Wobbly start to public consultation over plans to redevelop Bristol Debenhams

Reaction to the plans for 520 new ‘build-to-rent’ flats in Broadmead has been mixed but generally favourable
The team behind the redevelopment of Debenhams had a wobbly start to their consultation due to a strong breeze in BroadmeadThe team behind the redevelopment of Debenhams had a wobbly start to their consultation due to a strong breeze in Broadmead
The team behind the redevelopment of Debenhams had a wobbly start to their consultation due to a strong breeze in Broadmead

The first public consultation over plans to demolish the former Debenhams in Bristol and build more than 500 homes certainly caused a few unexpected headaches for the team behind the proposals.

Despite blue skies and sunshine over Broadmead, it was the strong breeze that proved most problematic for representatives from the architects.

Setting up their wobbly pop-up trade show displays outside the graffiti-daubed old Debenhams entrance on the Horsefair, they soon found themselves having to pick them up as the wind blew them over on multiple occasions.

Of course, architects are well used to finding solutions and one soon found the string and scissors to secure the displays to the steel shutters on the windows of the iconic Bristol department store.

Not that too many passers-by had been taking much notice of the people in suits clutching iPads and A4 notebooks. After the first 45 minutes of the four-hour pavement consultation, I only saw four members of the public stop and ask questions.

For much of that first session, the eight members of the team chatted among themselves, although they broke off to help a couple of people who asked them for directions, possibly to the nearest toilets now that Debenhams and M&S are no longer the go-to loos in Broadmead.

The redevelopment would transform the area with 1,420m² of the site opened up as public open space. It will also reinstate the historic Barr’s Street - connecting Broadmead to the Bear Pit. The scheme comprises buildings set either side of the 18 metre wide Barr’s Street.

These buildings are between 9 and 12 storeys, with the upper storeys set back, mimicking the Primark building. One taller 28 storey building facing St James Barton roundabout is proposed as a new northern gateway into Broadmead.

So far, reaction to the plans to the proposals for 520 new ‘build-to-rent’ flats has been mixed but generally favourable.

The most vocal critic has been former mayor George Ferguson, who described the plans as a ‘f***ing insult to Bristol’ and the proposals were ‘more monstrous cr** architecture’.

But shopper Barbara wasn’t so damning after seeing the proposals at the pavement consultation.

“They’re better than I expected,” she told Bristol World. “It was sad to see Debenhams close but look at it, it’s an old building that has served its purpose, it’s time move on isn’t it?”

Fellow Broadmead shopper Jason agreed, saying that it was about time there were big plans for the old Broadmead shopping area.

“The Galleries is tired and empty, the bit between the Galleries and the old M&S is dirty and full of anti-social behaviour so I think it’s great that there will be these huge new buildings combining flats above and shops on street level, I’m all for it.”

The team behind the plans, meanwhile, were still clinging on to the displays. Let’s just hope the new buildings are a lot sturdier than their presentation boards.