OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on housing development in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in the August 2019 edition of the South Bristol Voice)

Bristol’s need for more housing will see development across the constituency in the coming years and I welcome that. However, we must make sure that developers are building the right homes, of the right tenure, in the right place to support sustainable communities. It is vital that residents are involved in these decisions.  

The Bedminster Framework, as reported in the South Bristol Voice earlier this year, outlined some of the proposals for the area around East Street. I read these plans with interest and am disappointed to see that a large proportion of the new homes planned for Malago Road, should planning permission be granted, will be student flats.  

If a housing development is made up of student flats rather than much-needed homes for local residents, it presents a series of problems. The transient nature of student communities means there can be little integration with the existing community. Students arrive in the autumn and leave early summer the following year – being away for weeks at Christmas and Easter too. With both universities in the north of the city, rarely would students venture further into South Bristol. Chances are, they’ll use their Bedminster home as a base from which to cross the bridge and head north.  

While some shops and cafes on East Street may benefit from the student pound, I fear that may be the extent of what Bristol South gets out of this. By building student housing, developers get out of the obligation to include ‘affordable’ housing in their plans. It’s affordable housing that we really need in Bristol South. And we mustn’t forget that students don’t have to pay council tax, which means less income for the council to deliver more services (bins, roads and parks etc).  

What we need to focus on is building communities. Bristol City Council’s Urban Living Supplementary Planning Document outlines this and provides valuable guidance – what we need to ensure is that developers are taking this into account. What Bristol South really needs is truly affordable homes for families of all shapes and sizes, shops, play space, green areas and, of course, the infrastructure needed to support these communities – schools, nurseries, GP surgeries and public transport.  

Development at Bedminster Green will require improvements to transport links. Windmill Hill already has transport challenges – with commuters using residential streets to bypass the congested main trunk roads. With more housing planned, we need more sustainable transport solutions.  

We’re expecting to see more planning applications submitted later this year and I’ll be sharing details of the key ones on my social media channels. As with all planning applications, you’re entitled to have your say and I’d encourage you to do so via the council’s website or in writing to City Hall.