Group aims to revive life along River Avon

April 04 2013
Group aims to revive life along River Avon

What does the River Avon mean to you? For many of us it might be the setting for the odd pint in a riverside beer garden in the summer or even a pleasure cruise on a day out to Bath.

Group aims to revive life along River Avon

What does the River Avon mean to you? For many of us it might be the setting for the odd pint in a riverside beer garden in the summer or even a pleasure cruise on a day out to Bath. For others it might be the backdrop for regular sailing, rowing or fishing activities with local clubs.  River Regeneration Trust

For some unlucky residents in Saltford and Keynsham it was the source of the water that invaded homes and businesses and made roads impassable during the floods earlier this year.

Although it has certainly made its presence felt this winter, the Avon winds its way through our communities every day relatively unnoticed, even neglected.

Replaced by roads and rail as the primary means of transporting goods, and ourselves, the river has fallen into disuse in everyday life – riverbanks are overgrown and poorly maintained and graffiti abounds. Decades of development have seen faceless buildings and car parks spring up along its banks, gradually separating people from what was once a focal point of the community – out of sight and out of mind.

Now a new group, made up of councillors, architects, experts and people who like to generally get things done, is hoping to turn the tide of neglect and abandonment, working with B&NES Council, landowners and other stakeholders to change the attitude to the River Avon.

The River Regeneration Trust has its eye on revitalising the 30km stretch that runs from Dundas Viaduct to the south-east of Bath, through the city, Saltford and Keynsham, ending at Hanham Lock. In the group’s view, bringing life back to the riverbanks would be achieved by improving access, creating riverside homes, leisure activities and – perhaps most importantly – jobs based on and around the river.

Spearheading the trust is chairman Geoff Dunford, a Bristol Rovers director, chairman of training and recruitment firm N-Gaged, and a Keynsham resident.

He said: “We are looking at the regeneration of the river from Dundas Viaduct to Hanham Lock by clearing the river, removing graffiti, opening up the river to the public. Our river tends to be hidden by industrial buildings and car parks – we are about looking after its welfare, wealth and health.

“We are looking for opportunities where we can reconnect the people of B&NES to the river. In Keynsham in particular, if you are a visitor you would find it very difficult to see its connection with the River Avon - there is a lot of work we can do in Keynsham to reconnect people to the river.”

Mr Dunford recently travelled through France where he said he saw the way towns, cities and villages made use of the river as it flowed through, an entirely different concept to the approach taken in Britain.

He said: “In the centre of Bath, buildings have been erected to hide the river – travel along the river in Bath and you see backs of buildings and car parks. It’s a shame that this area is not designed for people to live, to look over the river, the views and vistas they could have.

“It’s not lost forever and hopefully it’s possible turn them (the buildings) into accommodation, redevelop sites and create affordable homes.”

In Keynsham, Mr Dunford said the redevelopment of the Somerdale site by Taylor Wimpey has created a great opportunity for the town.

He said: “The Somerdale development is an opportunity to open up the river frontage so people can walk along there, to open up new homes with views along the river, and to achieve flood prevention. With any new development there are so many aspects we can look at – such as developing opportunities for new jobs along the river corridor and enhancing lifestyle.”

While some residents in Keynsham and Saltford may have formed something of a love-hate relationship with the Avon thanks to flooding, Mr Dunford said positives could be drawn from the negatives. He said: ‘This year has been a good indicator for us – flooding has been at its highest for 20 or 30 years. This sends a clear message that measures need to be taken to reduce the flood risk, which needs to be assessed and monitored by councils working together.”

He concluded: “Bath needs to learn from projects on Bristol’s waterfront. The River Regeneration Trust is about bringing life back to the river corridor and making it important in our lives again.”