The final decision to be made by city council planners before the May 2 election and the end of Marvin Rees ’ eight years as mayor looks set to be giving permission for another student halls development for 484 students in South Bristol.

Planning officers are recommending councillors approve an application by developers Watkin Jones to build three blocks up of 'Purpose-Built Student Accommodation'' (PBSA) to ten-storeys high on Malago Road in Bedminster, on one of the remaining ‘Bedminster Green’ regeneration plots.

The Malago Road development is one of three to be decided at next week’s planning committee meeting - the last before the election - and the other two are also controversial developments which would see 166 flats built on the Baltic Wharf caravan park on the Floating Harbour, and the Debenhams department store in the city centre demolished and 505 ‘build-to-rent’ flats built in tower blocks up to 28 storeys high built in its place.

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Previous developments on the site in Bedminster between the railway and the main A38 Malago Road have been turned down in the past eight years - and rejected by Government planning inspectors on appeal - but this latest plan for a 484 student bed accommodation development is recommended for approval.

The same developers - a specialist PBSA build company - are currently completing accommodation for 819 students just 100 yards along the same road at Dalby Avenue, which will be open for its first students this summer. Watkin Jones first announced it had taken on the Pring and St Hill site in July 2022, and submitted a planning application in January 2023 for a PBSA for 432 students. Just last month, revised plans increasing that to 484 were submitted - and that is what has now been recommended for approval.

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Council planning officers will tell councillors that: “The principle of purpose-built student accommodation within Bedminster is acceptable and the provision of student accommodation is a notable public benefit, which will make a significant contribution to Bristol City Council ’s housing land supply.”

The site was the Pring and St Hill engineering works and foundry for decades until it closed in 2003, and the site was demolished in 2009. Since then, it has remained empty apart from uses in the 2010s as a car wash and as a site for the Help Bristol’s Homeless charity, which got homeless people to convert shipping containers into their own homes.

Architects plans for part of the Malago Road student accommodation
Architects plans for part of the Malago Road student accommodation

The officer’s report also says the height and ‘massing’ of the buildings - something which scuppered previous proposals for hundreds of flats on the site in the late 2010s - is acceptable. The three blocks will be ‘stepped’ at different heights between the front and the back, with the block furthest south down Malago Road will be between five and eight storeys, the centre block between six and ten storeys and the block on the corner of the junction with Hereford Street and the turning to Windmill Hill will be between seven and ten storeys.

Students into Bedminster

In total, there will be 484 students living on Malago Road if the plans are approved and the development built. It is one of four student accommodation developments within three-quarters of a mile along the same A38 main road through Bedminster, currently either being built or proposed. Two are nearing completion and will be ready to open this September - the huge PBSA for 819 students at Dalby Avenue, and a smaller student development for 50 students on the site of the old Paramount car dealership on West Street.

Developers have also bought an option on the recently-closed United Reformed Church on West Street, with plans for accommodation for 40 students and a new community space. If all four go ahead, that will bring a total of 1,393 students on less than a mile of the same road in Bedminster - an area which has never had a specific student population before.

At a public consultation meeting about the proposals, the company that runs Watkin Jones’ student accommodation elsewhere in the country estimated that around 35 per cent of first year students return to the same accommodation for another year, with 65 per cent leaving in the second year to find private rented accommodation in shared houses. That means each summer, an estimated total of around 905 students will be looking for private rented accommodation having left the Bedminster PBSAs.

The University of Bristol has backed the plans. In a statement to councillors, the University said the Malago Road proposals meet the University’s criteria for endorsing or supporting PBSAs in Bristol. Those criteria include being within two miles of the Clifton Campus, and ‘closer still to our new campus at Temple Quarter’.

The Malago Road campus is very close to Bedminster train station - one stop away from Temple Meads, although trains run only once an hour - and on a busy bus route, although there are no buses directly from Bedminster to Clifton or the University campus.

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Building sizes

A total of 174 objections have been made against the proposals, including from local councillor Tessa Fitzjohn (Green, Bedminster) and they have mainly been concerned residents of Windmill Hill, which overlooks the site from the other side of the railway line.

Council planners said the ten storey buildings won’t ‘appear overly dominant’ in views from the surrounding areas.

“The massing and height of the buildings is moderated through the stepped design, ensuring that these buildings do not appear overly dominant in views from the surrounding areas,” the officer’s report said. “The height is appropriate in the existing and emerging context, within the Bedminster Regeneration Area. The detailed design and architecture of the buildings is of a high quality and would mitigate the height of the buildings,” he added.

Across the road from the Pring & St Hill site, developers Dandara are nearing completion of more than 300 new rented homes in buildings up to 16-storeys high, the Dalby Avenue student blocks are up to nine storeys high and Dandara’s application for 339 rented flats around Bedminster Green - which hasn’t yet been decided by planners - are up to 11 storeys high.