The sight of converted shipping containers in city centres across the UK has become increasingly common in recent years, with many of them being arranged in clusters that have developed into popular attractions, luring in shoppers and diners looking for something novel, quirky and selling different things from the usual chain stores and bars.
Bristol has one of the prime examples of this is CARGO at Wapping Wharf, where a wide range of popular food outlets and small retailers have helped revive the fortunes of this spot in the old docklands.
However, like so many former busy port areas of major cities across the UK, economic revival and redevelopment can come in many forms, with such locations often eyed up as prime sites for offices and high-end apartment blocks due to their proximity to city centres.
Umberslade, the owner and developer of Wapping Wharf, has certainly had some big plans for the site: Too big, in fact for the liking of the Bristol public or the council.
It was not just because this involved some tall buildings by the standards of what is still a fairly low-rise city. The planned removal of the CARGO container complex went down like a lead balloon when it was revealed last year.
The developer tried to argue that CARGO was really only ever designed to be a temporary installation before new developments came along, but the popularity of the containers has become so well-established that it soon became apparent that such a move was never going to get public support.
In the meantime, measures were put in place by the city council to restrict what Umberslade could do, including giving listed status to a set of dockside cranes located by the M-Shed, which is adjacent to CARGO.
Revised proposals have now been put forward that have scaled back the development, with a key feature being that CARGO will be retained in its present form. Indeed, the array of food outlets will be supplemented by the new CARGO Hall, a destination food market for Bristol’s culinary novelty seekers.
Of course, the new proposals are far from a done deal; there will be more consultation and a planning process to be completed. The blueprint now envisages that the tallest building in the new development will be a ten-storey apartment block.
A scheme of that size would be very modest in some cities; those visiting the various independent retailers in the shipping containers at Hatch in Manchester might barely bat an eyelid at such a thing amid all the new skyscrapers.
Equally, given Hatch is tucked snugly under the 1960s raised motorway of Mancunian Way, no new development threatens it. Given its comparative vulnerability, it is a matter of great note that the sheer popularity of CARGO has played a role in forcing a rethink about the future of Wapping Wharf.
It also provides a very positive narrative that those thinking of setting up shipping container retail clusters in other cities may note; that they can become so popular that no developer could get away with declaring them to be ‘temporary’ developments to be removed in time, even if that was their original plan.