Have the wheels fallen off the Carriageworks proposals?

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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.carriageworks-clown

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.

Proposed ground floor

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.

schistostega

Luminous moss (or Goblin’s Gold) growing on a tunnel wall (not in the Carriageworks)

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”.

Alternative developer? Key points from the Community Meeting

There is growing concern about the lack of visible action towards development on the Carriageworks site.  This has rekindled some of the dialogue within the community about the current plans for development.  If these seem too difficult to deliver, what about thinking about alternative approaches and about the actions we can take to move the development forward.

The community want to see the site developed in line with the CAG Community Vision, through whatever means/whichever developer.  There is concern that even though the Section 106 agreement was signed in June, the site is still owned by the Comers through their company Opecprime.

ACTION:  CAG, through the Liaison Group, was delegated to seek a meeting with the Comers to discuss unsticking the process.

There was a discussion about the price of the site.  If the site has to be Compulsorily Purchased (CPO), then the price would be market value.  If, however, a different arrangement not involving the Council was reached with the current owners, then there could be more latitude in the agreement of the price.

Given the seeming stalemate, the meeting would like to see the CPO process started up again.  This has to be led by Bristol City Council.  It is complicated by the fact that Fifth Capital have Planning Permission but ownership is still with Opecprime.

The meeting talked about setting up a development consortium to deliver community led plans for the site.  If this is the case and a consortium developed viable plans for the site, then it could become the “preferred developer”.  We have been advised that this would avoid the need for a full procurement process.  It would be up to the consortium to approach the Council to seek assistance to progress this idea.

ACTION:  BCC was asked to look into restarting the CPO process.

For a CPO to be successful, there needs to be a viable scheme.  Community members expressed considerable enthusiasm for the idea of a consortium to work up a scheme that would meet the Community Vision for the site, and be viable in terms of a CPO.   It was suggested a masterplan could form the basis for development being brought forward in phases and developed or sold to different developers.  Some people at the meeting wanted to be involved.  There was a discussion about what this means.  If we want this to move forward, consortium members have to be able to contribute real resources towards the design, finance and delivery of each part of the site.  Prue collected the names of people who are interested in setting up a development consortium.

The meeting agreed that we don’t need a “development brief” because this is captured by the Community Vision and the subsequent consultations about scheme design – carried out by Knightstone and Fifth Capital.  There has been a lot of discussion about what people want on the site.  What people want now is action!

ACTION:  CAG will convene a meeting in January for people who can contribute to a development consortium.

ACTION:  Can/will BCC Planning waive the fees for a planning application from a community led consortium?  This will be explored.

Carriageworks building:   There is a lot of concern about the continuing deterioration of the Carriageworks building.  Can notices be served on the owners for urgent works? The problem with this is that if the owner does not carry ouit the repair notice works Bristol City Council would have to do the works and pay the upfront costs, and then try to reclaim them.  While there is a pot of money for the Carriageworks, this is being held in case of the need for a site acquisition.

ACTION: CAG Liaison Group to explore with BCC how this money might be used (in the most creative ways!) so that we get the outcome we want – development of the site in line with the Community Vision – and protect the fabric of the Carriageworks building through this process.

ACTION:  If a development consortium is set up, this should explore grant funding for the historic building

ACTION:  BCC to establish the “curtilage” of the Listed Building.  This is the area around the listed building (Carriageworks) that is covered by the Listing.  It’s a technical issue but an important one that could help to bring in more resource for the development of the site.

Risks of the site:  Developing the site is complicated and there are many risks, including unknown ones.  For example…  Is the land contaminated? Are there issues about the water table? How unstable, or downright dangerous, are the buildings? And what does all this mean for the costs of redevelopment? There’s not an action arising from this point, but it’s worth bearing in mind.  Not knowing the risks makes it very difficult to establish the costs of redevelopment.  This is something that has to be addressed in drawing up alternative plans.

Ideas and moving forward:  At the end of the meeting, Lori (Chair) asked everyone to send their thoughts, ideas, intentions etc. to CAG via the comments section below (or click the speech bubble top right) or email  ideas@carriageworks.org.uk or Facebook

We look forward to hearing from you.

Lori Streich, Chair, Carriageworks Action Group