Even in a relatively prosperous city like Bristol, there are certain sites and buildings which lie empty for years and years. Of course a certain level of vacancy is natural and is part of the natural scheme of things, but usually development does then take place within a reasonable period of time. But some sites do seem to get stuck and give rise to concern by local residents, planners and, if protected, by Historic England.
Why does this matter? With listed buildings there is legislation designed to ensure that these important sites are maintained and looked after. It does seem amazing that such buildings are not all in use or at least being restored.
In all cases there is the issue of a wasted resource – a site or building which could be put to active use. With increased pressure on greenfield sites there is even more need to make maximum use of brownfield resources.
Bristol’s Harbourside has a very central vacant site – in between the Arnolfini and the Architecture Centre – very neatly fenced off and by no stretch of the imagination an eyesore (photo left). But surely this site could contribute so much more to the vibrant Harbourside life? And to the owner’s bank account? Ownership issues apparently hinder positive progress here.
Nearby the boarded-up church on the corner of Royal Oak Avenue and Prince Street (photo, right) is not listed but surely represents a valuable opportunity for much more positive use?
What can the Bristol Civic Society do in these circumstances? It seems to me that we have a number of potential roles:
- We can raise the profile of neglected buildings, working collaboratively with local community groups wherever possible.
- We can highlight opportunities, possibly drawing up illustrative proposals to demonstrate potential, much as we did for the possible future of Castle Park in the last edition of Better Bristol.
- We can challenge wherever there is slow (or lack of) progress. We might contact owners directly and see if there are obstacles hindering progress where an independent organisation such as the Society might have a useful and positive role to play.
- We can use our Environmental Awards scheme to celebrate and publicise completed projects.
January 2021 update
There is good news with respect to a number of key sites in Bristol:
- Construction work is proceeding rapidly on the long-awaited scheme to redevelop the Westmoreland House + Carriageworks site on Stokes Croft. Once completed this scheme will make a very significant and very positive impact on this part of the City. Read more.
- Work is also well under way to renovate St Michael’s on the Mount Without, a church badly damaged by neglect and then by fire. Read more.
- A new hotel is being created by converting a former office block on Broad Street which will incorporate the listed former Everard’s Printing Works. Read more.
- And in Bedminster Parade the Wills tobacco factory and offices are being converted to residential accommodation coupled with new blocks on part of the former factory site. Read more.
We continue to press for an appropriate redevelopment of the former Bank of England building on the corner of Wine Street and High Street, right in the historical heart of the Old City. With new owners we are optimistic that at long last such a scheme may emerge shortly.