Will Unesco pour cold water on Bath's riverside project?

A new development may threaten the city's World Heritage status, says Ian White

Bath, with its grand Georgian buildings and Roman ruins, is the kind of place where phrases such as "urban regeneration" tend to be greeted with little enthusiasm.

Nevertheless, the past few years have seen the ultra-modern Thermae Bath Spa complex push its way up through the city centre rooftops to near unanimous approval, and the new Southgate shopping centre, currently under construction, improve on an older eyesore – despite its fauxGeorgian pre-fab façades.

But another planning project, which has been granted outline approval and detailed planning consent by Bath and North East Somerset Council, is causing more controversy.

The Western Riverside development, if it goes ahead as planned, will include 2,300 homes (more than 90 per cent of which will be one or two-bedroom flats) and amenities including shops, parks, restaurants and a school, all spread across 75 acres of derelict, former industrial land.

The most prominent features of the planned development are three pavilion riverside "object" buildings, although the tallest of these, at nine storeys, was withdrawn from the detailed planning stage at the 11th hour by developer Crest Nicholson, with a view to it being reintroduced at some time in the future.

"Object" is exactly what some interested parties have done, most notably Unesco (the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organisation). Its World Heritage Committee was put on a state of high alert once it heard of the plans. Now there are fears that Bath's status as a World Heritage City could be under threat.

Although the new development would be a mile away from Bath's showpiece Georgian crescents and Roman archaeology, it could compromise what Unesco calls Bath's "outstanding universal values". Bath is the only entire city in the UK to be listed as a World Heritage Site. Unesco describes it as "a city that is harmonious and logical, in concord with its natural environment and extremely beautiful".

The World Heritage Committee's "Statement of Outstanding Universal Values" for Bath refers to the way in which the 18th-century architect John Wood the Elder, together with philanthropist Ralph Allen, builder Thomas Baldwin and others, were responsible for not only Bath's landmark crescents and streets (inspired by the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio), but also the setting for the city and the hills beyond.

To look down on the city from those hills and see how its soft, honey-blonde limestone buildings wriggle around the contours of the landscape is magical. Conversely, you can stand almost anywhere in Bath and look beyond the buildings to see an almost unbroken green skyline. Western Riverside's object buildings would be seen from both angles and many locals doubt that they would be a pleasing addition. However, it is generally agreed that the site, its central feature being a 36-metre high gasometer, is in dire need of redevelopment.

"The problem is that commercial/ residential development doesn't lend itself to really interesting, big-building architecture," says Caroline Kay, chief executive of the Bath Preservation Trust. "Interesting big buildings tend to be civic functions of some description. If you want flats with square walls, you're likely to put up big square blocks."

In November, a team from Unesco visited the city to assess the overall state of Bath's conservation. It has sent its report to the Government, which is due to respond this month. At that point Unesco will decide whether or not to place Bath on the "World Heritage Status in Danger" register.

"I think Unesco will be broadly in accordance with us on the Western Riverside issue, though we might get picked up on interpretation," says Tony Crouch, World Heritage manager at Bath and North East Somerset Council. "We need to explain to people what is meant by World Heritage and how we use that status. Other sites put World Heritage branding all over the place, but we don't feel we need to do that in Bath. There are other ways. For instance, we may run more events in partnership with the Bath Preservation Trust."

The current economic climate will probably dictate the pace at which the Western Riverside development progresses. Caroline Kay believes it will also provide a breathing space. "It will give the council the opportunity to look at all the sites that are coming up for development – and there are a lot much nearer the city centre – and to get the design briefs right before developers start being able to raise capital again," she says.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there