The following is a response from Karin Smyth MP to the West of England Joint Planning Consultation, January 2016
A suspicion of many people living in deprived communities in south Bristol is that transport investment too often becomes focused on more prosperous areas of Bristol and the region, some of which already have a strong degree of road and rail infrastructure. Residents in communities lacking these resources can take some convincing that major schemes will benefit them, poorly-served as many currently are by public transport, and reliant on private cars they can sometimes ill afford to use. For example, whilst cycle lanes are an environmental positive, the benefit they bring to a great many in communities across south Bristol is often perceived as limited.
So the reality of the day-to-day travel needs of south Bristol residents must be placed in the foreground of all future plans included in the Plan, and those that follow at implementation stage.
The introduction of major transport schemes such as Metrobus and MetroWest must have at their heart the drive to benefit people across the region as far as possible equitably. There is a perception amongst people in some communities that planners view south Bristol as a place to go ‘through’ on the way elsewhere, rather than a place to go ‘to’: planners need to understand and work to combat this view.
And whilst the draft strategy rightly states environmental objectives encouraging a shift in transport culture from car-dependence to public transport, the stark reality for many of my constituents is that public transport is currently neither easily affordable, accessible in terms of location, or efficient enough to merit their wholesale conversion to a public transport-first ethos in the short term.
One of the policy objectives of the Plan is rightly to ensure people are able to access jobs, education and other key services, and this must remain central to all measures implemented. Discussions with constituents highlight a danger that eye-catching schemes could deflect from the day-to-day transport needs of those I represent. Many people living, for example, in Hartcliffe and Headley Park, will see the reliability, comfort and value of their regular bus service – and the provision of convenient parking in places where they want to drive – as key to their ability to get around, and will be less inclined to be seduced by ‘grand schemes’ such as Metrobus which they may consider offers them little added choice, valuable though it will be to thousands of travellers.
Similar principles apply to the Plan’s policy objective of supporting economic growth and I would highlight the example of Hengrove where the new community hospital, leisure centre and Skills Academy are sited close together, and where land is earmarked for new housing. Clearly there is much potential in that area to promote economic and social benefit, and so transport planning must follow. This appears to be evident in MetroBus plans for Hengrove, but it must remain a key driver at the implementation stage of all other transport provision as well.
Where MetroWest is concerned, I fully support the accelerated development, improvement and maintenance of Bedminster and Parson Street railway stations. I also strongly support the re-introduction of a railway station at Ashton Gate. Complementing the stadium’s re-development this will provide an important resource not only benefiting the travel needs of local residents, but also helping bring a local economic boost when visitors attend stadium events. Work to develop and improve these three stations will help future-proof transport provision when developments.
Local housing demand outstrips supply, and so adequate supply remains pivotal to addressing the crisis that faces us in the years ahead. It is, of course, necessary to align the provision of new housing closely with the provision of public transport. However, for the constituency I represent, affordability of housing is the most important challenge facing strategic planners.
The cost of housing continues to soar in south Bristol, with only London, Cambridge and Oxford recording greater percentage increases than Bristol. The city has an average property price of £210,000 but an average salary of just £22,000 per annum. The electrification of the London-Bristol rail line, reducing travel times by 15 minutes, will compound the issues, effectively putting Bristol in the same commuter belt as Oxford.
Rents have also been rising and stamp duty increases will have a further effect as landlords raise rents further to cover additional costs. 10,000 people in Bristol are waiting for social housing but many hundreds of properties in the city stand empty. Homelessness is on the rise, as is the number of rough sleepers.
The effect of the housing shortage on younger people tends to be the focus of many concerns as they struggle to afford to live in the city they grew up in. However the impact on older generations will be keenly felt too. For example, dedicated care staff working in a range of modestly-paid professions, providing vital support that allows the city’s ageing population to continue living in their own homes and avoid going into residential care, could find themselves priced out.
There are plans to address some of the supply shortages by building significant numbers of homes on land on Hengrove Way and, within a couple of years, at Hengrove Park. Siting these properties close to employment opportunities, such as South Bristol Community Hospital, the Business Park, and educational facilities at the South Bristol Skills Academy, appears positive. Whilst these homes will not solve the city’s problems, an increase in supply will be welcome.
Strategic planners in the region need to learn from other authorities elsewhere in the country, sharing good practice. Plymouth is a good example, bringing empty homes back into use and increasing new home building, much of it affordable and on brown-field sites.
Whilst a brown field-first policy is right, it must be recognised that the need to provide affordable housing close to jobs (and to education and other services) will in some cases require green field development. The example of Hengrove cited above is a case in point. Strategic planners must not be blinkered from such developments and will need to apply rigorous cost-benefit analyses in these cases.
There is an acute need for local jobs and apprenticeships, and the development of housing supply should be strongly linked to addressing this issue. There are examples of building projects where those doing the work have travelled from other parts of the country to do so. I would welcome an approach which saw Bristol’s planned new homes to be built, as far as possible, by local people, to help create employment and apprenticeship opportunities.