Painting of the view along the Kennet and Avon Canal through the white iron bridge with overhanging trees

Our Vision

'Revitalise Sydney Gardens as a beautiful Pleasure Garden with peaceful and tranquil spaces, that achieves a renaissance as a unique, fun and restorative environment, for all ages; - its remarkable built and natural heritage, people and events, told and experienced in witty and eclectic ways.'

The painting featured is by the 20th Century artist John Nash and is of the Kennet and Avon Canal passing through Sydney Gardens, Bath.

What is the Sydney Gardens Project?

The project is a partnership between Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Parks Team, The Friends of Sydney Gardens, local residents’ groups and the Holburne Museum.

In February 2019, we were successful in our Round 2 bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund with a grant of £2.7m.  The total funding secured to improve the historic park is £3.4m.  Our restoration project in Sydney Gardens will take place over a three year period from February 2019 to February 2022. Read the announcement about the funding on the Heritage Fund website.

What does the project involve?

The funding is being used to restore historic buildings, invest in landscape and garden restoration works, and create new play areas for all ages, over a three year programme (2019 - 22). Alongside the works, a programme of events and activities around art, nature, horticulture, wildlife, play, sport, archaeology and history will be put on. The project will celebrate the fascinating history of the gardens, with its Cosmorama, Labyrinth, Merlins Swing, Concerts, Public Breakfasts, Galas and Illuminations.

Read more about the history of Sydney Gardens on Wikipedia on the Historic England Website and about Jane Austen’s fondness for the gardens.

Our project started the 'Delivery Phase' on 1st February 2019:

2019: Detailed technical design, programming of works, with public events, activities, training and volunteering.

2020: Delivery of restoration, building works and landscaping, volunteering, and designing interpretation

2021: Continued delivery of the restoration and build with accompanying volunteer and training programme, activities and partnership events

March 2022: Completion of the project

What was the approved design plan?

The original planning application for the restoration of Sydney Gardens was submitted on the 15th August 2018, following a series of public consultations.  We gained planning approval and listed building consent in October 2018, and following further detailed design development, the Sydney Gardens Project Additions gained planning approval in April 2020. 

See the illustrative masterplan for Sydney Gardens as agreed by B&NES Planning and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

To view our planning application and the associated documents, go to the B&NES Plannning Portal and search using the application number 19/05443/REG03. 

Has the approved design plan changed?

We undertook various rounds of design improvements and achieved a scheme that worked very well, passed planning and delivered a high level of specification. However, we have had to meet the challenges of bringing the Sydney Gardens scheme within the approved budget prepared in 2016, and mobilising contractors on site to start the restoration and build programme. 

The tenders we received indicated that to implement the scheme in full, we would need £3.5m, whereas our capital works approved budget is £2.5m.  As a result we have had to take a great deal of cost out of the scheme. 

Working with our cost consultants and preferred contractors we looked at where we could make significant savings. The project team also provided a ‘shopping list’ (consultants and officers) of suggested cuts while keeping as closely as possible to the overall benefits and outcomes of the scheme. Following these negotiations we have made significant savings and are able to proceed with contracting and beginning our build and restoration programme.

Following our tender assessment process, our appointed site contractors are:

    • Edgar Builders for the Main Works Contract including the Community Pavilion, The Bothy, Tennis courts, and new Play area with Parsons Landscapes as the subcontractor for landscaping works.
    • Sally Strachey Historic Conservation for the Conservation Works Contract for restoration of the Loggia, Temple of Minerva, Ruin (in the former depot area), and Kiosk, with IronArt Bath as a subcontractor doing the Ironwork Edwardian and 1920s WCs and railings.

The main design changes are:

    • Café omitted and the area redesigned to take pop-up refreshment opportunities which can be licenced for either seasonal or longer periods
    • The Bothy – the costs of bringing in water, drainage and bringing in light was very expensive for a building built as an electric substation, and out of balance with the intended purpose. We will now undertake conservation and general building repairs to make it dry and then insulate and repaint inside – it will continue as a lock up and storage area for the gardeners and volunteers. Participatory activities planned for the Bothy will be redesigned for delivery elsewhere in the scheme.
    • Southern side of the Gardens will no longer have the boundary wall and iron railings re-instated. This was not in the original bid and some of our community feedback indicated that it was not fully supported.
    • Labyrinth – this will no longer be a permanent feature as proposed in the planning proposal as it was far too costly to deliver through contractors. We will look to recreate it as mown paths working with volunteers, as we did 2 years ago on the former Bowls Lawn.
    • The former allotments will only have a direct path through it from the new entrance off the Warminster Rd. The trim trail will not be implemented and the orchard planting postponed. We had unresolved issues with the repair of the railings above the railway and concerns from the Parks maintenance team about the ability to keep the area cut.
    • Other costs savings achieved through looking again at some of the higher quality specifications especially the amount of pennant stone paving / steps.
    • We have also been looking at the implementation of the soft planting and finding more cost effective furniture – further work on taking cost out of this element of the scheme is underway.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the project?

Our scheduled build and participatory programme has been affected:

    • the build and restoration programme has been delayed by around 6 months
    • we have had to cancel or postpone most of our practical volunteer and training activities until it is safe to restart
    • we have had to postpone some of our partnership programmes and work with learners 
    • we created some special activities inspired by Sydney Gardens for families to do at home during 'lockdown' promoted through social media, and we distributed activity and art packs to families at Julian House, working in partnership with Bathscape and The Holburne.
    • we have redesigned some activities to take place online or in small groups
    • our activities continue to respond to and follow the current Covid-19 government guidance and social distancing requirements

What is happening now?

Our build and conservation project started on site in August 2020:

    • Some areas of the park are closed and fenced off including the lower 3 tennis courts, the children's play area and the former bowls lawn for the construction compound
    • The Bathwick Street main entrance is subject to closure for deliveries and vehicular access for the build
    • Edgars Builders and Parsons Landscapes are working on site 
    • The two tennis courts at the top of the park have been partially refurbished and are open for ‘turn-up and play’ using temporary markings until the Spring. Once the weather is warmer and drier, the courts will have their final coat of paint and new gates will be installed. The lower three tennis courts have been closed to create the construction compound and will re-open as two full size courts on completion of the build at the end of 2021. 
    • The Community Pavilion is under construction.
    • The Public Loos are closed and have been replaced by a Portaloo until the new loos wihich are part of the Community Pavilion is complete
    • The Bothy which will be a meeting point for volunteers and a store for gardening tools, is near completion and should be ready for use from January 2021
    • Sally Strachey Associates are currently delayed by another project and anticipate starting the planned conservation works in the New Year
    • IronArt are restoring the 1920s Ladies Loo off site, and will start work to restore the Edwardian Gents Loo in the park soon.

Who is the Sydney Gardens Project team?

Keith Rowe - Project Manager

Susan Palmer - Community Ranger

Mali Kedward - Horticultural Participation Officer

Matthew Watson - Horticultural Apprentice

Who is the professional team working on the project?

The Landscape Architect is Greenhalgh Landscape Architects based in Sydney Wharf, Bathwick

The Architect is BBA Architects Ltd based in Darlington Wharf, Bathwick

The Structural and Civil Engineer is Mann Williams based in Queens Square, Bath

Archaeology - RPS

Ecology - Johns Associates

Mechanical & Electrical (M&E) - Smith Consult 

How can I be involved?

Take a look at our webpage 'Participate in the Sydney Gardens Project' for volunteering and training opportunites.

Contact our Community Ranger Sue Palmer to find out more.

Sign up to our mailing list to receive a monthly e-newsletter for project updates, details of events and activities in the park, how you can participate and volunteer and opportunities for free training.

Go to our Events page for details of current activities.

Read about the heritage of the park alongside indepth essays and living memories on our Medium blog site.

'Like' our project Facebook page and follow B&NES Parks on Twitter and Instagram.

What is the background to the project?

In 2017 the Sydney Gardens Project partnership was successful in securing £332,000 to develop a detailed restoration plan for Sydney Gardens from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This funding was Round 1 in the HLF programme. Over the Development Phase, the project team worked with local communities, organisations and stakeholders and a multi-disciplinary technical team led by Landscape Architects LDA Design Ltd. We:

    • undertook technical site surveys for utilities, historic buildings, ecology and habitat
    • organised and trialled events and activities
    • commissioned research into access and barriers to visiting the park
    • met and planned with community groups and organisations
    • researched the history and heritage of the gardens
    • worked with our partners and key stakeholders to develop the design plans

Public consultation events, exhibitions and online surveys about the plans took place throughout the Development Phase and we collected a broad range of comments and feedback from residents and neighbours and from wider stakeholders. The first public consultation took place in November 2017. As a result of feedback, we updated the restoration plan for Sydney Gardens in April 2018 and exhibited them at the Friends of Sydney Gardens Community Day in April 2018 and at a public exhibition in Bath Central Library for 2 weeks in May 2018, open to public comments and feedback.  We made minor tweaks to our design masterplan as a result of this public exhibition and feedback for our Round 2 submission.

Events and activities took place as part of our Development Phase from Autumn 2017 to Summer 2018 in Sydney Gardens so that we could trial participatory activities. These included learning sessions with local schools, public events such as the Friends of Sydney Garden's Community Day, wildlife surveys and learning sessions, historic tours, talks about stone conservation and a Tree Walk. 

National Lottery Funding for Parks:

HLF’s Chief Executive Ros Kerslake on behalf of HLF and Big Lottery Fund: “Public parks play a vital role in our health and well-being. With this investment from National Lottery players there’s real opportunity for a rejuvenated Sydney Gardens to deliver huge benefits to the whole community.”

To date, more than £850 million of money raised by National Lottery players has been invested in parks since 1996 through the Parks for People grant programme.  The National Lottery Heritage Fund Parks for People programme uses money raised by National Lottery players to support the regeneration, conservation and increased enjoyment of public parks and cemeteries. In England the two Lottery Funds have been working in partnership from 2006 to deliver a multi-million pound investment in public parks.

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