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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Tristan Cork

First look at new plans to transform Bristol's Floating Harbour

Bosses at the SS Great Britain have unveiled new images of what their tourist attraction will look like if ambitious £20 million plans to restore a nearby dock and build a replica of another of Brunel’s famous ships goes ahead. The SS Great Britain Trust have also revealed their plans to develop the Albion Dockyard and effectively double the size of the site will go before council planners later this year - and so they have launched an online consultation for the people of Bristol to give their views on the project.

And the charity bosses are opening up the Albion Dock, the city’s largest dry dock, to visitors this Saturday as part of the Harbour Festival, so they can give tours and tell more people about the project.

Read next: Controversy over plan to move Brunel's first Bristol bridge

The SS Great Britain Trust first announced its plans to expand into the Albion Dock next door to Brunel’s great ship in June last year, with the news it intended to rebuild a full-scale replica of the paddle-steamer the Great Western in the back half of the dock, while refurbishing the front half as a working shipyard.

Now, the plans are at the point where the Trust is almost ready to seek planning permission for the project.

“The expanded historic dockyards will cherish and restore much of the heritage landscape,” said a spokesperson for the project. “Existing structures that reflect the docks heritage will be repurposed, with a double-height former workshop becoming the heritage site’s new café and providing exhibition space. A listed wall between the Great Western Dockyard and Albion Dockyard will be saved, enhancing the heritage landscape and providing sweeping courtyards for dockyard interpretation, live demonstrations and ‘living museum’ experiences.

“The dry dock itself will be sympathetically divided into two. The front portion will continue ship repairs as a working shipyard which the SS Great Britain Trust restarted back in 2018 when the dock lay derelict. The back portion of the dock will become part of the heritage experience, fittingly bringing the story of the other great Brunel Bristol-built ship to life,” he added.

Artists impressions of the plans to transform the Albion Dock, next to the SS Great Britain. A full-size replica of the paddle steamer the Great Western would be built in the dock (SS Great Britain Trust)

“The PS Great Western was the first paddle steamer built to cross the Atlantic on a regular, highly-successful service. Following her first crossing in 1837 she became a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic. She travelled between the Bristol Channel and New York for ten years, and it is likely that she used the Albion Dock for repairs at least once. The story of PS Great Western is closely linked to the SS Great Britain, Brunel and Albion Dock.

“Recreating this Bristol-built pioneer ship in the Albion Dock will add a magnificent new spectacle to the harbour’s heritage landscape. Together, the heritage dockyards, the two historic ships, and the working Albion Dockyard will have a critical mass for tourism and education, especially the STEM education needed to grow the next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs,” he added.

Artists impressions of the plans to transform the Albion Dock, next to the SS Great Britain (SS Great Britain Trust)

“The new addition will create a striking visual presence evoking the city’s role in pioneering global ocean travel. This project will explore the relevance of this history to all of Bristol’s communities, especially those with experience of migration. The project aims to make exploring heritage more inclusive and accessible, especially for people who experience barriers to participation.

“The PS Great Western interiors will provide engaging museum experiences which will bring global passenger stories and travel to life. The ship will also provide the charitable trust with additional flexibility for corporate entertaining spaces including private dinners which might take place within the interior spaces,” he added.

Artists impressions of the plans to transform the Albion Dock, next to the SS Great Britain. Those plans include restoring and moving Brunel's first bridge, a swing bridge over the lock at the Cumberland Basin, and using it as a walkway in the foreground here. (SS Great Britain Trust)

The plans include restoring and moving Brunel's 'other bridge', a swing bridge installed by Brunel at the Cumberland Basin. Last month, conservationists stated their opposition to this part of the SS Great Britain Trust's plans, and pledged to fight to keep the bridge in its Victorian location at the Cumberland Basin, potentially as part of the Western Harbour transformation of the area.

To find out more about the SS Great Britain Trust's Albion Dock project consultation, click here.

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