Secrecy, the Western Harbour, transport, and billions in development

The Local Plan is currently open to the public for consultation:

At the Central Library the previous week, a young man, looking all suited and polished and very approachable, stood in front of a Local Plan display board. I went over to take a look.

I told him I was interested in seeing the part about the Western Harbour, and he opened the plan up to the relevant section, and showed me the relevant page.

“So where will all the high-rise towers be built,” I asked him.

.

He assured me there would be no high-rise towers at the Western Harbour, just a reclassification from industrial use to high-density urban. No planning applications exist for high-rise towers. The area had been used for warehouses and industrial purposes, and those were no longer needed so it was time change the usage.

When usage changes from say warehouses/industrial to residential, every few years, people who owned land that couldn’t be developed, suddenly get a windfall as their land multiplies in value.

 

75% of the land at the Western Harbour is apparently owned by the council. Who owns the other 25%?

Much of what is happening has been shrouded in secrecy so we don’t know much.

Even the term Western Harbour was announced in secrecy last September when the mayor went on some visits:

The [leaked] brochure the mayor took with him overseas on his tour includes the first mention of the Western Harbour, currently known as Cumberland Basin. Bristol City Council claims [it] “is one of the most desirable development locations in the UK”.

The nice young man at the library told me that it would be too expensive to maintain the road system at the Cumberland Basin so it will be redesigned. He didn’t mention that with it gone, there would be potential for over 1000-3000 homes.

So roads & transport are a priority.

One of the first and perhaps only pieces so far to discuss the future of the Cumberland Basin was the following one on Bristol24/7: The Future of the Cumberland Basin.

“With 75 per cent of the land already owned by the city council, […] The residential elements alone hav[e] a gross development value estimated at more than £1 billion.”

The big issue is roads.

“Unless you solve the traffic issues, you don’t have a project,” said Kevin Slocombe, head of the mayor’s office who has also been working closely on the Western Harbour project. “And you would not develop that site with the existing infrastructure.”

“The transport options have to come first,” Slocombe added. “You cannot even imagine the scale of the development unless you get rid of those roads. That opens up the scale.”

Which may explain why the mayor’s head of office & Colin Molton also sit on the Bristol Transport Board. As covered by Kate Wilson in the Bristol Post:

“The two representatives [the council can nominate] are Colin Molton the interim executive director of growth and regeneration and head of the mayor’s office Kevin Slocombe.

“Mr Slocombe has no transport role as part of his brief but when asked why he was on the board as well as the mayor and what he would bring to the role, he refused to answer saying he didn’t see the “relevance” of the question.”

It seems that billions worth of investment and development rely on how transport and infrastructure is decided in Bristol. Despite the council now establishing its own housing company, the development is possibly geared to being done privately:

But the Western Harbour itself looks likely to be financed privately, with that Argos catalogue of a Bristol Investment Brochure giving investment opportunities that, in Rees’ words, “develop firm and long lasting investment partnerships with you that deliver for the people of Bristol”.

Further information about the progress of work on the Western Harbour has been gathered together at the following website: http://www.bristolnpn.net/current-topics/cumberland-basin-western-harbour/

“The stakeholder group is pressing for early community involvement in this development but so far, only a single meeting with members of the mayor’s office in June 2018 has been held.”

It’s beyond me why there’s so much secrecy. The brochure had to be leaked before the residents of Bristol knew what was for sale, and the councillor of Hotwells & Harbourside has little information.

Mark Wright told the growth and regeneration scrutiny commission:

“Why do we have to keep dragging every bit of information out of the council on this?

“It’s not usually quite so secretive about the reports. People are wondering what was in the brief.

“It wouldn’t normally be the case at the scrutiny committee a year after this started with us asking ‘where’s the brief, why can’t we see the brief?’

“In this case, all we keep hearing is the mayor has an amazing idea and then we have to keep dragging out the information.”

From the minutes:

It was confirmed that there were 10 options being drawn up and all of them would be available for the public to view.

Members asked what types of schemes were being drawn up. They were informed that the company were given a free reign.

A Member commented that they felt it was difficult to access information about this project and that in their opinion officers were being unusually guarded about it. It was agreed that the feasibility project brief would be provided to the Commission Members and would also be up-loaded onto (link: http://Mod.Gov) Mod.Gov for members of the public to see. ACTION: for the Western Harbour project brief to be sent to the Commission Members and uploaded to the meeting webpage.

See the following piece from Local Democracy Reporter Adam Postans about the goings on and complaints at the Growth and Regeneration Scrutiny Committee.

The following document is the project brief to Arup: Project Brief for Cumberland Basin feasibility study.

I have put in a freedom of information request to try to access a copy of the report that has long been promised to scrutiny and councillors but has yet to make an appearance.

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