Brimscombe Port – FAQs
The vision for Brimscombe Port is to deliver a sustainable new residential-led mixed use development with a reinstated canal and canal basin at its heart, that meets the needs of both existing and future residents. By responding to the site’s unique characteristics with innovative and inspiring design; the Council aspires to create an exemplar scheme that integrates with the existing surroundings and improves and expands upon the site’s constraints and opportunities to enhance resident’s daily life.
The six objectives for the site are to:
- Create a distinctive and memorable place, appropriate to its context and history with a strong character and identity;
- Build sustainable, energy efficient buildings and low impact development that minimises harm to the environment;
- Create a vibrant and inclusive community that provides for a range of ages, affordability and demographics;
- Create and integrate landscape comprehensively, enhancing biodiversity and creating new habitats that bring nature into the site;
- Encourage wellness and healthy lifestyles through the new open spaces and enhance existing cycling and walking routes within and connecting the site to neighbouring destinations.
- Create a financially sustainable canal to ensure the ongoing quality of the waterside setting.
The impact of this site cannot be underestimated in terms of its importance to the whole redevelopment of the valley, and the economic and strategic benefits to the area, acting as a catalyst for other development along the canal. It creates a destination for canal tourism, not only for the local canal network but also for the whole canal system, a nationally important landmark destination.
Historically Brimscombe Port was the country’s largest inland port, created to transfer goods from large sea going Severn Trows to Thames barges to navigate the narrower canal to the east. This link was promoted by local clothiers as well as London merchants to link with the Midlands. The Stroudwater Canal was finished in 1779 and the Thames and Severn Canal a decade later in 1789. Amazingly for that era the Port was capable of handling 100 vessels at a time.
Following the decline in canals the Port became redundant. The canal was in-filled in after the Second World War and the site developed as an industrial estate during the 1960/70’s.
Some historic buildings survive, including the Salt Warehouse and the Port Mill. Both are listed and charming stone buildings. Much of the site still acts as an industrial estate but has become unattractive and is showing signs of its age.
Initially Brimscombe Port was part of Phase 1a of the Cotswold Canal Restoration project, the original aim of which was to reinstate the canals from Stonehouse ‘Ocean’ to Brimscombe Port. The port was acquired in 2009 from British Waterways by Stroud Valleys Canal Company with grant funding from the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA); the expectation at that time was that it would deliver both a redeveloped port and provide funding for other sections of the canal.
After the property crash in 2009, subsequent marketing proved the site to be unviable without additional public investment. Phase 1a of the canal project was scaled back to finish at Bowbridge while additional funds were sought for the Port.
The site is now owned by Stroud District Council and is allocated in the Council’s Local Plan for 150 homes and is within the Industrial Heritage Conservation Area, being of significant cultural and historical value. It comprises part of the proposed reinstated Cotswold Canal and basin and so is unable to be developed for a non-canal related scheme. Once complete the Port will be the destination at the eastern end of the reinstated canal linking into the National Canal network.
In 2015 the Council was successful in securing £2m from Homes England. The Council has since committed £2.9m to the project and has recently been successful in its bid through One Public Estate for Land Release Funding in the sum of £776k. Together these contributions make the redevelopment more viable and will enable a developer partner to be selected to create a unique waterside attraction.
Due to the high abnormal costs of the site arising from the need for remediation of contaminated land, deculverting of the river and the re-instatement of the canal infrastructure the project has been split into two phases.
The essential infrastructure to deliver Phase 1 includes the canal, basin, deculverted River Frome and a new access road off the A419. The reinstatement of the canal and basin, together with the raising of the level of the Port is required for flood alleviation measures to enable a residential led mixed use scheme to be delivered, which is also part of Phase 1.
Phase 2 will connect the redeveloped Port to the canal network with a canal and river crossing under Brimscombe Hill with corresponding alterations to the highway, including road and bridge works.
The design of the infrastructure for both phase 1 and 2 has been carried out by Atkins and has involved extensive hydrological modelling and liaison with the Environment Agency to ensure that the design does indeed take the site out of the flood plain but also demonstrates that there are no detrimental impacts downstream. Further canal re-instatement will then link to the canal beyond Canal Ironworks.
Once the canal infrastructure is constructed it will be transferred to Stroud Valleys Canal Company (SVCC) to own and manage with the rest of the reinstated Cotswold Canals.
Brimscombe Port is the destination at the eastern end of the Stroudwater Canal. The canal is being restored and a large section from Stonehouse through Stroud has been completed which is showing the amazing and wide-ranging benefits that the canal brings to the area. Stroud District Council and its partners have recently secured £8.9 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards connecting Stonehouse Ocean to Saul Junction with the Cotswold Canals Connected project which will link the canal to the National Canal network.
More funding will be required to deliver the next stage of the project, but once a new bridge and canal and river crossing are constructed under Brimscombe Hill and the missing length of canal to Stroud Brewery is reinstated the Port will then connect to the national canal network. Completing this penultimate section of canal will also mean that Stroud is one step closer to delivering a hugely important and previously lost heritage asset that provides an excellent national leisure attraction and a unique springboard for regeneration and sustainable economic development throughout the district.
This is an exemplar canal, heritage and biodiversity project, creating post-COVID regeneration, health and wellbeing and bringing economic, tourism and sustainable transport benefits to the whole district and wider area.
The original wish of the community to see the Port redeveloped, with a significant port basin, connected canal and mixed-use development was generated through community consultation in 2003-2005 and was described as ‘putting the heart back into Brimscombe’.
The site has been included in the Stroud District Local Plan for many years and consulted on as part of the local plan process. It is expected to deliver the canal restoration, a minimum of 150 homes, some commercial and community space.
The design of the enabling infrastructure, mainly comprising the canal and basin, new bridge, canal/river crossing and a new access into the site, is largely fixed by the need to comply with the Environment Agency and Highway Authority’s requirements, to deliver a navigable canal for SVCC and to meet the physical constraints of the site. Options to achieve this and to take the site out of flood risk are very limited and the engineering solution has been designed by Atkins.
The vision for the site is set out in the Output Specification . This was formed building on early community consultation and in discussions with the different stakeholders (e.g Parish Council, SVCC, District Councillors, Homes England) and tested with developers, and is set within the policy requirements of the (District) Local Plan
Works will not commence on site for the main redevelopment proposals until the Council’s developer partner has been selected and the planning application for the residential led scheme has been submitted and determined. These works are forecast to start in the summer of 2023 and to continue for a couple of years. A more detailed development programme will be provided once a developer partner has been selected.
However, the Council plans to demolish some or all of the buildings prior to this date and may commence the enabling infrastructure works for Phase 1 itself following the receipt of planning approval for the demolition and infrastructure and Listed Building Consent on the 24 March this year. The demolition works would run concurrently with the procurement process for the selection of a development partner. This sequential approach to the development means that the infrastructure works can be programmed around ecology seasons, i.e. avoiding the main bat activity season for demolition of key buildings and the timing of when works can be done in the river. This will enable the Council to offer the developer a cleared site once selected and will minimise the periods of time when nothing is happening on site.
The Council considered various options to deliver the redevelopment of the Port, which ranged from selling the land on the open market, and not having any further involvement in the site, to redeveloping the site itself. The decision was to follow a middle position to seek a developer partner to work with the Council to see the ambitious vision for the Port realised.
As a public body, the Council is required to follow the European Procurement Rules, which have been enshrined in UK procurement legislation (so will not change with Brexit). Expressions of interest will be sought, interested parties shortlisted and the shortlisted bidders taken through an Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) competitive dialogue process. Competitive dialogue is a public-sector tendering option that allows for bidders to develop alternative proposals in response to a client’s outline requirements. Only when their proposals are developed to sufficient detail are tenderers invited to submit competitive bids. The aims are to increase development quality by encouraging innovation and to maintain competitive pressure in bidding for complex contracts.
The rules for the process are set out in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 and need to be adhered to closely as any divergence could leave the Council open to legal challenge, which can be very expensive and time consuming to respond to. The process must adhere to the core principles of fairness, transparency, non-discrimination and proportionality.
Once the bids have been developed to sufficient detail, tenderers will be invited to submit competitive bids by providing responses to the Council’s tender evaluation criteria. These will be scored by officers with specialist knowledge in those topic areas together with the Council’s consultants. This will result in a preferred bidder the details of which will be presented to members for approval as our partner.
The process will take about 9 months to complete.
The tender evaluation criteria referred to above are set out here. Important issues such as quality of design, affordable housing, energy efficiency, sustainability and social value all form part of this criteria along with a sound business plan and a track record of delivering similar projects.
Public funding is required to ensure the viability of the site due to the abnormally high infrastructure costs.
The Council has already invested £1 million in the project to de risk the site together with a further £1.6 million of capital funding approved in April 2018 and the surplus income off the Port from the current tenancies on the site. A £2 million loan from Homes England has also been secured and the Council has also recently been successful in its grant funding bid through One Public Estate for Land Release Funding in the sum of £776K. This funding assists with the viability of this complex project and provides developers with more confidence when putting forward their proposals.
Private sector investment is required to carry out the redevelopment proposals (build the houses, commercial and public spaces), and hence the procurement of a developer partner who can bring this finance to the partnership.
Free land or space for a community enterprise centre (CEC) will be made available to the local community as part of the redevelopment. The Parish Council consulted on a vision document for the CEC and the Parish Council has been offered a long lease for a facility, it is open to the Parish and community groups to decide how the cost of the construction and fitting out can be funded, managed and run – if you need space or wish to be involved please contact the Parish Council.
Planning permission is being sought in two steps.
Planning approval for the enabling infrastructure (canal basin, canal infrastructure, access road, flood assessment) and demolition was granted on the 24 March 2021 together with Listed Building consent for the demolition of the modern buildings attached to the listed Mill building, which will remain.
The planning application for the overall redevelopment of the Port (design and lay-out of buildings, numbers of homes, commercial space, communal areas etc) will be submitted once a developer partner has been selected. The current estimate is that consultation prior to the application being submitted will take place in the summer of 2022 via drop-in/ comments and formal pre-application consultation. People will also be able to make comments on the planning portal once the application has been submitted.
The OJEU competitive dialogue tender process is prescribed by legislation and the ultimate decision will be made by the Council at its Strategy and Resources Committee, with recommendations from specialist officers. Public questions can be put to that meeting, or Councillors can be contacted to make your views known.
Individuals and local groups can make their views known through the planning process and in consultation / engagement prior to the application being submitted. Community organisations are able to be part of consortia bidding to be development partners in the Port. There are additional opportunities for being involved in developing the proposed community enterprise space or developing social enterprises in the commercial space of the development.
Individuals can also be involved by volunteering with CCT or the Council to work on many different activities linked to the canal.
Vacant possession of the units is now required by the end of June 2021 to meet the funding milestones as all the units need to be demolished to enable the redevelopment to take place. Many of the businesses have already relocated. Only the tenants in the Port Mill can remain throughout, as this building will not be affected by the redevelopment of the Port.
The redevelopment plans include the construction of a new community and social enterprise hub and the Council will work with partners to encourage community organisations to establish and thrive in this new venue. There will also be new commercial space available to let in the new development that may be suitable for social enterprise.
Whilst the plans for the future for the Port have been developing, the Council made the decision to continue to let the Business Park and Industrial Estate on a temporary basis to facilitate enterprise and activity and to bring in rental income that is being used to support the redevelopment plans. Although these enterprises provide important and much valued community services – their tenure at Brimscombe Port could only ever be temporary and space was offered to them on the clear understanding that they would need to move to enable the redevelopment to take place. Most of the buildings being occupied by these tenants are at the end of their lives and are increasingly becoming unfit for purpose.
In recognition of the value of these enterprises to our community, the Council has offered support to them all to find alternative premises within Stroud district.
There will be strict milestones and deadline dates in the agreement with our development partner to drive delivery but there will still be periods when it seems like nothing is happening on the ground. This is inevitable with any redevelopment of this scale and complexity, whilst planning is sought, contracts are agreed and mobilisation takes place. There are also only certain times of the year when works to the river and on site can take place, due to various species which are present and need to be protected or relocated. Ultimately, the wider economic conditions and property market may impact and cause delays.
If there is insufficient interest in the project by developers, or the procurement process does not result in a suitable partner being selected, then the Council will need to decide, in consultation with Homes England, the next steps.
One option that will be considered is that if the enabling infrastructure works (including the canal and basin) have not already been delivered by the Council (see Q6), these works may be undertaken at this stage in order to ‘de-risk’ the site further and make it more viable and attractive as a development proposition.
Ultimately the canal and basin are an important part of the canal reinstatement and will be required to see the completion of this part of the canal project creating a destination and a space for boats to turn round at the winding hole for their return journey back to Saul Junction.
The canal and basin are required to take the site out of the flood plain and no development can take place without this. They are therefore both essential for any future redevelopment of the Port rather than a ‘nice to have’.
The Council may also wait for the market conditions to be right or respond to further funding opportunities to improve the viability of the scheme.
Regular Information Sheets providing updates on the project are on the Council’s website and you can follow this link Brimscombe Port to find out more. Comments and questions can also be submitted here and public questions can be submitted prior to meetings of the Strategy and Resources Committee.