We have long recognised that the Cumberland Basin and surrounding area is a special part of our city.
It’s a highly visible gateway with potential to enhance nearby residential areas and unlock significant spaces for new high-quality homes and extend the activities and uses of the harbour.
In a city that has an acute need to identify space and build new homes for its growing population, it’s right to look at how this potential can enhance this important area for the benefit of the city and the people who live and work here.
This is an area of land largely owned by Bristol City Council which we believe presents a fantastic opportunity for the city to create for itself an attractive new living location whilst supporting ambitions for a connected, sustainable and healthy city.
This all offers a potential improvement on the current situation: the 1963 Plimsoll Bridge with its associated ramps and flyovers presently has a detrimental impact on surrounding areas whilst impeding the connection of Hotwells and the wider community to the harbour.
It’s estimated that if this dated infrastructure is left in place around £40m will need to be spent over the next 20 to 30 years to repair and maintain the bridge and its elevated approach roads.
Meanwhile, we have a city that has a hugely pressing need for new and truly affordable homes alongside a commitment to build at least 33,000 new homes by 2036.
This heavily underutilised area of land could provide part of the answer to the city’s housing challenge, whilst also reducing the need for private car use, which an increasing number of people recognise is crucial to our future.
We note that this is still an early stage engagement exercise by the council and that whatever infrastructure options are brought forward and ultimately chosen here, it’s important to recognise that none of them are intended to be ‘traffic-led’ in themselves – even if the road options being consulted on at this early stage exercise appear to make them the central features.
The area is well-connected with short walking and cycling and good public transport including by metrobus and ferry boat into the city.
It benefits from attractive, iconic views of the city, Ashton Court, Avon Gorge and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and the edges of the basin have potential to be an extension of Bristol’s harbourside waterfront.
With broad walkways, small-scale retail, food and drink outlets and further community and recreational uses of the basin.
Walking, cycling and water borne routes to the wider area will need to be extended and enhanced and the classic views of Avon Gorge made far more accessible.
We believe as a city that we can and must be aiming high – seeking to create a high quality, sustainable, low carbon addition to our community, which acts as a world class exemplar for the Bristol city region.
We strongly support a future for Western Harbour that embraces such an ambition and look forward in due course to more comprehensive engagement through the development of a full master plan.
Don’t allow ourselves to take our eyes off this potential, Bristol!
Richard Bonner is president of Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative and city executive for Arcadis, a global design, engineering and management consulting company