West heritage expert James Edwards has welcomed city council plans to refurbish Bristol’s ‘Old City’ as a tourist and leisure hotspot.
Unveiled this week, the proposals call for a package of improvements in and around Corn Street and Clare Street to enhance the café and market culture to revitalise the street scene.
James Edwards from Colliers International welcomed the announcement saying it was vital to take any opportunity to improve the public realm around Bristol’s city centre.
He said: “Shortage of funds and lack of new development have threatened to leave our city centre looking jaded and stale. The city council should be applauded for recognising the importance of safeguarding the city’s historic core and supporting an emerging Continental café culture which brings radical improvements to the public realm.”
The planning and heritage specialist, who has campaigned to preserve Bristol’s rich maritime connections, particularly welcomed the council’s plan to provide high quality pedestrian links between the city’s shopping centres, Harbourside and the West End.
He said: “With authorities increasingly having to justify any expenditure for large scale improvements to our town centres and developers not wanting to commit to expensive building projects in towns and cities, it’s more important than ever to extract the maximum value from our existing public realm to maintain footfall and vibrancy.”
Widely regarded as one of the West’s foremost commentators on city and countryside planning and heritage issues, James believes although the city centre had not suffered quite as badly as some West country towns there was still room to boost its appeal all year round.
“Attractions such as Christmas markets, farmers markets and pop up restaurants provide much needed focus and sparkle, but Bristol needs to pay more attention to its open spaces to bring back the buzz.”
He went on: “It’s not necessarily just the buildings which are important, rather it is the way we use the space between them. In these financially restrictive times, where we don’t see as much of the new development or refurbishment necessary to spruce up a town centre, we need to find new ways of encouraging vitality and investment.
“While the money simply isn’t available to make grand statements we have to look at other much less expensive approaches to add the sparkle to any jaded or financially downtrodden urban environment in our towns and cities – which is where a thriving café culture can be so effective.
“We are incredibly lucky in the Old City in Bristol, in that, we have really important heritage including fantastic historic buildings and it’s about time it was given the prominence it deserves as the true epicentre of the city.
“The area needs fine tuning around the edges to transform a nice environment to a really great one. This includes creative thinking about the spaces between the buildings and de-cluttering the streets of some of the less desireable features such as commercial waste.”
He went on: “Bristol is still short on the Continental café culture we hear so much about. We envy the continental lifestyle, the chance to sit outside and enjoy watching the world go by with a coffee and a paper. But we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to live that lifestyle around our city centre.
“There is so much more that can be done to create the vibrancy and the activity which gives our towns and cities life.
“We should be encouraging live music to be played to create not only visual but audible activity. Additionally, whilst some people are critical of skate boarders and other high-profile activities in the right location, they do have a role and create a real buzz in our towns. “