For over a year people living and working around Stokes Croft have expected an iminent start on the redevelopment of the Carriagaworks and Westmoreland House. While the Carriageworks Action Group hope that something will still happen, we are finding it increasingly hard to avoid the conclusion that the current development scheme is unlikely
to be built.
In October 2015 the City Council agreed to give Fifth Capital London planning permission to build 112 residential units and 1000sqm of non-residential units on the long derelict site. The permission was finalised in July 2016 and lasts for two years from that date. Fifth Capital are required to undertake a wide range of surveys before starting any work. They are also required to “consult and work with local stakeholders, including the Carriageworks Action Group“ on a number of issues including local employment and how the site will be managed.
CAG has been frustrated by the lack of progress with the scheme. To the best of its knowledge no surveys or site investigations have yet been undertaken. Neither have there been any recent updates from Fifth Capital; the last face-to-face meeting was in May 2016, the last phone conversation was in October and since then phone calls and messages have gone unanswered.
There are some understandable challenges facing Fifth Capital, not least the need to agree contract terms with a builder and many unquantified risks attached to the buildings which will only be resolved when surveys are undertaken. Furthermore, the site itself is still owned by Comer Homes. Fifth Capital have an option to buy the site subject to securing planning permission. It is not known when this option expires, but given that planning permission was obtained last July Fifth Capital seem to be struggling to complete the purchase.
Whether the lack of progress with buying the site and finding either a builder or a development partner means it is the end of the road for Fifth Capital is far from clear. But CAG is concerned that Fifth Capital might ultimately seek to exit the project.
Having said that, there might be a glimmer of light. Fifth Capital have instructed the Bristol
office of property consultants CBRE to help find a development partner. CBRE say that the process is going well and that there should be news in the second quarter of this year. We hope that this is true, but then we’ve also been here many times before. Is it really light at the end of the tunnel, or is it just the moss glowing on the wall?
From an early stage in CAG’s work to get the site redeveloped it has been agreed that there should be a dual-track approach. On the one hand working with any willing developer and on the other pursuing compulsory purchase (CPO) by the City Council. The CPO process was started in 2012 and Knightstone identified as the preferred developer in November 2013. But almost immediately Fifth Capital emerged with its option to buy the site and this made the Council understandably reluctant to further the CPO process. While CAG worked closely with Fifth Capital on its proposals, we all hoped the CPO wouldn’t be necessary. But now CAG believes that it is time to restart the CPO process so that swift action can be taken if, as and when the Fifth Capital scheme fails.
Bristol is in desperate need of more housing. This site will provide 112 units which, if properly managed by a housing association or ethical corporate landlord, will help meet some of the City’s needs. Ideally CAG would like to see a good mix of social, affordable and market units but this was not the case with the Fifth Capital scheme which only provided 10 affordable units.
Lori Streich, Chair of CAG, said: “We worked really hard with Marc Pennick of Fifth Capital to get a scheme which was acceptable to the community and viabile for the developer. If he can still pull something out of the bag that will be great. Equally CAG remains committed to working with any developer that will develop the site in line with the Community Vision. But if the private sector cannot step up to the mark then it must be for the City Council to take a leadership role and bring forward a compulsory purchase to enable the desperately needed end to this site’s long term dereliction”.