A plan to build a block of flats with a ‘poor door’ that means council tenants have a separate entrance and no lift have been slammed by a Bristol councillor as ‘divisive and unwelcome’.
But Bristol City Council’s planning officers are recommending the scheme, to convert a light industrial site in Ashton Gate into new houses and flats, should be given the go-ahead.
The concept of ‘poor doors’ – where developers separate out their social housing homes and the ones they’ve built to sell – has sparked huge controversy in London, and this is believed to be the first time such an explicit example has been proposed in Bristol.
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City councillors will decide on Wednesday if developers Prelon Homes get permission to convert industrial units at the site of the Old Dairy in Ashton Gate into new flats and homes – and council officers are recommending the scheme for permission.
Prelon’s plan is to build seven townhouses on one side of the L-shaped site that fronts onto Durnford Road, just round the corner from the football stadium, and a six-storey block of flats next door.
Eight of the 33 flats in that block will be allocated as ‘affordable housing’, with six at ‘social rent’ levels, and two more at ‘affordable housing’ rent levels. But the layout of the flats in the block has sparked objections from local councillor Christine Townsend, who called it ‘divisive’.
The people buying or rent will access the building through a lobby, with a covered bike store and car park with ten spaces. Their lobby will have a lift to the flats above.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the building, the people renting flats through a housing association will have a smaller entrance door, no car parking spaces and no lift up to their flats in the floors above.
Cllr Townsend, who represents the area on Bristol City Council, objected to the planning application.
She said the developer had failed to do enough consultation locally since the plans were submitted back in the autumn of 2020. A total of 34 local residents living near the site have objected after Bristol Live reported on the scheme last April.
Cllr Townsend also raised the issue of parking. This part of Ashton Gate is just outside the Southville Residents Parking Zone and people living there have long complained about the issues of parking – not just on matchdays at the nearby stadium.
In the run-up to last May’s council elections, the two Labour candidates announced that the administration would look again at those calls to extend the RPZ into Ashton Gate, but this still has not happened in the eight months since.
But Cllr Townsend’s strongest criticism was reserved for the layout of the building.
(Image: Amanda Cameron)
She said the people in the affordable housing part of the block of flats won’t have access to the covered parking, the electric charging points, a lift up to the five floors above, and will have to access through a different door.
Initial plans for the block of flats had all the private sale flats with balconies and no balconies for the council flats – although a revised plan included balconies for all but one of the ‘affordable’ element.
“There is a separate entrance for those who are intended to live in the area of the development where the developer is proposing to build the affordable/social rent and these units have staircase only access – the market units have a lift,” she said.
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“I am utterly opposed to this. It separates residents on the grounds of their social status and is divisive and it fails to provide communal spaces of equal standing, something completely unwelcome and an approach the Green Party is against.
“My understanding is that the Bristol Labour Party is also against this. I will be in attendance at this hearing to make my points to committee members,” she added.
Cllr Townsend also pointed out that the people living in the ‘poor door’ flats even have a separate cycle storage.
What is a ‘Poor Door’?
‘Poor doors’ have been an increasingly frequent and controversial issue in developments in the 21st century, particularly in London, where developers build large blocks of apartments and have to include affordable housing for council tenants alongside the flats for sale.
Some of the most extreme examples in the capital have seen social rent council tenants excluded from using green spaces, gardens and playgrounds that have been built into upmarket developments and, most notoriously last year, it emerged that the affordable housing tenants in the Nine Elms development in Battersea are not allowed to swim in the glass-bottomed rooftop pool that is enjoyed by residents of privately-owned flats.
Bristol City Council’s housing chiefs have consistently – until now – been publicly against such divisions.
But in apartment blocks, including social rent housing that is managed by a housing association or the council can be a challenge in terms of maintenance and how the building operates.
At Castle Park View, the tallest residential building in Bristol’s history, one of the five apartment buildings is just for housing association tenants, while the rest are for private sale. At the time, then housing chief Paul Smith said this was done to keep the maintenance costs and ground rents for affordable housing tenants down.
The developers showed the Mayor of Bristol and the media around Castle Park View last year, including a tour of a ‘show flat’ in both the main tower block and in the affordable tower block. There was little difference, apart from some of the fixtures and fittings.
This time, Bristol City Council’s planners have recommended the Old Dairy development be given planning permission, despite the eight flats out of 40 representing just 20 per cent affordable – which is below the council’s own 30 per cent affordable homes requirement for every development.
In October 2020, the council’s affordable housing officer called out the ‘poor door’ arrangement planned for the Old Dairy, and forced some changes.
“The Affordable units as proposed are distinguished from the market units with a separate entrance,” they wrote back then. “This may be acceptable from a management perspective but care must be taken to overcome any obvious visual distinction between the affordable and market units.
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“The fact that no affordable units have balconies is further suggestion of this distinction in the current design. Some of the affordable units have less than optimal daylight penetration and there does not appear to be any outdoor amenity space for the proposed affordable units. These issues should be addressed to provide improved amenity and tenure blind design,” they added.
The developers returned last year with amended plans that added balconies to all but one of the eight affordable rent flats, but the different entrance, different cycle store, no parking or lift remain.
In their report to councillors at Wednesday’s planning committee, council officers are recommending it be given approval.
(Image: Angus Meek Architects)
“In terms of the requirements of affordable housing providers/operators, it is preferable for affordable units to be clustered for operational and management purposes, and as such the affordable units being concentrated towards one end of the flatted block (over three floors) is supported,” the council officers said.
“Amendments during the course of the application are such that all but one affordable unit would have their own private balcony, which is considered to overcome the affordable housing officers’ concern in this regard.
“The layout would remain where the affordable units would be accessed via a separate entrance, and whilst there may be concerns in terms of whether the development is ‘tenure blind’, such a layout does have benefits in terms of operational issues for the affordable housing provider that would take the units on, and as such is considered acceptable on balance.
“On the basis of the above, it is considered that the proposal offers an appropriate housing mix for the area,” they added.
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