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Bristol Housing Festival - the Glastonbury of the Housing World?

Bristol is currently hosting one of the first housing festivals of its kind in the UK.

Launched nearly fifty years ago, Glastonbury became a template for all the music festivals that have come after it, and perhaps this is what Bristol Housing Festival will do.

Like all great festivals, the aim is to be a showcase for innovation, imagining better ways of living in our cities leading to speedier delivery and higher quality homes.

The Festival will run for five years and there are ambitious plans to commission new communities, funded and built across the city. There is a thought that existing concepts and innovative solutions will help to speed up delivery and quality, affordable housing in Bristol.

The Festival aspires to increase supply and the speed of delivery and looks to be a catalyst to improve quality and the diversity of design, in particular for affordable homes. The issues are in fact very different and may in reality conspire to work against each other.

Whilst collaboration is key to successfully building the numbers of homes desperately needed, there are still issues which need to be overcome to achieve these aims.

The planning system is slow and doesn't adapt well to innovation. In Bristol historically, there was always an aversion in planning terms to tall buildings but the city’s Mayor, Marvin Rees earlier this year did express his support for tall buildings.

Would the Housing Festival have any influence on the planners to think boldly and allow more building upwards? This will be essential with the limited availability of large sites in Bristol.

The festival will hopefully be a catalyst for radical ideas. It is worth looking at the "Tiny Homes" project in Detroit. This provides 250-400 sq. ft homes on individual plots with differing designs to which residents contribute.

It’s a great solution to providing a home for the homeless whilst maximising density on land, without compromising on quality. Clearly, it is likely to tick the affordability box as the build costs are much lower than a traditional build 2 or 3-bedroom house.  Not everyone wants to live in flats, which are an easy win in terms of density.

An area which is generating great interest is off-site manufacturing. With a shortage of skilled labour, such modular building methods may provide part of the solution. They increase productivity, quality and reduce waste.  New technologies can be embraced, but a word of caution has to be the Grenfell tragedy and whether new technologies are always the answer. It is thought that the state-of-the-art cladding system attached to the tower was defective, at least in design and thus was one of the reasons which led to the tragedy.

Also, the prefabricated houses of the post war era have significant defects, but they were technologically advanced at the time.

However, all we can do is work with what we know functions best, based on the knowledge we have now.

Let's hope that the Bristol Housing Festival will be transformational. A festival goer at Glastonbury commenting on its success said:

"It's the feeling of walking through the gates and knowing you've come home."

This could equally apply to Bristol on the back of the Bristol Housing Festival.

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