Multi-million pound plan to convert collonades into shops and cafes
New shops and restaurants could be created in an ambitious city centre redevelopment that would also increase the size of Bath's Guildhall Market.
The first steps are being taken to bring unused space underneath Grand Parade back to life.
Council chiefs are looking at a major scheme that would redevelop the riverside colonnades next to Parade Gardens for use as shops, cafes and restaurants, expand the 30-stall market, and revamp Newmarket Row with housing, leisure facilities, shops and cafes.
Meetings have already been held with planners, English Heritage and the Bath Preservation Trust over a project that could eventually encompass Pulteney Bridge, Victoria Art Gallery, Bog Island and the underused Boat Dock.
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Bath and North East Somerset Council's cabinet will next week be asked to approve a consultation exercise on the full range of possibilities and begin the search for a development partner.
The authority stressed the whole process was "at an extremely early stage," and no price tag has been put on the work, although it will run into tens of millions of pounds.
B&NES cabinet member for community resources Councillor David Bellotti (Lib Dem, Lyncombe) said: "There are exciting possibilities with these ideas to maintain and enhance the quality of the environment and help support a strong local business sector, tourism, and local shopping.
"This is an opportunity for the council to address the responsibility we have to preserve our city's historic buildings and ensure they are in good shape for future generations. The possible redevelopment of the Colonnades is something which is particularly exciting, given their riverside location and important place in Bath's commercial history."
There could also be work within the Guildhall, parts of which are being vacated by the council as it moves its staff to offices elsewhere in the city centre and in Keynsham.
The report says that wider projects, such as restoration work on 18th century Pulteney Bridge and other water features such as the eyesore radial gate and Boat Dock might require lottery funding.
Bath Chamber of Commerce executive director Ian Bell said: "This is a really encouraging proposal from the council and it shows the sort of imagination that we have been calling for. If this can be pulled off it will be another enhancement for the city centre around a really important area. It will be good for business and will make Bath an even more attractive city for visitors."
Preservation Trust chief executive Caroline Kay said her reaction to the scheme was "in principle, hallelujah."
"Getting to grips with the Colonnades is long overdue. It's one of the most beautiful public spaces in Bath, but it's not a public space at the moment."
She said the trust supported the rejuvenation of the market so long as listed structures were respected.
Mike Watts, spokesman for the Guildhall Market Traders' Association and partner of the Funtastic party shop and Time Out coffee bar, said he and his fellow traders would be meeting B&NES today.
"I am personally very excited about the plans and think that it could really help to put our market and the Pulteney Bridge area even more firmly on the map. I have always thought that, even though we have one of the most famous bridges in the world and a magnificent weir and river, that the locations around it are very under-exploited."
Newmarket Row – previously New Market Row – was built in around 1770, with stables in vaults along the river bank, which were used as slaughterhouses until the 1890s, when the Empire Hotel and the rest of Grand Parade were built. The Colonnades is designated as a grade II listed building.
The Guildhall was built in the late 1770s and expanded in 1891, and is grade I listed.
A market has existed on its current site next to the Guildhall since the early 17th century, but the building in which it is now housed dates back to the early 1860s.
The poet Robert Southey said of the market operating in 1808: "its excellent order and abundance surpasses any thing in London, and is (as) surprising a sight as any in the place."
In 1818, there were no fewer than 438 market stalls.