Canon's MarshMost of this area of Bristol's old dockland has remained in a near derelict state since the commercial decline of the City Docks in the 1960's.
The ground was originally a salt marsh which provided grazing for the Abbey of St Augustine. The Abbey became Bristol Cathedral after the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth century.
Many development schemes have been mooted for the site since the 1970's but none really got going until the advent of the National Lottery Millennium Fund which helped get Explore at-Bristol and Wildwalk at-Bristol and an IMAX cinema off the ground. These attractions opened in the summer of 2000 and they, together with six new leisure pubs, complement the Watershed development in the former E and W sheds on St Augustine's Reach. Sadly a proposed Centre for the Performing Arts was turned down by the Arts Council after they had already committed four million pounds to the project. The Harbour Sponsors Group is a consortium of the landowners and their incredibly out of date and extremely badly designed Harbourside web-site gives some background. Bristol Civic Society has some interesting information in their newsletter.
Bristol City Council together with British Gas and British Rail are the main land holders of the site and in November 1997 they chose property developers Crest Nicholson to come up with proposals for developing the site.
In October 1998 Crest Nicholson came up with proposals for blocks of flats, office blocks and a multiplex cinema. These buildings would have blocked out views of the Cathedral and other familiar city landmarks, replacing them with large "leisure sheds". Howls of protest from concerned Bristol citizens led to the city council asking the developers to withdraw the plans and revise it on ten
After a devious PR campaign by Crest Nicholson and a broadcast radio and TV debate the city planners threw out the Crest plans on Wednesday, January 26th by 11 votes to 4.
Eleven voted against the proposal:
City Council Press Release, January 26 2000
Immediately after the vote spokesmen of the landowners such as Louis Sherwood ("I've lost track of how many company directorships I've got!") said that this was a disastrous day for the city, etc. (more on page 99!)
What I would like to know is why did they think that the people of Bristol would accept a shoddy out of town type development right in the middle of the harbourside area. Are they really that
stupid? And if so why do people pay them large amounts of money!
The saga continues . . . .
In early March the City Council gave Crest Nicholson a further six months to come up with an acceptable design and also an extra six months' extension to their exclusive option on developing the land. The Friends of Canons Marsh are planning to seek a judicial review of this astonishing decision. In August 2000 Crest Nicholson have announced a further period of consultation but there was little publicity about this. after all, they wouldn't want ordinary Bristolians to express opinions, would they.
After seven months of almost invisible "public consultation" Crest Nicholson unveiled their latest plans on March 27th, 2001. Details are scanty, mostly consisting of the usual artists impressions which can be seen at Crest Nicholson's site. However it is obvious that architect Ted Cullinan wants to erect large blocks of flats, most in excess of four stories, which will block out most of the existing views to and from the harbourside. The plans appear to show some revision of the original plans, including a new Odeon cinema (a Crest Nicholson speciality), a small marina (another Crest Nicholson speciality), offices, fast food restaurants and expensive flats. No mention of facilities such as a long overdue new Public Library, Museum of Bristol, Art Gallery annexe, skate board park, replacement for the Little Theatre or anything similar that ordinary people would want. The usual suspects, such as Andrew Kelly of the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership (who enthusiastically applauded the two previous plans) are already queueing up to express their approval. We are still waiting to hear Louis Sherwood's opinion (see higher up the page). Even George Ferguson, architect of the new look Bristol City Centre, has apparently expressed a cautious welcome.
On August 23rd 2001, a public meeting called by the Friends of Canons Marsh at the Watershed was well attended by over 300 people who voted almost unanimously to throw out the master plan as it ignores the existing planning guidelines for devlopments around the Floating Harbour.
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