| Artist Samir Biswas’ impression of the dusty and dilapidated Strand Road warehouse
The British waterfront mission presented a synopsis of its final draft report on an urban design framework on the future use of the Strand Road warehouses and the Dalhousie Square waterfront to Asok Bhattacharyya, minister for urban development and municipal affairs, and mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Thursday. The British team that prepared it in collaboration with local architects and NGOs at a workshop bubbled with enthusiasm about its implementation. The final report will be ready by the end of this month, and they will be back by the end of the year.
George Nicholson, chairman, London Rivers Association, said he has been involved with the project for the past five years, and now it was time to stop talking and act.
Some of the workshop recommendations are: All Strand Road warehouses should be retained and designated as heritage buildings. They should be restored and used to generate more income for the Calcutta Port Trust, that owns them, and the entire waterfront. A special-purpose vehicle should be set up for this purpose. Nicholson spoke very strongly in favour retaining the flower market in Mullickghat in its present form.
The economic regeneration of the city should be geared to the waterfront framework. The approaches to the two warehouses — Strand and Fairlie — should be spruced up, the buildings close by should be protected, and no structures unrelated to water should be allowed mid-Hooghly.
Eric Reynolds, director, Urban Space Management, said implementation would require an investment of £ 20 million and, to quote him, corporate houses were “fighting to join” it. In this context, ITC and Bengal Chamber of Commerce were mentioned. He said the warehouses were still “enormously strong” and that a pilot project should be started to demonstrate the latent potential of the space.
The actual plan, with its car parks, plazas and walks, was gone through by Philip Davies, director of English Heritage. Making a special mention of the gutted but grand Mackenzie Building, he said it should be designated a heritage building.
Though the British team was aware of the presence of tenants in the Strand Road warehouse, the solutions they recommended did not seem to take ground realities into account. Nicholson said the Fairlie warehouse was “hardly used at all.” And as to the Strand Road warehouse, since the Port Trust owns “miles of underused property”, a deal could be worked out to relocate the tenants and lease-holders.
Given the tortuous process of law in this country, is such a solution at all feasible' Mackenzie Building, for example, has been involved in seemingly interminable litigation.
Another significant point raised by a local architect was, how could the modern air-conditioned flower market coming up near the old one be accommodated in the heritage framework' Nicholson did assert it should not be AC, but will his plea not fall on deaf ears'
Perhaps the British team should take a less cavalier attitude and respect local realities and sentiments a little more.