Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Dark Side of the Shops

It would easily top any poll for the title of the ugliest part of Stockwood. The uncared for facade and brutalist concrete stairways along the back of the Hollway Road shops border a potholed, badly drained patch of tarmac that provides a hub for the ward's antisocial activities.
Everyone agrees that something must be done about it - but that's the easy bit. Clearly, the recent (and very welcome) wall-painting doesn't quite do the whole job!
BUT this little patch is prized by shopkeepers and residents alike. It provides an informal and unofficial car park, ideal not just for the shops but as a drop-off for Waycroft Academy, the highly rated primary school a few steps away.
The whole shopping area started as a single property, but ownership is now fragmented, and bits like this rundown back yard find speculative buyers in remote investment markets, “site unseen”.
In 2012, it was in the portfolio of a London investor, who got planning permission to build 4 detached houses within the site, in spite of strong local opposition including the ward councillors and several shopkeepers. [One protesting voice stood out, with a theatrical and emotional personal plea to the planning committee for the survival of his business and livelihood, threatened with extinction by the loss of the essential access he and his customers must have to the back of his shop. The reality was that it had been boarded up for years!]
That planning permission has now lapsed, and a new owner is trying his luck. This time the scheme packs in four semis and no less than five two-bedroomed flats. Full marks for ambition!
Something Must indeed Be Done – and here's a new Something for a planning committee to decide.
Predictably, it's attracting much the same objections as the last one, most of them centred on an alleged loss of parking, and its impact on the economic viability of the shops. The assumption is, clearly, that this local shopping centre, away from the main arterial routes, can't survive unless customers can be guaranteed a parking place within a few steps of the shops, while the parents, from wherever, can drop and pick up their offspring with minimum exposure to the elements.
Stockwood Pete did a couple of spot checks (pre-11am and post-4pm) on a wet Monday in August. On both visits, there were plenty of public parking spots outside this 'private' space, though some might require a fifty yard walk to the furthest shop. 
There's also on-road parking in front of the shops, and that really is in high demand (your reporter was bawled at by one of three drivers who moved off from double-yellow lines as soon as they saw his camera). Available shoppers parking was reduced, too, by the 17 cars that had taken day-long occupation of key spots close to the shops. Shop staff, maybe? Or commuters, avoiding the problems of driving and parking in the city? I think we should be told.
The site won't be everyone's idea of a dream home, or even of a starter home – backing on to the shops loading area isn't a strong selling point - but marketing it is a problem for developers, not planners.
It's true that there would be some losses if building goes ahead here. 
  • The shops will lose some ease of access to their rear doors (it will become gated, and narrower, and will need careful management).
  • There will be a net loss of parking if these 'unofficial' spots are lost to housing (though it could be recovered if those spots fronting the shops were to be time-limited instead of being lost to permanent occupation.)
Weighed against those losses are:
  • nine new units of housing at a time of housing shortage, using a brownfield site very well served by local amenities and close by a good school.
  • An area far less likely to attract antisocial behaviour (better oversight and better defended access to the back of most shops)
  • Improvement and screening for Stockwood's biggest eyesore.
For Stockwood Pete, the scales tip heavily toward granting permission.