Brunel House Completion and MPs Visit

On Wednesday 1st August, following the completion of our Brunel House development for Unite Students in Bristol, Thangam Debbonaire, the Bristol West MP and Kerry McCarthy, the Bristol East MP, paid us a visit. This exciting development involved the restoration of its historic Grade II listed façade and Horse Bazaar, as well as various enhancements to promote the continued growth of the local biodiversity.

Both local MPs are Species Champions; Thangam for the Shrill Carder Bee and Kerry for the Swift, so have an interest in this biodiversity friendly development which includes a planting scheme that supports pollinators and the provision of swift boxes to the exterior of the building.

Brunel House, which has a Grade II listed façade and Horse Bazaar, will provide a home for 246 students and is on track to receive an ‘Excellent’ under assessment from BREEAM. The façade has been restored and cleaned in close consultation with the council to bring it back to its former glory.

Although Unite’s original planning consent and landscaping design satisfied the conditions of planning, we felt, along with Unite, that there was a real opportunity to do something special with the external areas. Unite then apportioned additional funding to enhance the scheme working closely with ourselves. Colorado Goldwyn, RG Group Environmental Manager, introduced the idea to plant a wildflower garden and also invited the RSPB, who we have partnered with for several years, to see what enhancements they would recommend for the scheme.The RSPB proposals included:

  • increasing swift box numbers and incorporating call systems to attract this declining bird to the new nests
  • changes to other nesting boxes to help species such as starlings which are in need of conservation action
  • moving some of the bat boxes and change of type to increase success chances
  • incorporating bee bricks
  • enhancements to the wildflower planting to help the rare Carrot Mining Bee and Small Blue Butterfly
  • planting to be of high wildlife value and non-invasive
  • creating stone cairns and log piles for a variety of wildlife
  • including holes in timbersoil retainers to help solitary bees

RG Group were CIRIA’s (Construction Industry Research and Information Association) Overall Winner at their Biodiversity Awards in 2017 and, inspired by this, wanted to keep up the good work. We subscribe to the “do one thing for biodiversity” ethos and have a corporate target for construction projects to include biodiversity enhancements in their schemes. Unite Students are committed to being a responsible business as part of their ‘Up to uS’ programme, which in the last couple of years saw them convert to 100% certified renewable energy across their 140 property portfolio throughout the UK.

Richard Smith, Chief Executive of Unite Students, said:
“We are focused on providing a Home for Success for our students and the great thing about our Brunel House property is that we have been able to extend this provision to Bristol’s local wildlife as well. Biodiversity projects like this prove that we can positively influence beyond what we offer students, increasing urban habitats for insects and birds, and green mindfulness areas for students to reconnect to nature. We are proud to have been bold and innovative in how we create something truly special here in the centre of Bristol, for Bristol.”

The scheme has also helped two protected flora species, Ivy Broomrape and Bee Orchid, both of which were translocated as part of the Local Authority planning conditions.

There are numerous benefits to urban biodiversity projects like this beyond the initial purpose, including social, health, and wellbeing improvements for the local community. The students living on site will benefit not just from the attractive planted areas and areas that promote social integration within the grounds but also from the opportunity to study and get involved with the promotion of UK wildlife.

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