The issue of access to Southampton’s waterfront

The new Harbour Hotel appears to nose out into the waters of Ocean Village's marina (Photo: Harbour

The new Harbour Hotel appears to nose out into the waters of Ocean Village's marina (Photo: Harbour Hotels) - Credit: Harbour Hotels

Southampton’s waterfront is an asset. If only we could get to it

At the head of Southampton Water and the confluence of the rivers Itchen and Test, Southampton is bounded on three sides by water. With those waters sheltered by the Isle of Wight and benefiting from double tides, it is of little surprise that the city has developed as the busiest cruise terminal and the second largest container port in the country. However, although the waterfront is an asset, it is a commercial facility and therefore access for leisure and pleasure has always been somewhat limited.

So, hurray for initiatives opening up the waterfront to the public. These include Meridian Waterside, a development on the banks of the Itchen on the site of the old Meridian TV studios, and Centenary Quay, the regeneration of the old Vosper Thornycroft shipyard in Woolston at the mouth of the Itchen. Then there is Ocean Village, a redevelopment of Southampton’s Victorian docks, which after starting, stopping, restarting and stalling is now looking shipshape (literally) with the opening of the new Harbour Hotel, the prow of its super-yacht-inspired design nosing out into the marina waters, welcoming on-board guests and featuring HarBAR, a rooftop destination bar with spectacular marina views, luxury spa and health club, private intimate cinema (seating just 21) and The Jetty restaurant with waterside terrace headed up by renowned Chef Patron Alex Aitken.

The very latest redevelopment project, launched last October, is Chapel Riverside on the former town depot, north of Itchen Bridge, and incorporating improved access to the waterfront with a new square with cafes and restaurants. This scheme is part of Southampton City Council’s Itchen Riverside Very Important Project (VIP), one of several VIPs that are the basis of the Council’s plan to support and develop further economic growth within the city.

Aforementioned Meridian Waterside is also part of this Itchen Riverside VIP – a £40m development of 350 homes on the western side of Northam Bridge that is currently under construction, having been launched a year ago by ITV Meridian’s Fred Dinenage. After spending many years reporting from the site when it was a TV studio complex, he expressed his pleasure at seeing the area undergo regeneration: “It has saddened me over the years to see this site, which has so many memories and so much potential, lie empty for so long. Inland Homes has a really exciting regeneration project planned here...”

Connectivity to the waterfront will be prioritised with new roads, redesigned streets and widened public walkways opening up this part of the river to the public for the first time, plus a new park alongside Northam Road enabling access to a new riverside walk. Meridian Waterside is intended to be a gateway into the city from the east. Together with Chapel Riverside, these sites are helping to regenerate Itchen Riverside, reshaping the city’s landscape, revitalising the waterfront and encouraging use of the water as a facility.

However, unless you go looking for these waterside developments you may not be aware how much progress is being made. One of the best ways to appreciate the city’s burgeoning waterfront is by actually taking to the water. There are a number of kayking, rowing and sailing clubs – particularly along the banks of the Itchen. One such is Southampton Water Activities Centre (SWAC) which has been operating on the Floating Bridge Road site since April 1988 - and they are busy planning their 30th Birthday celebrations later this year.

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Jon Kirby, Operations Manager (SWAC & Woodmill), Active Nation, comments: “The development of ‘Waterside Southampton’ is immediately obvious when afloat. Looking back over the past ten years the skyline has totally changed, especially at night when the lights on the Itchen Bridge and Moresby Tower are clearly visible across Southampton Water.

“The new Harbour Hotel, Chapel Riverside and Centenary Quay developments are attracting more people to the city and helping to bring them down to the waterfront. We’re excited to be part of events such as Southampton Sailing Week aimed at increasing this trend.”

Improved access to the waterfront certainly appears to encourage locals and visitors to get more involved in Southampton’s watersports facilities. Darren Kirkham, Training Manager, Active Nation, continues: “At SWAC we are delighted to have seen an increase in the number of people, especially youngsters, engaging in watersports activities. The average number of kids attending holiday activities has more than doubled over the past seven years. It is brilliant to see so many people accessing the centre and enjoying time on the water.”

Alternatively, you can gain a new perspective of Southampton simply by viewing the city from across the water. Try taking the ferry from Town Quay to Hythe, or visiting the River Itchen’s far bank by crossing the Itchen, Northam or Cobden bridges to Woolston, Bitterne and Bitterne Park respectively. From Centenary Quay’s new square there’s a particularly good view of Ocean Village with that landmark hotel in all its glory. Or from Bitterne’s elevated position you can see the cranes spiking Southampton’s skyline as building work redefines the landscape.

Step by step the city’s waterfront is being reshaped: a riverside path here, a quayside eatery there…It is already evident at Centenary Quay and Ocean Village, which are becoming well-established leisure destinations. The former has a well-presented new square with water views and a choice of eateries including Mettricks coffee house and the appropriately named Vospers premium burger joint and Supermarine woodfired pizza and fresh pasta restaurant. The latter, Ocean Village, has become a glamorous hang-out and attracts yachtie types (it is home to the Royal Southampton Yacht Club) enjoying water views not just from the new hotel, but glamorous The Ocean Rooms beauty salon, Harbour Lights Picture House with bar and balcony, and various bars and bistros, such as Steak of the Art, combining grill with gallery.

Some aspects of Southampton’s waterfront don’t need transforming. They are perfect just as they are. This includes the obvious, Bitterne Park’s Riverside Park, 32 hectares alongside the Itchen encompassing football and cricket pitches, play areas, tennis court and skate park. And then there are hidden gems, such as Shamrock Quay, discovered down a rather industrial-looking road where an entrance leads onto an unexpected quayside with top notch restaurants Cove and Quay Fifteen among marine service businesses.

Southampton was hammered during WWII and unimaginative development post-war was not kind to the recovering city. But at long last, with Portsmouth showing what can be done with its waterside development, Gunwharf Quays, Southampton is emerging as the vibrant waterfront city it should be. Better late than never.


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