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.

South Bristol Link – Last Act or Final Curtain?

And so, momentum is once more building on the South Bristol Link. And the same old arguments are coming out from the same old sources, when to most of us it is an old solution to the wrong problem.

It is very clear that this a solution borne more from the existence and availability of a government funding stream than any real consideration of what South Bristol really needs or indeed wants. Politicians are warned constantly that they need to support this, and the other BRT schemes, otherwise we’ll lose the funding – so we end up with imperfect schemes and so called ‘solutions’  that don’t even begin to address the real problems, all because we are too scared to admit we got it wrong and because people don’t want to be accused of losing us government money.

I despair, I really do – how can our politicians, councils, LEP and businesses be that short sighted. Do they really believe that building a road with no beginning and end will sort out the problems we face in some areas of South Bristol, a road that essentially goes nowhere. At best it will help a small proportion of residents in South Bristol to move around the area better (by car) and at worst it will destroy communities and cut neighbourhoods off from one another. Remember, we are not talking about a residential road here, we are talking about 4 lanes of motorised traffic, 2 bus lanes and 2 car/lorry/van lanes being ploughed through what was once a residential street – see diagram below borrowed from the TravelWest website and compare it with the one below that, King George’s Road as it is now (from the Evening Post). How can anyone see that as an improvement and a benefit to local residents?


This scheme has been voted out on many occasions in the past, indeed I remember voting against it at least twice when I was a councillor, because the harm it will do to South Bristol and its communities is far greater than any perceived benefit.

The road will bring thousands of jobs, it’ll help open up South Bristol and better connect people to where they work, least that’s what its supporters say. But quite how does a road do that?

Thousands of new jobs will, we are told, be created by unlocking South Bristol. So a road that goes from the Long Ashton Park & Ride to Hengrove Park, across greenbelt land and through residential roads and green space will somehow bring jobs, and thousands of them at that! Quite where or what these jobs will be is unclear. Do the plans for the road include plans for new development – NO. Do the plans for the road include new business or office parks – NO. So how will this bring thousands of jobs to South Bristol and where will they go?

It’ll open up South Bristol? Well it might provide a better ‘rat-run’ for commuters from the Chew Valley and from Keynsham/Bath area to race through South Bristol to get to where they work and yes, ok, it might just help some residents get to the city centre or North/West of Bristol. But the benefits to South Bristol residents and communities are at best marginal. What would help far more to address the problems of access to South Bristol would be a complete redesign and reconfiguration of the major bottleneck that is the Parson Street Interchange and Winterstoke Road traffic chaos. That’s the main access point to South Bristol and that’s where the problem is. Why not focus on that, or is it just too difficult?

There will of course be one area that benefits from the road, not the bit that goes through South Bristol, but the bit that provides a link between the A370 and the A38 and that is where most of the support for this whole road comes from – the residents of Barrow Gurney, who at long last will get their by-pass. Not something to be dismissed lightly, a solution to relieving the pressure on Barrow is certainly needed, but why make the residents of South Bristol suffer by building the rest of the road? I’d support a Barrow by-pass but not as part of the South Bristol Link.

North Somerset Planning Committee are considering this today (7th November) and Bristol Council will consider the planning application later this month. I for one hope they turn it down again. I hope this is the final curtain for this scheme, but sadly, I think the pressure not to lose funding will prevail and the wrong decision will be taken for all the wrong reasons with this being the final act that sees us lumbered with a road to nowhere!


Update – North Somerset Planning Committee approve the application by 10 votes to 5.

Next up Bristol S&E Area Planning Committee on Nov 27th.

A Focus on South Bristol – Let’s Redraw the Economic Map of the Bristol City Region

South Bristol has many advantages – it is close to the city centre, surrounded by beautiful countryside and well located in relation to Bristol Airport. It has some lovely houses, in garden suburb layouts, with large gardens and green open spaces close by. But to many it is perceived as inaccessible, with a poor quality environment, unskilled workforce and high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour.

Look at any table of statistics for the Bristol City region – on house prices, crime, educational attainment, skills or employment levels and one thing will quickly become obvious. The central area and the northern fringe are making great strides but South Bristol is lagging behind:

  • The worst 2 areas nationally for lack of attainment amongst children/young people are in Knowle West
  • 6 areas in South Bristol are in the most deprived 100 nationally
  • More than a third of people in South Bristol live in areas which fall in the most deprived 10% nationally in terms of education, skills and training deprivation
  • Of the most deprived 20 areas in Bristol in terms of education, skills and training, 18 are in South Bristol
  • 35% of people aged 16-74 in South Bristol have no qualifications
  • Four areas in South Bristol are in the most deprived 10% nationally in terms of health deprivation and disability
  • Of the worst 10 areas in Bristol in terms of crime, eight are in South Bristol
  • 3 areas in South Bristol are in the worst 50 areas in England in terms of crime.

That’s a sad reflection on Bristol itself and all those who have been, or are, in a position to do something about it. But with vision, leadership and ambition all that can change. So why hasn’t it? We have been talking about South Bristol as an area of multiple deprivation and disadvantage for decades, but how much has actually changed? Yes there have been some improvements in recent years; new schools, the redevelopment of Symes Avenue, new housing at Lakeshore, a new community hospital, skills centre and a leisure centre. But is this the best we can do?

Just what are our aspirations for South Bristol?  From so many points of view it seems once more to be left behind. Do the Local Enterprise Partnership have plans to bring jobs, regeneration, housing and skills to the area or has it been forgotten in their plans or maybe just placed in the too difficult to handle box? Have the Mayor and Bristol City Council got plans and will they work with the local community to see what they want?

From the outside looking in, South Bristol just seems to keep missing out and will continue to lag behind other areas of the city until it features high enough in political aspirations and action.

Rather than allocate South Bristol as an Enterprise Zone or major growth area, like other areas of the city region, the Local Enterprise Partnership instead decided to focus entirely on transport links – the North Fringe to Hengrove BRT route and the South Bristol Link Road. Will this really deliver what is needed for South Bristol or is it just the tip of the iceberg?

South Bristol could be so different but what do we need to do to make it happen and whose job is it?

Is this something the local communities themselves can take control of and outline what they would like different areas of South Bristol to be like, or is it up to the Local Enterprise Partnership to remember to include it in their plans and focus funding on the area, or is it down to the Mayor?

I suspect it should be a combination of all of these but so far there is little evidence to suggest that much is actually happening?

The economic map of the Bristol City region could be redrawn to embrace South Bristol and make it the focus of everyone’s attention but will it ever happen? I’ve been waiting 20 years to see real change and all I can see at the moment is piecemeal, ad hoc, low quality developments that look like no one in authority really cares about the people or the area!

Bristol’s forgotten land?

Hengrove Park – South Bristol

A huge opportunity missed, 100 acres owned by the Council, left derelict for years. There are probably more development briefs, consultants reports and plans for Hengrove Park than any other site in the City. Yet still all we have is an initial development of low density “diners”, pubs and a cinema, with a play area added at a later date. And more recently, the Leisure Centre, South Bristol Hospital and a Skills Academy. All developed at different times by different developers with no design concept and no connection between them. What a waste?

Whilst all of these are indeed welcome facilities, the overall concept of a masterplan and any form of comprehensive development has been completely lost in translation. Grand ideas for a “new village” bringing much needed local shops, diversity of housing and quality development to the area never quite made it through the political process. Such a waste!

What Hengrove now needs is vision, innovation and delivery. George Ferguson, the Mayor of Bristol, needs to grab this one with both hands and make it one of his big projects – a sustainable development worthy of Bristol on council owned land, led by the Council, providing much needed quality affordable homes, local facilities and jobs. Be brave enough to get rid of the low density, low quality development on there at the moment, improve the linkages between existing facilities and deliver a coherent concept of a new community.

Why not, what are we waiting for?