Art island vision for

  Posted: 12.10.21 at 09:43 by By Local Democracy Reporter Stephen Sumner

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Artists want to grab a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to turn a bus depot in the middle of the River Avon in Bath into an arts island.

Currently used by First Bus, if it relocates Weston Island’s future could soon be up for grabs.

Painting the 2.3-hectare site as the city’s “best kept secret”, campaigners at Bath Arts Depot want to develop it into a world-class arts quarter that will engage local communities and attract international visitors.

Its future will be shaped in an update to Bath and North East Somerset Council’s Local Plan that proposes relocating Bath businesses to the island to free up land elsewhere for housing and office space.

But Nicola Turner, one of the group’s directors, said the authority had a golden opportunity to “think big”, adding: “Let’s not just see the island as real estate, but rather see it as an opportunity to attract investment into the west of Bath.

“The island has two huge hangars, which could be made available to artists and performers from around the world, as well as creating space for the local community.

An aspirational image from a similar concept in Amsterdam. Nicola Turner. Permission for use by all partners.

“We can attract visitors out of the city centre, and bring some of that income to the communities here.”

The plans include a gallery, studio space, an outdoor sculpture park and an education programme.

Bath Arts Depot said in its vision statement: “As the bus depot relocates, we believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reclaim the island for the city of Bath and to fulfil its potential as a landmark destination linking Twerton to the city and connecting with the cycle routes and river experiences.

“Our project will give the riverside a stronger identity, nurturing the wellbeing of Bath’s residents and visitors.”

According to the council, Weston Island was created in the 1720s following the construction of the Weston Cut canal that enabled this section of the river to be navigable. Over the last 300 years it has been home to open gardens, wool, timber and brass mills, and storage before its current use as a bus depot.

The Local Plan update says if Weston Island becomes available then existing employment uses could move there, freeing up sites in Manvers Street and Lower Bristol Road.

The vision for Manvers Street is to create a new mixed use commercial quarter that provides at least 9,000sqm of office floorspace, 60 homes and a new hotel.

The Lower Bristol Road site is currently occupied by the Travis Perkins builders merchants and Toyota and Skoda car dealerships. The Local Plan says these are “important functions” in the city but the site could be redeveloped with 100 homes and 5,000sqm of office space.

Backing the arts island proposals, Bath MP Wera Hobhouse echoed calls for the council to “think big” about such a unique site on the river.

She said: “Putting up new buildings that attract more HGV vehicle movements goes against the council declaration of a climate and ecological emergency.

“The island has enormous potential and we should embrace both a cultural offering and the ecological potential of such an amazing site.

“We should embrace contemporary arts to create new visitor attractions.

“Let’s create something the local communities can embrace and be part of, that improves links across the river, bolsters the island’s ecology and that attracts international visitors to Bath.”

Ms Hobhouse urged people to respond to the consultation and support an arts island that boosts the local economy, enhances the local ecology and creates social cohesion.

B&NES Council leader Kevin Guy said: “The arts island has my full support.

“I’m keen to promote arts and culture in Bath after a period of stagnation.

“Bath can and should be the country’s leading force when it comes to creativity and culture. This is one of the steps in achieving that.”

The consultation on the Local Plan Partial Update runs until October 8 and can be found online at https://beta.bathnes.gov.uk/current-planning-policy-consultations.

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