Railway cutting

The Friends of Bathurst Basin are concerned about the impact of 44 residential accommodation units proposed for the railway cutting and tunnel to the south of the Ostrich. Alec French Architects have been preparing pre-application proposals for the site. Our comments are based on the pre-application addendum (dated July 2019) which addressed key comments contained in the Bristol City Council pre-application response (Ref 18/04113/ PREAPP) dated 18th September 2018.

Local Councillors Paul Smith and Kye Dudd reported in January 2020: ‘We have checked with planners and there has been no proposal submitted for a formal Pre-application, let alone for planning. We will keep a watching brief on this but think it is unlikely that a scheme with any prospect of approval will be submitted.’

The site landowners wish to retain the car park that currently occupies this space so the proposed residential block will sit on top of this car park.

Destroying a site of historical interest

The Future of Redcliffe Supplementary Planning Document (2006) was guided by a ground-breaking initiative between Bristol City Council and the local community of Redcliffe working together on how the area shall be developed. One of their aims on West Redcliffe was to:

preserve the unique characteristics of the railway cutting (‘Barossa Valley’), namely its proportions and sense of openness, the dramatic form of the tunnel and approach, and its historical, geological and wildlife interest. Ensure that any future use of the cutting maintains the tranquil nature and security of the site, and is responsive to the character of both the entire Redcliffe area with its industrial heritage, and the immediate built environment.

The tunnel provides a visual record of the cutting’s history – the rail link from Temple Meads under the graveyard of St Mary Redcliffe on its way to the harbour, opened in 1876. The track was lifted and the tunnel entrance blocked in 1964. The proposed building would completely cover a feature of great historical significance. Use this link for more information and the Redcliffe tunnel and railway cutting.

The site lies within the Redcliffe Conservation Area. In June 2008 Bristol City Council published some principles that should guide the development of the area:  Redcliffe: Character Appraisal. The document states that:

“Development should be designed with regard to the local context. Proposals, which would cause unacceptable harm to the character and/or appearance of an area, or to the visual impact of historic buildings, views or landmarks, will not be permitted.”

The proposed development goes well beyond harming this historical landmark – it obliterates it.

Access to the tunnel

Alec French give one reason for maintaining the existing ground level car park:

The landowner has a legal requirement to retain vehicular access through the car park to the tunnel to the east for maintenance and emergency reasons for use by Network Rail and it is considered that retaining car parking at this level, with vehicular access through would be the most practicable use of the land having regard to this constraint.

Significantly, the landowner has a legal requirement to retain vehicular access through the car park to the tunnel to the east for maintenance and emergency reasons or even to infill the entire tunnel as spelt out in the 1973 Conveyance document relating the site and tunnel, specifically page 5 section 3 (1) (a)& (b) [Our emphasis]

The legal requirement is clear. However, it is silent on the size and type of vehicle that would need access to maintain or infill the entire tunnel. UK DVLC clearly defines the current types of trucks and trailers allowed on UK roads that have 2,4 or 6 axles. This should be the benchmark as to what the legal obligation implies. At the very least there would need to be:

  • sufficient width and height for vehicles and trailers to proceed through the covered carpark to the tunnel entrance. In the UK, the standard minimum height over every part of the carriageway of a public road is 5.03 metres. The current scheme falls well short of this;
  • the rail cutting access road width needs to be 5.5 metres wide to accommodate vehicles and pedestrians;
  • an adequate area for vehicles and trailers to be offloaded by crane or forklifts at the tunnel entrance;
  • an adequate turning area for vehicles and trailers at the tunnel entrance.

With the current uncovered cutting these conditions may be met. They will definitely not be met with the proposed covered car park. The landowners give their legal obligation as a reason for the continued use of the ground-level as a car park, but it is a legal obligation they cannot honour under the proposed development. We wonder whether the view of Network Rail has been sought. And we wonder how this legal obligation will affect the marketability of the flats above.


Alec French listened to the Council’s reactions to the first scheme by lowering the development by one floor – removing a first-floor car park. Even with this change, the proposed block of flats will be higher than the neighbouring Barossa Place terrace which is built on higher land. And the proposed development would also be taller than the Grade II listed General, whose setting it would harm.  The proposed development, even in its revised form, would impact on residences in Barossa Place and the General, and would unacceptably harm the residential amenity of the houses and their gardens in Alfred Place. The height and mass of the proposed block would compete with, and draw attention from, the neighbouring Grade II listed General. It would do nothing to enhance the Redcliffe Conservation Area; it would substantially damage it.


The proposal is for 44 residences over half of which have just one bedroom. The city centre is over-supplied with small flats which predominate in the existing and proposed Wapping Wharf developments. The centre is woefully short of larger residences more suitable for families.

The proposed dense development will substantially damage the unique, tranquil and historical characteristics of the Basin, which currently offers high quality residential, recreational and commercial space.

Members’ comments

A few members of FoBB responded to our appeal for views on Alec French’s scheme. All respondents were very much against any development on this site. Here are some representative comments:

  • This does seem to be one development too many in the immediate surrounds of Bathurst Basin. I appreciate that FoBB doesn’t wish to be seen to object to all development but this does appear to be wholly out of place.
  • I completely oppose the development.
  • I think this design will completely spoil the look of the landscape leading up to the historic tunnel. There has been so much development in the area over the last few years, I think the area will not benefit at all from another large development.
  • The proposed development is much too tall and would dominate the lower end of the street, even with the proposed changes to stagger the height.
  • We think that it would be detrimental to the area to destroy part of its important historical and industrial legacy.

Alec French have undertaken to keep FoBB informed about the progress of this development. We will continue to monitor this major change to the setting of Bathurst Basin and lobby the relevant bodies to make our view heard.

If you wish to express your own view, contribute to this moderated discussion:

9 thoughts on “Railway cutting”

  1. Thank you for all your activities to ‘look after’ Bathurst Basin. It is an historic area.
    I fully support your activities so far; such as keeping out the Ebenazer and bringing some sensible oversight and moderation to the present inappropriate Railway Cutting building work proposal.

  2. We have lost so much of historic Bristol especially round the docks and the idea of a block of homes on this site is ridiculous , it’s about time the city council started thinking about the heritage of this city and stopped thinking about how much money can be made out of selling off or leasing parts of this lovely city, get rid of this mayor please somebody.

  3. Steve Mansbridge

    One of the joys of Bristol – and an intrinsic part of its character – is the variety, complexity and interest of its industrial history. Modern developments have tended to gradually eat away at the features and atmosphere that make Bristol unique.

  4. The only motivation I can conceive for such a plan is greed. It will spoil the drama and interest of the tunnel, obscure a piece of history, and overlook (visually squash) the innocent residents of Barossa Place.

  5. Totally agree with the above comments, enough of this part Redcliffe has been used for development. This tunnel is unique and every effort should be made to save this from redevelopment for even more high priced flats. Surely the Council should put their efforts into finding land for affordable housing for those on low incomes with no chance of saving large deposits or getting a mortgage. Leave these small unique areas of Bristol alone, dont even think about building high priced flats for those who just want a view.

  6. Charles Richardson was born in Cheshire in 1814 and moved to Bristol in 1835 and thereafter regarded Bristol as his home. As a pupil of Brunel he worked on many projects including the Thames tunnel, the GWR, the Box Tunnel, the Bristol to Exeter railway, and the Clifton Bridge. He was resident engineer in charge of construction of several railways, including Swindon to Cheltenham, Gloucester to Hereford and Bristol to South Wales. The last named involved a ferry crossing of the Severn with piers and rail connections on each side of the river.

    Richardson had become expert at assessing difficult ground conditions and solving the difficulties they presented. While working on the rail connection on the English side of the Severn he discovered a source of clay at Cattybrook which was suitable for making high quality bricks. He also studied the Severn at various states of the tide and deduced that the bed of the Severn was rock across the whole width and could therefore be tunnelled under without fear of collapse. He persuaded Brunel and GWR that a tunnel was viable but Parliamentary Approval was not forthcoming, and Brunel died in 1859.

    His next engagement was as resident engineer for the Bristol Harbour Railway being a short extension from Temple Meads. A bridge carrying the line over Bath Road at Temple Gate has been demolished. As far as I am aware the tunnel, cutting and bascule bridge of this railway are the only remnants of works by this great engineer within the City of Bristol. It would be sad if these were lost to public view or use. The tunnel could become a public walk/cycle way as already suggested. These works were completed in 1872.

    Meanwhile the GWR had increased its enthusiasm for a Severn Tunnel and Parliamentary approval had been gained. Richardson was made resident engineer for his master work with another great Victorian engineer Sir John Hawkshaw as consultant engineer. The greater part of a pilot tunnel was excavated from the Welsh side. Richardson devised a method of ensuring that the tunnel would align with a much shorter length of tunnel to be excavated from the English side. There was only 138 yards remaining to be excavated when disaster struck.

    The whole of the workings on the Welsh side were flooded, NOT from the Severn but from a stream well away from the Severn which burst into the tunnel. The Board of GWR took fright and appointed Hawkshaw, engineer in charge, with Richardson to assist him. A large pumping station was built on the Welsh side to remove the flood water, a function that it still serves. The tunnel was completed in 1885. It was lined with millions of bricks from Cattybrook Brick Works.

    There are commemorative plaques for Richardson on the walls of Bristol Aquarium and his home at No 8 Berkeley Square. By the way, Richardson invented the cricket bat with a sprung handle, and a bowling catapult that was used for many years.
    John Coneybeare – engineerswalk.co.uk

  7. Kieran Conlon

    Thanks to everyone for providing such a valuable resource to all of us who have an interest in this piece of local history. I live on Barossa Place so i have a personal interest. I decided to live here because of the charm of this part of the harbour, which is avaliable for everyone to enjoy. Apart from my horror at the prospect of losing the wonderful views and the open space that the cutting offers, I feel that there is a civic duty for those who will decide the outcome, for this space of offer an appropriate amenity to residents and visitors – and balancing the many considerations in favour of historic interest and legacy value, rather than high density, multi story flats. There are far more appropriate sites for property development close by that do not result in the obliteration of a site of historic interest.

    I am aware that local people are planning to get together to generate some alternative visions of the future of the site. This will no doubt produce some excellent, constructive, innovative, and viable ideas to counter the rather bleak and ill-considered proposal from Mr Pratt, the owner. Please look out for further news on this. I hope we can work together to ensure a far better outcome.

  8. Thank you for your dedicated work around preserving the original features of the area and keeping a highlight focus on urban nature. I am totally opposed to this development of the railway cutting which is unnecessary and in my view environmental vandalism and thoughtless disregard for the local residents and community. The cutting area would be better made into an inner city nature reserve for the enjoyment of local residents and visitors to the area.There are more than enough new 1 bed developments in the city with more occurring across on Redcliffe Street and on Redcliffe dock. I totally oppose this development

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