The tragedy of Bristol

The tragedy of Bristol - the trashing of a historic city

Is Bristol committing collective suicide? The Urban Living Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), passed on November 6th 2018, strengthens the already-strong hand of developers making planning applications, and will have an extremely damaging impact on Bristol's built environment.

Bristol's strange new aesthetic: stumpy high-rises

You only have to look at the diagrams. They are strange - I have yet to find a word for them except 'stumpy'. The buildings often have 3 sides below the 'tall buildings' limit, but one side sticking far above it. These odd buildings are encouraged by the SPD, and are appearing in planning applications all over the city.

I've no idea where the aesthetic impetus came from, maybe from psychological research which shows that diversity in built environments increases happiness. But actually that research wasn't about tall buildings, but about active facades rather than blank walls. So to use it this way is completely wrong.

Bristol will end up with a lot of these stumps, they're coming up all over. Meanwhile single standing tall buildings like the Eye (in my view a good building) are judged inferior by the Urban Living SPD, which advises against free-standing tall buildings. Its a bizarre design conclusion for the city. It all shows how haphazard the process has been and how disastrous the lack of consultation.

High rise proposals in Bristol at November 2018:

The restraints of George Ferguson's era are gone. The city is open to almost any proposal from the market. The result has been a rush of very ugly proposals - none of which do credit to the city:

Planning permissions granted:

    • 26 storey residential tower on the southeast edge of Castle Park (Former ambulance station) (Nov 2017, photo taken October 2020)

    • 22 storey residential tower in Redcliff Quarter, towering above Finzels Reach (30 Nov 2016)

Projects in discussion:

    • Three residential towers of 11, 18 and 25 storeys on Arena island, plus two student residential buildings of 10 and 12 storeys for Temple Meads Campus

    • 10 blocks of up to 24 storeys on the site of the planned Arena in Temple Island

    • 8 and 12 storeys in Temple Circus Blocks B and C

    • 11 storeys at the Broadwalk Shopping Centre in (very suburban) Knowle, with 400 flats and much overlooking of neighbouring houses:

Pre-applications and other proposals:

    • Various developments on the north side of Castle Park (Wine Street), with rumoured heights of 14-18 storeys.

    • 16 storey building on Temple Back at Former Fire Station, overwhelming the Generator Building

    • Possible high-rise city, Chinese investors willing, in the Cumberland basin

Meanwhile the Mayor:

    • has refused to meet with civic groups interested in Bristol's built environment.

    • has ignored the results of the largest statutory consultation in Bristol's history.

    • has ignored the views of planners and urbanists in Bristol and elsewhere. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he has apparently taken no interest in those views, nor read the literature, nor consulted experts, relying on his own instinct rather than research of knowledgeable people.

    • presumably under political pressure, Bristol's planning officers have also ignored many of the suggestions made by consultees on the key Urban Living Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), though privately officers have expressed unhappiness, and the latest version of this document is an improvement (though still too permissive to high rises).

The disastrous planning document which will seal Bristol's fate

Consultation on the Urban Living SPD took place from 26 Feb – 12 April 2018. It received more responses than any previous Bristol consultation on any other subject ever – 665 responses. The results: 85% of respondents rejected high rises.

In response, the city's three most senior planning officers who presented the results on June 13 promised to remove the high rise segments from the SPD and to place them in the City Plan (cabinet member for planning Nicola Beech was absent). The idea was that removing the most politically controversial aspect would speed the SPD's adoption, necessary for progress to the new City Plan.

However to general amazement in the final draft of the SPD a few weeks later, the city ignored the senior officers' verbal promises and strengthened the encouragement of high rises!

A somewhat more satisfactory document did eventually emerge. However we should still be very worried. The document is extremely permissive, and presumes that tall buildings will be coming.

Goodbye historic human-scale Bristol

Welcome faceless anywhere land!

Part 5: Why we disagree