Bristol City Council’s cabinet member for housing has revealed that the local authority is expecting to significantly beat both its target for building new homes and its target for building affordable homes in the next two years.
Speaking at Insider’s South West Property Forum, councillor Paul Smith, said the authority is continuing to work towards its target that in Bristol by 2020, 2,000 homes a year will be built, of which 800 will be affordable – but now expects to smash that target.
He said: "Our current projection for 2020 is that 3,500 homes will be built a year, not including student, and over 1,000 will be affordable. So in terms of the targets we’ve set, we’re on our projections and as we start on more sites over the next few months, it looks like we’ll beat that target significantly."
But he added that it is also important to get the mix right of employment and residential property across the city.
"A city is not just housing," he said. "It has to be a mixture of employment, leisure uses, education uses, public realm, community facilities – a whole range of things. Employment uses are certainly important.
"Part of the problem though is having a lot of low-density employment uses. We talk about low-density housing, but we have a lot of low-density employment uses. Go to St Phillips and see a site selling vans, which has got acres of land with vans on it and about six people working in an office – that really isn’t sustainable."
Rob Russell, director of Clifton-based Russell Property Consultants, added: "Everyone thinks there’s huge swathes of employment land in places like Avonmouth, but it’s pretty much all been taken up now. Central Park, which had 200-300 acres a couple of years ago, has all gone to the likes of The Range and Amazon – they’re land-hungry requirements that take 50 acres at a time.
"Where we’re really struggling is with land in places like south Bristol and central Bristol, where we’re losing a lot of employment uses to much higher value uses – residential, offices, mixed use.
Unfortunately industrial agency has probably the lowest land value at £500,000 an acre, and when you’ve got the University coming on and buying St Phillips at £3m per acre for example, we just can’t compete.
"But there are certainly city centre sites that have to go to alternative uses – old, tired and obsolete industrial buildings, ridden with asbestos that no longer suit the modern day users of industrial requirements, they’re better suited to alternative uses. You have got to protect certain employment sites, but there are others that need to go to mixed use.
"In places like south Bristol you need to look after your existing industrial occupiers – people like Bailey Caravans that employ an awful lot of people who walk or cycle to work, they can’t relocate to Avonmouth. They need to stay in south Bristol. We need areas set aside for industrial users. You need to have people living close to where they work."
Insider’s property personality of the year, Gavin Bridge, director of Cubex, said there were similar problems with finding good-sized commercial land in the area.
"The biggest challenge for a company like ours is finding opportunities of scale in Bristol and the surrounding areas," he said. "It’s actually easier to raise funding for large developments. We’re very much looking for those larger schemes at the moment.
"The challenge with Finzels Reach has been trying to bring the scheme forward at pace. It was a scheme that had previously gone into receivership and there were a lot of negative issues we had to overcome when we came in both practically and from a marketing point of view. But we’ve tried to do as much as we can as quickly as we can and look at different mixes on the site to bring forward different uses.
"Opportunities of scale are few and far between. So we’re looking at residential developments and partnerships now with retirement companies and others about delivering residential stock, not just about open market homes – it could be for private rent, social rent, affordable rent or retirement living. So we’re trying to fill a gap in the market."
Peter Musgrove, head of office for Lambert Smith Hampton in Bristol, added: "There is a general lack of sites and where there are a few sites around, there are issues over where sites have stalled. What we need to do is to encourage the developers to bring their sites forward, because we are crying out for them – especially on the office side. But also in residential, we need more and more stock.
"Once developers start coming forward, then I think that will encourage other developers to come forward as well. In the property industry, we’re quite like sheep. Where one goes others do tend to follow. The success of buildings such as Aurora in Bristol city centre will encourage others to come forward."
Insider’s South West Property Forum, held on Thursday (February 22) at TLT’s offices in Bristol city centre were sponsored by Interaction, Lambert Smith Hampton, TLT and Willis Towers Watson. The event, which saw a packed room of 120 delegates, also featured a debate on the introduction of MEES – minimum energy efficiency standings, which come in to force in April. Full coverage of the event will be in the March issue of South West Business Insider magazine.