Guest Blog: Bedminster’s Portas Pilot

I live within 15mins walk of the North St/ East St area of Bedminster where the new investment is destined – it’s what we class as our local shops and this is (hopefully) an objective look at what’s going on. I thought I’d blog now, as a ‘before’ post and then again later on.

The stated aims of the Portas Pilot are to put Bedminster on the map for Street Art (creating a permanent art route of 25 pieces) and Street Theatre (pop up shows and a permanent outside theatre), to provide a bicycle rickshaw service and review parking spaces. The Bedminster Town Team website has more information.

So what is this area like at the moment? Bedminster is divided into two parts – one half is where this pilot is happening – East St and the eastern end of North St. North St then ‘turns a corner’, both literally and metaphorically – the western end has already been much revitalised in recent years mostly by the opening of the Tobacco Factory. So, the two areas have quite different feels:

East (pilot area) – takeaways, charity shops, pawnbrokers, off licenses, varied age/ nationality of shoppers, chains (e.g. Wilkinsons, Argos, Boots)
West – coffee shops, deli, bars, gift shops, bunting, young families, middle-class, culture (e.g. Tobacco Factory, Hen & Chicken comedy club), no chains.

This is a vast over-simplification of course. East has cafes and independent shops; West has charity shops and graffiti (mostly commissioned through Upfest. East was largely pedestrianized in 2010 and is a ‘shared space’. West has a busy road running down it with few crossing points. Both have a fairly large supermarket (Asda in the east, Lidl in the west).

Here I have to make a confession – I’m biased in that I really like the West end of Bedminster. Maybe that’s because I’m a middle-class youngish Guardian-reading person, but it’s great. Two butchers, two bakers, a greengrocer, a really great hi-fi shop, an Aladdin’s Cave of an ironmongers, plus a comedy club, some nice bars and of course, the Tobacco Factory. It’s one of the reasons we chose to move to this part of Bristol. Mind you, even I can see that some of it is over-priced and overly ‘yummy mummy’.

But the East end is useful too. Ok, it’s not glamorous but who doesn’t need a trip to Wilko’s every now and then? There’s a useful car parts shop, a huge fruit and veg shop, two butchers, some cafes, a great fish and chip cafe, even a nice little gallery. Mike Ford feels it has a real sense of community too.

So, does Bedminster need the help of a Portas Pilot? How many empty shops are there? I’ve been out and counted – East Street currently has a total of about 17 empty shops and North Street has about 6. The worst section is the short Cannon Street (pictured, right) which links the two, which has at least 4 empty premises. A few others are currently under renovation, including the landmark London Inn pub.

Does it need regeneration or revitalising? I’m sure that most of the traders would benefit from increased footfall and it would be good to see East Street become a destination in its own right, and particularly to be more inviting in the evening. Although 17 empty shops seems like a lot, spread as they are over the whole of East Street (c.1km) it doesn’t feel like a ghost town. Let’s review those aims:

Street theatre
A good idea to bring more people to the area, but any street theatre must support and drive people to the Tobacco Factory – a fantastic little theatre on North Street with a programme to rival most towns’ main theatres. Perhaps this is what the project has planned.

Street art
I particularly like the fact these art pieces will be permanent. Trails are good fun for people who don’t know the area in order for them to feel more confident about exploring. Just please don’t make it graffiti. The western half of Bedminster is fast becoming another Stoke’s Croft – we really don’t need any more enormous strange artworks – I’d rather look at the buildings. From a few letters on our local Pigeon magazine this is an area of debate at the moment amongst locals – it’s certainly not an art style that everyone likes. Why not come up with something a bit more original?

Rickshaw service
Sounds slightly wacky to me – I‘ve only ever used a rickshaw in Delhi. Why would anyone need this?

I’ve no idea about the state of parking in Bedminster, having always walked to the area, as I suspect many others do. Instead of making parking easier, why not promote and improve the walks towards the area instead? We have the great off-road walking and cycle route the Malago Greenway but it never seems to be promoted and needs improvements to it (e.g. better signage, replacement interpretation panels, benches repaired).

So, watch this space. This isn’t meant to be a critical blog – I’m genuinely interested in the project and want to see it succeed. I’m sure that the Bedminster team are reviewing and refining their ideas – let’s hope that they can deliver sustainable and exciting things for my local area!

Written by Susan Greaney for the Empty Shops Network blog, 12th August 2012

One response to “Guest Blog: Bedminster’s Portas Pilot

  1. I think the idear of trying to renew areas are great and can help people just starting a new venture, also keeping people informed of whats new is really important.

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