Developer shares update on ‘long neglected’ buildings at Castle Park

Plans to transform boarded-up buildings on the periphery of Castle Park have progressed.

Developer MEPC has submitted its planning application for the St Mary le Port site in Bristol, which covers the ruined church tower and three dilapidated former bank buildings.

The buildings are widely considered to be among the biggest eyesores in the city centre, and have been the subject of failed redevelopment schemes in the past.

Read more: Images show exactly how huge plans would change Castle Park

MEPC is proposing to repair the historic tower and open the ruins to the public, but the bank buildings would be demolished.

Three new office buildings would replace them, with independent retailers, cafés, restaurants, and bars at ground level.

Three city centre streets that were lost during the Bristol Blitz would be reinstated, creating new pedestrian routes and opening up a new views of the ruined tower and St Peter’s Church.

How the buildings would look from the east side of Castle Park, looking west
(Image: MEPC/ Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Space in the park itself will be expanded, with a new ‘public green’ around the restored St Mary le Port church tower.

MEPC held a public consultation earlier this year, and announced on Tuesday (June 15) that its plans had been submitted to Bristol City Council.

‘Unsafe and misused space’

Its planning application states: “Due to the dilapidated presentation of the site, surrounding the current buildings, with many level changes and secluded areas, it has become a place for drug misuse, criminal activity and rough sleeping, and is therefore unsafe during the day and night.”

It argues that its proposal will create a “safe and lively place” with “active roof terraces and night-time uses such as bars and restaurants at ground floor”.

Roz Bird, commercial director of MEPC, described the existing site as “long neglected”.

The former banking and finance buildings surrounding the old St Mary le Port Church in Castle Park
(Image: John Myers/ Bristol Live)

She added: “We’d like to thank everyone who has spent time meeting with us and providing feedback – this has been a team effort and we are delighted with the level of support from our recent public consultation.

“We’ll be continuing to listen to feedback through the planning process and working with officers and seeing this important site revitalised.”

‘Where Bristol began’

The application reflects on the significance of the site and how it changed after the Second World War.

It notes: “St Mary le Port is a key strategic site in the heart of Bristol. It is believed to be the ‘place of the bridge’ or ‘Brigstowe’ the first name for Bristol and therefore where Bristol began.

“In November 1940, during the Second World War, the bustling heart of Bristol was bombed and destroyed.

“This not only ruined the streets and churches it destroyed layers of history, below the surface, in the area.

“The clearance and redevelopment of the area removed further layers of history and changed the character and purpose of the site.”

A maps showing how the St Mary Le Port development would be arranged and where the four streets lost to the Blitz would be reinstated
(Image: MEPC)

Wildlife schemes

The developer claims its proposal will “generate a major on-site biodiversity uplift of over 85 per cent, with the creation of more and better local habitats in support of the city’s wildlife”.

Strategies have been designed to attract bats, birds, invertebrates and hedgehogs.

View from Bristol Bridge looking up towards High Street and Building B
(Image: MEPC/ Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

Native plants have also been selected in partnership with Friends of Castle Park and landscape architects Grant Associates, to help improve the Old City’s air quality and encourage wildlife.

Each of the three new buildings will have green roofs, and the developer has also pledged to plant 62 new trees on the site and across Castle Park.

According to the planning application, this is more than the 13 existing trees that will be removed to allow for the development.

Commercial director Roz Bird added: “Our plans for St Mary le Port will bring nature back by creating new spaces and places where wildlife can thrive, and the natural world can flourish.”

View of the ‘fourth quarter’ expansion of Castle Park, at the bottom of the landscaped steps
(Image: MEPC/ Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios)

The site comprises of the church tower, Bank House, Bank of England House and Norwich Union House, which sit on the edge of the park next to Wine Street and High Street.

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They have already been subject to several failed development proposals over the years, with one particularly controversial plan in 2008 attracting protests and a public inquiry.

Last month, architect and former Bristol mayor George Ferguson raised concerns that the new office blocks could “wipe out” views of the city’s historic centre.

Members of the public can find the application and submit comments by searching the council’s website for 21/03020/F.

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