Plans for a massive revamp of Cumberland Basin have been branded “insane” amid fears they will “rob” communities of their heritage and way of life.
Opposition councillors blasted Marvin Rees’ vision for the Western Harbour development and urged him to ensure residents, who currently feel “ostracised” from the decision-making process, were fully involved.
The Bristol mayor said doing nothing was not an option and that local householders and businesses had already been engaged at the “earliest possible stage” and would continue to be consulted.
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Rees said that a masterplan for the area encompassing parts of Hotwells, Spike Island and Bedminster would not be completed for about two years and that it would take a third year to establish funding and planning agreements.
The debate at full council was triggered by a 3,800-name petition demanding the release of the feasibility report into the original nine options considered for the area’s regeneration, although that study has subsequently been published.
Bristol City Council is forging ahead with two of those, plus a hybrid of them, to demolish the complex 1960s road network connecting Ashton Gate with Hotwells over the Cumberland Basin.
The Western Option would see a new bridge over the River Avon while the Eastern Option has traffic flowing over a new bridge next to the Nova Scotia pub and a new bridge across the New Cut into what is now the Riverside Garden Centre car park.
Green councillor Paula O’Rourke told the meeting: “The words that really leap out of the petition are ‘confusion’, ‘concern’, ‘fear’ and ‘harm’.
“There must be some accountability about the fear and skepticism that the proposals have caused because this petition would never have got to this stage if there had been inclusion from the beginning.
“People fear that something is being done to them and they are struggling to have their voices heard. There is genuine confusion.”
“The petitioners are here today because they’re afraid the mayor is going to rob the area of their heritage and rob them of their amenity.
“Instead of using it as an opportunity to improve the city, there is concern that he will in fact overdevelop a very historic site, and these fears are justified because way too early we’ve been told there will be over 2,000 homes built in Western Harbour.
“I would urge the mayor to reconsider and let the people have a better say on what all the proposals could be.”
Lib Dem councillor Mark Wright said of the recently published feasibility report: “Having read it, we can see why it wasn’t released before the mayor’s public engagement because we see laid out very clearly the flawed thinking that led to three very harmful options being put in front of the public.”
He said the appraisal method used was skewed in favour of land that could be developed at the expense of environmental considerations such as air quality, noise and heritage.
“So it’s absolutely no surprise the most wasteful and harmful ‘knock it all down and start again’ options went out, while the lower impact, cheaper, ‘modernise and repair’ options were thrown away,” Wright added.
“The mayor says he wants to deliver the most housing but this report says his options will cost £100m to £200m more and deliver just 200 to 300 more flats.
“That’s half a million pounds extra per flat. That’s insane. You could build ten times as many houses as that elsewhere with the same amount of money.
“The ‘modernise and repair’ option can still deliver loads of flats and transform the area. It’s better for the environment, cheaper and lower impact but it is being dismissed unfairly.”
Conservative group leader Mark Weston said: “The three options being proposed did have that feel of a done deal. It was very much pushing in one direction.”
Western said that he shared petition organiser Suzanne Audrey’s concerns about how two working groups, being set up to progress the project, would be comprised.
An “advisory group” will shape the scheme’s objectives and direction, while a “reference” group will include residents and local businesses.
Weston said at the meeting: “This doesn’t have to be a fight. If we are honest about it, you can develop a site and take people with you.
“But it has to be done properly and proportionately with community voices in the room so they are part of that conversation because at the moment they feel very ostracised and marginalised and that’s what’s led to this petition.”
Rees said: “I recognise there is some confusion. Part of that will be because of where we are in the process.
“We wanted to engage with people at the earliest possible stage in an open conversation before anything was set in stone.
“We would expect that it would be about two years for the development of a masterplan and we would then go to a formal consultation in which we would look at housing, travel and flooding options.
“After two years we would expect to then begin agreeing planning and delivery options for the scheme, and over three years to look at the funding options for infrastructure, delivery and planning.
“We’re a city facing major challenges. We don’t pretend any option we have for developing Bristol comes without a cost.
“But doing nothing is not an option if we’re serious about meeting the needs of the city for the future and making sure the planet doesn’t pay a disproportionate carbon price as we begin to meet those needs.
“We need to put life into the centre of our city to support the city centre life and our high streets. We are trying to meet this housing crisis in the face of a climate emergency.”
Adam Postans is a local democracy reporter for Bristol.