Determination needed to make central development site a lasting credit to city
Ian Bell – Executive Director, Bath Chamber of Commerce and the Initiative in B&NES
Recently I attended a workshop to talk about ideas for the way Bath Quays North (Avon Street car park to you and I) should be re-developed. In some ways it represented most of the conundrums and the concerns of business for the future of the city in a single site.
It was excellent news when funding was identified to carry out the flood mitigation work which allows re-development at all. But that then forces us all into working out what will be the best long term solution for what our members believe should be a business based neighbourhood. That doesn’t mean nothing but office buildings, leaving a desert at the end of the working day. Rather we need a mixture which provides much needed modern space for companies along side some residential and retail.
The area by the river has the potential to be a vibrant new quarter for the City, capable of pulling visitors out of the historic centre and linking by a new pedestrian bridge to developments on the Lower Bristol Road.
There are downsides, it is true. There will inevitably be a loss of some car parking and it is hard to see how you would justify a coach park on such a valuable site. But it should not be beyond the bounds of imagination to solve those problems – a second tier at Charlotte Street being just one possible solution.
However there are two potentially much bigger obstacles to a successful outcome. First is the Council’s need to get “best value” for the assets they own. One reading says that means how much they sell a site for today. But another, and my preferred, is how much will the site be contributing in ten years time. How many jobs, how much in business rates? We all know local authorities are under severe financial pressure but I hope Councillors will still have the courage and long term ambitions which will enable sites to be viable and for development to go ahead.
The second potential obstacle is the interests of the heritage lobby. It is quite right their voice is heard but we face a real danger that it will carry greater weight than it should. The Chamber and Initiative does what it can to make the case for high quality contemporary design, but we don’t represent every business so we need more companies to step up and add their voice to the debate.
Look at the furore over the modern extension at the Holburne. You would have thought the world was ending. But now it is widely and rightly regarded as a great success, helping to attract many more visitors and adding lustre to the museum.
We need that kind of thinking and determination now to make Bath Quays, North and South not only a credit to Bath, but something which will bring credit for years to come.
Further information about the Bath Quays Waterside and Bath Quays North projects can be found at www.bathnes.gov.uk/bathquayswaterside and www.bathnes.gov.uk/bathcityriverside.