Southampton Waterside access report


This Report has been prepared over the course of one year by Southampton and District Green Party. It was a response to the travesty of the Council’s proposals for the development of our historic and precious Mayflower Park and subsequently developed into a report looking at access to the whole of the waterside.

It is therefore written in two parts:

1. Mayflower Park

2. The riverside and shoreline waterfronts in our City.

The report aims to raise awareness of the unique and beautiful waterside environments along Southampton's rivers and shorelines and to encourage communities and politicians alike to value celebrate and nurture them into the future.

LOVE OUR WATERFRONT - Mayflower Park (map)

Mayflower Park and the Royal pier site lie at the very heart of Old Southampton and are the sole reminders of the City’s ancient and deep historic connection with the sea and maritime traditions.

Throughout the centuries the waterfront has formed the lifeblood of Southampton’s developing trade and commercial activities. Within just minutes of the Mayflower Park shoreline there are 14 Grade 1 listed buildings all reflecting the status and significance of the area’s role in bringing about a thriving maritime based economy. As the City grew in power and influence the people of Southampton enjoyed unrestricted access to the waterside and beaches whether their purpose was to earn a living or to enjoy the seaside air.

Despite its historical significance as one of the sites of departure of the Pilgrim Fathers, Mayflower Park is currently an uninspiring grassed area whose main purpose seems to be to provide a home for the annual Boat Show and the current plan to “improve” it is for a depressingly corporate space with sterile paved promenade around high-rise luxury apartments. Shops are likely to be outlets of major chains rather than small local businesses, meaning that very little of the money generated will stay in Southampton.

This area is the last major undeveloped public space we have left along our waterfront (see our report on the state of Southampton’s waterfront below). It lies at the heart of the old city and is too precious to be turned into a grass and tarmac space waiting empty for the 2 weeks of the year when the Boat Show arrives.

It is vital that we (the people of Southampton) ensure that Mayflower Park and the Royal Pier site, this last remaining vestige of our treasured waterfront access, is celebrated and honoured by restoring it to its rightful place as a community resource at the heart the City’s waterfront.

Our vision is one where Mayflower Park becomes the focal point of a ‘Heritage Quarter’ with the development of Heritage Trails linking and ‘showcasing’ the Old Town buildings. These trails would celebrate and commemorate the magnificent liners such as the Titanic and Queen Mary and Elizabeth which are so integrally linked with the City’s past as well as exploring the importance and impact of the treasure trove of ancient buildings and monuments that abound by its shores. Had the city council carried out a real consultation with the people of the city we might have had a much more attractive proposal for a park that would attract visitors to our waterfront. For example, rather than costly land reclamation, the edge of Mayflower Park could have been altered to give access to the natural waterfront (see artist’s impression below).The Park would form a vital link to the Heritage Quarter and a natural introduction to the Old Town. Areas of native trees and flowering shrubs would increase its attractiveness while still leaving space for the Boat Show. A play area for children would incorporate a play boat designed to invoke the Mayflower. Rather than a spitfire monument, we suggest a model flying boat – a type of aircraft with strong links to the waterfront in Southampton.

A possible vision for an accessible waterfront

We are not presenting the ‘vision’ above as a detailed alternative to the current corporate-driven plan for Mayflower Park and the Royal Pier. Our aim is to create a conversation about what type of development would truly benefit the people of Southampton and to inspire and encourage more imaginative and enriching proposals than are currently under consideration.

Southampton has a very proud and centuries old heritage which cries out to be honoured and recognised. Not only would this deepen and enhance the experience of its people but would make a major contribution to the expansion and development of the tourist economy.

LOVE OUR WATERFRONT – Southampton’s riverside and shoreline waterfronts 

Southampton is a historic port city whose maritime heritage goes back at least to the Romans. Fed by the rivers Test and Itchen and with a unique tidal estuary, the City has over the centuries enjoyed a rich and varied cultural history. Its economy has depended on the waterways for transport and industry, and much of its waterfront has been used by commercial and industrial businesses.  Its history as a spa town is all but forgotten except in a few road names such as Spa Road.

It is possible to visit the city and not realise that a major river runs through its heart.  Yet this river, the Itchen, has been the lifeblood of Southampton since Roman and Saxon times and is at the heart of the City’s culture and heritage. Although significant areas of waterfront are still accessible in some form to the public much of the Itchen’s shores are without meaningful access, leaving Southampton’s citizens little chance for just ‘messing about on the river’ or enjoying waterside play.

Yet, despite the opportunity offered by the development of formerly derelict areas of waterfront, land is being lost in favour of developers’ profits on the basis that where there was no access before, any access at all is “better than nothing”. As a result, current and proposed developments within the city claim to provide access to the waterfront, yet in practice are part of a “corporate takeover” of our public spaces dominated by hotels, retail and high end housing.

Waterfront access around new apartment blocks on the lower Itchen is partial, poorly signposted and appears designed to makes it look private and/or uninviting. “Promenades” around these blocks are typically tarmac or paved paths, edged by brick walls, metal fences or monoculture hedges and with few seating areas. Few sites link up to form a shore-side path for the public to walk along.

Waterside areas with natural access

The Itchen takes a beautiful meandering course through Southampton and in places offers the City’s community high-quality recreation leisure and relaxation opportunities

Eastern shores of the River Itchen (North to South)

Riverside Park (map)

The Itchen runs along the western side of the 32 acre Riverside Park (Fig 1).

Itchen riverside 

Figure 1

This beautiful waterside area has large open stretches of green as well as wooded and natural reed bed riverside environments.  It was originally created from reclaimed land to provide an area for recreation in a heavily urbanised area of the City. The Friends of Riverside Park ( help maintain the park, for example through litter picks. There is a miniature model railway, a children’s skateboard park and a pontoon out onto the river. The northern end of the park borders the Itchen navigation canal and the River Itchen continues through Mansbridge towards Eastleigh and Winchester, with an attractive riverside side path (Fig 2) and the Itchen Way continues along the canal ultimately to Hinton Ampner. 

Riverside path Itchen 

Figure 2

At Woodmill (fig 3), where there had been a mill since at least medieval times up until 1930, the Woodmill Outdoor Activities Centre offers the public a chance to see parts of the river normally inaccessible to them.

Woodmill mud flats

Figure 3

 At Swaythling a tributary of the Itchen, Monks Brook (fig 4), is part of the city’s network of greenways, with largely unmanaged, wooded waterfront of great value to wildlife. 

Monks Brook, a bridge over the river

Figure 4

Bitterne Manor Park

The unspoiled Bitterne Manor Park (fig 5) lies close to the old Roman settlement at Clausentum.

Bitterne Manor park, a riverside park with picnic tables

Figure 5

It has a grassed area with seating and great views of the river. Sadly, the signboard is old and faded and there is a litter problem.

Nearby is a publicly accessible wood beside the (private) Bitterne Manor House, whose presence prevents access further south along the Itchen.

Northam Bridge Park (map)

Northam Bridge Park is a small waterside gem right by Northam Bridge (fig 6).

A path beside the sea, a brick wall to one side and railings on the other

Figure 6

 A narrow strip of grass by the roadside can be reached from the road via a set of rickety steps, and a paved slope from one end. Much more could be made of this little area.

On the other side of the road immediately opposite the Park there is a small unintentional “beach” (fig 7) with no legitimate access from the road. The regular presence of moored rowing boats shows the lengths to which local people will go to reach the waterfront.

 The view alongside Northam Bridge

Figure 7

 Itchen Ferry (map)

Between here and the Itchen Bridge no natural public access exists apart from a paved seating area with surrounding vegetation that commemorates the ancient community of Itchen Ferry (fig 8), and a small park in the shadow of the Bridge itself between new developments (fig 9).

Paved seating area near the Itchen Ferry 

Figure 8

A view from under the bridge

Figure 9

Chessel Bay Nature Reserve (map)

The Nature Reserve at Chessel Bay (fig 10) forms part of an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and is an important wildlife habitat.

 Chessel Bay Nature Reserve , looking over the water

Figure 10

 Access is limited, especially for wheelchair users. There is a poorly maintained viewpoint towards the end of the “official” path but this offers limited views compared to various points slightly further along the route. There is a useful information board by the car park but no signage at the actual start of the path and nothing to indicate the entry point from Athelstan Road.

Wildlife is abundant along the shore, and because of the importance of the habitats access to the mudflats is not permitted. However, there is no sign at the end of the path to indicate this.

 Litter is a real problem, with large amounts constantly washed ashore. The Friends of Chessel Bay work hard to reduce the burden of litter and carry out regular litter picks as well as helping to manage the reserve.

 Along from Chessel Bay further views of the waterside can be enjoyed from the path behind the houses along Quayside Rd.  Just opposite Bitterne Manor Primary School is a colourful mural about the reserve (although the sign arrow appears to point in the wrong direction!) and close by is a viewing area (fig 11 a and b).

 Mural by Chessel Bay

Figure 11a

A deck looking out over the river

Figure 11b

Western Shores of the River Itchen (North to South) (map)

St Denys

On the western bank of the River Itchen, there are small areas off Priory Rd providing public access to the river. These include grassed areas behind Saltmead Rd (fig 12), Pettinger Gardens (fig 13), Janaway Gardens (fig 14) and Collier Close(fig 15). 

Western bank of the River Itchen,

Figure 12

 A stretch of green river bank with boats moored in the distance

Figure 13

Foreshore with birds feeding in the distance

Figure 14

A paved path by the water with railings

Figure 15


 All have good views across to Bitterne Manor. These areas are poorly signed but are a great community asset for local people. The area behind Collier Close lacks the natural beauty of the other areas but at least has a grassed area behind the fenced path. There is seating here but it is not clear whether this is for the general public or merely residents.


At the southern end of Priory Rd is Priory Hard (fig 16), a public slipway which is both poorly signed and poorly maintained. Behind it is a plain grassed area which could be made into an attractive small park. Further south, there is a tarmac waterside path (fig 17) around the apartment block which continues to Horseshoe Bridge, although the steps make it inaccessible to wheelchair users. This is unfortunate as a slope could have been built instead of steps. There is a notice warning of this at the Priory Rd end and, bizarrely, a notice with the exact same wording at the Horseshoe Rd end just at the top of the steps.

Priory Hard , a concreted area used for launching boats

Figure 16

A path beside a riverbank with steps rising at the end

Figure 17


At the southern end of Priory Road South, Horseshoe Bridge leads to a boardwalk (fig 18), created following a successful 2007 lottery bid. This is a very welcome waterside route for pedestrians and cyclists with attractive views of the Itchen.

A curving metaled path following the curve of the river, a railing to one side 

Figure 18


The mudflats below are now inaccessible, although there is evidence of previous access right to the waterside. Litter is a major problem, made worse by the lack of a litter bin at the seating area at the northern end of the boardwalk, where dumped rubbish makes what could be a pleasant picnic spot a major eyesore. At the southern end, cyclists are directed abruptly away from the waterside as the National Cycle Network route 23 continues through an industrial area and past the old gas works toward Ocean Village. For pedestrians, the waterside path continues (fig 19) along the edge of the new Meridian development and under Northam Bridge to connect with Northam Rd. There is a great deal of litter along this path.

A path by the river that ends suddenly in a fence, blocking access

Figure 19

Southampton Water (map)

Here the rivers Test and Itchen join. Much of the shore line is inaccessible to the general public because of the docks. However, there are areas at the eastern and western ends offering natural access.

Weston Shore is the best beach Southampton has to offer(fig 20), although overlooked by tower blocks and the industrial complex opposite.

A pebble beach 

Figure 20

It is much beloved of Southampton’s people who gather along the shore to watch the great ocean liners and cruise ships sailing up and down Southampton Water. Weston Shore is also an important SSSI owing to the number of birds using the area and there are unusual plants such as sea beet. The parking area dominates part of the shore and much more could be made of this area – although swimming may be unsafe owing to pollution from shipping.

Behind the main car park is Westwood, a local nature reserve jointly managed by Hampshire County Council and Southampton City Council. East of the car park it is possible to walk along the attractive tree-lined shore past Weston Sailing club (where the National Cycle Network route 2 continues slightly inland) to Netley and beyond. West of the car park the waterside path continues past the pitch and putt and a small cafe as far as Southampton Sailing Club at Woolston. Along this stretch of waterside the shingle beach is backed by wild grasses and, nearer Woolston, a large green. The Friends of Weston Shore ( aim to promote and enhance Weston shore, organising beach cleans and other events.

Redbridge Wharf Park (map)

This park is a hidden gem only accessible via Redbridge station. This 6 acre park (fig 21) was donated by ABP and is next to the car storage area. While more could have been made of it, it is a valuable area for local people, with a children’s play area and great views across the water.

Water with sea birds and pylons in the distance

Figure 21


Modern developments with limited waterside access

Ocean Village is a depressing example of poor planning decisions made during the 1980s (fig 22), with high-end housing and a marina packed with luxury vessels. Luxury apartments give residents great views of the river from their windows, but outside at ground level the area is a concrete desert with little greenery. Apart from the Blue Funnel day cruises during the summer, the cinemas and the cafes, there is little to attract the public.

A paved area in front of a marina

Figure 22

Lower Itchen (map)

Along the eastern side of the Itchen are a series of apartment blocks at Riverdene Place (fig 23), Swan Quay (which has no public access), Vespasian Quay (fig 24), Clausentum Quay (fig 25) and Manor Quay (fig 26), each with a promenade from which the Itchen can be viewed. None of these link up, so it is not possible to walk along the riverside, merely to approach it at each individual point. The waterfront is reached by walking between or around the blocks, which makes it seem private and uninviting, and there is little or no seating. At Riverdene Place a gate which would allow visitors to access the waterfront, walk along it and then exit at the other end has been permanently locked, in breach of the planning requirements. We understand that the Council is aware of this but will take no action to reopen access.

A bricked path that runs along the waterside with a railing to one side and an arched bridge in the distance

Figure 23

An area with decorative paving and a railing. A life belt is mounted on the railing and the water stretched into the distance with building far beyond

Figure 24

A path by the river, railing on both sides 

Figure 25

A path along the river, commercial buildings to one side

Figure 26


Centurion Park (map)


South of Vespasian Rd, as the river bends towards Northam, the promenade around part of the Centurion Parklight industrial area (fig 27) has been sensitively done with a wide strip of grass and trees separating the path from the buildings, making it more which attractive than those around the nearby housing blocks.

Another path by the water with parkland to the right 

Figure 27

 Just behind this is a fenced area of private land (fig 28). There appears to be a path around this along the waterside, but it has been blocked by a locked gate. 

A fence in front of a sign saying "Private property - Keep out"

Figure 28

Centenary Quay

The partially constructed Centenary Quay development (fig 29) on the old Vosper Thorneycroft site at Woolston consists of rather overpowering apartment blocks.

 A mostly paved area between towering apartment blocks

 Figure 29

The development so far is intensive, with little vegetation which a “green wall” does little to improve. Outline planning included three residential tower blocks with a waterside walkway around the whole site but detailed plans for the first tower, with a less attractive design and loss of a section of walkway, were later approved despite massive opposition from residents and the wider public.

This decision sets a bad precedent, giving the green light to developers to make promises they have no intention of keeping. It remains to be seen whether the remaining sections of walkway and the promised cycle and pedestrian through-route will be completed.

However, the real planning failure lay earlier in the process, when outline plans for such an intensively built site were passed in the first place. For example, if the tower block had been further from the waterside a small park might have been created in front of it. “Wind tunnel effects” and risks of anti-social behaviour would have been less likely and the wider public would have been able to enjoy views now only available to the privileged few who can afford the luxury flats.

Meridian Site (map)

The Meridian site borders a beautiful sweep of the River Itchen alongside Northam Bridge. Previously the home of Southern TV, and prior to that the Plaza Cinema, the site is now undergoing development to provide 350 homes. A public footpath, which is squeezed between the boundary of the site and the river, is narrow and unkempt but the aspect and views are delightful (fig 30).

A construction site by the water with a path along side

Figure 30

The development has therefore the potential to offer the public truly welcoming and enjoyable access to the river and to the boardwalk which goes on to join the Horseshoe bridge.

The developer has stated that We have made sure that there is a park area surrounding the waterfront so that people can access it easily.” It is absolutely imperative that the developers and the Council are held to account and turn fine words into reality.

Chapel Riverside Site (map)

Initial proposals for the development of this site include 400 homes, some marine employment and a narrow, paved promenade around it.

The design follows the pattern of recent waterfront developments in the city, with a paved “square” rather than a park, little natural vegetation, many high buildings and a “promenade” leading nowhere. The plans discuss a possible future extension of the promenade to north and south, but this is not part of the current design.

Much of the Itchen has little meaningful access to the general public, and areas with access are fragmented. With no plans to link up these areas by a continuous path, each new development makes it ever harder to make such a path in future. A link north to the boardwalk and south to Ocean Village could provide an attractive route into the city for cyclists and pedestrians, and should be an essential requirement of the Chapel development.

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