2016 and – in terms of major engineering works affecting the fabric and day-to-day management of our city and its connections with the outside world – there are several schemes already underway. These will progress further this year either in planning, consultation or actual construction.
The biggest engineering task is the electrification of the railway line to London – one of Britain’s oldest and busiest – from Paddington to Bristol and beyond.
For Bath, it will mean the arrival of the pylons that will carry the high voltage cable which will power a whole new fleet of faster, cleaner and higher capacity trains.
How they will look – passing through historic Sydney Gardens – remains to be seen. What safety barriers that will need to be installed in what was Brunel’s ‘theatre of steam’ is yet to be agreed upon.
His excavation across this Georgian built pleasure gardens was specially designed to be visible and act as a crowd-pulling spectacle of early locomotives.
The cast iron footbridge – the last Brunel-designed pedestrian crossing on the old GWR route to the capital – is due to be removed – strengthened and modified for safety reasons – and then returned to be slotted back into place.
There’s some work to be done at Bath Spa Station where platforms will be extended inwards to meet a slight rail re-alignment. Thank goodness for Brunel’s original broad gauge which means there is room for manoeuvre.
Onto our road system next and a January decision expected on exactly where the new park and ride to the east of the city will be built. Some may argue – whichever site is adopted – the riverside meadows have been already ruined by the Batheaston bypass.
We’ve got a new bridge over the river being built to link the Upper Bath Road with the residential development that is Western Riverside. This ‘coat-hanger’ designed structure replaces the old Destructor Bridge and is a ‘gate’ designed for pedestrians and cyclists – not cars.
Between here and Churchill Bridge work to re-shape parts of the riverbank, re-align roads and build new flood barrier walls is all to be done in the name of flood prevention but will also open the Avon up to Bath citizens as a zone of recreation.
It’s all about involving the river in our future and not turning our backs to it.
Elsewhere – along its banks – what of realistic future plans for the old Pitman Press buildings, the Newark Works, Sainsbury’s development plans?
Elsewhere commercial interests are busy with more student accommodation, hotels and even a casino – bringing organised gambling on a grand scale back to Bath. Beau Nash would no doubt approve.
I have been talking about no longer turning our backs on the river and – at this point – wanted to mention some of the areas in the city where backs have been turned for too long.
When are we finally going to secure the future of the old and long-disused King Edward’s School – a distinguished Palladian building by Thomas Jelly – constructed 1752-4 – and gently fading away while there seems to be no desire to resolve the impasse over exactly what ‘use’ should be approved to save it.
The old cattle market site stands empty. Not much of a gateway to the traders of Walcot Street who are so anxious to re-energise their unique ‘artisan quarter’ and increase footfall.
A little along the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath we look across the railway line to Hampton Row where numbers 9-14 became derelict after Buchanan’s traffic plan for Bath was released in the 1960s, with a new road intended to pass through the site. The houses were compulsorily purchased, but the plan never came to fruition.
They are now in private hands but languish under corrugated roofing and graffiti waiting for someone to put energy into their renovation or demolition.
A little behind and beyond this sad end to the terrace lies Britain’s last surviving Georgian lido and a treasure with a real chance of a new life as an outdoor pool and recreational centre.
Here’s where Lottery money comes into play and a hopeful dip into the Heritage Fund part of it. Elsewhere fingers are crossed at Bath Abbey – with their Footprint Project – and at the Roman Baths – hoping for a new educational centre and extra exhibition space.
Genteel is not the way I’d describe my recently adopted city. Faded splendour isn’t good enough for a place that wants a stake in the region’s future. Bath is looking to build on its heritage assets – and they will have to earn their keep – but also is out to create new opportunities amongst the cleaner cyber industries of the future.
It’s clear that – from now on – no one conurbation will develop in isolation anymore. We have a referendum in March to decide if we want to invite candidates to stand in a contest to appoint an elected mayor.
However, maybe events have already been overtaken by a Central Government that now sees Bath as just part of a greater metropolitan area which – as a condition to be met to release funding – would require a ‘super’ Mayor.
This year the Virtual Museum of Bath welcomed 77,000 visitors. It hopes to generate many more in 2016 and aims to give them all – regulars and new friends – something to read, listen to and talk about.
This isn’t a one-sided thing either. I want your input, ideas, comments and contributions. Happy New Year!
PS A little extra with next year in mind. Exactly what future for the Leisure Centre? http://www.southwestbusiness.co.uk/sectors/construction-and-commercial-property/30122015154205–17m-investment-in-new-sports-facilities-at-the-bath-leisure-centre-planned/