Response to Hadley Group designs for Totterdown Bridge

Below is the response sent to Hadley Property groups regarding its recent designs for the former Esso site on Bath Road, next to Totterdown Bridge.

RE: Response to Hadley Group public exhibition
on proposed development at Totterdown Bridge

Dear Sir/Madam,

Hadley Group invited TRESA to a public exhibition of their designs for the vacant plot next to Totterdown Bridge.  Four TRESA Directors attended the event and discussed the designs with the representatives for Hadley.  Following the event and a group discussion we are able to feedback our thoughts.  

Ultimately we are disappointed with the design.  We feel the scale is completely inappropriate and the design unpleasant to view.  

There are elements of the design structure and space use that we appreciated, but we feel we can not support the development as it stands and if it were submitted “as-is” we would be urging the planning department to reject this application.


Size and Mass

The tower building is simply too tall. It is imposing and domineering over the site and immediate neighbours.  It’s singular height  against the backdrop of the historic and distinctive Totterdown will create a jarring element to the scene.

During the initial consultation it was assured that the maximum would be 12 storey above ground level and that it was likely to go down.  In this consultation we were informed that the site was more difficult than expected when purchased – this is the nature of speculation and in this case Hadley is using this as poor justification for an inappropriate design and wish to make the local community take the impact of a poor investment.

We note that the Spatial plan produced by BCC suggested this site as being suitable for 2-4 storey developments, and the other side of the bridge being suited to a “landmark” building.  We do not believe that “Landmark”  always means tower.  We would also remind that the spatial plan has an indicative drawing showing a taller building, but this was not adjacent to the bridge and was on the adjacent plot. Here the wider site allows it to be set further back from the road, plus it is further away from the steep bank of Totterdown wood.  

Various justifications were given to us by Hadley Group, that previous planning applications dating from 2007 justified the large scale for this site.  We are concerned that Hadley Group feel this decade old planning application would override the very recent  (2016) spatial plan which had zoning for this area that was respectful of the local character and topology.



Hadley is a London based company and we were disappointed by the lack of understanding of the local area and its place in the wider cityscape of Bristol and the corresponding inadequacy demonstrated in the design. This design could be anywhere.   

The main tower is too high and the blocky design exacerbates the ugly appearance.  The sharp edges and solid, sheer faces make the building  imposing and domineering.  We appreciate the drop shoulder height on the Bath Road side, yet feel this should have been included in the side towards the bridge.  

The design is too industrial in appearance.  We have heard people say it looks like a prison!  Other comments are that it looks like the East London blocks erected in the late 1960s.  It does not reflect the local character of the victorian buildings opposite or the undulating nature of the site.   More importantly, it does not meet the requirements of quality design set out in planning document BCS21.  

We understand that Bristol city council are in the process of drafting updated guidelines for tall buildings (8+ storeys).  We understand that current guideline stipulate that taller buildings must be of exceptional design and quality.  We do not feel this design meets the required standard. We would ask Hadley to obtain and review these guidelines to see if this helps produce a more pleasing design.


Affordable housing

During the consultation event, three different people asked about the amount of affordable housing that will be included.  Answers were “15% but to be discussed”, “about 10%” and “not yet decided and will be discussion”.   

Bristol local plan BCS17 sets a target of 30% for developments above 15 dwellings.  During the initial public consultation, Hadley stated that previous developments have met the required levels of affordable housing and they would intend to do so with this site.  Was this disingenuous?  We would appreciate Hadley honouring both the 30% target and their original commitment.


Mix of unit sizes

There is a need for housing in Bristol yet this needs to be suitable provision.   The core strategy points out that the city centre has an over-provision of flatted units and what is required is suitable units for family living.  This design serves the buy-to-rent market which will result in a high turnover of residents and little chance for a community to develop.



We understand that developments are not mandated to provide parking, and we are sympathetic to the reasoning yet we believe it is naive to assume residents will not have cars.

The plan has 42 parking spaces for 159 apartments.  Two spaces are reserved for car clubs (which we like) and 10 spaces are specifically for DDA units.  This leaves 30 parking spaces for 149 apartments.  If we assume an average of 2 people per apartment  that is 30 spaces per 298 people.  A ratio of approximately 1 space : 10 people.  

We believe the ratio of car ownership to people will be greater than 1: 10 and that residents will park in the heavily congested local streets of Totterdown and Arnos Vale.  This is a very real issue for people when bring home shopping, dropping off children,  for those who are less able, and because it leads to people parking dangerously.

During the consultation, we were informed that independent surveys had identified sufficient on-street parking space within 200m radius of the site.  We question the validity of this and the times that were surveyed.  Walking through the area at 9pm shows very little available space.

We would ask for the provision of more parking space and/or the reduction in number of units. Anything else is wilfully imposing a problem and a danger onto the local community.


Community Garden

We appreciated the concept of a pontoon community garden yet it seems like a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.  We would prefer the pontoon was removed and the cost savings used to reduce the bulk of the development.    There  seems to be a hope that “if you build it, they will come” and that the community garden will manage itself.  From experience we know this is not the case and that community gardens work best as a “grass roots” initiative rather than top-down planning.  

There was suggestion the site could be used as a cafe.  The location would be quiet yet we would stress that the river view is mostly dominated by mud.  We also question if there is enough footfall for a cafe to be viable.  The site may not be very accessible, even if the riverside path through the paintworks site is complete, this could easily become a desolate dead-end with little natural surveillance.

Ironically, the intention for the pontoon is “to provide a link to the area’s boat-building heritage”, yet the construction of this would likely devastate the remaining pieces of the boat yard.



We have no issue with the use of CLT as a building material. We value the environmental benefits of CLT and the reduction in building waste.  However, we feel that the material was chosen first and the design based around that, rather than picking a design which is most suitable for the area and then selecting the best materials to achieve this. This is based on the conversations with the consultation team on site.  From our limited understanding of CLT, we believe it is still possible to achieve a more slender design.

We are uncertain about the Zinc cladding as the design images do not adequately convey the colour and tone of the materials.  We would welcome more example of buildings using these materials so we can make a more informed decision.


Moving onto more positive things….


Public Realm

We liked the set-back frontage onto the Bath Road and the tree line.  We feel this would create a more pleasant urban environment for pedestrians as well as residents in those units (who would get the full impact of traffic along the Bath Road).  We agree that  the “plaza” could be used well for public events and that the commercial units at ground level would create a positive atmosphere with natural surveillance.

We also liked the riverside pathway yet would appreciate confirmation from Paintworks that the pathway may extend into their site.  “Riverside Path” sounds much more pleasant than “Car park walk” which more adequately describes much of the route, but we believe it could be a safer, more desirable alternative the Bath Road, especially if future Paintwork developments achieves its aim of opening a link to the foot bridge over the river into Sparke Evans park.


Bicycle Storage

The amount of bicycle storage is commendable and appreciated.  We believe undercover bike storage will make cycling  more appealing.


Consultation events

We would like to thank Hadley group for the consultation events they have organised.   TRESA has been involved with many planning applications in the area, and note that Hadley have been good at inviting local comment (even if we feel much of the comment has been ignored!).

The onsite team were very professional when dealing with people angry at the design.  It is never easy to have people so negative about one’s work yet the team were graceful in discussion.

In conclusion, TRESA are disappointed with the proposed design and feel that Hadley have not sufficiently listened to local concerns.  Consequently they have not produced a design respectful of the area and its place within the city.

We agree that this is a suitable site for development, yet that does not mean any development regardless of poor design. The proposed plan has many positive elements and we thank Hadley for including these, however this does not outweigh the negative elements.

The current design is bulky, blocky, overbearing and ugly.  In representing our community, we want something beautiful and we would gladly work closely with Hadley to achieve this as we have with other developers.

Yours faithfully,
Simon Hobeck
Chair of TRESA