The Difficulties of Finding Innovative New Builds in Bristol
Nick Stopard laments the wilting patience of developers battling to add colour to Bristol’s blossoming new homes market.
There is a real shortage of exciting new homes. Don’t be fooled by George Clarke and Phil Spencer’s exclamations on Channel 4, we are consistently met with buyers deflated by the lack of opportunity to buy a new build property that is really exciting and innovative. For all we see within the high standards of amateur Interior Design within Bristol residents’ homes, that showcase the brilliant creativity and soul of the city, the new homes industry generally harks to that of a London dormitory town laced with a Wetherspoons and Tesco Express.
Boardwalk's Push For A New Home Revolution
Boardwalk have recently entered the world of new homes sales, and I am pleased to have met some fantastic smaller developers who are looking to buck this trend and build exciting-looking, design-led homes, inside and out, with eco-credentials to boot. However, there is a general culture amongst house builders, especially larger nationwide operators, to stick to the formula. I get it, as putting through the houses they can be confident will speed through the planning officers’ desks allows them to minimise spending on architects and consultants and be sure of their build costs. It makes business sense to stick to the formula, it’s just unfortunate that creativity and innovation are often the losers.
However, the blame can’t be squared solely at the fat cats of big home builders. In Bristol, much of what we are dealing with is demand for clever re-use of infill, Brownfield or commercial sites. These create the perfect opportunity to innovate and tune a site to the hum of the communities that surround it. We have seen this done brilliantly in Whitehall of late with stylish townhouses built by Hawkfield Homes on Whitehall Road, which required their clever vision, making smart use of a tight and restrictive site, but in a hugely popular area. However, we recently heard the story of one such site where a beautiful green roof terrace had been planned for relatively low-value flats, in an area of Bristol where an appreciation of such design would surely be well respected. Yet this rare but exciting suggestion is too often turned away by the planning department. The impact of such conservatism not only lowers the quality of living for the eventual resident of the homes, unable to enjoy any outside space or new and innovative living solutions but also discourages any young and ambitious builders/developers from innovative design ideas in the future. Costly amendments and planning barriers can also dissuade them from choosing to make their next purchase within the Bristol area, subsequently lowering the availability and quality of new homes.
Of course, there needs to be a degree of balance, but we are reaching a time of crisis. Bristol’s popularity is soaring and this isn’t something we should stifle for fear of our city’s capacity, but something that should be embraced with a strategy that brings creative, exciting new homes and town planning to the forefront. People should be welcomed into Bristol and the surrounding areas, with an option to buy some of the country’s best new homes, that beautifully reflect and champion the innovative, green, and forward-thinking spirit of our city.
Yes there are some exciting self-builds and colourful one-off homes, but there also needs to be a call for innovation en-masse within residential development. Low maintenance, low running costs, and low carbon footprints combined with something slightly more maverick in design seems the perfect formula. If we build with more style and substance, we tempt people out of their older existing homes, with true evidence of homes designed for modern living. With this also comes more availability of residential resale homes too, as we tempt more buyers towards new build homes, making the resale market less competitive and easier to buy for others. The innovation of new builds resulting from the removal of barriers from old school planning officers hold the key to the housing market becoming a more stable environment in this city. Standards for larger developers should be high, for example going above and beyond the Government’s relatively low standards for energy efficiency. However, from what we have seen from the smaller local developers we meet, they are already daring to push the standards up. There is a common misconception that developers are just in it to squeeze the spreadsheets. We have been pleasantly surprised to see the overarching drive of these extremely practical and talented builders, they want to be proud of what they produce. The appetite is there, perhaps not enough when it comes to the larger developers we are yet to meet, building their big estates on the outskirts, but we think the culture can be changed from the bottom up. From the inner city, out.
The housing market crisis is born out of low levels of supply and high demand. Nothing is being done to improve the quality of that supply and tempt homeowners to upgrade. Compare that to the car industry, or a phone. Yes, we’d probably all still have Nokia 3310’s if Apple hadn’t innovated the way they did. The new build housing market is still playing ‘snake’ despite all the mod cons being available. With the right approach to new homes, Bristol can set an example to other cities, using the liberal creativity and style that make this city so great, to help solve some of the issues that are currently holding it back.