Bristol needs higher density development, but it doesn’t have to be high rise
Written by Kevin Hunt, director of planning and development, JLL’s Bristol office
You might have heard this once or twice …Bristol is officially the best city to live in in the UK. And that’s not just according to Bristol residents – it’s according to the Sunday Times, so it must be true.
Our much-loved city is experiencing unprecedented growth, now with a population of 450,000 – an increase of 11% in 10 years. By 2027 the number of people living here is expected to reach half a million.
And yet, when you think about it, the city’s skyline has barely changed. Not surprisingly, there is vociferous debate about whether we should be looking at more tall buildings to meet the city’s growing demands in terms of both homes and commercial space.
There is no doubt that higher density development is absolutely needed to meet the needs of the city. And whilst this might, in the right places, mean building tall, it doesn’t have to.
The council’s snappily entitled Urban Living Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) talks about creating an urban environment that is ‘liveable’. We all agree with its commitment to create vibrant, balanced, healthy communities.
What’s interesting to note is the council’s reference to identifying potential areas in the city for building at height, seems to have been removed from the SPD. And I think that’s the right approach. Like most things – it simply depends. Tall buildings are right in the right places.
Increasing building density, and indeed height, doesn’t have to be counter to the endeavour for liveable space – in fact it can help realise it. When designed thoughtfully, modern urban developments can create spaces of calm and tranquillity – a genuine place to call home, somewhere that feels safe and inviting and offers a true sense of community. This density brings people together allowing our streets to be more vibrant with a greater choice of shops and restaurant, all of which make for an important part of our city life.
Bristol now has some fantastic examples of this in practice. The city’s most successful and popular city centre developments are ‘mixed use high density’. So Finzels Reach, Wapping Wharf and the forthcoming Redcliffe Quarter – all offer a combination of retail, leisure, residential and commercial uses. In many cases, these developments have put homes within walking distance of jobs. They’ve brought employment opportunities within reach of inner-city populations as well as reducing traffic and pollution.
So whilst tall buildings have a place and can create a dramatic skyline that adds to a city’s character and architectural reputation, the challenge for Bristol is to balance the delivery of high quality, higher density developments – regardless of height, whilst retaining the essence of what makes Bristol Bristol.