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Bristol Harbourside


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Examine the redevelopment projects that have occurred in the Bristol Harbourside area over the last twenty years and evaluate their social and economic implications for local communities.
Bristol’s Harbourside overall redevelopment aim was to provide a fresh new creative area of the city consisting of leisure facilities, housing and offices; becoming one of the largest redevelopment projects in the world. The following text will examine Bristol’s Harbourside transformation and the knock on implications for the local community socially and economically.
Bristol's Harbourside area was once the original sight of the Port of Bristol. The Port of Bristol was once the central hub of Bristol’s economy, exporting woollen and additional manufactured goods as well as imports in sugar cane, tobacco, rum and cocoa. During the late 1700’s Bristol’s Port business was affected due to the River Avon’s tidal range of 35 feet. This large tidal range meant that the ships were beached in the mud of the River Avon for hours awaiting for the tide to come back in, in order to unload and load cargo. This had a knock on effect of the Ports business causing many ships to move trade to the Port of Liverpool. In an attempt to overcome the challenge of the second highest tidal range in the world the floating harbour was put forward as a solution. During the next two centuries the harbour flourished as a lively profitable port. (Visit Bristol. 2015) The floating Harbour was constructed to sustain a more or less constant water level along the Bristol Dockland stretch of the River Avon. The floating harbour constructed between 1804 and 1809 assisted Bristol’s cities growth, becoming one of the most significant ports in the world. (Bristol Post. 2014)
In the late 1960’s Bristol dockland area came close to fatal decline due to the cargo ships increasing in size. As a result the large cargo ships were no longer able to navigate down the River Avon to the Port of Bristol. Consequently many large cargo ships docked 7 miles downstream in the neighbouring ports of Avonmouth and Portbury instead. Competition from the new docks at Portbury and Avonmouth led to the closure of numerous industries in and around the Bristol docks; including lead-shot works, tobacco factories and a sand dredging industry. The closure of many industries left vast areas of Bristol’s Harbourside derelict, neglected and several unoccupied but listed buildings. (S-Cool. 2015) A considerable amount of the land was brownfield and contaminated. ( 2007) Much of this land was in multi- ownership, one of the senior stakeholders being the Imperial Tobacco; however they were disinterested in developing the area. As Bristol docks went into decline the city encountered a number of problems including mounting economic and social inequalities, some areas with high unemployment rates and large areas of derelict land. (S-Cool. 2015)
The first redevelopment project of the former Bristol Dockland area involved the restoration of the SS Great Britain, a historical vessel originally constructed in Bristol. (SS Great Britain. 2013) The restoration of the historical vessel attracted vast numbers of tourists and to this day still brings in between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors per year. The SS Great Britain confirmed that the dockland area was a valued location for redevelopment. In turn Lloyds TSB relocated their headquarters to the former Bristol Dockland area. The relocation of Lloyds TSB Headquarters caused a multiplier effect for a great boost in investment to the area. This new investment in Bristol’s Harbourside area brought with it economic benefits for the local area. A key driver in Bristol’s Harbourside redevelopment was John Pontin, founder of the JT group which bought the lease on Bush House. Bush House, previously a Victorian tea warehouse on Narrow Quay that had become derelict due to commercial port operations moving downstream. The JT Group refurbished the historical building and it became the group’s headquarters as well as the Arnolfini art gallery on the lower floors. The Arnolfini is known for its revolutionary role in Bristol’s performing and visual arts scene. The former tea warehouse was the first building along Bristol’s Harbourside to be restored after the closure of Bristol’s Port to commercial shipping. Bush House’s renovation was a wide-ranging success as it not only breathed a new sense of life into a struggling area but it also acted as a catalyst and kick started the redevelopment of Bristol’s Harbourside. (University of Bristol. 2007) JT Group involvement in Bristol’s Harbourside didn’t end at Bush House. Bristol council and JT Group collaborated to preserve rusting and rotting dockland cargo sheds by transforming two of them into the Watershed Arts Centre. In addition JT Group continued to redevelop these vast derelict spaces along the Harbourside and put them to new valuable uses. The group helped to convert the longstanding V Shed, once where barrels of claret and sauternes imported from France were unloaded from ships and transformed it into the Bordaueax Quay Restaurant and cookery school. (Bristol Post. 2012) The revival of Bush House has shown the influence that arts can have in pushing social and economic change in an area.
An important aspect of Bristol’s Harbourside redevelopment was improvements to the areas transport. Water-based routes have been put in place in the Harbourside area, run by two companies Number Seven Boat Trips and Bristol Ferry Boats. These ferrying services operate for leisure as well as commuter purposes. The services operate the length of the harbour from Bristol Temple Meads railway station to Hotwells via SS Great Britain and The Centre, serving 15 landing stages. (Bristol Post. 2013) In addition pedestrian access to the area has been improved by the construction of Pero’s footbridge in 1999. The construction of the footbridge added ease of movement for the public, linking Queen Square, Bristol Industrial Museum and the Arnolfini art gallery.
Millennium Square a key Harbourside redevelopment project built on Canon’s Marsh once semi derelict land with many derelict grand two listed buildings, once in need of major renovation. Millennium Square is now a wonderful central hub of Bristol’s Harbourside. The square is home to world class attractions, for instance Brunel’s SS Great Britain, At-Bristol Science Centre, Bristol Aquarium, Watershed and M Shed. (Visit Bristol. 2015) The canon’s Mash area redevelopment cost around £240 million, constructing 450 new homes as well as waterside offices. Much of Canon’s Marsh redevelopment was funded by the National Lottery, the Millennium Commission and South West of England Regional Development Agency. Bristol City Council and commercial partners put forward an additional £43.4million. Furthermore numerous private investors were involved in constructing private studio apartment buildings. (Bristol News. 2001.)
The redevelopment of Bristol harbour has brought not only social benefits to the area it has also created economic benefits for the local community. One major economic benefit includes over £300 million pounds worth of inward investment, in addition to the creation of more than 3000 new jobs. Furthermore with an increase in employment, potential spending of the local population increases bringing further economic development to the area as individuals now have greater purchasing power. Moreover a multiplier effect occurs wherein economic growth can expand outwards from the Harbourside development into other areas benefitting both the Harbourside development and the city itself. The large mixed commercial environment including cinemas, shops, restaurants, bars and cafes brings visitors to the area increasing trade within the city as well as attracting further investment. Bristol council is benefiting from the new businesses along the Bristol’s waterfront, receiving shares from the profits each year. In addition Bristol City council is economically benefiting of having one of the UK’S major ports. The social benefits of the redevelopment of Bristol Harbourside include new developments for the arts, presenting the city as a cultural hub. The development of a cultural hub creates inspirations for the younger generation as well as bringing more families to the Harbourside area. With the increase in jobs brings an increase to individual’s quality of life and lifestyle within the city. In addition with the growing amount of restaurants and bars in the Harbourside area this brings socialisation for business employees after work. The redevelopment of Bristol Harbourside creates a safer environment due a busier Harbourside at night as well as during day. To accommodate the greater volume of people at night as a result of the improved nightlife it is likely that surveillance will create a safer environment. Additionally the increased housing infrastructure of the area creates homes not only for the private sector but also the public sector, creating much needed housing for the community.
In conclusion Bristol’s Harbourside redevelopment projects all in all have been successfully followed through and created a new urban cultured environment for Bristol’s community. Today Bristol’s Harbourside area is regarded as one of the best Harbourside redevelopments in the UK. There are continuing projects to invest in the future of the harbour to facilitate new larger shipping vessels; ensuring Bristol’s Port ranking in the global shipping community is guaranteed. Bristol’s Harbourside now has a new lease of life.

Bristol Floating Harbour. (2009). Why Was The Floating Harbour Built?. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016)
Bristol Floating Harbour. (2009). Brief History of Bristol as a Port. Available:
(Last accessed 29th Jan 2016)

The Bristol Post. (2014). Bristol's Harbourside transformation from desolation to des res. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016)

The Bristol Port Company. (2016). Our History. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016.)
Visit Bristol. (2015). Harbourside. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016.)
S-Cool The Revision Website. (2015). Case Study Bristol. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016.)
SS Great Britain. (2012). The Dry Dock. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016.)

The Bristol Post. (2012). Lifetime Achievement Award John Pontin. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016.)
Taylor, B. (2007). John Graham Pontin OBE. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016.)
Mathias, V (2013). Bristol set to make strides in transport improvements over next four years. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016.)
BBC News. (2004). Harbourside regeneration to begin. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016.)
This is Bristol. (2010). Revised plans for Bristol harbour 'massive and characterless'. Available: (Last accessed 29th Jan 2016.)

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