Category Archives: Homes and Communities

Protecting frontline services: a budget for Bristol

On Tuesday 18 January, Deputy Mayor Craig Cheney presented our budget to cabinet before it is taken to Full Council for approval. This is the speech he used to introduce it.

This budget protects Bristol’s libraries, children’s centres and social care programmes, such as Better Lives at Home. However, it is also very much a housing budget.

Our capital programme spends £10.8 million for housing delivery along with our housing company, Goram Homes, and this coming financial year there’s also £846,000 in revenue funding. The Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budget, also has substantial funding for houses and invests in the council’s existing stock.

Due to growing costs to services, the impact of the pandemic on revenues and government shortfall in funding for local government, we have a budget deficit of £19.5m for 2022 to 2023.

However, rather than cutting services we have focused this budget on improving how the council is run by reducing costs and creating greater efficiency are the focus for bridging the budget gap.

This report proposes a net general fund revenue budget in 2022 to 2023 of just over £431 million and to finance the budget outlined above savings and efficiencies of £17.9 million are identified for 2022 to 2023 and £34 million over the medium term, some of which will require further consultation and the council’s element of the council tax is proposed to increase next year by 2.99 per cent which includes the adult social care precept of 1 per cent.

While we understand the impact this has on households across the city we need to weigh up the balance of increases in council tax against continuation of vital services provided to our residents. Continuing to maintain our Council Tax Reduction Scheme makes sure that we continue to provide support to those who simply can’t afford to pay.

Sound financial decision-making to date has allowed us to keep libraries and children’s centres open, while they have closed in many other places facing the same pressures and we will continue our work to create a better, inclusive and more sustainable city for all. We are adamant that we will reduce costs from within, focusing council capacity on our priorities, and any other decisions will be rigorously assessed so we can be assured they do not disproportionally impact vulnerable citizens.

We continue to invest in Bristol through our capital programme, with over £1.9 billion planned over the next 10 years, particularly to help address the affordability and desperate need for housing and to drive forward inclusive economic recovery, and improve our transport networks, bridges, parks and harbour.

Our capital plans also include a £19 million Decarbonisation Fund to invest in our council buildings and vehicle fleet, as well as £97 million to make our council homes more energy efficient and to reduce carbon emissions. All part of our journey towards being carbon neutral.

Despite these challenges, we will continue to focus on building a city where nobody is left behind, has a modern mass transit network, affordable homes for all, the high-quality services our citizens expect, and at the same time, drives a diverse economy that provides jobs for all and tackles the climate and ecological emergencies.

Read more about our budget proposals for 22/23 here.

Bristol’s Climate Smart Cities Challenge

Today’s guest blog is from Jessie Wilde, Deputy Project Director at Bristol Housing Festival

On November 3rd, working with the One City Office, we saw the launch of the Climate Smart City Challenge in Dubai at the International Expo with Nesta and UN Habitat.

The challenge is a city-based open innovation competition that will invite technologists, businesses, and investors to develop, test and scale cutting-edge solutions in four cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Bristol has been selected alongside Bogota in Colombia, Curitiba in Brazil, and Makindye Ssabagabo in Uganda. The focus of the Climate Smart Cities Challenge is to design a project at neighbourhood level that will showcase how cities can co-create new ideas together with innovators that make cities more sustainable and climate smart.

As we know, Bristol is currently facing a housing crisis, a climate crisis and a construction skills shortage, and the problem we’re interested in solving is how we deliver new housing, so it becomes a positive contributor to reducing greenhouse gases in the city.

The challenge, or barrier to this, is not the housing technology itself. Where innovation is truly needed is in the model used to deliver housing by multiple stakeholders. The challenge is both in the collaboration required and the financial model and mindset that currently costs, values and processes transactions based on immediate capital return.

There is a challenge of ‘best value’; what does this really means in context, and how does it release the right kind of finance. We need to find a way to demonstrate how an enlightened and informed development appraisal process (looking at the intended outcomes and revenue saving, not just repayment of capital) can create the business case for low carbon, affordable homes with decarbonised energy supply.  

Drawing from the knowledge and wisdom of stakeholders across the city, through focus groups and workshops over the last few months, Bristol has shaped this unique challenge.

We are hoping that challenge submissions will help support system change in how housing is commissioned and to re-create a model of value (not just cost) so that we really can see more housing built in our city, at pace.  But this housing needs to positively contribute to the sustainability and biodiversity of our city and help to combat the climate and ecological emergencies we are facing. However, we must not lose sight of the challenge of homelessness and growing housing waiting lists in the city.

This challenge is complex, it will require innovation and systems thinking. We are not necessarily looking for a widget, an app, or a piece of software, but a solution that crosses sectors and breakdown silos to provide a holistic way forward in the face of Bristol’s challenges.

Climate action in Lawrence Weston

Today’s guest blog is by Donna Sealey from Ambition Lawrence Weston

Lawrence Weston has been busy writing their own Community Climate Action Plan over the summer and, after months of events, workshops and activities, it will be ready to be published in January 2022. We are one of six communities in Bristol who are pioneering this new approach to tackling the climate crisis at a local level.

We have been co-producing our climate action plan with local residents in the driving seat, after all they are the local experts who know their community the best. It is imperative to give residents the lead when planning any kind of community action, residents have to feel that they are part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

We began this journey in the Spring of 2021 right in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced us to rethink the way in which we wanted to engage our residents. Covid cases were high in our ward, lockdowns imposed, and schools closed.

Why a Community Climate Action Plan?

There are two important outcomes of our Climate plan for Lawrence Weston. The first is our community’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030, but secondly, and most importantly, is the co-benefits that comes with delivering this plan. For example, more opportunities to access green spaces, better public transport, warmer homes, training within the green economy, financial benefits, improving mental and physical health, and better-quality food. All of these will improve overall health and wellbeing for our residents whilst reducing carbon emissions.

It comes to no surprise that housing, public transport, jobs and skills, food and fuel poverty, and green spaces all feature strongly in our plan. Residents were at the forefront of deciding what the issues were, and how they were impacting on their everyday life but, more importantly, what the actions should be in addressing these issues, as well as the journey on how we will achieve carbon neutrality.

Projects being delivered

We have many community projects that we are currently delivering, including our community litter picking group, Lawrence Weston in Bloom, community food growing, cycling facilities, as well as building 36 affordable energy efficient homes and a new community hub. We are also a Going for Gold champion, which means we are only one of 25 organisations in Bristol who have taken action across all six areas as our commitment to ensure we have a more sustainable, fairer and healthier food system that benefits people, communities and planet.

England’s largest wind turbine

One project that Ambition Lawrence Weston has been working on is building our own community owned wind turbine. This project came out as one solution to address fuel poverty during our 2017 community plan consultation. The wind turbine will be the biggest on-shore wind turbine in the UK, and will generate enough energy for 3,500 homes and save 1,965 tonnes of CO2 a year. That’s enough energy to power all the homes in Lawrence Weston! We expect the wind turbine to be spinning by November 2022.

The national building safety crisis

Today’s blog is from Steph Pike, leaseholder and campaigner in Bristol

You may have heard of the “cladding scandal” or the “building safety crisis” in the news. It is a national scandal of epic proportions, sparked by the horrific Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Four years on from Grenfell, many buildings are still wrapped in flammable cladding. But cladding is not the only issue. Other fire safety defects (such as flammable insultation, missing cavity barriers, and fire breaks) have been revealed in the external walls of blocks of flats all over the country. There are over 40 known buildings in Bristol alone that have been identified as having these issues meaning they are potentially dangerous and require significant remediation. 

People living in these buildings are trapped. They cannot sell. They cannot re-mortgage. They are being handed bills they cannot afford (in many cases exceeding £100,000). They are going bankrupt. Their mental health is suffering

Today from 12 noon, a building safety crisis rally will be taking place on College Green (outside of City Hall) where leaseholders and friends will come together to campaign against this huge injustice. More information can be found on our Facebook event.

My story

In November 2017 (four months after Grenfell), I bought my first home, a small one bed flat in the centre of Bristol.

I was also encouraged to buy a home using various government schemes such as the Help to Buy ISA and no stamp duty for first time buyers. I paid for solicitors and searches. I asked about fire safety and cladding. The building was signed off as compliant with building regulations. The building came with 10-year new build warranty. I did everything I could reasonably be expected to do when buying a property and I was so proud to finally have my own home.

Despite our building being signed off as compliant with building regulations at the time I bought the lease, recent surveys have revealed that the building was never compliant.  External wall surveys have revealed several fire safety defects in our building including combustible cladding, flammable insulation (the same type as Grenfell), missing cavity barriers and timber balconies. The building is supposedly so flammable that for nine months we had to pay £4,500 per week for 24/7 fire patrols (known as a waking watch) until a temporary fire alarm was installed (at a cost of £150,000). 

This is affecting millions of people across the UK. The government has so far allocated £5.1 billion to remove combustible cladding from buildings over 18 metres across the UK. This fund does not cover any other fire safety defects, nor does it cover buildings under 18 metres. The total cost of the problem is unknown but some estimate it to be as much as £50 billion.

The estimated cost to remediate my block is £7.6 million. This will be split between 109 leaseholders. To put this figure into context, the project cost for converting my building to flats in 2017 was £7.9 million.

If we don’t receive government funding, I am likely to receive a bill of over £70,000 to cover remediation costs (not including any interim measures such as waking watch, skyrocketing insurance premiums and fire alarm installation). Clearly this is unaffordable to most leaseholders, who are often first-time buyers. I certainly would not be able to afford this sort of sum. Many people are considering bankruptcy (and some have already gone bankrupt).

People often say, “just sue your developer” or “just refuse to pay”.  Neither of these things are an option. We cannot sue our developer as it has wound up. Even if it did still exist, litigation is hugely expensive, uncertain and can take years. We don’t have the money or the time to do this. If we refuse to pay, our lease could be forfeited, and we could end up homeless and bankrupt. The new build warranty is also very unlikely to pay out. We are stuck and there is no route out of this unless the government intervenes.

The stress this is causing is chronic. It’s taken over my life. I can’t sleep properly. I can’t think about anything else. I feel sick and anxious all the time, wondering when I will receive the bill and how on earth will I pay it.

The solution?

In my opinion, the solution to this is for the government to provide the money upfront to fix the buildings and to then reclaim if from those who are responsible, whether that is the product manufacturers, developers, builders or approved inspectors. The government must also take some responsibility for its failure to properly regulate the construction industry over the last few decades which has led to shoddy building practices and has allowed flammable materials to be used on high-rise buildings. The overriding principle is that the polluter must pay, not the innocent leaseholders.

If you would like to learn more about the building safety crisis, I recently wrote a more in-depth article for Al Jazeera which you can read here and you can find out more information about the campaign and what you can do to help on End Our Cladding Scandal’s website.

Mawlid 2021

Today’s blog is from Afzal Shah, Deputy Chief Executive of Wellspring Settlement in Barton Hill. Afzal was previously Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, and Inclusive Growth
and Labour Councillor for Easton ward.

The 12th day of Rabi`Al-Awaal, which is the third month of the Islamic lunar calendar, known as Mawlid, is a day celebrated by Muslims the world over, marking the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him). As a Muslim, I believe the Prophet was sent a mercy to humanity, and even as a young man was known as, “Al Amin”, or “The Trustworthy”.  

Born in the city of Makkah, in what is now Saudi Arabia, in 570AD, in the backdrop of an austere society, he promoted social justice, equality, charity, and women’s rights. After the Holy Qur’an (“the book that must often be recited”), the Hadith (based on his sayings), and Sunnah (his way of life), are the key Islamic text, reminding us all that his, was a life immersed in assertively promoting social justice. He openly called out racism in Arabian society, stating, “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of an Arab over a non-Arab, and no superiority of a white person, over a black person, or a black person over a white person, except on the basis of piety”. These words continue to have immense significance, especially in the context of the current civil rights movement.

In the Prophet’s last Sermon, made in front of the largest audience he ever had, he also spoke about social justice. Addressing humanity, “O people!” before sharing his message – a sign that his message really needed every human being to understand, he spoke about the rights of children, particularly orphan’s, the rights of women, economic inequality, and the responsibilities of the state. 

It is heart warming to have witnessed the charitable actions of our communities in Bristol, and in particular how Bristol’s Muslim community rallied for the welfare of humanity during the pandemic. We are reminded of the saying of the  Prophet, “A person’s true wealth is the good he does in this world”. Befitting then, how numerous individuals and groups, from every corner of our great city, cooked, processed, and delivered food, and other essentials for the most needy and vulnerable.

Note: Tomorrow, Saturday 23 October, the Children’s Procession commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad will take place between Eastville Park and the left-hand side of Fishponds Road from 11:30 to 13:30. There will be likely be some minor traffic delays.

BoKlok on the Brook and the UN’s SDGs

Today’s guest blog is by Graeme Culliton, Managing Director of BoKlok UK

When BoKlok was founded back in Sweden in the 1990s, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) weren’t around yet. Much like the UK today, at that time Sweden was experiencing an urgent shortage of homes, specifically for people on average incomes.

One person who saw the need for change was Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. He recognised that new homes had to be made accessible for ‘ordinary people’, and his vision was to give everyone the same opportunity to live well.

Fast forward to today and we are proud to be continuing this vision right here in Bristol. One reason we decided to start our business in the city is because it’s here that you’ll find the people that think most about sustainability and saving our planet. These are the people open to new thinking and ideas, much like Mr Kamprad.

A key to unlocking this vision has been through implementing the SDGs into our way of working. We use them to guide us in delivering homes for ordinary people, whilst – at the same time – meeting the needs of a wider community.

The main seven key goals we work to are:

  1. Good Health & Wellbeing (SDG 3)
  2. Gender Equality (SDG 5)
  3. Reduced inequalities (SDG 10)
  4. Sustainable Cities & Communities (SDG 11)
  5. Responsible Consumption (SDG 12)
  6. Climate Action (SDG 13)
  7. Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17)

Sure, we are a for-profit organisation, but it’s not just NGOs and political bodies who are responsible for following the SDGs – it’s everyone. It’s down to the private sector to adopt the goals, and we take our role in this seriously.

Sustainability and climate

You can’t read through the SDGs (or Bristol’s One City Plan for that matter) without recognising that careful attention must be given to our carbon footprint in the UK. That’s why building sustainably is one of our main drivers. But how do we do this?

We start by manufacturing all our BoKlok homes offsite in state-of-the-art production facilities using advanced timber frame construction technology. Timber is one of the most sustainable materials you can use in construction, so you won’t see a single BoKlok module made with anything else. Building our homes offsite in a factory also means that we reduce waste considerably, cut deliveries to site in half, and even reduce our time on site by over 50% compared with traditionally built houses. Good news for the planet (and great news for our neighbours!). 

Levelling the playing field

Alongside reducing our environmental impact, the UN’s goals call us to also reduce inequality in our communities. In Bristol, local policy looks to safeguard this by holding house builders like us to selling a minimum of their new builds as affordable housing (30% in our case). On our Bristol-based site, BoKlok on the Brook, that would mean 52 new affordable homes. I’m proud to say that we have gone beyond that and raised this to 46%. That means 27 more affordable homes than required, and a total of 79 homes going to the vulnerable individuals and families in the community that need them the most.

Delivering safe, quality homes for people that really need them is a major way we’ll see a reduction in inequalities in our cities. A stable home environment has many benefits: educational achievement leading to better chances on life and increased quality of health and well-being, to name just two. These matter and have a very real impact in changing the direction of people’s lives.

The BoKlok vision may have begun in Sweden back in the 1990s, but since then our ‘BoKlok way’ has taken shape and with it, our commitment to the UN’s SDGs. Are we as far along as we want to be? Of course not. We only started in the UK two-and-a-half years ago and that means we’re still making mistakes and learning from them. But through collaboration with committed partners (see SDG 17) such as the Bristol City Council or the Bristol Housing Festival, we’re extremely confident that we’ll start to see these goals realised here in Bristol, sooner rather than later.

A harbour for the whole of Bristol

The Western Harbour from above, with fields on the other side of the River Avon, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Cumberland Basin Road network.

Tides of history

For many of the people that enjoy walking around Bristol’s harbour, between solid redbrick structures and lapping water, it seems permanent. But in fact, the tides of history continuously change and rearrange this place and people as it responds to the needs and hopes of our city.

The edge of the Western Harbour, looking across the water, through the lock towards the river Avon.

The most significant change might have been the engineering works to create the New Cut and Feeder Canal over two hundred years ago. The SS Great Britain now reminds us of the Victorian ambition and scale that followed these constructions.

These physical changes have coincided with other changes in demographics and uses. The slum clearances of Bristol communities in the early 20th century scattered dockers and their communities across the city into new council estates, while regeneration and redevelopment in the 1980s and 1990s eventually saw a gentrification of the area. 

Renewed engagement about our harbour

Given this heritage and history, it is clear the harbour belongs to the whole city.  That is why, as part of our renewed engagement on the Western Harbour project, we will make sure as many people, from right across Bristol speak into the future of the area as part of our ambition to make the harbour an inclusive place where people and families visit from the very fringes of the city.

We’re trying a creative approach to this engagement, with a variety of ways for people to share their thoughts. In-person and online workshops, which are open to the community in and around Western Harbour at Riverside Garden Centre, as well as Lawrence Weston, Easton, and Filwood, are designed to draw out stories of the area and establish what the harbour means to people.

Local Creative Ambassadors, and City Poet Caleb Parkin, will connect Bristol’s talent in photography, film, illustration, and poetry with local people, to help better understand the character of the area and bring ideas to life. There is an audio walking tour that gives an insight into the changing history of the area. The Harbour Hopes website and Instagram page have been created so you can follow and share your own hopes for the harbour using the hashtag #HarbourHopes.  

We’re right at the start of this process, no designs have been decided and there will be plenty more opportunities to have your say in 2022. This engagement is about getting a sense of people’s thoughts and aspirations, before developing a masterplan which will include formal consultation and the wider planning process too.

Why Western Harbour matters

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 homes.
  • 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.
  • A sustainable, climate friendly development, inside a high active travel area – connecting people to jobs and leisure, enabling people to live without a reliance on cars.
  • 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 balance them as a city to achieve the best for us all.

Building in and up, not out

Two weeks ago at Full Council, members debated a motion about the protection of green belt land in the face of our housing need. I will continue to work with councillors as we develop a revised Local Plan which will take into account these considerations. But as I keep asking people that ask me not to build somewhere – “if not there, where?” I look forward to those councillors now, supporting and advocating for the development of this brownfield site in the centre of the city.

The harbour, from beneath a bridge of the Cumberland Basin road network. The red brick 'A' and 'B' Bond warehouses sit across the water.

The raw material of the city isn’t changing. We are a city with an area of 42 square miles, a population of around 460,000 and rapidly growing. 15% of our residents live in areas that are among the 10% most deprived in England and 16,000 people are on our housing waiting list. This all happens while we face a climate and ecological emergency requiring urgent action.

If we are going to avoid urban sprawl and protect space for nature, we need to build more densely on the brownfield sites.

Bristol’s harbour has adapted to respond to the challenges our city faces, and in the 21st century, as we wrestle with housing and climate crises, taking the opportunity to plan for what could replace an ageing 1960s road system is a citywide discussion. Everyone has a role to play in that and we want everyone to have a voice.

Protecting Bristol’s renters

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard,
Cabinet Member for Homes and Housing Delivery and Labour Councillor for Horfield ward

Today, we took another step forward in protecting Bristol’s renters — with an updated policy on enforcement action we will be taking where landlords charge fees that are now banned under the Tenant Fees Act (2019). It also noted an updated enforcement policy we have introduced where landlords fail to deliver their obligations around electrical safety.

This progress will allow us to continue to take enforcement action under the Tenants Fees Act 2019 and associated lettings legislation. Local authorities must adopt an enforcement policy detailing how we will deal with decisions under the policy, including financial penalties and how we make decisions to prosecute. Our policy is also widely used as the foundation for enforcement policies adopted by other local authorities.

The private rented sector has grown enormously in Bristol – we estimate there are over 60,000 rented properties, making up 30% of the 202,000 properties in the city. The national average is 19%.

We have limited opportunities to redress the power imbalance between tenants and landlords and to ensure tenants are not exploited by those unscrupulous landlords that focus only on profit and not on providing good quality, well maintained and safe homes. Therefore it is important that we have policies which reflect the powers and responsibilities we do have as the enforcing authority and that we use them.

In accordance with our enforcement policy, most landlords and agents were given the opportunity to repay banned fees and were then audited to ensure compliance with other Trading Standards legislation. Out of a total of 24 breaches, only 3 were dealt with by way of enforcement action against the same persistent landlord. In total £24,153 was recovered for tenants in Bristol during the last financial year.

New regulations in relation to electrical safety in rented properties will protect most renters by requiring landlords to have regular safety checks on the wiring in their homes by competent electricians. Any unsafe works must be attended to by landlords, otherwise they face potentially significant financial penalties. Tenants can now by law also expect to be provided with a current electrical safety certificate before they start a new tenancy. Landlords are also under a duty to advise the Council when unsafe installations have been made safe.

These are more tools we have in the work we are doing protecting Bristol’s renters and making sure that all homes in Bristol are safe and landlords responsible. If you are a tenant in Bristol and concerned that you may be being charged illegal fees, then I would encourage you to access support available to you to enforce your rights. Want to know more about types of fees that are banned? You can read more in this guide produced by Shelter.

Bristol’s Vehicle Dwellers – The Road Not Travelled

Vehicle dwellers' vehicles at a previous, temporary site. The image shows half a dozen vehicles, spread out in a field.
Vehicle dwellers’ vehicles at a previous, temporary site

Our debate on Bristol’s vehicle dwellers and housing can often feel like there is no place for nuance, but that is not the case. Muller Road was scheduled for temporary closure today in order to evict an unlawful encampment of vehicle dwellers to make way for the construction of 32 social houses for the residents of Bristol. However, thanks to the engagement work of our Gypsy, Roma Traveller team, all vehicle dwellers have now peacefully left the site. Muller Road remains open and the eviction does not have to take place. This is not the first time that we have had to involve the Courts as a last resort regarding an encampment of vehicle dwellers in Bristol – this is a citywide challenge.

500 vehicle dwellers in Bristol

The number of vehicle dwellers has grown in Bristol in recent years due to: the impact of the pandemic; the housing crisis; gentrification and the growing appeal of Bristol as a desirable city in which to live. Bristol is estimated to have a population of about 500 vehicle dwellers in various locations across the city. Wider city factors and the national picture which surrounds the rise in numbers means the number of vehicle dwellers is likely to increase across the country and in Bristol.

We believe that Bristol has the largest number of vehicle dwellers of any Local Authority in the country, but we are doing more than any other area to work with this. Bristol is at the forefront of providing facilities for vehicle dwellers, and we have been contacted by a number of other areas, who are interested in what we do and are looking to model their own provision on what is seen as good practice. I am proud of our work in this area, and the approach we are taking which acknowledges the complexities of these circumstances.  

We continue to engage with the vehicle dwelling community, local residents, and to build more houses to reduce the need for so many people to live in vehicles. Our teams work with vehicle dwellers, including vulnerable groups, to offer support and manage the relationship with local residents. Any new encampments are initially approached by council officers, receive a welfare assessment, and are offered any support which may be available to them. There are many reasons why somebody may be living in a vehicle including heritage, out of financial necessity, a profession of travelling work, as an alternative to homelessness, or a different reason entirely. Every situation is unique.

One group that may live in a vehicle are Gypsy, Roma Travellers, who are an ethnic group protected by the Equality Act 2010. Our dedicated Gypsy, Roma Traveller team take our responsibility to this community seriously. However, it is a misconception that all Gypsy, Roma Traveller families live in caravans or vehicles. In Bristol, about 95% of the community live in houses or flats.

Muller Road vehicle dwellers

The Muller Road group are not Gypsy, Roma Travellers, but in order to act fairly and listen to their needs, our council teams have been engaging with the group for months. During this time, the group agreed that they would leave the site by 28th June. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

Where travellers of any type have set up an unauthorised encampment on land (as opposed to on the public highway) the landowner can apply for a possession order through the County Court. Once this order has been granted, the landowner can then arrange for a warrant of eviction to be served on that land and the site can be legally cleared of trespassers. As the Muller Road site is owned by Bristol City Council, we applied for and were granted the possession order and an eviction could now be legally carried out. We do not have the same legal powers in relation to our highways, and as the numbers living in vehicles gains traction, our legal powers have not moved with the times. Central government has issued no legislation to support Local Authorities in navigating this growing cultural issue. Instead we have a problematic Police and Crime Bill which approaches it punitively and could potentially criminalise vulnerable people.

Sites for van dwellers

Some of Bristol’s vehicle dwellers are receptive to our offers of support and alternative provision, and have good relationships with our teams. Other groups do not always fully engage. The group at Muller Road were offered access to meanwhile sites but decided to decline this offer in this instance. A meanwhile site is a piece of land which is not currently in use, or is earmarked for future development, which we offer to vehicle dwellers for a small charge where they are able to access toilets and clean drinking water. We think that it is right and fair to charge a small fee for the services we provide, as everyone who can should contribute to the running costs of the city they live in.

We currently have two successful meanwhile sites with more in the pipeline, which are due to come into operation over the next two to three months. However, we do not have capacity to offer a pitch to every vehicle dweller in the city. Land is in high demand for much-needed homes, especially affordable and social housing. We remain committed to building 2,000 new homes a year, with 1,000 of these being affordable in order to tackle the housing crisis. We know that a lack of affordable, good quality accommodation is a key reason why so many people are now choosing to live in vehicles. We believe a good quality, warm, stable home in a community is one of the single most significant interventions we can make to continue to tackle inequality and turn Bristol into a city of hope.

So, what happens if meanwhile sites are not wanted by vehicle dwellers? Where does an encampment go once it has left a development site/highway/local park? The answer is that, more often than not, they simply move to another part of the city. Some members of the Muller Road group have already set-up another unlawful encampment at another Bristol location. It is therefore hugely important that we consider the unintended consequences of removing an encampment from a site. We must take into account where the group is likely to move and how this will impact the wellbeing of Bristol’s residents and vehicle dwellers alike.

Vehicle dwellers' vehicles at a previous, temporary site. The image shows four vehicles, spread out, in otherwise empty car park.
Vehicle dwellers’ vehicles at a previous, temporary site

The wider picture

Vehicle dwellers are a visible element of wider systemic issues around inequality, the impact of a growing population and the issue of rising gentrification within Bristol. Many residents and vehicle dwellers are attracted to Bristol due to our reputation as a progressive and welcoming city. Bristol’s popularity with those from other parts of the country and abroad, although increasing wealth in certain areas, has resulted in an escalating cost of living, with private rents and house prices unaffordable to many. For this reason, we are seeing a higher level of people who feel forced into vehicles for homes.

The majority of our vehicle dwelling community find themselves living in vehicles out of financial necessity and many are considered vulnerable by our teams. In recent years we have also seen a rise in a percentage of the vehicle dwelling community who have driven to Bristol, attracted by our cultural offer and in response to the recent exposure in the media. Whilst we aim to offer all support that is available and needed by the community, there are some people who have the financial capital to support themselves and live in a building if they chose.

I can understand the frustration of some residents towards people who live in vehicles, particularly those who have been impacted by an encampment. As we saw at the M32 encampment, there can be considerable waste and anti-social behaviour. However, as a city we need to accept that vehicle dwellers form part of our cityscape. As a Local Authority, we want people to have the opportunity to live in a good quality, safe home. How we meet this challenge will define the nature of our relationship to this community. We will support community-led solutions to resolve tensions between all those who call Bristol home and we will continue to improve our response and provision as leaders in this space. In the meantime, I ask that both residents and vehicle dwellers treat each other with respect and act as good neighbours as we continue to build a city in which everybody can thrive.

A graphic showing the names, faces, and contact details of Bristol City Council's GRT team. Contact ian.bowen@bristol.gov.uk

Building more affordable homes for Bristolians

Today’s guest blog is from Councillors Don Alexander and Tom Renhard

We’ve built some 9,000 new homes since 2016, and are delighted to keep building more affordable homes for Bristolians. When plans for Romney House come to a planning committee for approval, we can build on these strong foundations.

Goram Homes, Bristol City Council’s housing company, hopes to get the go-ahead for these exciting plans for Lockleaze on the 1 September. This is the most advanced of their projects, working together with Vistry Partnerships. The site won outline planning permission in 2018. Architect and campaigner George Clarke visited last October for his Channel 4 documentary highlighting the UK’s lack of social housing. George came to see our plans and find out more about Bristol’s innovative work to tackle the housing crisis.

Our Labour administration are committed to ensuring local residents benefit from local development. The Romney House development will be a mixture of homes for private sale (45%) and affordable housing (55%). Affordable homes will be mainly for social rent with some units for shared ownership, helping to address the housing crisis. We are also developing a local lettings policy, enabling local residents in Lockleaze to have first refusal on Council homes. This will be the first of its kind on this scale in Bristol.

This site will also enable us to deliver on our ambitions to be net zero by 2030. The homes will be heated by air source heat pumps and exceed all environmental requirements. The development will generate a biodiversity net gain on a brownfield site. New homes will also boost the case for another new train station in the area. There will also be a new wildlife meadow and community park, as part of a green corridor between Stoke Park and Concorde Way.

Plans for Romney House, showing a wildlife haven being enjoyed by families -- alongside trees and new homes.
Goram Homes’ plans for Romney House

We estimate that the development will generate over £30m in local social and economic value. This includes over £10 million to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Vistry Partnerships have an ambitious onsite training programme for 36 apprentices. There also be a Skills Academy, giving the next generation the skills to build homes for the future. Goram will donate some £30,000 to the One Lockleaze Community Fund for a range of local initiatives. 

We believe that this award-winning project will make an invaluable contribution to the Council’s wider plans for the regeneration of Lockleaze. This development will deliver over 100 affordable homes, provide jobs, economic benefit to SMEs and social value to local residents. It’s time to move this forward and ensure we keep getting homes built for Bristolians without further delay.

We are sure that the planning committee knows what could well happen next if they defer or reject these plans – because it already has on other sites in Bristol. Our city can’t afford to risk losing more land to private developers building more unaffordable homes or student flats, rather than building more affordable homes for Bristolians.