Bath Quays South Development Site, Riverside Business Park, Westmoreland, Bath
Bath Preservation Trust recognises that the development of the Bath City Riverside Enterprise Area is critical in securing the commercial future of Bath and we consider the South Quays site to be an entirely appropriate location for high quality mixed use office development and housing. We support the principle and many elements of this application. However, we are very concerned about the height, massing and design of the office building and also about the bringing-forward of a hybrid application, mixing a detailed application and an outline application within the curtilage of a listed building, all under one reference number application. As we are unable to object to the application in part we are obliged to object to the whole scheme.
We would urge B&NES to consider UNESCO’s ‘Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape’ adopted in 2011. There is a very real risk that the overall cumulative impact of the large River Enterprise Area developments, including Pinesgate, will harm the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site to such an extent that the city’s valued status would be threatened.
With an application of this sort we regard it as particularly important that the Council acting as developer fulfils Council policy in all aspects, but particularly in relation to heights, affordable housing and conservation management, in order to avoid conflict of interest when the Council is acting as Local Planning Authority and to set a good example to other developers.
We are acutely aware that conserving and enhancing the Conservation Area and outstanding value of the World Heritage Site and its setting must be reconciled with the social and economic challenges currently facing the city. We believe that the unique heritage value of the city, and this site, can and should be used to enable development that has a strong local identity rather than act as an obstacle to economic growth.
We recognise that the South Quays site has a distinctive industrial heritage value of more than local importance. The amount, layout and position of development proposed on the site will cause a degree of harm to the architectural and historic significance of the Grade II listed Newark Works building, curtilage buildings including the Foundry Building, and their setting. We accept, in principle, that this harm is outweighed by the retention and expansion of a major local office-based employer, that the proposals unlock the site to bring forward new housing, and potentially bring a vacant listed building back into use. We fully support the concept of high quality re-development (including the demolition of two curtilage buildings), enabling the vacant Grade II listed Newark Works building to be brought back into use and meeting the commercial and residential requirements of the city.
We have welcomed active and early engagement with the architects and the LPA team leading on this site. We have given broadly positive comments on the sketch proposals we were shown at the pre-app stage, prior to the submission of this application. However our support was subject to the following principles:
• Given the loss of the Foundry Building, there should be a determined effort to ensure that what goes in its place, across the site, echoes and respects the heritage and contextual spirit of the place, its setting, the quality of place and that the positive impact of the new buildings outweighs the heritage harm.
• The height of new buildings should respect the ‘shoulder height’ of the Bayer Building and new buildings should not exceed the height of the Bayer Building.
• The orientation, height and massing of new buildings should respect views of the wider city and its green setting which are of extremely high importance in the inscription of the city as a World Heritage Site.
• New buildings are well-connected to Newark Works and articulated to allow for the appreciation and experience of the listed building and its setting.
It is regrettable that the height and massing of the proposed office building in this application is contrary to these principles. The Trust cannot therefore support this element of the application, as it would not have a positive impact on the urban fabric of Bath, would detract from important views and would fail to comply with local and national planning policies. As it is not possible to object to the application in part, we must object to the whole application for the reasons stated below.
General comments on the application and supporting documentation
As the site owner and application is from the Local Authority to itself as planning authority, we are of the very firm opinion that the proposals must be seen to adhere to the planning requirements placed by the authority on third-party applicants. We believe that this principle has not been adhered to in this instance.
We question the appropriateness of the hybrid application and an outline application for part of the scheme. Given that the site is located within the curtilage of a listed building and adjacent to the Conservation Area, the submission of a full detailed application is considered necessary for the proper assessment of the impact on these designated heritage assets. We raised concerns about a hybrid application in response to recent proposals for the Recreation Ground which was subsequently amended. This approach therefore appears inconsistent.
We welcome high quality contemporary design and accept the rhomboid building shapes as a design solution that opens up views and sightlines into and out of the site.
The assessment of significance provided by the applicant is open to challenge: BPT disagrees with some of the stated assessments. We therefore encourage the LPA to independently test this assessment and to have regard to the outcome and any recommendations of such independent assessment.
The contextual views assessment submitted in support of the application are commended. However, some views of the site show full summer tree leaf cover, masking part of the development in certain views. This is particularly apparent in the view from Beechen Cliff where full tree leaf cover masks a half of the office building. We would urge the provision of winter views (without tree leaf cover) to be able to fully assess the impact in long views.
Detailed Application for the erection of an office building:
Our objection to this application relates to the impact of the height, bulk and massing of the proposed office building which would substantially harm the historic environment, the setting of adjacent listed buildings and the setting the Conservation area, and have a negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the Bath World Heritage Site. We do not consider that this element of the scheme justifies or outweighs the harm to the heritage value of the site and the wider city.
The Trust recognises the need for a contemporary landmark business building to support economic growth. However, this should not be at the expense of the overall cityscape and its setting. One of our primary concerns is that, in pre-app consultation, the architect made clear that the height of the overall development would not exceed the height of the Bayer Building. We are very concerned that the five storey employment building appears now at least 2.5m higher than the Bayer Building. The office building as proposed is 25.35m. The height of the Bayer Building is 22.8m (for reference the approved Pinesgate development is also 22.8m. Serious concerns were raised by EH and LPA’s urban design and conservation officer about the height of the Pinesgate development). In both cases the office building proposed exceeds them by 2.5m.
The Bath Building Heights Strategy recommends that new development in this area is four storeys with a fifth storey set back. Part of the development proposed is 5 storeys without a set-back. The floor-to-ceiling heights are generous which, along with the fenestration, gives the appearance of a seven storey building. As the Building Heights Strategy informs policies in the Placemaking Plan it should be used to inform these proposals.
The proposed height of the office building would be visually intrusive in views of the green setting – particularly from Midland Bridge Road up to Beechen Cliff, and from Wells Road towards Lansdown. This can be seen clearly in verified views fig. 3-4 and 13-14 respectively. The views of the green setting of the city are of extremely high importance in the inscription and OUV of the city as a World Heritage Site.
The massing of the building combined with the use of brick and lack (at this stage) of roof material or form gives the illusion of a bulky and high building that would have an over-dominating impact on the listed Newark Works building. This new building would jut out above the surrounding area and would be intrusive in the views of the river valley. A building of this height and mass would have an imposing impact on the character of the central cityscape and the river corridor, and a detrimental visual impact on the character, appearance and setting of the City Wide Conservation Area.
Whilst reducing the height would lessen the impact on views, we would also encourage exploring the use of recessive coloured materials on the upper floors to lessen the dominant appearance of the red brick to the top ridge of the building and therefore decrease the illusion of height.
We would not wish to encourage the roof to be set back with a ‘standard’ rectilinear set-back, which has become a prevalent design feature in new development in Bath, but are of the opinion that more articulation of the intersection between the roof and the vertical walls facing the river could decrease the apparent bulk at skyline level.
We appreciate that the required floor area of the building, combined with the allocated footprint, may determine the height, but we would encourage the architects to determine whether any internal efficiencies could maintain the net floor area while decreasing the upper height and bulk.
The Trust is broadly supportive of the use of a subtle shade of red brick though we question the suitability of a darker shade of red. The exact shade should be established through sample panels of sufficient size to test the appearance. We welcome Bath stone dressings to relieve the massing of red brick and echo historic industrial vernacular in the local area such as the Bayer Building. These should preferably use natural rather than cast stone.
It is regrettable that there has not been a greater effort to reinforce local distinctiveness and to reference the industrial past or the existing context through the design and materials to be used.
We draw attention to our pre-application comments which expressed concerns about the articulation of the residential buildings and their relationship with Newark Works which we do not consider to have been addressed.
We have reservations about the suitability of buff stock brick and would suggest that the materials palette used at Twerton Mill, for example, is more contextually appropriate.
The Trust is very disappointed that the scheme is to have no affordable housing provision, apparently because of viability issues. B&NES as a local authority is unlikely to convince other applicants to include affordable housing if the authority itself is unwilling to do so. In this case the applicant actually owns the site and is therefore in a position to balance maximisation of site value against long term civic value.
We strongly feel that B&NES should have an SPD about viability assessment in place that insists on an open-book approach (similarly to London Borough of Islington, for example). At the very least, for reasons of transparency, B&NES should appoint an independent auditor to review the viability report and place their assessment in the public domain. Without this independent verification, B&NES (acting as LPA) is placed in a conflicted position in assessing this application.
Proposed alterations to Newark Works:
We have sought assurance from the Conservation Officer that the works to the existing listed building protect its special interest, and remove previous harmful alterations. We support the retention and repair of the original windows. We consider that metal cladding would be appropriate in this location, as this has an association to the former uses of the site and its industrial nature, and would help strengthen local distinctiveness. In this location, perhaps Cor-ten steel, could be considered for parts of the development to provide a link back to the former engineering site and its use of metal, the foundry, machine works, and thereby reinforce its industrial character.
Public Realm and Transport:
Given that much of the archaeology of the Foundry Yard will need to be disturbed in order for the site to be developed, we strongly support the retention and reinstatement of heritage items such as the turning circle and tramlines, and any other historic fabric that would assist in the proper interpretation of the site as an important industrial place of work in times past. We would also encourage the public realm to reflect the memory of the proposed lost building and the working spaces around it in physical remains and in architectural design echoes, as well as some in-situ interpretation.
Cobbles must be retained and used as the predominant surface on the site. We see this as a primarily pedestrian space, and would recommend that some ‘cycle calming’ measures are put in place, especially on the ramp to the bridge. We regret that cars must use the site, but understand why this is so. Therefore, we suggest that this is minimised and made ‘inconvenient’ to unnecessary users, and that, in particular, there is no scope for a queue-dodging “rat-run” to develop through the site. If necessary, this may need some electronic bollards for necessary users.
We do not think that pedestrian flow on this site can be considered in isolation from addressing the challenges of crossing the Lower Bristol Road. The new bridge needs to serve a strongly functional and attractive pedestrian route for the residential areas to the south of the Lower Bristol Road in order to discourage in-town use of cars. It can only achieve this objective with a functional crossing-point which follows pedestrian desire-lines.
Whilst acknowledging and supporting the strong economic case for redevelopment, the Trust objects to the detailed planning application for the office development, by virtue of its excessive height, bulk and massing which would have an overbearing impact on the Newark Works listed building, and neither preserve nor enhance the setting of the nearby Conservation Area, but have a harmful impact on views within the WHS site and its landscape setting, and fails to respect the special qualities of the World Heritage Site.
This element of the proposal is therefore contrary to the Listed Building and Conservation Areas Act, Core Strategy Policies BI, B2, B4, and CP6, Saved Local Plan Polies D4, BH2, BH3, BH6, and emerging Placemaking Plan Polices B1, D.1, D.2 - D.3, HE1, NE2, CP9, B4, BD1 and SB5 – Bath Quays South and Riverside Court – Development Requirements and Design Principles (Paras 5, 6, 9, 10).
BPT would be willing to reconsider our objection if the major points of height and massing were addressed.