This week the council planning committee voted to defer a decision on the planning application for Carriageworks derelict building (formerly Westmoreland House) in Stoke's Croft until after the election - and rightly so. The local Carriageworks Action Group (CAG) has helped steer an incredibly difficult path to try to get a decent solution to this long-standing problem of derelict building in an area of high housing need. It's tragic that all we had on offer from the property developers Fifth Capital after so long was a plan with so little to recommend it in ambition and hope for the area.
Many local people, including Labour candidates for council Mary Southcott and Kye Dudd, submitted objections in writing or in person at the meeting. Key objections included the abysmally low number of affordable homes in the planning application - a measly 7 out of over 100 homes.
Given the location of this development - right between Kingsdown and St Paul's, with high numbers of people in great housing need, it's heartbreaking to hear some local people say sadly, well, at least it's 7, better than nothing. How did we get to the point where our poverty of aspiration as a city has left so many people feeling that this is all they deserve? We badly need hope - excitement about a wonderful new development for the community to benefit from, something beautiful and warm to live in, somewhere to show off to people about how well we've turned an eyesore into a community asset. Letting the current plans go through would have been a betrayal of our local communities and the people who so badly need homes for the future.
It would be understandable if we were to conclude that the proposed developers Fifth Capital were hoping that after so long with the derelict eyesore that was Westmoreland House, now known as Carriageworks, we would all just capitulate to their plans so that we could get action sooner rather than later. I would hope that any developer wanting to develop homes and workshop space in our area would have more respect for us and want to be ambitious, work with us and for us, not lower our expectations so badly with the implied threat of no action if we don't support their plans.
I'm pleased that Labour has committed to using the Lyons housing review as a template for our housing strategy for the nation. I'm pleased we have specific policies to push developers and local authorities to aim high for affordable homes, social homes, community facilities. We need bravery and ambition, not playing down to the lowest expectations.
thanks to the local people, councillors, Carriageworks Action group, Labour council candidates and others for keeping up the pressure - and watch this space for more information after the election.