Following one of Marvin Rees’ cap-in-hand trips to the Far East, overseas investors knew more about the future of a large swathe of Bristol than local residents.
The way the mayor’s office has handled the Cumberland Basin project has been insulting. When the Bristol Investment Brochure was leaked on Rees’ trip to Malaysia, residents of Hotwells and Spike Island even learned a new name for the area in which they live: the Western Harbour.
Arup were commissioned to write the Cumberland Basin Feasibility Study in January 2018. The boundaries of it, however kept changing. In the Bristol Local Plan of February 2018, the “highly desirable location for residential development” for 3,500 homes was only north of the river.
It did not include Coronation Road, nor the C-Bond Warehouse, nor Ashton Avenue Bridge:
By March 2019, the area had increased to cover land south of the Floating Harbour:
There is a Local Plan suggestion that housing in the latest Cumberland Basin scheme may be for 2,500 homes plus accommodation for 500 students. But it allows for no green spaces.
Civil engineer Stephen Wickham calls Ashton Meadows, the Sylvia Crowe Landscape Architects’ wooded hill and riverside meadow landscapes on the south bank of the Avon possibly Bristol’s most beautiful open space complex, in spite of the unfashionable road system that funded and facilitated its creation in 1965.
In 2019, we are living their green-dream in its maturity and, largely taking it for granted as a leisure asset.
Eighteen months later, and still none of us have seen a copy of the Arup report except for Hotwells & Harbourside councillor Mark Wright, who could enter a room where a presentation was set up and take his own notes.
In his 12 years as a councillor, Wright says that he has never experienced such secrecy from Bristol City Council. He told BBC Radio Bristol on Monday that it is “completely remarkable for the council to act in this way”.
A Freedom of Information request for the report is now being examined by the Information Commissioner after initially being rejected by the council because the report is scheduled to be published in the future.
How are we expected to comment on a consultation if we have not been able to see all the options?
Three options will be going out to public consultation as early as the end of this month, but Arup originally devised 12 possible options. One option of a tunnel has already been discounted, having been estimated to cost £2 billion.
Wright told me: “I’ve asked the council’s planning department to include in the public consultation a fourth option which was studied by Arup and I believe has been unfairly excluded.
“It is a lower-impact and cheaper option, which fixes the bridge, frees up prime land for housing by taking down unnecessary on/off ramps, and will avoid spoiling views of the Avon Gorge or wrecking existing communities. It has been excluded on entirely subjective measures because it isn’t ‘transformative’ enough.”
The worries over the three options revealed so far are firstly that the Eastern option will carve Hotwells in two, and would be an act of vandalism almost on the scale of the 1960s destruction of the area following the original Cumberland Basin road system.
The Hybrid option would result in a great increase in traffic driving by the Nova Scotia and Pump House pubs, and would need a much bigger swing bridge there, as well as invading the Avon Gorge via the west bank of the river.
The Western option encroaches severely into south Bristol leisure space adjacent the railway line and creates a complex road junction in the Gorge mouth itself. This profoundly affects the natural environment.
All three options carve up the currently valued “strength” elements of the City Docks Conservation Area (Cumberland Basin Character Area).
Why are we allowing and planning for highway through-traffic to be entering into cities at a time when Bristol has announced a climate emergency and our air quality has been deemed illegal?
And why is there no option to do nothing?
When the Cumberland Basin Stakeholder Group met with Bristol City Council commissioning manager Adam Crowther in April 2019, the option to do nothing was still on the table.
As we know from the Metrobus experience, such works mean years of disruption to locals, commuters and visitors. That kind of impact cannot be easily costed in terms of stress to a large number of people.
The Cumberland Basin development may help Rees get his 2,000 homes built per year, though not in time for the next election, but it will reduce and destroy tight-knit communities and some of the last few precious local green spaces we have left for a rising urban population to enjoy.
Joanna Booth lives in Hotwells and is a member of the Cumberland Basin Stakeholder Group
Read more: The future of the Cumberland Basin