Work is getting underway to reduce the flood risk in the centre of Bath by widening the river close to the current Avon Street car park. This is an exciting project and will allow development to take place on the site, which is now being called Bath Quays North.
Members of the Initiative and Bath Chamber of Commerce are keen to see the creation of a new neighbourhood, which will include a substantial element of modern office space, allowing existing growing companies to remain in the City whilst also attracting in others from further afield.
We don’t want the space to become the sort of soul less places you see in other cities which are busy by day but deserted by six o’clock. Instead we would love to see cafes, restaurants, small independent retail units combined with some residential accommodation, all making the best use of the riverside.
So far so good. Much more controversial is what goes under the development.
We know the loss of surface car parking will affect some businesses and could potentially put people off coming into Bath because it is more difficult to find somewhere to leave their cars. We hope that some of that pain will be reduced by the creation of a Park and Ride to the east of Bath, continued expansion of existing park and rides and an extension to their current parking times. It may also be possible to put a second tier on part of the Charlotte Street car park which would make a difference.
However, we will still need city centre parking for cars and no matter how good public transport becomes in the future, people will still want to be able to drive into the city centre.
The answer could lie in the soil. By digging down before surface development begins, an underground multi-level SouthGate style car park could be created, serving the new neighbourhood, with capacity to provide space for tourists, staff and customers of the businesses.
It would be expensive in the first instance. But just think about it. Such a parking facility in the centre of Bath would be a fantastic long term investment with virtually guaranteed income stretching off into the future.
The Council could retain ownership of the new facility or it could sell it to an investor. Either way it would make a significant difference to the viability of the site as a whole.
This is probably the last opportunity to radically increase the number of city centre car parking spaces. Let us at least have a debate about this option and properly consider how digging down could help us to victory in the parking battle.