Monday, 12 January 2009

What are Cycle Houses?

First published on Green Bristol Blog Sunday, 25 May 2008

Bristol based architect George Ferguson has proposed the construction of a number of "cycle houses" alongside the Bristol & Bath Railway Path in Easton as part of the redevelopment of the Chocolate Factory. George, never one to understate things, describes this as a "world first" and a "groundbreaking proposal". So what exactly are "cycle houses" and what makes them so different to common or garden houses?

Looking at the plans, we see that these are basically 3 bedroom houses with ground level car parking, but with a bicycle store at 1st floor level, which in turn is linked directly to the Railway Path by a small bridge. Planting will create a green screen between the houses and the Path for privacy, but at the third floor level the living room and sun terrace will overlook the Path. Previous housing developments along the Path (e.g.
Clay Bottom, Brixton Road) have tended to turn their backs on the Path so this more Path oriented aspect is welcome.

But is this sufficient to justify calling these "cycle houses", let alone "groundbreaking" or "a world first"? It's not as if these houses forgo having their integral car parking spaces, nor is the development as a whole anything other than car oriented. And this at a time when the option of genuinely car-free housing is at last being discussed. What better location for car-free housing, alongside what is probably the best example of a high quality urban cycle/walkway in the country, giving easy, rapid access to the city centre and both local and main railway stations?

There is another reason for concern about this proposal. It appears from the plans that the cycle houses will encroach onto the Railway Path land, cutting into the lower section of the embankment. Could it be that the hype around these "cycle" houses is designed to persuade the public to accept this publicly owned land being taken for private development? Were the houses presented as nothing more than 3 bed houses with integral car parking (which is what they appear to be) public reaction to encroachment onto the Railway Path might be rather different.

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