Bristol University's Plan for a New Library

Mar 7, 2020

The University has applied (application number: 20/00433/F) to demolish The Hawthorns and redevelop the site to accommodate a new library, to include archive and collections space, research facilities, working and study spaces, exhibition and events spaces and café. It is interesting that no mention is made of books.

The proposed building would be a large, irregularly shaped, nine storey block, 36m. high. As such it would be visible from afar, blocking views of distant countryside, dominating the skyline and conflicting with the outlines of the Wills Tower, Senate House, the Wills Physics Laboratory. Further, it would dominate its immediate surroundings and impact unfavourably upon the Royal Fort, the old Baptist College, Bristol Grammar School and the surrounding historic villas. No attempt has been made to cause the building to harmonise with or respond to its context. Having no relationship at all with surrounding older and newer buildings and dominating them with its massive elevation, it would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

There are already many objectors to the scheme including Historic England, Bristol Civic Society, the Victorian Society and the Conservation Advisory Panel. All consider the huge scale and massing to be unsuitable and harmful to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area. Many consider, as does CHIS, that such a building would inflict severe and substantial harm upon surrounding listed buildings, including the Royal Fort, Bristol Grammar School and the Baptist College.

It appears that, of the minority who at present support the plans, many are University staff or students. Certainly few local residents are in favour of the scheme. Some point out that the sop of allowing public access to the café and exhibition areas is likely to appeal to very few.

This same planning application has a second part, namely the creation of 'enhanced public realm between the Woodland Rd. junction with Tyndall Av., Elton Rd. and St. Michael's Park.' This means that Woodland Rd. would be closed to through traffic thereby increasing congestion in the already busy St Michael's Hill, Park Row and the Triangle. It is understandable that many local residents object strongly to this . Surprisingly, the 'pedestrianised' student campus area thereby created would still allow bicycles.

Some commentators on the BCC planning website are critical of the fact that the University seems to be expanding at the expense of the amenity of local residents and that it is seeking to create a campus in what is really a city embedded university. Some sensibly suggest that if such a building is needed it would be better situated on the new Temple Meads site.

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