The Cattle Market car park north of the Hilton hotel has been an eyesore for many years and is perhaps the last major site awaiting development in the city centre. Over at least the last decade rumours have come and gone but nothing has happened. Lately, however, local TARA members have noticed a marked increase in the number of suits brandishing smart phone cameras and clip boards wandering the area and it emerged recently that for the past year the council has been in confidential discussions with a number of development companies over the future of the area.
No details have been released and no planning application is in sight. It is possible, however, to discern through the fog from a variety of sources an outline of the city’s hopes, expectations and intentions. A meeting of local residents and retailers in early December was given an update by ward Councillor Manda Rigby who filled in some background and put forward some ideas of her own, as did Martin Tracy of the Walcot Street traders. TARA itself offered an outline development brief for the site in September 2013 and many of the principles incorporated therein are consistent with the city’s recently published Place Making proposals for the site (SB1) incorporated in the Core Strategy for the city centre. From these and other sources it is possible to identify some common ground as well as numerous issues that will need to be resolved.
In the absence of funding for a major public institution such as an auditorium or art gallery the site is likely to see a mix of homes, offices and shops with small to medium sized shops occupying the Walcot Street frontage. This will help to bridge the long-regretted gap between Walcot Street and the commercial heart of the city.
Building height should be limited to three or four floors above Walcot Street ground level.
The Corn Market building should be restored and brought back into use.
The river bank should not be privatized but should offer a publicly accessible space tied back to Pulteney Bridge by an improved riverside pedestrian link. A new foot/cycle bridge across the river to St John’s Road should be considered.
Views across the site to the east from Walcot Street should if possible be protected or enhanced.
How should development be related to the Hilton Hotel? There has been talk of an extension of the hotel to the north and a revised road access.
Parking. Options range from continuing to provide a resource for the city centre as a whole (which would limit the amount of floor space which could be accommodated on the site) to providing limited parking for on-site uses only to virtually eliminating all parking. TARA leans towards the middle option.
The future of the Saturday market. Developers are unlikely to be attracted to this.
Bats. It is thought that the Grade 2 listed three level medieval vaults on the river bank are home to a rare species of bat which may make it impossible to fully incorporate them into a scheme.
Of course all this may come to nothing particularly in light of local elections due next May. Nevertheless, TARA has made it clear to anyone who will listen that it finds the twelve months of discussions behind closed doors irritating, that local residents are on red alert and expect to be full involved and consulted in future, certainly long before there is a planning application.