Student fees will become a “battlefield” in next year’s general election and higher education policy will see “major change” from 2015, whichever party wins, a senior university estates professional has predicted.

Matt Fulford, head of space and asset management at the University of Bristol, told the Built Environment Networking event on Bristol Universities Investment Plans 2014, held at Ashton Court Mansion in Bristol, that policy uncertainty was a “major challenge” for universities making development plans.

Fulford said: “As the [new] government creates a new policy going forward from 2015 it will fundamentally shape how we can meet our challenges and how we can be attractive in an international marketplace.”

Fulford pointed out university policy was already “undergoing a period of major change”, adding: “There are no other developed countries in the world with a higher education system that works on a similar basis to ours, so it’s very difficult to see […] what the future holds for us.”

Both the University of Bristol and the University of West England (UWE) – which was also represented at the event – agreed they were investing more in improving their campuses, particularly in schemes to improve the “student experience”, in response to greater market pressures in higher education.

Carl Lapworth, director of the University of West England (UWE) masterplan, revealed the institution plans to spend around £250m on capital projects over the next six years and plans to contract out more of its estates work to private sector firms.

Lapworth said: “Our raft of new work clearly cannot be done in-house so we are carefully considering how we engage with external consultants.”

The universities also discussed their development pipelines and strategies in more detail –


The University of Bristol was established in 1876 and today covers 306 buildings across 310 hectares and five main sites. It has 17,000 students and 5,000 staff. It currently covers over 450,000 sq ft of space and is set to break half a million sq ft “probably in the next year or so”, according to Hulford. Major schemes currently under construction include a new Life Sciences Building and an extension to its National Composites Centre development, which brings together academic and high-tech industry.


  • The university has submitted plans for the £25m refurbishment of its Grade-II listed Fry Building to Bristol City Council.
  • The university is methodically building out a masterplan for its city centre precinct which it adopted in 2006.
  • A key focus is “a push towards ever more learning spaces,” Fulford said. He added: “They’re a range of spaces ranging from quiet learning to group social spaces and interaction spaces. They’re quite a challenging brief to meet successfully. We’re working on a number of opportunities throughout the precinct where we can provide meaningful quality spaces for students to come and do formal and informal learning outside the classroom.”


Key principles of the 2006 masterplan for the central precinct are delivering an improved physical layout; a better mix of spaces; better accessibility; a more sustainable campus and better relationships with neighbouring communities. A key driver of the masterplan is improving circulation around the precinct, including creating a ‘heart’ in the middle, where Woodland Road, Tyndall Avenue, Elton Road and University Walk intersect. The university is predominantly built in a tight urban area in Bristol city centre, which poses constraints. “We’re quite hemmed in and actually expanding the site wouldn’t really be something we’d particularly wish to do. It would be quite difficult to assemble meaningful sites,” said Fulford. Around 20% of the estate is listed, while most lies in “some form of conservation area”, also posing constraints.


UWE is a university of over 25,000 students and 3,000 staff, primarily based at Frenchay campus north of Bristol. UWE also owns another smaller campus to the south of Bristol called Bower Ashton, which is home to UWE creative industries courses. UWE is planning to spend £250m on roughly ten capital projects by 2020.


  • UWE obtained outline planning permission for redeveloping its Frenchay campus in June 2013, which incorporates 90,000m2 new build, 7,000m2 demolition and 4,400 car park spaces.
  • Upcoming projects at Frenchay include a £50m Faculty of Business and Law, on which architecture practice Stride Treglown has begun RIBA Stage 3 design.
  • Also planned is the 21,700-seat UWE stadium, which the university is developing with Conference Premier football side Bristol Rovers. Work is expected to start late this autumn and finish in Spring 2016.
  • UWE has hired Aedas to conduct a review of its masterplan for its Bower Ashton campus, with Aedas expected to report back with development proposals within three months.
  • UWE has also deferred plans to close and relocate operations from its Glenside site (also north of Bristol) and will instead invest in upgrading buildings there “for the next five years at least”.
  • Longer term, UWE is incubating a series of projects, including redevelopment of its refectory at Frenchay campus, infrastructure improvements at Frenchay, new sports pitches and other commercial projects.


The aims of the Frenchay masterplan are to “create a heart to the campus, improve operational & commercial performance, improve transport & access, improve the tired estate and develop new buildings for campus consolidation”. UWE is currently reviewing its use of frameworks. For contractors, the university procures some projects through frameworks, including the Construction Framework South West and Scape and some through OJEU. For consultants, the firm uses the South West Consultancy framework and for architects it uses its own UWE framework “where possible”. Recent contractor hires include BAM, Kier and Mitie; recent consultants include Capita, Mace, F+G, Sweett, T&T; recent architects include Hawkins Brown, Stride Treglown and AEDAS.