By Gavin Bridge, Director of Cubex, developers of Finzels Reach
With the new bridge at Finzels Reach set to open to the public tomorrow, now feels like a good time not just to celebrate the progress made over the past four years, but also to look to the future.
Finzels Reach is based on a site that had been effectively closed off to the public for over 100 years. When the on-site brewery closed in 1991, with just eight people working there, the site lay unused for many years but by 2019, around 2,500 people are expected to be living or working in this new quarter of Bristol.
Cubex first got involved in Finzels Reach 2013, after a previous attempt to regenerate the site ran into difficulties and left the site derelict. When we bought it, there was a single office building, only a quarter of which had been let and 140 apartments, of which half lay empty.
At that time, the Council’s priority was to make sure the development was completed rapidly and comprehensively. The concern was that it could languish uncompleted for years, or be broken up and sold to numerous developers, resulting in a mishmash of different buildings and causing potential issues for the people who already lived and worked there.
To avoid further delays, we decided to develop the site broadly on the basis of an existing planning consent and agreements negotiated between Bristol City Council and the previous developer. These involved a total of 437 new apartments to meet a variety of different housing needs, including affordable, private rental, private sales and 55 affordable homes, which are already built, occupied and operated as socially rental housing.
Alongside the homes, there will be almost a quarter of a million square ft of new office space, shops, restaurants, a micro-brewery and a 168-bedroom new Premier Inn hotel. New car-free public routes through the site and a new bridge over to Castle Park are designed to encourage the public into the area and help connect it back into the heart of the city.
With much of Finzels Reach nearing completion, we at Cubex are now turning our minds to the next regeneration project and are keen to develop more sites in Bristol, particularly where we can get involved at the pre-planning stage.
Given the sheer quantity of new homes that we need to find over the next few years, it’s clear the whole sector needs to do things differently if we’re to ensure a better flow of development sites within the city centre.
However, part of the challenge in making regeneration projects a reality is the number of stalled sites across the city, which has, for far too long, been blamed on the recession. The truth is it’s not only about finance, it’s about impetus. And there’s a real opportunity here for the public and private sector to work collaboratively to find a solution.
The public sector needs to sit down with developers in the private sector with a track record of delivery to discuss the ideas we have for interesting, balanced, mixed, sustainable developments in the city – places where people want to live.
As well as helping to bring forward homes across the board, this would be a step forward in helping to tackle the issue of insufficient affordable housing both in Bristol and nationally.
Another part of the problem is undoubtedly the way affordable housing and social housing is funded and delivered. We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we do want to be part of a constructive conversation about finding solutions to the issue, so we can help deliver the level of affordable housing this country so desperately needs.
Bristol is a wonderful city which I am happy to now call my home, but we all recognise there are deep inequalities too. Surely the best way to tackle these problems is for all parties to work together, to bring new ideas to the table, if we’re to find a long-term solution that works for all.