The head developer behind Bristol’s Wapping Wharf has pleaded for trust over the planned removal of the area’s iconic shopping containers after ‘disappointing’ comments from the public.
It was announced this morning (June 21) that a new landmark building would form the ‘last piece of the jigsaw’ at Wapping Wharf, which has been a work in progress since Umberslade snapped up the former shipyard in 2003.
The 12-storey towerblock will stand next to the M Shed and is set to house a number of apartments along with workspaces, a roof-top restaurant and a continental-style covered market.
But the fact it will replace the area’s blue shipping containers, which house dozens of independent businesses known collectively as CARGO, was ill-received by some - despite assurances that the firms would be invited into the new building.
The company says that the shipping containers were always meant to be temporary but have become iconic in their own right, valued for their ingenuity, nod to the area’s heritage and providing affordable business space.
Plans to remove them received backlash on social media, with some raising concerns the businesses wouldn’t be able to afford higher rates should they choose to move into the new building and effectively be priced out.
But Stuart Hatton, Umberslade’s managing director, said this was ‘simply not true’ and that he could not help but feel ‘disappointed’ about ‘all the speculation’ over this morning’s announcement.
He told BristolWorld: “I totally get that people don’t like change, and that they like Wapping Wharf for what it is now, but all we’re trying to do is move forward and make CARGO even better.
“People jump to conclusions but the plan is actually to move the containers to one side before fitting them into the new building so that the businesses can move back in.”
Mr Hatton said he had been upset to see a comment claiming removing the shipping containers would ‘rip the soul’ out of Wapping Wharf.
When BristolWorld spoke to him for a feature on the neighbourhood last year, he revealed that he came up with the idea for CARGO after spotting some shipping containers stacked up in New York.
But they were never meant to be a permanent fixture at the ever-evolving site.
“It’s not the shipping containers that are the soul of Wapping Wharf, it’s the amazing businesses,” Mr Hatton went on.
“We want to retain as many of these as we can so, of course, we can’t raise the rents significantly.
“I’m not a greedy developer applying blanket pounds by square foot. We’re family owned and we treat every business individually, as people.”
Mr Hatton said that Umberslade had spent ‘the past 18 months’ engaging with CARGO businesses over the plans, so nothing had come out of the blue.
“We want to provide them with a permanent home that’s better serviced and more sustainable, that’s all,” he said.
“I’m pouring my heart out a bit here, but people didn’t trust me when I arrived here 19 years ago, and Wapping Wharf has been a success since then, so it’s disappointing not to be trusted again.
“There has to be a degree of trust. Retaining the essence of Wapping Wharf is a challenge but it’s not one I can afford to get wrong.
“I’d encourage people to get involved with our public consultation which launched today. Come and see us, talk to us and have a look at the plans, then make up your minds.”