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

CAG objection to latest planning application

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.

Notes of the February ’21 Community Meeting

24 people took part in the meeting including local residents, members of the CAG Liaison Group, representatives of PG Group, Bristol City Council and others.

It was noted that this year marks the 10th birthday of CAG and probably 30 years of campaigning by the local community to get the Carriageworks site redeveloped.

The Proposals

(Details are available on our website pages: proposals and axonometric illustration)

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.

Comments

  • 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.
  • If you want to be involved in the discussions about materials and finishes please email ideas@carriageworks.org.uk

Cultural Plan

PG told us that this is still to be picked up as the focus has been on getting the build programme back on track.  But nothing will happen without discussion with CAG.

 

The planning application is live on the Council’s planning portal.  CAG will compile a summary of this meeting and submit.  Everyone can make their own comments.

Illustrations of proposed flats

For last week’s community meeting PG provided these two illustrations of the scheme based firstly on the currently permitted eight houses, and then on the proposed block of 28 flats.

Axonometric illustration of the scheme showing, at the lower corner, the eight houses included in the 2015 planning permission
Axonometric showing the eight houses replaced with 28 flats

New planning application for extra affordable housing

PG Group have submitted a new planning application for Blocks E and F – the two blocks of houses at the rear of the site.  Full details of the planning application can be found on the Council’s website. There will be a community meeting to discuss the proposals – see end of this post for details.

CGI view of the proposed building

The proposal is to replace the 3 x 4 bed and 5 x 3 bed family sized houses (given planning permission in 2015), for which there is probably limited demand in this location, with a single block of 28 affordable flats.

Site layout

The proposed flats will comprise 20 x 1 bed two person flats and 8 x 2 bed three person flats.  

More affordable units will help meet local housing needs and is something that CAG and the community have been pushing for for a long time.  

The final development will now comprise: 

  • 95 x 1 bed flats
  • 35 x 2 bed flats
  • 8 x 3 bed flats
  • Total 138 flats
  • Of which 38 (28%) will be affordable.  There will be 25 x 1 bed affordable flats and 13 x 2 bed affordable flats.

The affordable flats will be managed by Sovereign Housing Association, along with the shared ownership units in Block D.  

The CAG Liaison Group was shown early plans just before Christmas for a scheme comprising 19 social rent and 14 shared ownership flats. We submitted comments on these proposals at the time since when the scheme has been amended.

Details of the proposals are as follows:

Housing tenure:  The existing 2015 planning permission was for 8 houses for market sale or rent. The proposed changes shown to us before Christmas comprised a mix of social rent and shared ownership flats.  It is now for affordable shared ownership flats only.  “Affordable” = 80% of market value.

Ground floor layout

Footprint:  The two blocks are now merged into one ‘L’ shaped block.  The footprint is slightly larger, mostly with the south west facade extending further towards the south west.

Height:  At its highest point the building is now one storey higher than the 2015 permissioned scheme.  There is also a new lower ground floor, although this does make use of the existing ground levels, which are 2.5m lower at this end of the site, whereas the permissioned scheme would require the ground level to be increased by the equivalent of one storey.  Most of the building is therefore five stories in height, with the lower part four stories. 

Birds eye view of the scheme

Massing:  The merging of the two blocks with the loss of the gap in between, the greater height and the additional lower ground floor creates a larger mass than the permissioned scheme.

Daylight:  No shadowing details have been provided, but the higher building will inevitably lead to increased shadowing, especially of the Brigstocke Road gardens.  The lower ground floor flats will have limited natural daylight.  The ground floor flats have rear windows looking directly at retaining walls.

Parking:  As in the 2015 scheme, there are six spaces reserved for disabled drivers. The configuration has been changed which could result in them being blocked by other vehicles e.g. delivery vans. However, this situation was only marginally better in the 2015 scheme.

Security:  While the pathway behind the building has restricted access there appears to be open access to the area around the lower ground floor which is largely hidden from observation. Also risk of tagging on the brick walls. Need comments from the Secure by Design team.

Materials and finishes:  Buff and grey brick.  This seems a rather austere choice.

Planting:  The permissioned scheme included a pocket park in front of the houses and gardens to the rear.  The pocket garden has been replaced by a sunken courtyard with planting and planting beds close to the parking. To the rear of some of the lower ground floor flats there are planted courtyards with crab apple and rowan trees.  The lack of direct sunlight to the courtyard areas will limit the choice of plants.  The sustainability statement states that the building will have a green roof, although this is not referred to elsewhere and is not shown in the roof plan.

Landscaping plan

Drainage:  The application states that all surface water will be discharged through the main sewers. There is no provision for soak-aways.  It is not immediately clear how surface run-off adjacent to Kuumba, which is the lowest point on the site, will be handled.

Community Meeting

We will be holding a community Zoom meeting on Thursday 25 February 7-8pm.  We’ve invited PG to present their proposals after which there will be a chance for questions. If you would like to take part in the meeting please contact us at ideas@carriageworks.org.uk to request the Zoom link.  If you have questions it will help us manage the meeting if you can submit them in advance using the same email address.

PG seeks approval of materials

When planning permission was granted in 2016 for the Carriageworks development it was agreed that approval of materials and finishes would have to be given by the Council before development began. PG have now submitted their application for approval of materials to be used at the Carriageworks. The application can be found on the Council’s website at this link.

The proposed materials are shown below. We have asked PG precisely where the materials will be used – the information provided refers to which block but not whereabouts on each block.

It is a condition of the 2016 planning permission that the developers “consult and work with local stakeholders, including Carriageworks Action Group” in discharging the condition relating to materials and finishes.

Works on Carriageworks site – update from PG Group

We have received the following update from Jenny Gee, the PR person for PG Group, about works on the Carriageworks site.


As you are aware, welfare units are all set up on site and as now the site is being run by PG Construction Management (Carriageworks) Ltd. This is now the main contractor for the development, rather using external contractors. I am confident that it will mean information will be more forthcoming. The current situation with COVID19 and bringing people back after furlough has added significantly to the already complex requirements of reports, legal and administrative paperwork required to finalise the funding.

We are now able to share a headline Programme of Works which I have attached. I should clarify that this is a draft programme and liable to change due to several factors, the main ones at the moment being Covid and Brexit which are having large knock-on effects on materials and suppliers. Supply issues are affecting elements of the programme as diverse as finalising fixed dates for steel and also straightforward supplies such as brick stocks – just as an example. We ask that you understand these dates are flexible, but PG will try to adhere to them as much as possible.

Draft programme of worksAs you know only too well, it is the groundworks investigations on site that are causing the resulting noise and vibration. Whilst the contractor did measure this aspect of the work, PG is today installing their own measurement equipment which will be closely monitored. The trial pit work has moved across to the old Croftdale side of the site, where levels of concrete are being trialled.

Site working hours start at 8.00am and ending at 5.30pm Mon-Friday.

This was always going to be a difficult site to develop, and PG is doing what they can to keep disruption to a minimum. Going forward, we plan to share activity on site in the following ways:

  • Monthly progress reports as well as regular updates whenever work on site might prove more intrusive.
  • Site noticeboard at the entrance to be updated weekly
  • Site viewing windows punched into the perimeter hoardings
  • Security/Time lapse cameras which are now installed

Note that while contractors are not to start work before 8am they can arrive on site earlier than 8am.

Two planning permissions granted at Carriageworks

Bristol City Council has granted planning permission to PG Group for two applications:

This should clear the way for PG to sign funding and construction contracts for the scheme as a whole (COVID19 permitting).

New planning application for Block A

As part of PG Group’s efforts to get the Carriageworks development started they have submitted a new planning application.

Last year PG were focused on a S.73 minor alterations application to add seven additional units to the fourth and fifth floors of Block A and make other changes to the facade, stair wells etc.  However, a recent case in the Court of Appeal (Finney v. Welsh Ministers, 2019) effectively closed the S.73 route for the additional units.  Consequently PG will remove the extra flats from the S.73 application so that the rest of it can go through.  And they have now put in a full planning application for the flats.

The application can be seen on the Council’s planning website.  Neighbours will have received written notification and the public consultation period officially ends on 6 April.

The application seeks permission for 3 x 1 bed flats and 4 x 2 bed flats for market sale or rent.  The design, footprint and floor area are the same as previously proposed in the S.73 application except that one two bed unit has been split into two one bed units. The fourth floor is set back 2.2m from the Ashley Rd frontage and the fifth floor is set back by 7.75m and clad in grey metal in order, say PG, to reduce their visibility and prominence from street level when compared to the lower floors which will be clad in brick.

proposed plans and elevations of additional flats

Floors plans and elevations of the additional seven flats proposed for the fourth and fifth floors of Block A.

existing and proposed elevations

Top drawings show the elevations as proposed by S.73 application excluding additional flats (not yet granted planning permission). The lower drawings show the proposed additions to the fourth and fifth floors.

Update: Planning permission was granted on 20 April 2020