Feisty residents of Hotwells tell Mayor to think again on Western Harbour project

feisty residents of hotwells tell mayor to think again on western harbour project - Feisty residents of Hotwells tell Mayor to think again on Western Harbour project

The Mayor of Bristol tried to reassure a sometimes feisty meeting in Hotwells tonight (January 22) that no decisions had been made on plans to transform the area around the Cumberland Basin.

But a packed meeting at Holy Trinity Church in Hotwells was almost unanimous in their strength of feeling against plans to radically alter the road network.

Speaker after speaker called on Marvin Rees to think again about the proposals which would see the existing Plimsoll Bridge and 1960s concrete road system of Brunel Way from Ashton Gate to Hotwells stripped away.

Residents told him they wanted the existing bridge retained and refurbished – something Mr Rees said would cost around £40 million – rather than removed and replaced with either a road through Ashton Meadows to a new bridge across the Avon Gorge to the Portway, or new dual carriageway into the heart of Hotwells close to the Nova Scotia pub.

An early show of hands was called for from the 200 or so people packed into the church – with people shut outside – and it revealed that almost unanimously, people supported the simple project of refurbishing the existing bridge, and not radically altering the road network.

Residents spoke for around an hour, after being told by organisers of the meeting – the local branch of the Labour Party – that the mayor had come to listen.

feisty residents of hotwells tell mayor to think again on western harbour project 2 - Feisty residents of Hotwells tell Mayor to think again on Western Harbour project

(Image: Michael Lloyd Photography)

After an hour, he spoke for a quarter of an hour, and revealed that he would much rather direct the A370 dual carriageway road that crosses the River Avon and the Cumberland Basin into a tunnel – but that option had been ruled out as too expensive.

He told residents that ‘doing nothing was not an option’, and that when told repairing the bridge would cost £40 million and last for ‘maybe 25 years’, it was an opportunity to look at all the options.

Many of the residents who spoke said they were not against new housing being built as part of the Western Harbour scheme, and the Mayor spoke at length about the housing crisis facing Bristol.

Some residents said they did not want to see a dual carriageway put through the middle of Hotwells, which would also have a big impact south of the river. Representatives of the Riverside Garden Centre were present, and later said they were ‘very touched’ by the support expressed by many speakers.

The Garden Centre said they had not even been told in advance that the council was considering putting a dual carriageway through their site, which would effectively mean they would have to move or close.

feisty residents of hotwells tell mayor to think again on western harbour project 3 - Feisty residents of Hotwells tell Mayor to think again on Western Harbour project

(Image: Michael Lloyd Photography)

And one resident of Ashton Avenue – a row of houses which would be partly demolished by the ‘Eastern option’ – became emotional when describing how she felt about the prospect.

Other residents spoke up against the western option, including one woman who fought back the tears when she spoke.

“That area is at a point where two very special nature conservation areas meet – Ashton Court and the Avon Gorge – and it is really something that should be protected at all costs,” she said.

feisty residents of hotwells tell mayor to think again on western harbour project 4 - Feisty residents of Hotwells tell Mayor to think again on Western Harbour project

Some people who spoke up said they were concerned about the way in which the process was being handled by Bristol City Council.

One speaker criticised the make-up of the working group set up, which has 18 members but only one of them is there to actually represent local people.

“There is a perception that this is something that is being done to the people who live here, rather than with them,” she said.

feisty residents of hotwells tell mayor to think again on western harbour project 5 - Feisty residents of Hotwells tell Mayor to think again on Western Harbour project

(Image: Michael Lloyd Photography)

Another resident, called Alistair, said: “This is a car-centric, high rise development, and you can’t build high-rise flats and a four-lane motorway in the middle of Hotwells – it’s completely the wrong way of doing things.”

The Mayor spoke at length about the housing crisis, and said that the bridge work provided an opportunity.

“The city is going to grow by about 96,000 people in the next 25 years, and we have a climate emergency,” the mayor said.

“The need to physically develop Bristol is there. If we do nothing, this tide of city growth is going to overwhelm us and the social consequences in terms of health, social instability, political uproar and everything else that goes along with other crises will be involved. So the challenge we need to take on in that context is how do we provide homes for people that people can afford to live in, in a way that minimises the price the planet pays for our rapid urbanisation,” he said.

feisty residents of hotwells tell mayor to think again on western harbour project 6 - Feisty residents of Hotwells tell Mayor to think again on Western Harbour project

(Image: Michael Lloyd Photography)

Mr Rees said the process of taking on the Western Harbour were still in their very early stages.

“What brought this to a head now is the state of the current bridge,” he said.

“Talk about redeveloping the Cumberland Basin has been going on for a very long time.

“When we talk about is it going to be worth it financially, this is the judgement we have to make. It costs £40 million to do the works on the bridge to keep it as it is. So if we are going to spend £40 million we need to say ‘what are all the options available to us?’ That’s what you’d expect us to do – it’s the city’s money,” he added.

“But people have been talking for a long time about the possibility of bringing homes to this part of the city. Should we put £40 million into maintaining a bridge, or should we explore all the options that are available to us if we were to make that £40 million for bringing that area forward for regeneration – and that’s all we’ve done.

“I’ve not said much about this publicly, but I have been quite dismayed on occasion about the level of confusion, conflict and conspiracy that’s been floating around about it. Where we are on the timeline of this is we are in what I call the pre-process period.

feisty residents of hotwells tell mayor to think again on western harbour project 7 - Feisty residents of Hotwells tell Mayor to think again on Western Harbour project

(Image: Michael Lloyd Photography)

“In a normal process you go through a regeneration process, we’re not even in the first stage. Some of it may have been ham-fisted in some sense, and I don’t think it’s been a perfect process, but I can tell you where we are in the process is the trigger has not even been pulled.

“There’s a £40 million option here, there are other options. Let’s go out and get the views of what could happen.

“It’s not a car-centric scheme, but that is the main piece of infrastructure. I pushed for a tunnel. My dream was ‘let’s take all the cars out of sight’.

“In the discussions that happened when the people came to talk about what was possible and what was not possible, one of the things they said was ‘you could build a bridge, you could build beautiful bridges’. It’s not my favourite option but I followed the scoring process they are working with,” he added.

The Mayor received a round of applause for his speech, and before he left, he said he was keen to return with people from Bristol City Council who are working on the scheme, to go through plans with local residents.

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