News / Western Harbour

Why plans to tunnel under Cumberland Basin have been ditched

By amanda cameron, Friday Sep 20, 2019

Plans to build a tunnel under Cumberland Basin were rejected because of the cost.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees has revealed that he “pushed hard” for the option – one of ten considered for a planned revamp of the area – but that it was “financially undeliverable” and so was not among three released for public feedback.

The mayor disclosed the information, saying the tunnel option was “six times the price”, as a petition asking the city council to publish all of the options for redeveloping the Cumberland Basin area neared its target of 3,500 signatures.


Read more: Three options revealed for Western Harbour development


Bristol City Council commissioned planners Arup to consider all the possibilities regarding the future of the area, prompted by the rising costs of simply maintaining the ageing 1960s flyover road network which crosses the River Avon and the Cumberland Basin from Ashton Gate to Hotwells.

Council chiefs also want to take the opportunity to free up land in the area, which they have rechristened Western Harbour, for up to 2,500 new homes for Bristol, as the city faces a huge housing and homelessness crisis.

Plimsoll Bridge could be removed as part of the Western Harbour plans

The initial feasibility studies came up with ten possible options, but they were shortlisted down to three by the mayor’s office, and then shared with the public in an early engagement exercise.

This is not the same as a consultation process, which is a formalised procedure seeking the public’s views on a specific proposal in advance of a formal decision by the mayor or cabinet.

Asked whether he would release information about all ten options during a live question and answer session on Facebook Wednesday evening, Rees said: “The three options put out there are the feasible options.

“We will share all of the options that Arup looked at when the report comes out in the coming weeks,” he said.

“So it’s not some kind of JFK-level conspiracy, I promise you.

“These are the three most feasible options and it’s what we’re looking at.

“I pushed hard on a tunnel. I really wanted to see if we could take all the roads off the car surface and tunnel under.

“We haven’t included that in there [the options released for public feedback] because it’s just financially undeliverable – six times the price, so we’ll include that in the report.

“But putting it out there when it’s not feasible doesn’t make any sense because it’s just not deliverable.”

Rees said the council’s plans to build houses in a redesigned Cumberland Basin was driven by the city’s housing crisis and climate emergency.

“We do have to take advantage of city centre locations because that reduces car dependency,” he said.

He added that the redevelopment of Cumberland Basin also allowed the council to address other issues such as the need to introduce flood defences, inject “life” into the city centre and reclaim the waterfront as a space for people to get together.

“By the way, it’s £40million to protect the status quo which isn’t really an option for us,” Rees said.

Transport engineers estimated it would cost £40million to repair the Plimsoll Bridge, a figure that tallied with treasury’s estimate of £38million to £42million, the mayor said.

Amanda Cameron is a local democracy reporter for Bristol

Read more: Councillors grill Rees over Western Harbour plans

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