Hotwells community meeting 22/01/2020: Western Harbour

I want to thank local residents for organising and attending the meeting in Hotwells in January to discuss the future of Western Harbour. I am sorry the previous meeting had to be postponed. The general election got in the way.

The format I was asked to work within consisted of 55 minutes of statements and contributions from the floor, with me being asked to listen and then respond for ten minutes or so at the end.

I made notes of the comments raised and I’m sharing these alongside my responses. These can be downloaded in full by clicking the button below, but I’ve also provided a summary beneath.  

1. The Challenge

I mentioned in my response at the meeting that it was essential to agree our starting point with the shared challenges the city faces.

  • We have our current housing crisis, with over 100 people rough sleeping on our streets, 550 households in temporary accommodation, and 12,000 households on the council house waiting list.
  • The housing crisis is more than homelessness and impacts affordability too. In 2018 Bristol had a housing affordability ratio of 9.12 for average house prices to average earnings. This is higher than the English average of 8.00, and the highest of all of the English Core Cities (who all have affordability ratios lower than the national average).
  • Bristol currently has a population of 460k, which is estimated to be 550k by 2041 so the housing crisis is only going to grow. This crisis has the ability to undermine the economy and be the basis of social and political resentment which will impact all of us.
  • A failure to deliver affordable homes is not an option for us. If people’s needs are not met, we risk creating the conditions for a reactionary, populist politics that comes with a message of protecting people through stronger borders and rolling back environmental measures that undermine employment. It’s critical we are ahead of this. It’s one of the reasons I stress the interdependence of homes, environment, jobs and equality.

We are working to meet this housing need in the face of a climate and ecological emergency. The types of homes we build, and where we place, them will be one of the biggest determinants of the carbon price we pay for Bristol’s growth. We need to minimise the carbon price by building densely within an active travel distance of employment. Every time you don’t build centrally you have to build somewhere else. The further away it is, the bigger the carbon consequence, even as we drive standards for more energy efficient homes and travel.

2. The Opportunity

Western Harbour is a huge opportunity for the city because it gives us the space to deliver:

  • Much needed homes – a thriving, mixed community with variety of tenures, including affordable
  • Sympathetic flood prevention engineering – future proofing the location and wider area
  • City centre revitalisation – bringing families (and customers) to the city centre and North Street at a time our high streets are struggling
  • Active travel area – environmentally friendly location for people to live without cars, and also means improving existing connectivity for the area
  • Opening access to the waterfront and enhancing the important heritage there – making it a destination all of Bristol can use and enjoy

These are important goals for Bristol, but we know that in a complex city any decision has trade-offs. We must recognise that any decision is balanced. Our responsibility is to discuss these and balance them as a city to achieve the best for us all.

3. What stage are we at – Pre-process

The situation has come about because the current layout of slip roads and flyovers is nearing the end of its lifespan. With an estimated bill of £40m to replace it as is, the sensible thing to do with the city’s money is to look at all the possibilities.

We haven’t ruled anything out – but I don’t see how repairing an inefficient 1960s layout can help with the city challenge we face of building homes in a climate emergency.

A tunnel remains my first preference. We are told the costs are considerably higher and the engineering incredibly difficult – with challenging gradients, tunnelling under mud and the potential impact on the river bank ecology. But I will keep this option alive as we look at every option.

I want people to know that we are in the pre-process stage. Before any formal work is done we’re trying to get views and table the issues. That’s why there isn’t the detail some expected during engagement, because we want to work with them and whole city to get this right and deliver the potential the area has.

The engagement raised issues and we picked up some of these at the event. I have heard many of these concerns before, having met with Riverside Garden Centre and heard their views directly, as well as the responses to the engagement exercise and also at churches in the area and people contacting me and my office. They include:

  • The impact on the gorge/view/heritage – a new bridge to the west might restrict views  of the gorge and suspension bridge
  • This is a road-based development – we shouldn’t be increasing road capacity to bring more vehicles into the city
  • Damage to ecology/nature – development might have harmful impact on existing green spaces and people’s enjoyment of them.
  • The development will not be high quality or sympathetic to the existing architecture

I appreciated these and the other points made, including the recognition of the need to build homes, and the concerns over cost – because that’s what we’re grappling with every day.

This was the first meeting and we will be looking to arrange a follow up so I can go again in the near future with a more interactive format.

This page has more details about the project as it develops:

https://www.bristol.gov.uk/planning-and-building-regulations/western-harbour

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