Raising the Heights of Ambition in Bristol Development
When does a building become too tall? Why are cities like Birmingham and Manchester building multiple times more new speculative office space than we are in Bristol, even when accounting for relative size? What guidelines might Bristol City Council give for developers who wish to use the sky above us as space for development? And how dense is too dense?
Planning is an essential part of the development world, and an area that we wanted to put the spotlight on this month at our Construction Breakfast. That’s why we were so pleased to welcome Jo Davis from GVA, the largest independent commercial property agency in the UK, to share her insight into what is working – and what isn’t – in Bristol’s approach to new developments.
As a city, we recognised we have topographical and historical constraints, but we are lagging behind other Core Cities on the scale and arguable ambition of those projects. While Birmingham are building up to 42 floors, Manchester up to 64, and London up to 67, here in Bristol our sights are a little lower, with our current tallest buildings under 20 storeys and the tallest proposed (Former Ambulance Station) at 26 storeys. While others are building up, limiting height and urban density in turn affects the scale of investment and growth opportunities available in our city.
Bristol City Council is in the process of preparing its Urban Living Supplementary Planning Document titled “Making Successful Places at Higher Densities” to address these challenges. It is not an overstatement to say that this document could assist in steering Bristol to thrive and innovate in development over the next 12 or so years, or could stifle Bristol’s ambition for new buildings and investment through a policy context which fails to promote socially and commercially viable approaches to development within the unique city.
Emphasis is “Right Development, Right Place”. This means understanding the needs for urban living, and planning around that: jobs, schools, shops, transport, all this needs to be considered. The question of density is key to understanding urban planning, and Jo provided excellent examples of how thoughtful developments can balance increased density alongside good quality of life and a pleasant urban landscape.
The good news is that opportunities abound within planning and building in Bristol, but the “commercial reality of tall buildings mean you must consider build cost vs sales cost,” explained Jo. As South West firms could miss out on projects – and urban areas on investment – due to a hesitancy to build higher and faster, Jo ended with a fantastically provocative question: “Are we as a city being ambitious enough?”
Of course, it would be impossible for us to discuss tall high-rise buildings without Jo receiving a question about Grenfell Tower – specifically whether there was any demand for residential high-rise flats anymore, after the tragedy in June. Her response was measured and sensitive, acknowledging that for some, the potential risk is not worth the anxiety. But as urban living continues to drive more and more people into a denser environment , then needs will inevitably lead to taller build designs.
As Jo ended her talk, she reminded us that we must join the conversation if we want to be heard. Concerns that high-rise designs are simply not financially viable will be considered if voiced directly to the planning authorities and councils that consider these applications.
Andrew Evans, Gregg Latchams Head of Construction commented: “Jo raises many excellent points, in my view the top one being that brave, thoughtful and high quality designs and commercial approaches will be required to realise the next generation of accommodation in our city, since most of the low hanging fruit, the easy traditional developments, have already been delivered.”
There were over 60 attendees to this month’s event, one of our most popular this year, and all attendees gained the opportunity to network and gather great contacts for their construction work within Bristol. Gregg Latchams loves interacting with the networks within the South West region, and their legal expertise is an excellent foundation for many. Our next Construction Breakfast – and last one of the year – will take place in December, so make sure that you sign up for your place here!
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