Mayor claims historic harbourside is a drain on city’s finances

Bristol’s mayor has labelled the city’s historic harbour a drain on public finances.

Marvin Rees and his administration has been criticised for increasing fees for people living on boats on the Floating Harbour.

But the elected mayor has defended his decision in a blog posted on his website which claims the harbourside costs the council £500,000 a year.

The claim has come just weeks after it emerged the refurbishment of Bristol’s most famous concert venue has soared to £132m – three times the original estimate.

The Floating Harbour has been at the centre of Bristol’s redevelopment and regeneration for more than four decades.

Marvin Rees

But Rees, who is currently serving out his final term, says the harbourside is in desperate need of investment.

He recently caused controversy with comment which described people living in boats without permits as the “privileged few”.

Rees added that the time has come for them to pay a fair amount in line with other cities across the UK.

He said: “Bristol’s historic harbour must become an asset for the benefit of our whole city, one which is financially sustainable, accessible, and contributes to our wider aims of climate resilience and biodiversity.

“To keep our harbour afloat, we’re reviewing its operations, updating the governance, and also looking for opportunities to invest in our offer and make it accessible for all communities.

“The harbour review will correct decades of neglect to its physical infrastructure, as well as the way it has been run. It’s true that, since the floating harbour was built in 1809, little has been done to maintain it – particularly since the docks closed to commercial shipping in 1975.”

Rees pointed out that millions have been invested in repairing the sluices at Underfall Yard and work has been carried out on the walls of the harbour.

He said: “Unfortunately, despite being an iconic part of Bristol, the harbour has become a financial drain on the city.

“Under the current model, the harbour has a shortfall of around £500,000 – meaning that it impacts on the same budgets used for frontline council services.

“Recently, the fees and charges have been benchmarked to rates in comparable harbours in the UK.”

Two other pieces of work which relate to the Harbour Review work will come to cabinet in March.

These are:

The funding of the Capricorn Quay project – making 32 more berths available for boats, there will be investment in new pontoons and washroom facilities. The council will be using WECA’s green recovery funding to expand the project, to further strengthen the biodiversity of the harbour and waterways.

Beginning the process to update the Bristol Harbour revision order – agreeing to submit an updated order through the Marine Management Organisation who manage the application on behalf of the Department for Transport after a 42-day period of public consultation. This will update the last Order completed in 1998. It’s expected to take 18 months to process.


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