Keeping our harbour afloat

Bristol’s historic harbour must become an asset for the benefit of our whole city, one which is financially sustainable, accessible, and contributes to our wider aims of climate resilience and biodiversity.

To keep our harbour afloat, we’re reviewing its operations, updating the governance, and also looking for opportunities to invest in our offer and make it accessible for all communities. The harbour review will correct decades of neglect to its physical infrastructure, as well as the way it has been run. It’s true that, since the floating harbour was built in 1809, little has been done to maintain it – particularly since the docks closed to commercial shipping in 1975. Recently we’ve invested millions in repairing the sluices at Underfall Yard and made progress on the harbour walls but, unfortunately, despite being an iconic part of Bristol, the harbour has become a financial drain on the city. Under the current model, the harbour has a shortfall of around £500,000 – meaning that it impacts on the same budgets used for frontline council services.

Recently, the fees and charges have been benchmarked to rates in comparable harbours in the UK. Two other pieces of work which relate to the Harbour Review work will come to cabinet in March. They are steps forward towards a sustainable future of the harbour. These are:

The funding of the Capricorn Quay project – making 32 more berths available for boats, we are investing in new pontoons and washroom facilities. We are also harnessing WECA’s green recovery funding to expand the project, to further strengthen the biodiversity of our harbour and waterways.

Beginning the process to update the Bristol Harbour revision order – agreeing to submit an updated order through the Marine Management Organisation who manage the application on behalf of the Department for Transport after a 42-day period of public consultation. This will update the last Order completed in 1998. It’s expected to take 18 months to process.

More details will be released in due course as part of the normal cabinet publication process.

I can also update on the Western Harbour as we continue to work through WECA to fund the master planning. We’ve asked Historic England to review listings in the area to ensure that they are up to date before any design work is underway. This will include the historic locks. Our heritage is important for our city and we need to fully understand it before we think about designing for the future. 

Last year we were pleased that thousands of people offered their ideas and insights on the future of the Western Harbour. This culminated in a new vision for the area which sets out our commitments around culture, community, economy, and environment. Recently Goram Homes published their updated pipeline of potential sites for development, including A Bond and B Bond.

The vision is a great platform from which to positively move forward.  We know that we need to breathe new life into the regionally important road network here and ensure flood defences are fit for the future.  By doing this we can create the opportunity for new homes and jobs in a sustainable location, whilst celebrating the area’s heritage.