Plans for new housing with a ‘poor door’ have been knocked back by councillors who called them “shaming” and demanded changes.
Prelon Homes’ proposal to build 40 homes with a separate door for the affordable flats was sent back by a planning committee because of what one member called the “blatant second class nature” of the affordable part of the development in South Bristol.
The committee unanimously deferred their decision so the developer could add disabled parking and a lift to ensure the eight affordable flats – six for social rent – were not for “able-bodied people only”.
Members heard the proposal would convert a light industrial site in Ashton Gate into an L-shaped residential development with seven, three-storey town houses fronting onto Durnford Street and 33 flats in a block stretching back towards Baynton Road in the direction of Greville Smyth Park.
Just eight of the flats would be affordable, a third fewer than required by council policy.
The affordable units would sit in a “cluster” at the back, overlooking a courtyard crossed by lorries accessing a commercial service yard.
They would have no car parking and no lift, despite affordable housing tenants being more likely to have a disability, the meeting heard.
Tenants, including disabled people and single mums with pushchairs, would have to climb stairs to reach the affordable flats, which would sit on the first, second and third floors of a four-storey part of the block.
Meanwhile, residents in the market price flats in a seven-storey part at the front of the block on Durnford Street would have lift access and share 18 car parking spaces and a garden.
Separate entrances for the affordable and market flats were built into the design, both accessible by a new public alleyway linking Durnford Street with Baynton Road.
Objecting to the plans before the meeting, local councillor Christine Townsend referred to the separate entrance for affordable tenants as a “poor door”.
Planning committee chair, Green councillor Ani Stafford-Townsend, told the meeting: “We do need them to be fit-for-purpose and not shaming to people that live there.”
Officers defend ‘poor door’
Council officers, who recommended the scheme for approval, said the elements of the scheme that councillors did not like were supported by council policy and that the affordable flats were “good quality accommodation overall”.
Council guidance in place since 2018 encourages developers to build affordable units in clusters and provide a separate entrance to keep service charges down so that the units remain “truly affordable”, he said.
Adding extras like car parking and a lift would drive service charges up, he said.
The entrance to the affordable flats looks “very similar” to the entrance to the market-value flats, Mr Collins added.
This meets a policy requirement for affordable housing to be “indistinguishable in external appearance from market sale homes”, he said.
The planning guidance from 2018, called the ‘affordable housing practice note’, also allows 20 per cent affordable housing provision in certain parts of Bristol as long as the developer builds the homes within 18 months of getting planning consent.
The “fast track” policy temporarily applied to the Greater Bedminster area, which includes Ashton Gate, between March 2019 and March of last year, planning papers show.
The developer submitted their plans during this period, so officers felt the 20 per cent offer was “acceptable”, Mr Collins said.
Affordable flats ‘not poor relatives’, developer says
Members heard that both the affordable and market-price flats came with plenty of secure bicycle storage and the developer had promised to contribute £20,000 to improve cycling infrastructure in the area.
Ben Larcombe, a planning agent for the developer, told members: “The affordable flats are not poor relatives at all, and they all enjoy a good aspect, daylight and sunlight and meet the space standards.
“The responsible approach is to minimise the car parking requirement for the development and optimise cycle parking.”
But resident Lee Madan said parking had already reached “crisis point” in the area, and the developer’s plans for a yellow line on Durnford Street to give delivery vans somewhere to park during the day would only make things worse.
Mr Madan said he was also worried about the height of the proposed development because it meant the occupiers would be “looking right into us all the time…like we’re in a museum”.
Officers said the townhouses were a similar height to other properties in the area, and that the flats in the seven-storey part of the block would mainly look down Ashville Road.
Permission for two tower blocks, eight and nine-storeys high, on the site of the old brewery nearby was granted in 2019.
Councillors call plans ‘offensive’
Committee members said they felt the differences between the affordable and market flats were “unacceptable” and “offensive”.
Conservative councillor Lesley Alexander said: “They haven’t got any [car] parking spaces, they haven’t got a lift.
“It seems to me to be a very poor deal for the poorer person that needs an affordable home.”
Labour councillor Fabian Breckels said: “For me, the big issue is addressing the ‘poor door’ and the blatant second class nature of the affordable accommodation.”
Cllr Breckels suggested the committee defer their decision so the developer could “tweak” the plans for the affordable part of the scheme, by adding a lift and at least two disabled car parking spaces.
“Otherwise it’s [for] able-bodied people only,” he said.
The eight-strong committee voted in favour of his proposal.