homes Award. Nothing to do with community engagement sadly, just the architecture. Sunday Times British Homes AwardsMore at http://britishhomesawards.co.uk/shortlist (scroll down to Category 12 – Housing Project). Winners will be announced on 14 October. And if you’ve got £1,920 to spare you can even have your own table at the awards lunch in London!

That’s it for now. We’ll let you know more when we know more.

Lori and the Liaison Group

S.106 signed

We just heard yesterday that the S.106 Agreement has finally been signed and sealed and consequently the planning permission has been formally granted to Fifth Capital. This should open the way for the purchase of the site from Comer Homes and for redevelopment of the site to begin.

We are maintaining our dialogue with Marc Pennick, and will keep you informed about what will happen next.  Watch this space for news, and notice of the next community meeting. Cause for celebration maybe?

Notes from 2 June Community Meeting

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.

Planning permission

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.

Ownership

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.

Timescale

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.

Housing

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.

Ground Floor

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]

How the press can constrain freedom of speech!

An interesting dilemna arose at the Community Meeting on 2 June.  A reporter from the Post turned up and introduced himself saying that he’d be reporting on the meeting.  He added that he would also be blogging live.

As the meeting progressed Lori, the Chair, found that she was repeatedly asking the journalist not to blog on particularly sensitive issues.  Eventually the reporter pointed out that it was a public meeting and that he had a right to attend and report whatever he chose.  This made some members of the meeting quite anxious and they asked for the journalist to leave. He refused.

Historically we have always had very open discussions. These have been reported the next day by the Post which has obviously taken an overview on what is important, what isn’t and how much detail to include (given their own word limits). To date the reporting has been reasonably balanced and hasn’t caused any problems. The transition to live blogging however means that there is no time to step back and take an overview. Instead everything is reported verbatim irrespective of any wider context and whether it reflects the consensus and decision of the meeting. By virtue of it being blogged by official media, the account also acquires a gravitas that is somewhat greater than if it were tweets from one or more individuals.

Bizarrely we therefore found that the presence of the Post reporter was infringing upon free and open discussion.

In the end we decided to stop the meeting as the issue of reporting was getting in the way of the discussion that we needed to have.  Some people left, including the Post reporter.

A few minutes later we decided to have the second CAG community meeting of the day. Coincidentally there were some incomplete points on the agenda from our previous meeting so we were able to pick those up and make good progress.

Reminder: Community Meeting, Thurs 2 June

A quick reminder that there will be a Carriageworks Community Meeting on Thursday 2nd June, 6:30pm. The venue is confirmed as the Salvation Army on Ashley Road (TLG Hall on the 1st Floor, there is lift access).

Despite a serious injury that he recently incurred Marc Pennick of Fifth Capital is due to be there to give us an update on plans for the site and who’s going to be doing what and when.

See you next week and in the meantime enjoy the bank holiday.

Lori, Julian and the Liaison Group

Carriageworks May 2016 Update

A long post below so here’s a summary:

  • Still waiting for Fifth Capital to sign S106 agreement.  They in turn are waiting for the land owner, Comer Homes, to approve. Planning permission isn’t finalised until S106 is signed.
  • Fifth Capital still trying to agree price with builders. Demolition will be carried out before main build contract is let.
  • Fifth Capital likely to keep ownership of commercial ground floor space.
  • Community meeting on 2 June.

The Full Explanation

In April last year Bristol City planning committee told the Carriageworks developer to go away and improve their planning application. Up until that point CAG had had a rather hostile relationship with the developer, Fifth Capital. But afterwards we managed to sit down together and find out what we each wanted to achieve. Over the following months there were many changes to the scheme. By October, when it went back to the planners, we felt that it was good enough to secure our support albeit with reservations especially about the amount of affordable housing.

So what’s been happening since? Everyone wants to see something happening to the dereliction on the site. But before that can begin many other things have to happen:

  1. The planning permission has to be formalised by the signing of the S.106 Agreement. This is a legal document mainly, but not exclusively, concerned with contributions to affordable housing. The main signatories are the Council and Fifth Capital, but the landowner also has to sign and that’s our old friends Comer Homes. They are dragging their feet, failing to respond and because of that everything else is getting held up. We’re told that Comer just needs to agree the last details of wording and it can then be signed. We wait, and we wait.
  2. Once the S.106 agreement is signed Fifth Capital are able to exercise their legal option to buy the site. Comer are then out of the picture and Fifth Capital can get on with the rest of the development process. Once the S.106 is signed the developer has two years to start on site.
  3. Since last October Fifth Capital has been trying to agree a price with its builders for carrying out the work on site. The site has lots of risks, mainly to do with demolition of Westmoreland House and protecting the listed Carriageworks building. In fact the Carriageworks building is so dangerous that no one can even go inside to work out what needs to be done.
  4. When it comes to building works, higher risk means higher price. Conversely, the lower the risk, the lower the price. Fifth Capital are therefore going to split the contract so that demolition and shoring-up take place in a separate contract. That will allow surveyors and the like to get into the Carriageworks to figure out what needs to be done. That will reduce the risks for the builders and allow them to give Fifth Capital a final (and lower) price.
  5. Before any demolition work begins the travellers currently living on the site will relocate. Safety and peacefulness is in everyone’s interest.
  6. With Westmoreland House demolished, the Carriageworks shored up and the price with the builders agreed, the building works can begin.
  7. Fifth Capital are talking to Housing Associations regarding the long term management of the residential units.
  8. We’ve had discussions with Fifth Capital about the ground floor units. Currently they are thinking of retaining ownership of the units, having a management company oversee the lettings and a separate company run the market. They agree that the company should have local input from other businesses and residents in the area.

But at the moment everything hangs on Comer. Heard that one before?

With all the delays there are inevitable questions, and they usually begin “what if ….?” What if Comer Homes don’t sign the agreement, what if Fifth Capital can’t agree a price with the builders, what if Fifth Capital sell the site, what if there’s no Housing Association, what if the ground floor units aren’t let, and so on.

CAG has stayed in regular contact with Marc Pennick of Fifth Capital, meeting on a number of occasions to discuss many issues. He remains upbeat and is confident that Comer will sign and that the scheme will be built by him. But we nevertheless thought it worth mulling the following questions:

What if Comer or Fifth Capital doesn’t sign the S.106 Agreement?

The S.106 Agreement creates the legal agreement between the Council, the landowner and the developer that secures the affordable housing units. Until it is signed there is no planning permission in place, just a recommendation from the Planning Committee to grant permission. If the S.106 does not get signed the planners will have to take a report back to the Planning Committee. The Committee then has two options: 1) Decide that there is a different way of securing the affordable housing or 2) decide that the S.106 will not be signed and that the affordable housing will not therefore be secured. If the latter, the Committee would then have to consider whether the permission should go ahead without any affordable housing or whether planning permission should now be refused.

What if a build price can’t be agreed?

It will be an expensive site to develop (something like £20m). As with all development there’s an equation:

Value of the finished development MINUS Cost of land & building works = Profit

If the cost is too high then the profit goes down and eventually it becomes uneconomic to build. The developer then has three options: 1) Change the scheme so that the cost is lower and/or the value is higher 2) Sell the site to someone else and let them figure it out 3) Do nothing and sit on the site until values go up and/or costs go down. Developers will normally aim at a profit of 20% of the development value – this is what they make in return for their effort and financial risk. Last September Fifth Capital said they were aiming at 17%.

What if Fifth Capital sell the site before building?

This is always a possibility. Fifth Capital might be able to sell their option on the site – that depends on the legal agreement with Comer. But it would be more likely that Fifth Capital would wait until they’ve signed the S106 agreement and purchased the site before selling it on; that way they’ll maximise the value. If they do sell it there will be a new developer to deal with. That developer may try to change the planning permission in order to increase the value of the development and their profit. This is something we’d need to be alert to.

Is this likely to happen? Marc has consistently said he intends to build out the scheme so we don’t think it is likely. But you never know.

What happens if nothing happens?

In theory we could go back to compulsory purchase. This was previously on the cards because Comer owned the site but was making insufficient progress redeveloping it. Knightstone were lined up to back the compulsory purchase order (CPO) but that process ground to a halt when Fifth Capital emerged. If Comer again block the scheme or if another owner just land-banks the site then the CPO process could be restarted. The Council would have to demonstrate that the owners are unable or unwilling to develop the site themselves and they’d also have to find a new development partner. Difficult, but not impossible.

What if there’s no Housing Association or tenants for the ground floor?

Essentially this means there would be no one who wants to buy the scheme. In this market, that’s unlikely. If it were the case it would suggest the price is too high. The price could be lowered but eventually it would get to the point of being uneconomic to build (see above). If there was no Housing Association it would mean there would be no organisation willing to take on ownership and management of the affordable units – but the developer would still have to build them as it’s a condition of the planning permission. If there were no tenants for the ground floor it suggest a need to revisit the rents and/or terms of occupation. Space generally finds occupiers if the price is right.

Community Meeting in June

We haven’t met since December but whether or not there’s real progress we felt we needed to see you all again! So: Thursday 2nd June, 6:30pm, venue to be confirmed. Marc Pennick of Fifth Capital will be there to tell you what’s happening and, we hope, confirm that Comer is no longer the owner and that building works will be starting soon. Cross your fingers.

See you then

Lori, Julian and the Liaison Group

February update

In case you were wondering, we haven’t disappeared!

Since December we’ve been liaising with the developer, Fifth Capital, as they line everything up to start development.  They’re focusing on completion of the S.106 agreement with the Council, transfer of site ownership and appointment of contractors.  There’s nothing more specific that we can really add, but as soon as we know more we’ll let you know.