City leaders have restarted the process of trying to find out what the people of Bristol want to see happen at the Cumberland Basin – and are spending £150,000 to ask the question.
Bristol City Council is advertising for a company to come in and spend six months running a ‘city-wide inclusive engagement with Bristol citizens and stakeholders’ to get views on what the council and mayor Marvin Rees call ‘Western Harbour’.
The council will pay the team who runs that consultation £150,000 to do it, and it is the first tangible action by the council over the ‘Western Harbour’ since the coronavirus pandemic paused the work of a group set up to move the project forward.
The ‘Western Harbour’ project could see as many as 3,000 new homes built at the western end of Bristol’s floating harbour, in and around the Cumberland Basin and on the south side of the River Avon New Cut at Ashton Meadows and the end of Coronation Road.
One of the main drivers for the project, along with the worsening housing crisis in Bristol, is the long-term future of the ageing Plimsoll Swing Bridge, Brunel Way flyover and the many slip-roads on ramps that fill the Cumberland Basin.
The road network has connected the A370 with the A4 Portway in Hotwells since the 1960s, but the council said engineers report it will need tens of millions of pounds of repair work to have an extended lifespan.
The vision from the council and the mayor is to radically change the road network with new river and harbour crossings, do away with the 1960s ramps and open the area up to build a new harbourside suburb of Bristol in the space left.
The council’s advert for a ‘multi-disciplinary team’ to embark on a major consultation with everyone in Bristol about what they want to see as part of the Western Harbour project.
“Bristol City Council are seeking to appoint a multi-disciplinary team led by one organisation or consortium with urban design, communication, creative engagement and place making expertise to lead, commission and deliver a programme of local and city-wide inclusive engagement with Bristol citizens and stakeholders,” the contract description explains.
“The consultant will be expected to directly commission and work with a diverse range of established Bristol based organisations from across the city who have a successful track record of working with communities of place AND communities of interest to deliver the inclusive engagement programme.
“The co-created vision will set out the aspirations of the community, city and Council for the future of Western Harbour. The vision will then underpin the next design phase of the project, a masterplan for Western Harbour and its future delivery,” it added.
One of the organisations the engagement team will work with will be the We Are Bristol History Commission, which was set up by the Mayor following the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston.
A spokesperson for the mayor said the members of the History Commission would help give some historical context to the story of that end of the Floating Harbour, which was effectively made by the creation of the New Cut and the Floating Harbour 210 years ago, and then transformed again in the 1960s with the building of the Spaghetti Junction-like road network.
The company hired to embark on the public consultation will create a study, which will form the basis for a Western Harbour masterplan which is due to be commissioned later this year.
The ‘Western Harbour’ project has got off to something of a rocky start. The idea of creating a new residential area of Bristol around the Cumberland Basin, the western end of Spike Island and in Hotwells first emerged when the Mayor Marvin Rees embarked on a trade mission to China, and it was mentioned in a brochure urging Chinese business to invest in Bristol.
Then, the project was presented to local residents first as a question about how the road network should be altered, but the council said only three of the nine options for the routes for the road to cross the Basin were going to be taken forward.
In July 2019, the Mayor angered some people in Hotwells and critics who said the plans would ruin the classic view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, by saying there was ‘more to Bristol than just balloons and bridges‘.
Then Bristol City Council expanded the development zone for Western Harbour to include the public parkland at Ashton Meadows on the south bank of the River Avon, and refused to rule out the possibility that it could be developed for new homes.
At a meeting of Hotwells residents at the end of 2019, there was huge support for the Riverside Garden Centre in Ashton Gate, which would have to close if one of the road proposals was taken forward, and hundreds of residents said they weren’t happy with the options to take down the main bridge.
Then, there was criticism from local residents at the people who were appointed by the Mayor on to the ‘Western Harbour’ working group – it contained only one representative from the local community, and the rest from big business, planners, architects and other civic leaders.
Eventually, the Western Harbour advisory group and the council announced a ‘fresh start’ earlier this year, acknowledging that they needed to regain public trust, with the plans going back to the drawing board – which begin again with the appointment of a firm to start from scratch by asking the people of Bristol what they want to see happen.
The consultation will run from June until December this year.
“This is about doing consultation better, engaging with the community and the wider city, and the History Commission is being asked to help understand the heritage of the place,” said a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office.
“It’s great news – people will get to see the ideas properly and engage with views,” he added.