The NCP Rupert Street car park in Bristol has a one-star rating on Parkopedia, its stairwells stink of urine and a four-hour stay costs £15.80.
But C20 (Twentieth Century Society), a charity that campaigns to protect “outstanding” buildings, has submitted an application to list the city centre car park and save it from threatened demolition.
Rupert Street is described by the campaigners as an “innovative” 1950s multistorey and the first of its kind in the UK to feature a continuous spiral parking ramp.
Built by the Multidek Development Group between December 1959 and October 1960 to designs by the architect R Jelinek-Karl and engineers GC Mander & Partners, the more than 3,000 sq metre (35,000 sq ft) site accommodates six decks of car parking for about 550 cars.
The property firm, Student Roost, wants to raze the car park to the ground to make way for a 21-storey accommodation block, which if built would be the second tallest structure in Bristol. The plan includes 450 car parking spaces – 100 fewer than the current provision. A planning application is expected in spring 2023.
C20’s director, Catherine Croft, said: “We definitely think it’s worth saving, we think it should be listed. It’s a good example of an absolutely pivotal building type from the 20th century.
“C20 society is arguing that the car park should be repurposed as a dedicated storage and charging hub for electric and super low-emission vehicles.
“It seems like a good opportunity to provide parking for low-emission vehicles in a building that would be really enjoyable if it is properly maintained,” Croft said.
Croft accepts that the Rupert Street car park does need some looking after.
“These types of building do need maintenance, the experience of using them can be incredibly enhanced by signage and lighting if you put attention into that,” she said.
And there is an environmental argument against knocking the building down and starting again.
“Concrete is incredibly carbon-intensive so knocking it down would squander that embodied energy for no good reason,” Croft said. “It’s going to be increasingly difficult to justify building large concrete structures in the future.”
There are three listed post-second world war car parks in England: Coventry retail market, Preston central bus station, and the former Cole Brothers’ department store in Sheffield.
Open source data on parking provision in the Bristol shows there is still high demand for public car parking. Excluding the reservation-only parking at the Cabot Circus shopping complex, Rupert Street car park provides nearly 10% of all car parking spaces in the central and Broadmead areas of Bristol.
Motorists parking at Rupert Street on Friday were siding with C20 – but their motivations were driven more by commerce and convenience than aesthetics.
After the recent introduction of a clean air zone charge in Bristol, the car park users appeared aggrieved at the increasing number of barriers to accessing the city centre.
Spencer Delbridge, 43, a managing director of British Cosmetic Clinic, a nearby skin clinic, doesn’t like the idea of it being demolished.
“It’s not good,” the Bristol resident said. “I have a business around the corner. We’re already finding it hard to attract customers to the city centre at the moment, with the congestion charge, charging £9 and now they could knock down some of the nearest parking spaces.
“It’s a lovely building. They did things properly in the 50s.”
Paul Mann, 50, a bus driver, said: “It’s the only good central car park we’ve got.”
Mann, who is originally from Liverpool and has lived in Bristol for 20 years, said there were too many flats springing up across the city. “The city is so dry, there’s no life in the city centre any more. When the university term is finished, it will be dead.”
He said he had noticed increased shop closures and raised frustrations with the congestion zone charge. “[The car park] is a bit expensive, but that’s what you pay for convenience.”
Katie Cox, 25, had driven into Bristol from Weston-super-Mare, about 25 miles away. “I’m not sure about it being historic but the way I see it is I don’t see the point in changing something that’s already very useful,” she said. “The amount of cars parked there, what’s the point of knocking it down and starting again?”
As Cox was coming to the car park’s defence, her partner broke news of the charge – £15.80 for four hours. After a moment of stunned silence, she continued: “It is expensive but everything is these days.”