Raising the standard of master planning around cathedrals

Ted Cullinan master plan sketch for Bristol Harbourside / King's Marsh site showing walk-way links between SS Great Britain, Bristol Cathedral, Queen Square and Temple Meads station far right (Image @Cullinan Studio)

Interest in visiting cathedrals has grown due to National Lottery Heritage Funding in recent years, but has the master planning around them been of a high enough calibre and are current plans to 'manage' cathedral quarters, the right ones?

Over the last few decades, cathedral views have been obscured through modern additions to surroundings and the value to our visitor economy lost through failure to make the most of neighbouring historic streets and buildings. Often, it was not understood how cathedrals should 'fit' into new master plans or the importance of linking them to other historical assets through new visitor walkways.

Future Cities Forum talked with Cullinan Studio's Practice Leader Peter Inglis this week about these issues with regard to his Bristol Harbourside master plan, completed in 2015 for Crest Nicholson. Peter agreed that many of the views of Bristol Cathedral had been hidden over the years and it was a key understanding that they should be revealed. The sketch above by the late Ted Cullinan shows the vision for how historic assets of the city such as the SS Great Britain, Bristol Cathedral and Temple Meads station would be linked through the regeneration of the King's Marsh site. The emphasis is on creating an attractive walking route while opening up views and creating connections between the new riverside homes, Harbour Square and the wider city.

Covering seven hectares, the Bristol Harbourside project has transformed a brownfield site of former docks, railway goods depot and industrial activity into new places to live, work and relax. It centres on Canon's Marsh which lies at the heart of the city beside a bend in the historic Floating Harbour and is overlooked by Bristol Cathedral and the heights of Clifton. The site contaminated by gas works had lain derelict for some thirty years before regeneration.

The Building Better Building Beautiful Commission stressed recently that involving the community is important in raising the standard of place in cities. Peter talked about how the cathedral's voice was included in the master plan:

'The council went into partnership with the developer. There was no existing community on this derelict site to talk to but there were stakeholders like the cathedral and the Arnolfini Gallery. The council drew these groups together with the architects to ask people what they wanted. Some were interested in employment, some wanted more affordable homes. Voices were listened to, and the council could say that they had consulted. The master plan was approved unaminously.

'It was important that we could link the development site with views of the cathedral and the SS Great Britain. It's a place that's new but a place that is also familiar because of the connections to these historic city landmarks.'

Community discussions do not always go so smoothly. Recently, outline planning approval was given for the city's cathedral quarter in Belfast, although objections remain particularly around demolition and the quality of house build.

The cathedral was built at the beginning of the 20th century around a smaller 18th century church. The area in and around the cathedral quarter has been run down for many years, but harbours historic buildings. Arguments have broken out about the extent of demolition in the new plan, set to cost £500 million through Castlebrooke Investments.

Campaigners have criticised in particular the quality of house build that is part of the scheme, but the plans are now going before the Department of Infrastructure to be fully approved.

Meanwhile, care has been taken to set up a discussion forum to iron out plans for new public realm around York Minster, which is being worked on as part of a wider city initiative. Businesses and the community have been invited to have their say in the emerging draft Neighbourhood Plan Proposal.

One of the ideas is for Duncombe Place to be transformed into a new public square dedicated to the current Queen Elizabeth. It is the first in the City of York in nearly 200 years - with a life-sized statue of the Queen to be installed on one of the empty niches at the front of the Minster and carved by a stone mason from the Minster's internationally renowned stone yard.

Duncombe Place was created by the Victorians as a grand approach to the minster. Over time the quality of the spaces at the west end of the minster has deteriorated and trees have blocked the view. There is also need for permanent anti-terrorism measures to be put in place.

Other proposals include a dedicated cycle path at Deangate and a sensory garden with access to the ancient city wall. Phase 2 will include a new museum in a centre of excellence for learning, sited in the Minster School and Old Palace.

Future Cities Forum will be following the developments of this important project.

York Minster (Alan Baxter)

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