A harbour for the whole of Bristol

The Western Harbour from above, with fields on the other side of the River Avon, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Cumberland Basin Road network.

Tides of history

For many of the people that enjoy walking around Bristol’s harbour, between solid redbrick structures and lapping water, it seems permanent. But in fact, the tides of history continuously change and rearrange this place and people as it responds to the needs and hopes of our city.

The edge of the Western Harbour, looking across the water, through the lock towards the river Avon.

The most significant change might have been the engineering works to create the New Cut and Feeder Canal over two hundred years ago. The SS Great Britain now reminds us of the Victorian ambition and scale that followed these constructions.

These physical changes have coincided with other changes in demographics and uses. The slum clearances of Bristol communities in the early 20th century scattered dockers and their communities across the city into new council estates, while regeneration and redevelopment in the 1980s and 1990s eventually saw a gentrification of the area. 

Renewed engagement about our harbour

Given this heritage and history, it is clear the harbour belongs to the whole city.  That is why, as part of our renewed engagement on the Western Harbour project, we will make sure as many people, from right across Bristol speak into the future of the area as part of our ambition to make the harbour an inclusive place where people and families visit from the very fringes of the city.

We’re trying a creative approach to this engagement, with a variety of ways for people to share their thoughts. In-person and online workshops, which are open to the community in and around Western Harbour at Riverside Garden Centre, as well as Lawrence Weston, Easton, and Knowle, are designed to draw out stories of the area and establish what the harbour means to people.

Local Creative Ambassadors, and City Poet Caleb Parkin, will connect Bristol’s talent in photography, film, illustration, and poetry with local people, to help better understand the character of the area and bring ideas to life. There is an audio walking tour that gives an insight into the changing history of the area. The Harbour Hopes website and Instagram page have been created so you can follow and share your own hopes for the harbour using the hashtag #HarbourHopes.  

We’re right at the start of this process, no designs have been decided and there will be plenty more opportunities to have your say in 2022. This engagement is about getting a sense of people’s thoughts and aspirations, before developing a masterplan which will include formal consultation and the wider planning process too.

Why Western Harbour matters

Western Harbour is a huge opportunity for the city because it gives us the space to deliver:

  • Much needed homes – a thriving, mixed community with variety of tenures, including affordable homes.
  • Sympathetic flood prevention engineering – future-proofing the location and wider area.
  • City Centre revitalisation – bringing families (and customers) to the city centre and North Street at a time our high streets are struggling.
  • A sustainable, climate friendly development, inside a high active travel area – connecting people to jobs and leisure, enabling people to live without a reliance on cars.
  • Opening access to the waterfront and enhancing the important heritage there – making it a destination all of Bristol can use and enjoy.

These are important goals for Bristol, but we know that in a complex city any decision has trade-offs. We must recognise that any decision is balanced. Our responsibility is to balance them as a city to achieve the best for us all.

Building in and up, not out

Two weeks ago at Full Council, members debated a motion about the protection of green belt land in the face of our housing need. I will continue to work with councillors as we develop a revised Local Plan which will take into account these considerations. But as I keep asking people that ask me not to build somewhere – “if not there, where?” I look forward to those councillors now, supporting and advocating for the development of this brownfield site in the centre of the city.

The harbour, from beneath a bridge of the Cumberland Basin road network. The red brick 'A' and 'B' Bond warehouses sit across the water.

The raw material of the city isn’t changing. We are a city with an area of 42 square miles, a population of around 460,000 and rapidly growing. 15% of our residents live in areas that are among the 10% most deprived in England and 16,000 people are on our housing waiting list. This all happens while we face a climate and ecological emergency requiring urgent action.

If we are going to avoid urban sprawl and protect space for nature, we need to build more densely on the brownfield sites.

Bristol’s harbour has adapted to respond to the challenges our city faces, and in the 21st century, as we wrestle with housing and climate crises, taking the opportunity to plan for what could replace an ageing 1960s road system is a citywide discussion. Everyone has a role to play in that and we want everyone to have a voice.