Let’s make South Bristol a destination to be proud of

DSCN0159For various reasons I’ve been thinking a bit about vision and what it would take to actually make a difference to the way our city works. Now that’s a huge question and one that is way beyond my capabilities, but just thinking about it did remind me of a couple of issues that I’d been meaning to write more about.

South Bristol has an accessibility problem and it’s a problem that the South Bristol Link and the Hengrove to North Fringe BRT or Metrobus routes are unlikely to solve. I have on occasion questioned the lack of clear vision or any kind of strategy for South Bristol from either the council or the LEP, so perhaps it’s time to offer some solutions or at least some positive ideas, and there are many of them around. Equally, some of the issues I am about to raise I know are just as relevant to other parts of the city, so maybe this could help to spark a bit of a debate about wasted land, or access improvements or quality in the design of spaces and places across the city. But my focus is South Bristol because that’s the bit of the city I know best, I lived there for over 20 years, represented 2 wards in the area and worked there for quite a while too, so it’s the area I have the most affinity with.

I’m going to take you on a journey out to Hengrove and along the way identify 3 key areas where vision is definitely needed and where some creative thinking could really change the way we view this journey and our perceptions of the area. At the moment, travelling over the Cumberland system, with its congestion, dual carriageways and high level roads into Winterstoke Road is not the best of journeys but is one of the main routes out to South Bristol. I’ll leave others to talk about just how much we could do with the whole Cumberland system if only we could bear to take road space away from cars and redesign the area completely so it works for people at a human scale, and instead will focus on the bit once you leave the system.

So, my first area of focus is the bit from Ashton Gate to the Parson Street Gyratory system – the tin shed land that is Winterstoke Road. Now I’m sure when first developed it served a purpose and was the right thing to do (or maybe not), but looking at it now, much of it is very dated, some is empty and it is certainly one of the biggest wastes of space I can think of this close to the centre of the city. The density levels are incredibly low, the amount of space given over to tin sheds, warehouses, out of town shopping and car parking is stunning in its stupidity. Think what could be achieved here in terms of affordable housing and community facilities if only we didn’t just look at empty land for development but also considered underutilised land. Think also how different this area would look if it was redeveloped and how the journey through it would be different if the spaces were better used, with quality design, higher density, spaces for people and community infrastructure as well as new housing.

DSCN0391The next part of the journey brings you to Parson Street, that fantastic traffic engineers dream, and everyone else’s nightmare. The one-way system here is a constant source of congestion, conflict between road users and a nightmare for all concerned. It is one big traffic island which effectively acts as a gateway to South Bristol but lacks any quality, design or impact in a positive way, it’s just a barrier or hurdle car drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike have to navigate. How different would your journey through this area be if it were totally redesigned, if the railway station were opened up and made more accessible and noticeable, with proper entrances that actually make you want to use them. Imagine there is no one-way system but the whole space is redesigned as a transport hub for buses and rail users, pedestrians and cyclists and the route for cars is improved. I’m sure the engineers out there will tell me it’s impossible, as they often do, but my view is we should find a way, it’s a critical barrier at the moment to the notion of improving accessibility to and from South Bristol, it’s also a serious waste of space where we must be able to do so much better. And what about the school, the most polluted in the city because it sits on a traffic island – surely we can do better than that?

The final part of the journey takes you along Hartcliffe Way to the Hartcliffe Roundabout and the edge of Hengrove Park. Now this is a seriously underutilised area if ever there was one. Much of the land is in council ownership and so much more could be done, but the desire, vision, and strategy just doesn’t seem to be there. It’s not attractive to developers, partially because of the accessibility issues and partially because of the perception of the area. But if we make the other improvements discussed above maybe some of those perceptions will change. Just maybe we need to broaden our thinking in terms of how we look at the issue and see development of this particular area as part of a grand plan for South Bristol as a whole, with a focus on that journey route and providing interest and quality along the way. If you could use the roundabout and edge of Hengrove Park to create a destination, to do something bold and visible you would know you had arrived somewhere. Most of the discussion to date seems to have been about how we get people from South Bristol out of the area to jobs, shops, leisure etc. Very little has focused on creating a destination in South Bristol, to bring other people in, to create that extra vibrancy and energy that other areas of the city have, to provide houses, jobs and spaces that people want to use and be part of. My question to the people that make decisions in this city is – why not, why do we dismiss South Bristol so easily, where’s the vision for the area and how can we make it a destination of choice?

I know others have identified similar types of spaces in East and North Bristol, where land close to neighbourhoods and the city centre is underused and undervalued, but could provide so much more. Wouldn’t it be good if we could get some consensus on key spaces and potential new uses to bring these areas back into effective and quality use that Bristol deserves rather than hanging on to existing uses that are no longer relevant or desired? Do you have a list of these types of spaces that no one uses or cares about? Where are they and what would your priorities be? Let’s get the debate going.

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8 thoughts on “Let’s make South Bristol a destination to be proud of

  1. In fairness, destinations have been built around Hengrove but they’re the wrong ones or badly situated and they’re all dominated by main roads, corporate chains and car parks.

    There’s two strip malls – Hengrove Leisure Park and Imperial Park – an excellent kids park that unfortunately has been put behind a strip mall’s car park and a swimming pool/leisure centre.

    Overall, it’s a disaster. Let’s face it, the only reason to go near the place is to go to B&Q. even Hengrove Park despite its quality of equipment fails as a destination. We tend to make the trek to Royal Victoria Park in Bath, Blaise Castle or Ashton Court for a day out with the kids as it feels less like visiting a car park and we’re not surrounded by corporate entities.

    Whoever did all this should be shot. They’ve actually created a series of anti-destinations.

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    • Spot on, the entranceway to new development at Hengrove park is shocking – dual carriageway roads with vast expanse of car parking, not exactly attractive! The facilities are good – leisure centre, park, cinema etc but the environment is poor and unattractive. Like your term anti-destinations, sums it up perfectly.

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  2. I’m a retired Clifton resident, spending a lot of them exploring the whole of Bristol on a bicycle. My mother and brother used to live in Bedminster, but I am a recent migrant from Yorkshire. One thing I have noticed about my attempts to explore South Bristol is that there are several mapped routes that take me to and beyond Hengrove and neighbouring Wards. Some of the routes are high quality and there is plenty to see along the way.

    The other things I have noticed is how bad the signposting is. There are subways (Ashton Vale especially) and shared use pavements and all kinds of options, but as far as a lack of signposts might indicate, most of then go nowhere at all. Proceeding by guesswork I can arrive at Parson Street where the brutal road layouts suggest a quick return home. It’s a hostile place.

    The best thing I have noticed is that if I persevere I can get onto a very good separated cycle path along Hartcliffe Way. Even here, though, there are almost no signs telling me where anything else is. If I were driving a car I would be guided to every kind of facility. On a bike? Guesswork or detailed planning at home are always needed.

    So here is a very cheap suggestion to shift some of Bristol’s vitality into the area: make a big commitment to a programme of cycle and pedestrian signage that matches the physical quality of that being built in South Gloucestershire and give it the thoroughness and consistency that is usually found on A Roads. Much of the Bristol and Bath Railway Path is now in need of repair and upgrading, but that route is an indication of how plentiful signage can encourage much higher levels of use.

    Here is a link to a picture of a cycle sign in South Gloucestershire:

    Signs in South Gloucestershire 02

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  3. Tessa, I hope that you won’t mind me commenting from South Gloucestershire but you raise an issue that is of interest to us in the need for the regeneration of south Bristol. This was very much on the agenda when we were going through the work to create the Regional Spatial Strategy, out of which came the agreed vision for the West of England, signed up to by all 4 unitary authorities. This included agreement on the number of houses that each council are could take and the level of new employment. For South Gloucestershire it was 21,500, changed to 23,000 by the RSS and while I can’t instantly remember the numbers accepted by others it did include agreement on the regeneration of south Bristol and the development at Weston-super-Mare of the RAF Locking site with housing and employment.
    Abandoning the RSS has basically wrecked the vision, leaving us with almost 28,000 houses and large increases in employment to boot, as we are now the major growth area with 3 Enterprise Areas.
    I am aware that there is pressure on us for transport measures, including Park and Ride, but a lack of understanding that more people drive out of Bristol to work in South Gloucestershire every day than in the other direction. So, clearly as our development goes on a pace the numbers heading towards us can only increase unless something is done about regeneration in the south of the City.
    It has to make sense in all of the ways that you mention and in terms of sustainability, reducing congestion, air quality and climate change, as well as improving the prosperity of and area that clearly needs it.

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    • Hi Roger, you raise some good points as ever. Yes the abolition of the RSS did indeed destroy any notion of strategic planning around here and left many gaps in provision of jobs and houses. I can see the pressure is on S.Glos due to connectivity and growth opportunities. It is critical that future plans redress some of the disparities and shift growth to the South of Bristol, be that in South Bristol itself or Weston, the opportunities are there they just need to be realised. Whilst my comments are about South Bristol it does of course all join up or at least it should, if only we still had that strategic plan?

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  4. The RSS would have been a disaster for South Bristol. A town the size of Clevedon with 10,000 homes and a population of 25,000 built on our doorstep with little consideration for jobs and amenities other than driving into the city. Good perhaps for those wishing to relocate, but no good whatsoever for those already living here.
    Today I was in Clifton admiring the views. What struck me was how remote what I regard as the heart of South Bristol, Hartcliffe and Withywood are from the rest of the city, and yet they are as big as a small town. Perhaps that is how they should be regarded. Sadly, so much has been done peacemeal that it would mean an awful lot of change, but we could start with a town centre that would make a real community. There are lots of local people who care about and work hard to improve both these areas, so it is they who i would turn to for where this should be, but that would be my starting point. Then there are the roads that dominate the area, most leftovers from the days when various ring roads were planned. If the S/B Link actually happens, and that will be single lane, why do we need dual carriages which eat up so much space. What a development opportunity. What you also notice is how much green space there is. Now I believe in green spaces, but any that has little enviromental or public use value, may have to be sacrificed.( can’t believe i just wrote that.) Well, thats my start, but it will need plenty of long term vision, but I’m sure this area can turn itself into a place where having to travel is not essential.

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    • Hi Paul, good to have your comments. I’m not sure the RSS would have been a disaster, the housing planned came with employment space, jobs and other facilities and was ideally located very close to central Bristol. I agree with your points about South Bristol needing a town centre, absolutely, but not out of town shopping malls! And yes, far too much space is taken up with big roads that don’t really seem to take you anywhere. The key as you rightly say is sustainable growth, providing what is needed locally so people don’t have to travel to jobs, leisure facilities, shops etc.

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