Notes of Carriageworks Community Meeting

Wednesday 2nd February 2022 at Unitarian Meeting Hall, Brunswick Sq

Present: Jo Plimmer (BCC Arts Team), Cllr Jude English, Jon Newey (Docklands), Lori Streich (CAG Chair), Cath (resident), Janine (Liaison Group), Jawahar (Liaison Group), Simon (Liaison Group), Prue (Liaison Group), Jo (resident), Karen (resident), Harvey (resident), David (resident), Julian (CAG Facilitator).

Jenny Gee from PG sent apologies.

Cultural Plan

Having a Cultural Plan for the site is a condition of the planning permission.  It helps address concerns that a) the ground floor units could become dead space and ultimately revert to residential use and b) that the Carriageworks would turn its back (inadvertently) on St Pauls and become an island of gentrification. It is a unique document – few if any other examples of its kind.

Some years ago there was a lot of work on an outline Cultural Plan which has had some influence on the current document.

The Cultural Plan will be ‘owned’ by PG Group, the developer and owner of the site, and their successors.

The plan has four parts. The overarching document sets out the vision and objectives and also summarises the culture of the area. The Management Ethos Plan sets out the broad principles that will apply to management of the site.  The Arts Plan sets out the strategy for public art on the site.  The Community Benefits Plan sets out the opportunities for the local community to benefit from the Carriageworks in coming years.

The Cultural Plan Framework, submitted and approved in 2018, had a budget of £226,000 (cash and in-kind). In the current Cultural Plan document PG have allocated a budget of £80,000 to public art.  Other items, including improvements to the market square to improve services for traders and potential use of a business unit, have not had a value attributed.

Community Benefits

The purpose of the evening’s discussion was to gather ideas and thoughts on the potential community benefits from the Carriageworks development.

There are a number of opportunities including the market square, the market itself, a commercial unit potentially available for 3 years, apprenticeships with businesses, engagement with the local area etc.

Points made

  • The market will have the potential to provide incubation space for new businesses
  • There is a vibrant market for retail units on Stokes Croft. There is quite a high level of turnover and new businesses arriving
  • The public have become accustomed to and want small startup independent traders (e.g. as seen at sites by the Harbour)
  • There is and will be support for businesses from WECA and the Council in coming years.
  • PG have made a commitment, through the Cultural Plan, to target “local independent businesses that will bring a vibrant use to the site”. However, there is a limit to how much the business occupiers can be controlled. Planning powers are restricted. Even the site owner would be unable to control business tenants’ companies being sold with resulting changes to ownership, independence and brands
  • Carriageworks residents will be really important for defining what should and shouldn’t be done
  • Securing community benefit will be hard work. Risk that PG, as a property developer, will take the path of least risk and least resistance.

Q&A

The answers below were contributed by everyone as part of the general discussion

Q: Could rents for businesses should be subsidised?  A: This is not proposed by PG. Also, subsidising rents can be problematic as it is hard to know if the benefit is reaching those who most need it, or if it is simply increasing healthy profit margins for the business tenant. Also makes it harder for businesses to move on to units at market value. Can be better to focus on more tangible support and benefits.

Q: How will the market square be managed? A: The market square will be managed by BUOY Events, a Bristol based company that already manages the Harbourside market and other bespoke events. If we can identify organisations that would be interested in using the space that would be helpful. Agreed that direct conversation with BUOY would be really helpful. Events and non-market activities could make money and end up being cost neutral for the operator.

Q: Is there potential for market traders to get first refusal on available business units?  A: There is nothing formal proposed but it is likely that the site owners / managers would naturally look to businesses they already know (e.g. who are trading on market stalls) when looking for tenants of any vacant business units.

Q: Can some of rent from the units go towards funding the cultural plan?  A: Very unlikely that PG would agree to this. It would make management of the tenancies and the plan much more complicated and reduce the value of the investment. Could also turn into a levy on top of the business rents which could reduce demand for the units. It’s hard to make these businesses work anyway without adding to the pressure. A lot of the new developments in the area have ground floor commercial units – don’t want to make it harder for PG to attract tenants to the Carriageworks when there will be competing sites available.

Q. Will (some of) the market stalls have any prioritisation for local producers? A. Good point – should be achievable. A risk that without any prioritisation it will become a posh market for people who trade all over the place. Docklands prioritise suppliers within St Pauls and Dove St flats. Could be based on postcodes in the local area that have higher levels of disadvantage. Would need to be agreed with BUOY Events, the market operator.

Q. Could some market stalls be reserved for tiny operators at reduced cost for e.g. six months? A. Subsidy is not necessarily the solution. More about reaching potential traders in the right parts of the local area.

Q. Will there be apprenticeships e.g. at Bristol Loaf? A. Apprenticeships need to be with employers that young people are attracted to. Will a bakery appeal? Apprenticeships in creative industries is a possibility. PG needs to promote the apprenticeship idea and opportunity to incoming tenants. This would increase the social value of the development and could even form part of the public art package.

Q. If apprenticeships don’t work, could a lower level of opportunities be provided e.g. work experience, work with schools etc.?  A. In practice anything with school age children can be very difficult to deliver so not easy to write into any agreements with tenants. But we can encourage it and point to the organisations that can help.

Business Unit

Q. What proposals exist for the potential business unit? Don’t want to lose the opportunity but do want to get a good use/occupier.  A. It will need to be properly run, it will need staffing, are there organisations ready to step in and make something happen? Reference to the monthly Caribbean market at Kuumba with amazing creative people, half of whom are young. Could the business unit be a shopfront for local creative people as, for example, existed at Hamilton House?  However, this was managed by someone (gets back to the need for a responsible organisation and staffing). Could it be a move on unit for successful market stalls to grow their business?  Best solution would be for PG to issue a brief for the unit (setting out the physical spec, T&C of occupation and community benefit objectives) and ask for expressions of interest from local organisations. That will be the clearest way of finding genuine and viable interest. If no one comes forward then unit can be marketed to business occupiers – but rental income could be directed to community benefit in other forms.

Rising Arts Agency is a young people arts org, very talented, all under 25, very professional. They have a way of engaging with young people who need the opportunities to take them into the professional field. Have been based at Spike Island. Looking for commissions and for a new base. Having them at the Carriageworks in the business unit would create a huge social investment and impact.

Public Art Plan

PG are proposing four parts of the buildings for murals. They need planning permission and want our support.

Points made

  • Any public artist should work with young people
  • Carriageworks has a shop unit and a £80k arts budget.  Could just ask for something radical, different, that talks about the issues in Bristol. Maybe it’s murals but they have to mean something. Murals come and go. As a package the Rising Arts idea could be amazing – it’s the sort of thing that would win prizes
  • Inky has been in touch. Carriageworks would be a wonderful site for this kind of thing; it would be transformative. He would provide a big name. Would not exclude work and opportunities for young people
  • Bristol City Council arts team can make suggestions and encourage the developer to think widely. Murals and art commission are not the only possibility and often don’t make the most of the opportunity. Conversations with developers invariably start with a conversation about a statue – it’s the arts team’s role to get them to think more widely. This includes taking the local temperature
  • The Cultural Plan is broader than public art and murals.  We need to drive for something more
  • Art is only good until it is tagged, and then you have to do something about it.  There are better ways of spending £80k than on murals.  Giving it to Rising Arts to develop art over x years would be better than spending it on murals
  • Could public art makes the open spaces on the site more attractive – use it to improve the environment
  • What is the public art brief?  It must be written by someone who knows what they’re doing and not just focus on murals
  • The process needs to be engaging
  • We should not just support the easiest and quickest option. There needs to be a proper brief
  • Don’t be prescriptive as to what the artist should do – they will bring different eyes and can astound
  • There should be something to reflect Godwin – include this in the artist’s brief.

At the end of the discussion, and in the interests of clarity given that PG have asked for support, we voted on two approaches:

1: Support for PG to write a brief and commission murals on the walls: 1 vote

2. Support for PG to work with BCC and CAG on a brief for public art commissions that have real community benefit and may or may not include murals: 10 votes

CAG’s role is coming to an end. Question is; when CAG disappears is there an appetite for another group to continue overseeing the site.

CAG will be ending – what next?

If something is to take CAG’s place then people’s time has to be rewarded. We’ve given a huge amount over 11-20 years.

Commendations for the work of CAG – a huge achievement.  PG have done well, CAG has done well. CAG should finish, have a party and let other people in the community pick it up.

People moving in should have a say in the future. We have a role in handover. Most important thing is to have a party!

Is part of the brief for whoever takes on the business unit to become the beginning of what is next and to engage with the community?

There are community groups popping up all over the city. CAG could relay 10 lessons it has learned.

The community input and involvement over the last 20 years could be recorded in the public art.

AOB

Q: Will it be gated community? A: Proposal for 11pm to 6am locked gates.  That is different to a gated community.  Young mothers with kids in the social housing – they are justified in wanting some security.  The site would otherwise be at risk of ASB nightmares.

New Bristol Brewery coming to Carriageworks

According to notices on the Carriageworks site and an article in the Bristol Post, New Bristol Brewery is coming to the Carriageworks.

Owned and operated by husband and wife team, Noel and Maria James, New Bristol Brewery is “a small, but daring, brewery” that makes “unfined, naturally conditioned, tasty craft beers”. They say that “New Bristol Brewery is our attempt to bring people together over great beer”.

New Bristol Brewery is based on Wilson St in St Pauls, where they have a tap room. They have submitted an application for a premises licence for 0830 to 2330 Mon to Friday.

New Bristol Brewery will occupy one of the units fronting onto Stokes Croft.

Community Meeting – Wed 2nd Feb, 6:30 – CONFIRMED

A quick note to confirm that the Community Meeting will be going ahead as planned at the Unitarian Meeting Hall, Brunswick Square, BS2 on Wednesday (2nd Feb) 6:30 to 8:30pm.

On the agenda will be the emerging Carriageworks Cultural Plan. You can download a PDF copy from this link. We’ll be discussing the opportunities it could create for local communities, especially those that are more disadvantaged. We’ll also be discussing the proposals for public art at the site.

While we’re together it will be an opportunity to explore ideas about how local communities will engage with the Carriageworks site in future years. CAG’s role will come to an end when the development is finished but obviously the relationship with local residents and communities will continue. How should that take place?

We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday.

Best wishes

Lori and the CAG Liaison Group

PS  If you are or will soon be a new resident at the Carriageworks we’d love to meet and welcome you – do come along!

Draft Cultural Plan released

Since November last year we’ve been able to work with PG Group on the Cultural Plan for the Carriageworks. This will be discussed at next week’s community meeting so, in advance of that, you can download the current draft plan via this link.

With its business units and market square the Carriageworks offers great potential for residents, local businesses and the local economy. But it will be important to ensure that this potential is available to everyone in the area and does not inadvertently exclude those who already experience exclusion from the socio-economic mainstream. We can do this by consciously creating and promoting opportunities to those people in the local community who can most benefit from them. 

We would particularly like to hear about real opportunities to link the Carriageworks to the local community and make sure the benefits really do reach those who might otherwise be excluded.

Bristol Loaf at Carriageworks?

PG Group have been looking for tenants for the business units, and targeting local independents which will add to the culture and vibrancy of the local area. Bristol Loaf are an established bakery and cafe currently trading in Redfield, Bedminster and at the Bristol Beacon. To quote from their website: “We are an independent company who handcraft delicious, certified organic breads as well as savouries, pastries and cakes. We use only the highest quality, organic ingredients sourced as locally and ethically as possible.” Bristol Loaf want to come to the Carriageworks but need more space than any of the individual business units offer. PG have therefore submitted a planning application to merge four of the units facing the market square into one unit for Bristol Loaf. 

Bristol Loaf’s existing cafe in Bedminster

The CAG Liaison Group has considered the application and on balance supports it as it will draw visitors into the site, helping provide custom for other traders and the market and secure the community access sought by the original Carriageworks Vision. It’s also good to see a Bristol company taking the space and we hope it will create not just a place to find great food but also good jobs and opportunities for local people.

You can find details of the planning application to merge the units on the Council’s website.  Do make your own comments to the planners, whether you support or oppose the proposal.

If the planning application is successful PG hope that Bristol Loaf can open at the Carriageworks by May.

Community Meeting about the Cultural Plan – 2 Feb

Since November we’ve been able to make progress on the Cultural Plan with PG Group, the developer of the Carriageworks. We hope to release a draft in the next week or so (we’ll post again when we do).

The Cultural Plan takes the 2011 Community Vision as its starting point and then provides more detail for the site management ethos plan, the arts plan and the community benefits plan.  The overarching objectives are mostly drawn from the community vision. Some parts of the plan give clarity as to what and how the site will be managed.  In other parts it sets out aspirations and opportunities.

Something that we are keen to promote is ensuring that the Carriageworks brings benefits for all parts of the local community. With its business units and market square the site offers great potential for residents, local businesses and the local economy. But it will be important to ensure that this potential is available to everyone in the area and does not inadvertently exclude those who already experience exclusion from the socio-economic mainstream. It can do this by consciously creating and promoting opportunities to those people in the local community who can most benefit from them. In this way the Carriageworks site can play a full part in the local community and avoid becoming an isolated inward looking island with little relationship to its setting. 

Some aspects of the plan have still to be finalised, including the commissioning of public art and a potential business unit to underpin the cultural plan. To that end we want to talk to local organisations that can help inform the plan as we seek to make the best use of the opportunities available and get the best benefit for local communities. Email us at ideas@carriageworks.org.uk or come to the community meeting (see below).

The aim is to finalise and complete the cultural plan by the end of March. 

Community Meeting

To discuss the opportunities in the cultural plan and any other matters of interest or concern, we will be having a community meeting on Wednesday 2 February from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the Unitarian Meeting Hall on Brunswick Square.  If COVID takes off again then we will switch to Zoom (we’ll review things on Monday 31st and post here if anything changes).

We really hope that some of the new residents at the Carriageworks will come and join us.  If you’re able, please print a poster promoting the meeting (click for the PDF) and put it in your window.

The Carriageworks from outside, and inside

A couple of weeks ago we met with PG to talk about the Cultural Plan. While there we took a few snaps.

The Carriageworks, Stokes Croft
The restored facade of the Carriageworks
Westmorland House is no more
The improved street frontage of Stokes Croft
This will be the entrance to the site from opposite the top of Picton St. It’s a wider entrance than the plans sugested, which is great.
The view from the top of Picton St. The top floor, set back, is barely visible.
The market square, looking north towards the Picton St exit
The market square as you’ll see it when entering through the Carriageworks
Market Sq. Shops units will be on the ground floor to the right and opposite
The market square seen from the first floor, looking south east across St Pauls towards Barton Hill
One day this will be the view from someone’s living room
With a view straight up, and in from, Nine Tree Hill the new residents will hopefully remember to draw their bedroom curtains

Cultural Plan update

Some good news at last. We have managed to re-engage with the Carriageworks developer, PG Group, to discuss the cultural plan for the site. Re-engagement was as a result of a meeting hosted by Kuumba to discuss the impact of the Carriageworks development on their site next door, and which gave us the opportunity to talk about the cultural plan.

Since then a couple of meetings have taken place and more are planned. We then hope to hold a community meeting in mid January where we can say a lot more about how the site is going to be used, how it will be managed, and what the opportunities are for local community involvement and benefits especially relating to arts, culture and local enterprise.

In the meantime we recently came across an interesting innovation in town centre property called Platform. Backed by Shoosmiths LLP, the British Property Federation, Power to Change and others, it’s looking at how to rethink the approach to town and city centre property so that local enterprises can access property (often denied to them through all manner of obstacles) and really thrive. At a webinar (Click for webinar slides) Bywater Properties talked about their approach to asset ownership (page 24-28). Their sites in the UK’s big cities have occupiers guides and green leases that feel like they offer something to inform where we’re hoping Carriageworks will go.

Carriageworks – a community’s vision lost?

The redevelopment of the Carriageworks site is nearing completion. This marks a significant milestone for the surrounding communities which have been blighted by the derelict Westmorland House since the 1980s.

There were many times when our hopes were raised that redevelopment was imminent, but ultimately it was only in 2011, when local residents and the City Council worked together to create the Carriageworks Community Vision backed up by compulsory purchase powers, that real progress was made. A few years later in 2014 planning permission was granted, PG Group bought the site in 2017, demolition began in late 2018 and construction began in 2019. We expect full completion by early 2022.

This drawn out process has not been without its challenges but CAG has always tried to be pragmatic, acknowledging the realities and risks of property development while championing the Vision and the benefits sought by the local community. This has not been an easy line to maintain. We have at times been criticised for not pushing a harder line with the developer, and equally the developer has been frustrated by our questioning and campaigning for better quality. Ultimately this led PG Group to break off all communications with us after we formally objected to their proposals for changes to Block E, early in 2021.

We are now approaching the end game. Minor amendments to the planning permission are still being sought, but the built form is set and we know what the finished scheme will look like. But how will it actually be used? Will it deliver, as promised, real benefits and facilities for the local community or will it just deliver completed sales and investment opportunities.

The planning permission included a requirement for a cultural plan, a management plan and public art. The developer was obliged to liaise with the local community on these matters and some progress was made in 2017/18. But ultimately the developer ‘discharged’ their planning obligations by merely submitting a ‘plan to have a plan’ i.e. a document setting out how they would go about writing the cultural plan etc, but without going on to actually write it. Sadly the City Council planners let this through and, having given away their teeth, are now refusing to seek any further work from the developer, let alone evidence of how the outline budget of £156,000 is and will be used.

The lack of these documents is problematic. The Community Vision was clear that the site should include a through-route, and the principle of ‘no-gates’ was established. The planning application adhered to the vision and included a market place surrounded by commercial units. Quite how all of this would work day-to-day was to be explored and established by the cultural plan and the management plan. These plans were to be written in consultation with CAG and people living and working in the communities around the site. However, when it has come to producing the plans PG have for years repeatedly kicked the can down the road, always arguing that there are bigger and more immediate issues that demand their time. Now in late 2021, with PG refusing to even answer emails on the issue let alone respond to phone calls, we hear rumours that they do not intend to write the plans at all, instead passing the responsibility on to whoever buys the finished site as an investment. Given that the new owner could well be an investment company registered in a tax haven, our chances of a meaningful dialogue are remote to the say the least.

Our fear is that we will now see a trickle of changes that withdraw the once promised community benefits. Gates may be installed – justified by anti-social behaviour, the new residents’ fear of crime and high management costs. The market may be ‘piloted’ but ‘economic charges’ (i.e. high rents for market traders), the lack of passing trade (because it’s gated), courtyard noise complaints from new residents, and design flaws (which we have flagged up from the outset) may mean it is deemed unviable. And finally a convenient lack of demand for the commercial units around the market place could result in them being changed to residential flats. All because there was no strategy to make sure that these community benefits would have any chance of succeeding.

The Carriageworks development still has the opportunity to be an asset for the local community, providing much needed affordable start-up and small business space, an open space for markets and events, and a pedestrian route that avoids the congested Ashley Road corner. With the planners appearing to have given up on this vision it is down to our local politicians to flex their muscles and make sure we get what we were promised. Otherwise we will simply have some new facades, a few hundred extra residents, and maybe a chain coffee shop on Stokes Croft. That was not the Community Vision.

Please write to your local councillors to ask them to push for completion of the cultural plan, the management plan and the public art plan in full consultation with CAG and local residents.  Follow this link for template wording and the email addresses of the councillors for Central, Ashley and Cotham wards (the site is at the corner of all three).

References

2014 The original planning application and permission: 14/05930/F

2018 Application to approve details of cultural and public art plans: 18/00955/COND

2021 Application to change Block E from housing to flats: 21/00577/F

Long term management = success or failure of Carriageworks

The Carriageworks development will include a market square, accessed through the listed Carriageworks building and also from a lane opposite the top of Picton Street.  It’s there because of the 2012 Community Vision which stated “Creating new open and inclusive spaces on the site is important for many of us. This could be achieved by designing a new pedestrian route through the site connecting together public spaces that can contribute to a vibrant local culture; these public spaces might host activities such as a market and performances. Good design and management will need to be exercised”.  So that’s great.  But there’s a “but”.  And this is it: “But what will it be like in practice?”  The answer will be defined by one key word – ‘management’. 

On a recent trip to Sheffield to run a workshop on the design of the public realm we visited a newish development on Kelham Island. There are many similarities to the Carriageworks – a historic setting, an enclosed square surrounded by commercial units and four stories of residential above. But our guide, James Simpson from Sheffield University’s Dept of Landscape Architecture, told us that whenever he visits the square with his students it is empty. It is lifeless, soulless, unused and, if judged as a space meant for activity, failing. So why is this? We found many reasons:

1.The commercial units are not occupied by shops, cafes, crafts or community uses. Instead those that are occupied are used as offices.  So they are not accessible to the public and provide no interest to the passerby.  Neither do they provide a gradation between public space and private space.  A cafe with tables outside, or a shop with displays outside, invites browsing or interaction and provides activity around the edge of a square that in turn encourages other people to enter the square and linger.  Equally colonnades or simply awnings over shops can provide shelter and another form of gradation or transition from public to private space. Office windows do none of that – they just provide a hard barrier that effectively says “keep away”.  A square with no one in it can be an uncomfortable space, so is somewhere you avoid or pass quickly through. 

2.Other ground floor units are unoccupied.  Clearly retail uses struggle these days, but it is also highly likely that the rent levels make it unaffordable for small, local and startup businesses. In schemes like this letting agents will advise the developer on the market (maximum) rent. Upon completion the developer will probably want to sell the completed development to an investor and so to maximise the value they will want the best quality tenant in order to get the best yield on the rent.  In some cases, for example parts of Harbourside, this explains why you end up with units full of national brands instead of interesting local traders. But logic would suggest that if those brands don’t want to occupy the units you might lower the rent just to get alternative occupiers.  Not so fast.  If you have a unit empty you can offset your losses against tax.  But if you charge a reduced rent, you can not offset any losses.  So it can be financially better for you to set a high rent and then leave a unit empty, than have a less valuable local trader in occupation.  The loss of social value is therefore carried by the community, while the developer drives off with the financial profit.

3. The square provides nowhere to stop and linger.  There is no seating (the one bench in the top photo is probably for the exclusive use of the office behind it), there are no landscape features on which to perch, no steps to sit on and eat your lunch.  As a result it is merely a place to pass through on the way to some other destination.

4. The square is not managed for people. It, and probably the surrounding buildings, will be owned by an investment or management company.  The company will want to be as profitable as it can.  But people stopping in the square will add to costs: The square will need more cleaning, there might be issues with noise and managing people’s behaviour, and wear and tear will be greater.  Ultimately it might mean the need for full-time staff on site. So from the management company’s point of view, the less people stop in the square the better.  Seats, attractions, interesting things to look at are all a potential problem and cost.  So instead of people and activity we find signs prohibiting ball games, threatening CCTV and huge fines for incursions.

5. Does anyone live here? Some of the flats above have balconies, but there is little evidence of personalisation.  Imagine this building in Germany – the balconies would be overflowing with plants.  Clearly that isn’t quite in the British tradition, but the lack of it here might also reflect the proportion of buy-to-rent flats with occupants on 6 month tenancies and little incentive to create a longer term home. That cascades down to ground level, creating the sense of a rather soulless and barren development. Again, a focus on short term profitability results in long term success being overlooked.

So what does this mean for the Carriageworks? 

The Carriageworks planning permission commits the developer to work with the community and CAG on a cultural delivery plan.  Quite what this is is undefined, but we have always taken it to include the long term use and management of the site, especially the market square and the surrounding units.  To date, however, the developer has been extremely elusive to discuss this, always kicking it down the road to some future date when other more pressing issues have been dealt with.  Of late, requests to discuss it haven’t even received an acknowledgement. But this cultural plan is essential if the Sheffield experience is to be avoided.  Who is going to occupy the ground floor units, what rents do they hope to achieve, will they lower the rents if they prove too high or will they leave the units empty, how will space be managed so that there is activity around the edge and a gradual transition from public to private space, what will encourage people to linger in the market square, how will those activities be managed and supported to be successful?  All these questions and more need to be posed and answered, for without that discussion there is a huge risk that the Carriageworks will end up like the square in Sheffield: Lifeless, soulless, unused and, if judged as a space meant for activity, failing.  That is the opposite of the Community’s Vision.

Julian Mellor, CAG Facilitator