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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or come to the community meeting (see below).
The aim is to finalise and complete the cultural plan by the end of March.
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).
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.
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).
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
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.
We are writing in response to the alterations submitted by PG Group on 11 May 2021 to the proposals for Blocks E & F at the Carriageworks site.
On 5 March 2021 we lodged an objection to the original application. In summary our objections were:
The design suggests that natural lighting to the residential units is very limited. A daylight assessment has not been provided to give any reassurance on this matter
The mix of unit size is adding more small units and removing larger units, thus consolidating a narrow mix across the site as a whole
Material colours are depressing
Lack of natural surveillance in the sunken courtyard. Secure by design principles should be applied
Loss of natural light and increased overlooking of neighbouring properties will reduce their amenity
Increased height and depth of the building is not justified by any commensurate increase in design quality or mix of unit size
Lack of any clarity on unit tenure
Loss of green space
Lack of a swept path analysis to show that revised parking layout is workable
Contradictions within the application which says there will both be and will not be a green roof. The lack of PV panels is excused by reference to a green roof, but the design shows a flat hard surfaced roof.
PG’s alterations propose the following:
Reconfiguration of internal layouts, mainly to move bicycle store indoors with the loss of one flat
Changes to configuration of windows
Grey brick replaced with red and buff brick
There is no written explanation to support the submitted drawings or to explain how the grounds for objection submitted by many parties (including the Crime Reduction Unit, the Conservation Advisory Panel, Montpelier Conservation Group, Bristol Civic Society and many local residents) are being addressed.
The proposed alterations seem to address our concern about the depressing colour of the building and there is a slight change in unit size mix with a preference to two bed units as opposed to one bed, but our other grounds for objection are not addressed and therefore stand.
The proposed alterations also show that the new 42 space bicycle store will now be accessed through two sets of doors (external double door of c.1.2m and internal door of c.0.7m width) with a c.1.5m wide joining corridor. This does not comply with good design standards (e.g. London Cycling Design Standards) and will be very awkward to use, if not impossible for users with non-standard sized bicycles.
Unless the above concerns are addressed we believe that this application should be refused planning permission.
Despite numerous and widespread objections, planning permission was granted in September 2021. The main reason appears to be Bristol failing to meet its housing targets which means that all other policy considerations are of insufficient importance to justify refusing permission.
The changes are not accompanied by any written explanation or justification, so the following is based on our own analysis.
Changes Proposed to February 2021 application
Lower Ground Floor:
42 space cycle store moved to upper ground floor. Reconfiguration of service core. Minor changes to the sizes of the seven flats. Changes to windows in flat EB-02.
Upper Ground Floor:
Instead of 5 x 1 bed and 1 x 2 bed flats, there are now 3 x 1 bed and 2 x 2 bed flats. Changes to size of flats. Bike storage is now inside the building – through two doors. Reconfiguration of service core. Minor changes to size of flats.
First, Second and Thrid Floors:
Minor changes to size of flats. Changes to configuration of windows including orial windows on northern facade replaced with standard window.
New tiled mansard roof over service core. Cast stone copings to edges.
Grey brick replaced with red brick and buff brick. Aluminium coping replaced with cast stone. Changes to configuration and size of some windows. Slight reduction in roof height although this isn’t consistent between drawings. Juliet balconies removed on north elevation and orial windows replaced with standard.
Concerns not addressed:
While the grey bricks have now gone many of the other concerns about the proposals that we and others raised, including at last February’s community meeting, remain unaddressed. These include the low levels of natural light in lower ground and ground floor flats, the lack of natural surveillance in the sunken courtyard, impact on amenity on neighbours, and inconsistencies regarding green roof or PVs. Click here to see our full objection on the Council’s website.
The Carriageworks Action Group has today submitted an objection to the planning application to build 28 1 and 2 bedroom flats on the site currently proposed for eight 3 and 4 bedroom houses. This hasn’t been an easy objection to make as we support the broad priniciple of more social and affordable housing on the site. However, the quality of the proposals is so far below acceptable standards we feel we have to object. The content of the objection is below.
Objection to 21-00577-F
In December 2011 the Carriageworks Action Group produced its Community Vision for the future of the Carriageworks. This built on extensive public debate and consultation and was later adopted by Bristol City Council. Excerpts from the Community Vision that are relevant to this application are as follows:
“We want to see a true mix of housing types for sale and for rent including private and social housing, both low and high cost; a range of sizes should be provided to suit a mix of needs, from single people to families“.
“We want the new development to be designed to a high quality with good environmental standards. We want to see full use being made of roofs to provide opportunities for biodiversity and the creation of gardens, perhaps for growing food“.
The statement of community involvement that has been submitted by PG Group as part of the application rightly notes that CAG and others in the community have always wanted more social and affordable housing on the site than provided for in the approved 2015 scheme. When PG Group suggested, confidentially, to members of the Liaison Group* that this could be achieved by changing blocks E and F, in principle support was voiced.
On 14th December 2020 Liaison Group members were sent some plans for changes to Blocks E and F. We had substantial concerns, not least unit sizes below the national standards, and sent these to PG Group on 22 December. There was no further contact until after the planning application was submitted at the end of January. Neither did PG Group do anything to consult more widely with the local community about their proposed application.
CAG held a community meeting, via Zoom and attended by 18 people from CAG, on 25 February to discuss the application. PG’s architect presented the proposals and two other members of the PG team were able to provide answers to some of the questions posed.
Our objections to the proposals have, at their root, the divergence from the Community Vision in terms of unit size, occupation types and quality. While we remain committed to seeing more social and affordable units on the site this planning application fails on so many levels that we cannot support it. In particular:
The quality of residential space, in particular natural lighting of the interior and solar gain, is potentially below acceptable standards especially on the ground and lower ground floors. This is due to the lower ground levels, the presence of retaining walls and the height of the surrounding buildings. This will not only have an impact on the health of residents but will also put increased dependence upon artificial lighting and heating. A daylight assessment in accordance with BRE guidelines should be submitted
The proposals further consolidate a narrow mix of unit size on the site with the addition of more one bedroom units and the removal of larger units
The choice of external finish and material colours is depressing and more fitting to brutalist housing development in the Eastern Bloc. A more appropriate solution should be found that fits better with the local context
The lack of natural surveillance in the sunken courtyard gives us concerns about community safety. The advice of secure by design specialists should be sought
The increased height, the removal of the gap between Blocks E and F, the changed roof configuration, the placement of windows (in habitable rooms and corridors) and the materials used lead us to believe that there will be an increased impact on the amenity of neighbouring residential properties especially through the loss of natural light and overlooking. A daylight assessment and shadow path should be submitted along with sections showing the proposed building in the context of properties on the neighbouring streets
The impact of the increased height and depth of the building, compared to the permissioned Blocks E and F, is not justified by any benefit to the quality of design and the mix of unit size as aspired to by the Community Vision
Conflicting descriptions of the tenure mix have been provided. Most recently, at the February community meeting, we have even been told that the mix is unknown. It is impossible to support this application without knowing whether the scheme is for social rent, affordable rent or shared ownership occupiers
During site construction there has been almost constant Sunday working and working outside of permitted hours Mon-Sat, to the great detriment of local residents. If, as and when planning permission is granted there should be an absolute condition to prevent out of hours and Sunday working
The loss of green space, replaced in part by a dark subterranean courtyard
The amended parking layout needs a swept path analysis to demonstrate it is workable
The Energy and Sustainability Study states that PV panels cannot be installed because “the roof space for Block E is proposed to accommodate a green roof in the interest of biodiversity” (page 21). However, no green roof appears in the planning application drawings. There should either be PVs or a green roof.
In conclusion, the proposed development is unacceptable and would provide housing units that are unliveable. To refer back to a quote from a member of the planning committee when the first 2015 application was submitted: “Only its mother could love this”. Since 2015 we have come a long way but we are in danger of the scheme sliding backwards little by little, justified by challenging circumstances and the smoke and mirrors of viability. A mixture of unit sizes and occupation along with high quality design and environments is essential for this development to be a success. As they stand the fundamentals of this proposal are sub-standard and no amount of change to the exterior design will compensate. This is an important gateway site with a facade of historical importance both locally and nationally. From a potential silk purse PG have made a sow’s ear. These proposals should be referred back for improvement.
* The CAG Liaison Group comprises six people involved in CAG who engage at a detailed level with the developer and the Council to champion the Community Vision. They report back to the broader CAG community.
Andrew McCarthy from Stride Treglown (the project architects) summarised the new planning application and the reasoning behind them:
Site levels are 3m lower than those cited in the original planning application. So an extra storey of height
Review of best type of housing on site – preference for more social / affordable flats rather than private 4 bed houses
New block will have a footprint largely the same as the previous scheme although courtyard is slightly smaller due to extended frontage
Access is unchanged and parking is reconfigured
New lower level courtyard
Tried to keep same amount of green space and trees
Doors of flats open onto the courtyard to keep an active frontage
Orientation of rooms and windows to reduce overlooking of neighbours
Contrasting tone in the brickwork to keep sense of two parts to the block and to better address the change in window and door orientation between the different storeys.
Overall height of south wing is slightly lower than currently proposed houses
Units will be managed by Sovereign Housing Association.
Would like to see long sections to better understand how it relates to neighbouring properties outside the site
Concern about quality of living accommodation on ground and lower ground floors given the proximity of retaining walls and the lack of natural daylight. Do they meet minimum light standards? Hard to visualise what the lower ground floor flats will be like. They do not feel like attractive places to live. Just because they are affordable does not justify them being dark. Would not want to live there.
The overall density of development on the site will be too high with these additional units
What is the tenure mix?
Will there be a management fee on top of the rent?
Concern re security in the sunken courtyard due to lack natural surveillance. Need input from secure by design people
No playspace if there are children living on the site
If you start having children will you have to move out?
There is logic for contrasting brick colours, but a grey box is a cold brutalist style that does not fit well with Godwin. It will make neighbouring properties even darker than they currently are. Is there potential for a green wall? Different coloured brick? Tiles instead of brick?
Concerns about overlooking e.g. from corridor windows. Need obscured glazing
Bathrooms with external walls should have windows
Could lower and upper ground floors be combined to make duplex apartments – upper level would benefit from more light (although pointed out that even upper ground floor flats look directly at retaining walls at the rear)
There is demand for family housing in the area. Why can’t they be social/affordable family houses?
Does the parking layout work? There needs to be a swept path analysis
How bill bicycles be brought in?
Is the motivation the ground levels or making more profit?
What is the timeline
Response to comments from PG team
Some tones of grey can be quite warm, but nothing yet decided. Key thing is to have a contrasting colour.
Have to avoid cladding with fire risks
The flats will have a mix of affordable tenures but no decision as yet on the exact mix
Density is changing from 8 x 4 bed houses (up to 32 people) to 8 x 2 bed and 20 x 1 bed. This is not a significant increase
All meetings with CAG since 2017 have requested more social housing – PG will now deliver on that
Don’t know answer re management fees – that will be up to Sovereign
Bicycles will come in from the central courtyard down shallow steps with a bike ramp
Target will be to complete Block E at the same time as the rest of the scheme, so Q3 or Q4 in 2022
Other discussion regarding the proposals
Family housing was promoted by SPD10 (2006). Since then demand has changed, in part because of the bedroom tax (i.e. higher demand for smaller flats). BCC can help get more data on current housing need based on bidding patterns in the area
Concerns about the lack of parking. This is Bristol City Council policy for last eight years. Has always been contentious but is not something we (CAG) can resolve. Best for residents to lobby local councillors on this issue
How to apply for affordable housing? Have to apply via Bristol City Council
Is the Carriageworks frontage safe given the high winds of late? A: It is very secure – a lot of concrete holding it down and the steel frame now bolts onto the facade from the rear. Completion of the steel frame in 3-4 weeks time will enable the structural scaffolding to be removed and be replaced with access scaffolding to allow the large amount of cleaning and restoration to start.