It’s sad, but right, to say goodbye to the Grosvenor Hotel

A version of this post first appeared in Bristol 24/7’s Your Say section on 24 April. Thanks to them for taking these thoughts about a hot topic for the city.

Like many things in Bristol, there are mixed opinions online about news that the once grand (but now derelict) Grosvenor Hotel is to be demolished.

Bristol247 followed Bristol mayor Marvin Rees’ announcement that demolition will happen after years of wrangling, asking: should [the hotel] have been saved?

As owner of a small business based across the road from the building, who has worked in the area since 2010, I felt moved to respond to that question.

Should it stay or should it go?

I’ll start off by saying there’s not an easy answer, despite the binary nature of the debates surrounding it.

I appreciate that the former hotel has a rich history as a city landmark and important connection to Temple Meads station dating back to 1875. I am saddened that years of effort have not found a way to preserve it for the benefit of those who live and work in the city today.

But, as others report, the hotel has a messy recent history. And, six months after a fire gutted the empty building, it stands as a monumental embarrassment to the city and a block to genuine efforts to regenerate the area.

Whatever one’s views on the future of the Grosvenor Hotel, it’s right to expect better than what’s there today.  

Better Temple Quarter

I’ve worked on various projects around Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone since first moving to Bristol as a fresh-faced comms manager in my mid-30s.

More than 10 years ago, I supported communications around investment in projects including transforming a former museum building into what is known as the Engine Shed today.

Public and private investment in Temple Quarter has created thousands of jobs since then. The Engine Shed is a vibrant hub for creative and tech businesses. It adds a fresh dimension to the shiny, master-planned business district on the opposite side of The Friary.

Amidst this progress over the last decade, the Grosvenor stood stubbornly empty. Looking at it from our office window, it’s a sorry sight: charred, cordoned off, graffiti-strewn and unsafe.

The view of the Gorsvenor from the back of our office

With demand for flexible workspace and affordable homes rising, it’s a daily reminder of the cost of continued delay.   

So, after years of frustration and false starts, I think it’s time to accept that the Grosvenor Hotel should go. 

Most people who live, work and visit Bristol will only remember what they’ve seen for decades. An awful introduction to the city.

But, thanks to the efforts of the team leading Temple Quarter’s regeneration, there’s an opportunity to change things for the better.

A brighter future?

I know I’m not alone in welcoming Marvin Rees’ announcement that the hotel will soon be demolished to enable the site’s regeneration. [Full disclosure: I worked for Bristol City Council in a previous life. They are not a client today].

This milestone has been years in the making. The site and the neighbouring listed George and Railway building were subject to a planning application for new business and workspace as a revamped gateway to the city. Originally labelled Engine Shed 2, this now forms part of the Temple Square area. More than five years after consent, the site remains unused.

The area needs new space for businesses to grow and people to live. A partnership involving Bristol City Council, the combined authority Network Rail and Homes England has funding worth £95m to support this and other projects to transform the area around Temple Meads station.

But progress here is stalled while discussions with owners of the Grosvenor Hotel site continue. I hope the latest announcement nudges these discussions towards conclusion. If they don’t, then I’d like to see Bristol City Council use its Compulsory Purchase Order powers to take control of the site. This is a key piece of the puzzle to transforming the area.

None of this is to cast aspersions on the former hotel’s historical significance. And I agree strongly with those who say it’s massively important that whatever is built benefits those who live and work here.

But we won’t succeed if we don’t take a shot.

Losing an old building like the Grosvenor Hotel is sad. But the current situation benefits no one, apart from a small number of consultants. Today’s Grosvenor Hotel is hideous. It’s dangerous. It blocks access to bus stops and cycle paths and the route to the Harbourside. It’s been debated and consulted on at length over many years. Those conversations will continue as fresh plans for the site emerge.

We really need to move on.

It’s 13 years since I started working in Bristol. I hope to see a transformed site at Temple Gate that brings real and lasting benefits to the city before I turn 50.

If we’re still debating this site then, we may miss a massive opportunity to make a positive difference in the heart of the city. And no one will benefit from that.