Sunday, May 09, 2004

This is an article written for Bristle magazine no.16...
(while on the subject - check out this interesting plan for the development -

Welcome to the Plunder-dome: The Broadmead Development

The city centre of Bristol is about to get a new development - whether you like it or not - grandiose £500 million scheme providing all the things that Bristol does not need. This masterplan has been bulldozed (metaphorically) though local groups, the democratic process and will shortly (August 2004) begin bulldozing though the affected communities themselves. What is most shocking about this whole affair, is the manner in which the very institutions - the council and the local press - who are supposed to be there to protect us from such destruction, have rolled over and offer Bristol's heart on a platter for the London moneymen to enjoy at their leisure.

The Developers
The consortiumwho are running the show is composed of Land Securities, Hammerson and Henderson Global Investors (all London based) along with Morley Fund Management (based in Basildon, Essex). Together they go under the misleading title of 'Bristol Alliance'. Once writer on Bristol Indymedia joked, "It is nothing to do with Bristol allying to anyone...This is not development, its plunder. Its the Imperial Alliance." All developers claim to come with good intentions, but it is not surprising that people are sceptical of their real aims. Such scepticism is not unjustified when the property director of another developer working in Bristol, Quintain Estates and Development Plc, writes to the government- sponsored Barker Review of Housing Supply stating why they wish to limit affordable housing; "large numbers of affordable housing tenants, particularly social renters who are predominantly on housing benefit, would not help the economic performance of the restaurants, bars, cafés [and] cinemas in the area....We believe that high levels of affordable housing on mixed- use development are to be avoided and, wherever possible, affordable housing should be targeted at economically active households." Such statements make developers sound more like a profit hungry behemoths, than the selfless architects of community prosperity they like to appear as.

The Fixers are Called In
The developers need to ensure that the PR process of such a major development goes without the potential hitch of, say, the local people not wanting their benign assistance. For this they have turned to London based Opinion Leader Research, who proudly proclaim what they do; "helping to turn audiences into advocates" Officially, Opinion Leader Research are there to consult the communities about what they want. If you read their blurb, you will soon discover that consultation is only one service on offer. Another is persuasion and persuasion is an art they claim to excel at. Opinion Leader Research have detailed methods which involve the use of 'protagonists'. These are, "persuasive people; skilled at encouraging others to adopt their point of view."

Consolation or Social Engendering?
You might reasonably ask, who's point of view are they seeking to really represent? Joe and Jane Public? The effected communities? The answer lies in a section of a report entitled 'Benefits to Business', "We utilise protagonists to provide public and private organisations with research that informs them on the public mood. Protagonists evaluate information and are integral agents in passing on the opinions that spread throughout communities." All these plans and strategies provide a very different perspective from the developers spin that the consolation as a benign and unbiased; "The proposals have been developed following extensive consultation over the past three years involving members of the public from Bristol, the City Council and a robust, representative sample of local people, business and special interest groups." They do not mention that St.Pauls Unlimited, on 25th June 2003 dissolved their sub-group working with the developers, unhappy about the process and where it was going.

The Failure of Local Democracy
All these advanced techniques for engineering opinion would come to nothing if the people, though their elected councillors, said 'no' There was certainly a significant group of local people who opposed the current development plan. One local resident, participating in the democratic process, emailed the local councillors to request a delay the decision, but found a wall of silence, "I'd emailed to ask them to delay the development - I'm not saying I am 100% against it, but I felt this huge scheme was being pushed to fast - we just didn't have time to take it all in." Out of the 4 councillors he emailed only 1 bothered to reply. The vote in favour was almost unanimous with the local Ashley councillor, abstaining (but not having the guts to voting against it!). The Bristolain, the local muckraking news-sheet takes up the story; "Despite some truly excellent and well researched and passionate contributions from St.Pauls residents at tonight's planning meeting the council ignored them all in favour of Land Securities scheme which will bring pollution and traffic chaos to St.Pauls. A packed public gallery listened as opponents of the scheme won all the arguments and Land Securities suited executives could only squirm as the total inadequacy of their much vaunted 'consultation' was revealed for all to see. One Land Securities hot and bothered executive said' the scheme is intended to increase the hierarchy in Bristol' to widespread laughter. It was revealed that only 5% of the housing will be affordable and 95% apartments for yuppies - contrary to all guidelines which recommend 30% affordable housing." Next time politicians are scratching their heads and asking why so many people don't bother to vote - I suggest looking at this pathetic example of democracy in action.

Enter the Plunder-dome
There has been much debate as to, if this development is a good thing - some locals support it in the hope that it will alleviate the crime and drugs problems that afflict the area. However there are also real fears that it will do more damage than good; traffic problems, the new corporate retail giants smashing the lively hood of the local independent shops and the destruction of the local community. Any compensation paid by the developers to the area also runs the real risk of being swallowed by quangos such as the South West Regional Development Agency or squandered on poverty professionals, as has happened with the Community at Heart scheme.

No Future
It is a sad reflection of both the bankrupt council policy and the greed of developers that the only solution being offered to St.Pauls is gentrification. Nobody want to live in a crack infested area, but then the strong community that has weathered the storms and upheavals of Bristol's history stands in danger of being swallowed by property speculators as they attempt to cash in on the latest 'evolving' city centre. This type of development, all to often makes the rich, richer. In 2002 the property consultants Frank Knight stated that those who took advantage of Bristol's 'lower' prices (when compared to other 'evolved' cities) were going to be doing very nicely - further proof that those fuelling the yuppie flat bubble are speculators, doing nothing to solve Bristol's housing problems and everything to exacerbate them.

Discerning Occupiers
One of the Imperial Alliance, Hammerson, is no stranger to accusations of putting profit over people. They are part of another consortium which has been locked in a 14 year struggle over the development/destruction of Spitalfields Market, London. Opponents of this scheme call it, "..plans of grotesque imagining.." and claim it will destroy a historic and vibrant community. The opposition comes from not just local activists, but church and mosque groups as well as local businesses. On the other hand, the developers claim, "master-planned to accommodate the workplace and lifestyles of the world's most discerning occupiers.." Which begs the question - are you a discerning occupier - can you afford the hundreds of thousands of pounds needed for a roof over your head - or are you just a potential obstacle to the London moneymen and their plans for profit.

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