Planners in Bath & North East Somerset are being urged by property consultants to remember small businesses as they reshape the historic city centre for future generations.
Paul Matthews, Head of Bruton Knowles’ Bristol office, fears start-ups, SMEs and even shops are being squeezed out by the surge in student accommodation projects on key routes into the Georgian city.
He said: “While we are not anti-development, it is clear big developers are scouring the city for available plots – often contrary to the wishes of the majority of the local population.
“Talking to local businesses and scouring the local news media it’s clear people are saying enough is enough.”
Bruton Knowles has been flying the flag for small businesses in the city and has backed startups and SMEs threatened with eviction from the Wansdyke Business Centre.
“Here, the developers have submitted a new application but locals don’t seem to have been persuaded on the business case to evict a dozen small firms to make room for further student accommodation.
“This is just one example of the diminishing supply of employment space in the city. Even the local cricket club is seeking permission to add a further 145 beds at their indoor training centre.
“Businesses are asking if there will be any functional artisan space left if the few suitable sites are developed in this manner. There is a worrying trend of industrial occupiers being forced out of the city to surrounding estates three or four miles away – much to the detriment of their employees.”
Paul Matthews said B&NES Council should reflect on the negative effect on local employment if further Grade B space is lost.
He said London Boroughs were taking a tough line on developers looking to convert commercial space to homes using Permitted Development Rights.
The direction requires developers to get planning permission before converting buildings supporting start-ups, warehousing or light manufacturing.
“Converting commercial premises – using PDR or otherwise – is skewing development patterns and impacting on the city’s commercial landscape, transforming traditional commercial property locations, function and usage.
Traditional artisan-style enterprises have all but disappeared from the Upper and Lower Bristol Roads and the number of shop voids also appears to be increasing.
Paul Matthews concluded: “Current development trends are diluting Bath’s business base. While we are right behind the regeneration of redundant industrial, commercial and retail space, BANES must respond to the plight of small businesses struggle to find suitable premises at affordable rents.”
A developer in Bath added his voice to the growing concern over the loss of vital employment space in the city.
Paul Sanders is projects director at Catalyst Capital the company behind the plans to modernise and increase employment space at Wansdyke Business Centre in Oldfield Park.
He hopes the council, since approving its own South Quays development project, will carry on this momentum and continue to support schemes that serve the city’s thriving business community.
Catalyst Capital want to demolish the outdated facilities and replace them with modern business units. The redevelopment would see an increase in employment space and the creation of a co-working hub, which will support small businesses.
Due to the costs associated with the redevelopment including extensive remediation work, the new scheme will be supplemented by an element of student accommodation. Therefore this revised application maintains the existing business space but has a reduced student accommodation element.
Mr Sanders said “Bath is well known and respected for its thriving business community, especially its creative industry.
“The buildings and facilities currently on site at Wansdyke Business Park fall short of what a modern business expects and needs to compete and thrive, and as a responsible landlord we want to do all we can to future proof our premises and help our tenants future proof their businesses.
“The costs associated with the modernisation of this site have to be supplemented by student accommodation. We believe a mixed-use scheme will protect this important employment space.”