Development in small historic towns: case study - Kingston Mill, Bradford on Avon

by Edward Nash, Nash Partnership
29 April 2010

Kingston Mill is 6¼ acres at the heart of the historic Woollen Industries town of Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire. It adjoins the central shopping frontages and the single medieval bridge, and was one of two sites that created the wealth of Bradford around wool processing and the rubber industries.

The site closed in 1992, losing 700 jobs, and leaving a densely packed, technically challenged site in need of new uses. When Nash was selected in 2003 to deliver a pattern of reuse we were acting for its third prospective Developer and the town population were vocal in their desire for its future to offer new employment and proper town centre uses. 

It was challenged by technical issues familiar from the work Nash had done on many similar Brownfield industrial sites in the last two decades. High flood risk, poor vehicular access, historic buildings, archaeology, ecology, urban noise, poor air quality, a Conservation Area setting, complex covenants and high levels of investment risk. Any emerging new design needed to integrate unorthodox solutions for each of these to create something worthy of this visually rich town. 
In previous schemes many of these issues had never been resolved.

The greatest challenge was how to bring vehicles in and out. The long site had three links to the road system, all at one end. One narrow and onto a steep hill and one unsuitable for two-way working. At our first meeting with Head of Wiltshire Highways, Alan Creedy, we agreed that there could be only one way to bring traffic in and out of the site, an entrance beside the town bridge serving a one-way link. This meant driving a tall arch through the largest of the listed buildings, the five storey New Mills.
This one-way circulation meant:
  • The urban space closest to the commercial heart could become pedestrian domain rather than service yard.
  • All servicing would be by lay-by’s, negating the need for turning and allowing vehicles and pedestrians to mix.
  • All new streets could be narrow. The ratio of street width to building height is a strong ingredient in the character of historic towns.
  • Courtyards could feed off streets throughout the scheme, car parking scattered discreetly, traffic speeds controlled by road width and a high level of pedestrian permeability/linkage achieved. 
The scheme delivers new shops, a central convenience store (reducing cross river traffic), riverside restaurants, a range of new employment floorspace, 30% Affordable Housing, the restoration of 10 historic buildings and a riverside walk at high density. Car parking has been a major consideration and we took advantage of a level change to introduce a single car parking deck between buildings.
Kingston Mill is now progressing through construction, giving this historic town clarity, at last, about its future direction after 18 years with a large void at its economic heart. As well as well mixed new uses the town will have new public spaces and a riverside walkway, all free of the 20,000 vehicle movements a day that use its present main streets.

New initiatives have come forward to build on the community initiative that focused on the Kingston Mill site and the challenge it presented. Permission has been obtained for a new pedestrian river crossing into the scheme and a Planning Application was also recently submitted for a water turbine. There have been new initiatives, focussed on how its residents’ daily needs are met, to help relieve the town of the problems of a single river crossing.
Note: this case study will be explored at the conference in Bradford on Avon on 10 June.  View programme and booking form.