World War Two bombing and 1970’s re-development were the last major events to change the look of the Green Park area in Bath – down beside the banks of the River Avon above Midland Bridge – but now a radical new flood defence system is proposed to effect another make-over.
It’s all to do with climate change and the threat of raised water levels but – unlike the transformation achieved by installing new flood defences in the 1970’s – this isn’t about trying to keep the river and its contents apart from the city that has grown up either side of its banks.
Just recently – as reported elsewhere on the Virtual Museum website – a special presentation was organised for people with an interest in this new proposed scheme – to hear what was being suggested and also for them to to discuss their reaction and come up with suggestions of their own.
The whole idea is to dig out the banks and put in a tiered system which will increase flood water volume but also soften the edge between river and bank – allowing people to feel more connected. There would also be paths for pedestrians and cyclists, play areas, cafes and other riverside attractions.
I am grateful to Rhodri Samuel who is Regeneration Manager with Bath and North East Somerset Council for letting me know how their audience reacted and what they had to say when they split into groups to discuss the scheme and make their own suggestions.
Rhodri told me: ‘ We were seeking to understand what sort of character of place people felt was appropriate for the future of North Quays eg soft, green and leafy (ie more of a linear park with trees) or hard, civic and animated (ie an urban riverside environment). We were also trying to get a sense of people’s ideas for the use of the upper, middle and lower levels.’
Apparently there was a surprising amount of consensus in the room and here is the summary Rhodri sent me of some of the key messages fed back:
‘ In terms of overall character, the majority were favour of an urban riverside environment with predominantly hard surfaces, softened by trees/planting/ecology. The ratio of hard to soft landscape varied between the groups and will need to be explored further. In view of the current requirement to remove the existing band of mature poplar trees planted next to Green Park Road in the 1970’s to widen the tow path at riverside level, people felt that some of the new trees planted within the new scheme should be as mature as possible to compensate for this loss.
In terms of the levels, people felt that the top-level (connecting to the proposed new development area at North Quays) should be active and bustling: a promenade with a boulevard of trees, cafes and places to sit. The middle level should in places be stepped providing places for people to sit as well as including a defined route for cyclists (although some in the room were in favour of shared pedestrian and cyclist routes) and the lower level by the riverside should be for strolling and sitting by the river.
Everyone liked the idea of a major riverside public space within the new scheme cutting through the levels: either with an amphitheatre or an alternative design that enabled performances, events or markets to take place (some people liked the idea of a space as large as the old Broad Quay where fun-fairs used to be sited). The space might also include a café and seating area.
There were a lot of people who felt strongly that the scheme had to improve the environment for cyclists and pedestrians. This opportunity should not be lost.
People felt that there was a real opportunity to “brand” this new area as a proper riverside environment and to focus on animating the river with boats, boat races, canoeing, temporary moorings and other water events.
People felt that while the area must be lit at night, levels should be low and atmospheric to protect bats/wildlife along the river corridor.
Some raised the importance of including an artist within the design team and to create opportunities for temporary and permanent public art.
Everyone wanted to see a pedestrian footbridge bridge between North and South Quays.
There was a consensus around the opportunity to make this a playful environment.
Overall, I think it went quite well – a number of people came up to us at the end and said how useful and enjoyable they found it.
We intend to hold another session of the stakeholder group in a month or two – when we will have worked up a design – followed by wider public consultation.’