'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.
2020-21: Delivery of restoration, building works and landscaping, volunteering, and designing interpretation
2022: Continued delivery of the restoration and build with accompanying volunteer and training programme, activities and partnership events
December 2022: Closure 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, the associated documents and susequent permissions, go to the B&NES Plannning Portal and search for Play Area Sydney Gardens Sydney Place Bathwick or use the following application numbers:
Planning Application: 19/05443/REG03
Listed Building Consent: 19/05444/REG13
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 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 made significant savings and were 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. The proposal has been replaced with an adult swing, with views of Camden Crescent and the Lansdown ridge.
- 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 maintain the area due to the hazards, slopes and rough ground.
- Other costs savings have been 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.
It maybe that further savings are required as the scheme nears competition. At the present time the canal entrance ramp and the opening up of the grounds depot have been paused while the main site works are completed and final budgets prepared. If these elements are affordable, they will proceed in the spring of 2022.
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 over 14 months
- we had to cancel or postpone most of our practical volunteer and training activities during the pandemic
- we 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' and we distributed activity packs to some of our priority audiences
- we have redesigned some activities to take place online or in small groups
- our activities have restarted and continue to respond to and follow the current Covid government guidance.
What is happening now?
Our build and conservation project started on site in August 2020:
Some areas of the park are still fenced off while works are completed inlcuding the Temple of Minerva and the depot area.
- The Play & Sport Area - the new multi-age playground and sport area (including the 2 lower tennis courts) is now scheduled to open in the first week of April 2022
Tennis courts - the two courts at the top of the park are open for play. New (solar-powered) gates have been installed. The courts now operate on a bookable system: £6 per hour for Pay and Play, with Family Membership available for £40 per year, £30 Concessions.
Petanque - a new court has been created by the Bathwick Street entrance. Anyone can turn up and play and use of the court is free. If any club wants to hold an event or tournament, they will need to reserve it through B&NES Events and will be charged the standard booking fee for hiring Boules Terrains (as per Queens Square for example). When a booked event is on, the area will be only available for use by the hirer.
The Bathwick Street main entrance is still subject to occasional closure for deliveries and vehicular access for the build, and this will continue until July 2022.
Network Rail are now carry out fencing works alongside the railway as it passes through Sydney Gardens with a compound on the lower lawn. The works are scheduled to complete in late June 2022.
Edgars Builders are continuing to manage the construction site (except the Network Rail working area). Parsons Landscapes, Sally Strachey Associates and IronArt Bath have all been working in the Gardens over the last couple of years.
The Community Pavilion is now complete and is only being used for activities run by our partners and activity provider while works continue on site.
The public toilet is open (20p, card reader) and adjacent Changing Places Toilet is open.
The Bothy, a meeting point for volunteers and a store for gardening tools, has now been refurbished and we have kitted it out.
The Temple of Minerva is now complete and a new bat box installed in the roof. We are waiting for the plaster to dry out ready for painting. It will have interpretation and information boards installed in the spring giving information about the history of the Gardens and provide a point of orientation for the completed scheme.
IronArt have restored the Edwardian Gents Loo and the 1920s Ladies Loo. The Grade 2 Listed Ironwork Loos will contain interpretation about the story of public toilets and you can view inside the Loo through glass panels on the sides. The 1920s Ladies Ironwork Loo is being run by Foxglove Forest School as a Learning Lav for Under 5s / Early Years Outdoor Learning.
Who is the Sydney Gardens Project team?
Keith Rowe - Project Manager
Susan Palmer - Community Ranger (leaving post on 31 March 2022)
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.
- Volunteering in gardening, communications, archiving, documenting, oral history, and at events in the park
- Taking part in horticultural training, species surveys and community archaeology
- Taking part in discussions that shape participation in the park
- Join the Friends of Sydney Gardens
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.