The Friends of Bathurst Basin are concerned about the impact of 44 residential accommodation units proposed for the railway cutting and tunnel to the south of the Ostrich. Alec French Architects have been preparing pre-application proposals for the site. Our comments are based on the pre-application addendum (dated July 2019) which addressed key comments contained in the Bristol City Council pre-application response (Ref 18/04113/ PREAPP) dated 18th September 2018.
Local Councillors Paul Smith and Kye Dudd reported in January 2020: ‘We have checked with planners and there has been no proposal submitted for a formal Pre-application, let alone for planning. We will keep a watching brief on this but think it is unlikely that a scheme with any prospect of approval will be submitted.’
The site landowners wish to retain the car park that currently occupies this space so the proposed residential block will sit on top of this car park.
Destroying a site of historical interest
The Future of Redcliffe Supplementary Planning Document (2006) was guided by a ground-breaking initiative between Bristol City Council and the local community of Redcliffe working together on how the area shall be developed. One of their aims on West Redcliffe was to:
preserve the unique characteristics of the railway cutting (‘Barossa Valley’), namely its proportions and sense of openness, the dramatic form of the tunnel and approach, and its historical, geological and wildlife interest. Ensure that any future use of the cutting maintains the tranquil nature and security of the site, and is responsive to the character of both the entire Redcliffe area with its industrial heritage, and the immediate built environment.
The tunnel provides a visual record of the cutting’s history – the rail link from Temple Meads under the graveyard of St Mary Redcliffe on its way to the harbour, opened in 1876. The track was lifted and the tunnel entrance blocked in 1964. The proposed building would completely cover a feature of great historical significance. Use this link for more information and the Redcliffe tunnel and railway cutting.
The site lies within the Redcliffe Conservation Area. In June 2008 Bristol City Council published some principles that should guide the development of the area: Redcliffe: Character Appraisal. The document states that:
Development should be designed with regard to the local context. Proposals, which would cause unacceptable harm to the character and/or appearance of an area, or to the visual impact of historic buildings, views or landmarks, will not be permitted.
The proposed development goes well beyond harming this historical landmark – it obliterates it.
Access to the tunnel
Alec French give one reason for maintaining the existing ground level car park:
The landowner has a legal requirement to retain vehicular access through the car park to the tunnel to the east for maintenance and emergency reasons for use by Network Rail and it is considered that retaining car parking at this level, with vehicular access through would be the most practicable use of the land having regard to this constraint.
Significantly, the landowner has a legal requirement to retain vehicular access through the car park to the tunnel to the east for maintenance and emergency reasons or even to infill the entire tunnel as spelt out in the 1973 Conveyance document relating the site and tunnel, specifically page 5 section 3 (1) (a)& (b) [Our emphasis]
The legal requirement is clear. However, it is silent on the size and type of vehicle that would need access to maintain or infill the entire tunnel. UK DVLC clearly defines the current types of trucks and trailers allowed on UK roads that have 2,4 or 6 axles. This should be the benchmark as to what the legal obligation implies. At the very least there would need to be:
- sufficient width and height for vehicles and trailers to proceed through the covered carpark to the tunnel entrance. In the UK, the standard minimum height over every part of the carriageway of a public road is 5.03 metres. The current scheme falls well short of this;
- the rail cutting access road width needs to be 5.5 metres wide to accommodate vehicles and pedestrians;
- an adequate area for vehicles and trailers to be offloaded by crane or forklifts at the tunnel entrance;
- an adequate turning area for vehicles and trailers at the tunnel entrance.
With the current uncovered cutting these conditions may be met. They will definitely not be met with the proposed covered car park. The landowners give their legal obligation as a reason for the continued use of the ground-level as a car park, but it is a legal obligation they cannot honour under the proposed development. We wonder whether the view of Network Rail has been sought. And we wonder how this legal obligation will affect the marketability of the flats above.
Alec French listened to the Council’s reactions to the first scheme by lowering the development by one floor – removing a first-floor car park. Even with this change, the proposed block of flats will be higher than the neighbouring Barossa Place terrace which is built on higher land. And the proposed development would also be taller than the Grade II listed General, whose setting it would harm. The proposed development, even in its revised form, would impact on residences in Barossa Place and the General, and would unacceptably harm the residential amenity of the houses and their gardens in Alfred Place. The height and mass of the proposed block would compete with, and draw attention from, the neighbouring Grade II listed General. It would do nothing to enhance the Redcliffe Conservation Area; it would substantially damage it.
The proposal is for 44 residences over half of which have just one bedroom. The city centre is over-supplied with small flats which predominate in the existing and proposed Wapping Wharf developments. The centre is woefully short of larger residences more suitable for families.
The proposed dense development will substantially damage the unique, tranquil and historical characteristics of the Basin, which currently offers high quality residential, recreational and commercial space.
A few members of FoBB responded to our appeal for views on Alec French’s scheme. All respondents were very much against any development on this site. Here are some representative comments:
- This does seem to be one development too many in the immediate surrounds of Bathurst Basin. I appreciate that FoBB doesn’t wish to be seen to object to all development but this does appear to be wholly out of place.
- I completely oppose the development.
- I think this design will completely spoil the look of the landscape leading up to the historic tunnel. There has been so much development in the area over the last few years, I think the area will not benefit at all from another large development.
- The proposed development is much too tall and would dominate the lower end of the street, even with the proposed changes to stagger the height.
- We think that it would be detrimental to the area to destroy part of its important historical and industrial legacy.
Alec French have undertaken to keep FoBB informed about the progress of this development. We will continue to monitor this major change to the setting of Bathurst Basin and lobby the relevant bodies to make our view heard.