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Friday, 8 January 2021

TARA's response to the One Shared Vision Consultation

BANES was, perhaps more than any other authority that emerged from the last boundary changes, an uncomfortable artificial construct. Bath itself is a unique city with its status as a major heritage destination and an unusually large and diverse number of people choosing to live in the heart of the city. Any vision which attempts to accommodate this diverse and eclectic area risks being anodyne, unambitious and a poor basis for inspiring or driving real change.


Bath as a city has probably had more effort and money spent on creating visions and strategies than any other city of comparable size in the world and its unique status has attracted the interest of some of the world’s leading experts. Unfortunately, none of these visions and strategies has been realised in practice and every new administration seems to feel the need to restart the processes from square one thus compounding the problem.


That having been said our comments on the individual visions are as follows:


15 Minute Neighbourhoods


One could argue that the city of Bath is already a 15 minute neighbourhood.  The main effort here needs to be the repair of the damage done by the combination of Covid and the long term effects of online trading and in the impact it has had on the availability sports, leisure and in particular cultural facilities and of course the impact on retail diversity.


There would seem to be four major omissions from the vision as presented:


  1. It seems to ignore the need to deal with the basic hygiene of repairing roads and pavements, clearing rubbish, managing trade waste properly etc. Currently few of these hygiene issues is well managed and this has a disproportionally negative impact.
  2. What will Bath look like in 2030? Will we have finally updated and implemented the Public Realm and Movement strategy and style guide?
  3. Most people in Bath live in flats. It would be nice if by 2030 BANES acknowledged this and all policies were tested for their impact on flat dwellers.
  4. The vision says nothing about Public Transport. If car use is to be reduced affordable public transport that has routes designed around need rather than profit will be crucial.


Heritage of the Future


The obvious omission from from this is the vital role played by residents. Residents live in and bear the cost of maintaining huge amounts of the built environment that attracts visitors. Residents fight to maintain the quality of city services. Residents put cash into businesses during low seasons. More importantly residents create the vibrant and welcoming city culture that so many visitors cite as a core part of their experience. If you want to see what happens to a heritage city that fails to acknowledge and support the contribution of residents we suggest a visit to Venice.


Hopefully, by 2030 BANES will have taken back the management of its tourism offer back from Bristol and will have a properly resourced destination management organisation.



Nature and Landscape


Much of this vision, at least as far as Bath is concerned, is being realised already. The countryside around Bath is well used and well loved. The main issues with this vision is highlighted by this popularity. We are  not creating anymore countryside and indeed some recent policy decisions look set to take some of it away and the more popular it becomes the more crowded it becomes. This vision rather ducks the issue of how this will be managed. One suggestion would be to take steps to ban all vehicles, including bicycles,  from footpaths and towpaths. Given the plans to reduce traffic on roads and create new dedicated cycle routes this would seem to be easily achievable.


Fairer Financing


We have no comment on this but would be interested to see the research on which it is based and hear some case studies from places where this has been successful.


Business and Innovation


One of the many trends accelerated by Covid is that knowledge workers are now able to, and choosing to, live in places that provide them with the best lifestyle. This further emphasises the need for BANES to be more proactive in understanding what residents are looking for and having processes and partnerships in place which are able to deliver. This implies a considerable change in the way BANES as an organisation is managed and in particular the way it manages its communication with residents and potential residents.


Thursday, 10 December 2020

Practical issues with deliveries in the proposed security zone

We are told that BANES are engaging with companies about how they will work with them and residents to ensure that residents can get goods and services delivered and we were asked to comment about which firms need to be included.


To start with we need to consider urgent situations which are likely to require heavy equipment either to undertake work or to replace failed equipment.


Clearly, leaks of water and gas require arrangements to be made quickly with Utility Companies but also emergency plumbers.


Breakdowns of critical equipment like cookers, fridges and heating system require prompt access by electricians, plumbers and white goods sellers.


The discovery of dangerous or worn installations requiring rewiring or the replacement of obsolete equipment requires access by plumbers, electrician and utility companies.


Loss of telephone and or internet connection requires access by Openreach and contractors of ISP’s many of which have tight rules about how far they will transport equipment by hand.


Many vulnerable people in the zone depend on carers and cleaners who often have equipment to carry and are operating to very tight schedules, often imposed by NHS subcontractors.


However, there are many non-urgent deliveries where the proposed arrangements, which seem to be based on commercial deliveries which can are easily scheduled, would create major issues in a residential context. Residential deliveries are not like commercial deliveries:

  • Suppliers and their sub-contractors often have inflexible delivery booking processes mediated by machines not people
  • Unlike shops, houses and flats are not permanently manned during working hours
  • Few suppliers offer to provide details of delivery staff or vehicle identity numbers or descriptions and we doubt if many would be able to do so.
  • Few suppliers can or are prepared to offer very tight delivery slots the best most offer is 4hr targets. 

We would reiterate that it is unfair to put residents, particularly elderly residents, between the rock of supplier inflexibility and the hard place of an opaque bureaucratic process particularly one that operates at the glacially slow pace BANES seems to be anticipating.

Monday, 30 November 2020

Bath City Centre Security Proposals

The council intends to create a security cordon excluding vehicles from the entire commercial core of the city between Southgate and Upper Borough Walls (Milson, Green and Broad Streets are excluded). This will be done using existing fixed bollards plus five new moveable bollards controlling entrances to York Street, Upper Borough Walls, Cheap Street and Lower Borough Walls.

Within this area, access will be controlled by CCTV twenty-four seven. There will be a daytime and night regime allowing access for emergency vehicles, waste collection, commercial deliveries, etc. All residential vehicles, all parking including Blue Badge parking, parcel and package deliveries and taxis are banned twenty-four hours a day. You can get special access permits but it will take twenty working days.

Anyone living in this area will be essentially trapped unless they are able to walk, cycle or use mobility vehicles to reach shops and other facilities including Blue Badge and general-purpose parking areas. It is admitted that there are as yet no detailed plans for how to deal with taxis and for mobility-impaired residents. Emergency vehicles have five entrances to the area controlled by CCTV and will radio ahead to ensure access. Residents will be expected to book any vehicular deliveries or access by tradesmen several days if not weeks in advance when after a complex bureaucratic review which will require information about things like the vehicle identification numbers and the name of the driver they may be issued with a tightly restricted pass. The area contains St Johns Hospital, Arlington House and the Min Building.

The will be no parking in this area at any time.

The justification for all these draconian restrictions is vague but appears to be that in the past terrorists have used vehicles as weapons in crowded areas. This begs several questions:

  • Why this crowed area? There are many other city centres which attract crowds is the intention to lock them all down? There are other areas of Bath and BANES which attract crowds can we expect these restrictions to spread?
  • Why focus on this particular type of attack? Recent attacks have, for instance, been carried our by pedestrians with knives and rucksacks full of explosives. Does this mean we can shortly anticipate metal detectors and baggage searches before you can enter this part of Bath?
However, even if we concede the justification for these restrictions the plans seem to be designed to bear down on residents far more that is justified or equitable to such an extent that it almost seems aimed at deterring people from living in this area altogether.

The council seems to have given no consideration to helping or compensating residents at all and have only recently started to look at ways of helping even severely disabled residents. The current proposal leave disabled visitors a long way from the most popular shops.

Some example of where we believe BANES should be looking to support residents include:

  • Turning the proposed system for booking deliveries and trade visits on its head. Rather than leaving residents between the rock of an opaque bureaucratic permit process and the notoriously inflexible booking processes of major companies and harrassed small traders, residents should be able to contact council officers explain what they need and why they need it and have the council contact the companies concerned gather the information they need and make the arrangements for access.
  • Given the consistent failure of both central government and BANES to provide adequate affordable public transport a car is still essential for many city centre residents. We have already seen a considerable reduction in parking provision and these proposals will add to that. It is time that BANES acknowledged this reality and allocated "residents only" all-day parking in city centre car parks for residents in the area covered by these and other proposals to remove parking spaces.
  • We are advised that these proposals are likely to have an impact on property values in this area and we think that resident thus affected are entitled to get compensated
However, we would propose that BANES scrap this scheme in its current form and rethink city centre security when they have:

1. Identified a way that taxis can operate freely in the security zone. Many residents, particularly the elderly, depend on taxis for hospital, care home and shopping visits. Hotels with no on-site parking cannot operate without a taxi service.

2. Identified a way of allowing small package and food deliveries without twenty-day advanced consent. Many residents, particularly the elderly, depend on deliveries for food and online purchases.

3. Agreed to allow residents who drive cars to freely enter and leave the security zone even if they have to park elsewhere. Many residents depend on their cars for non-local shopping for themselves and their friends and neighbours.

4. Agreed to allow Blue Badge holders to park within the security zone as they do at present.

5. Demonstrated that the proposals have been successfully implemented elsewhere under similar circumstances.

BANEs should recognise that the city centre is at risk from more than just terrorism. The economy of the area is under threat from online retailing combined with the effects of Covid19 and new planning regulations can be expected to erode the council's long-standing, and wise, policy of maintaining retail frontages. At present, a much higher proportion of Bath residents live in city centre wards than in comparable cities (6% as compared with 3-4%) and they do much to support commerce there. To make the city centre a considerably less attractive place to live can only add to the challenges.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

The Government's White Paper on Planning Reform

There are many issues of concern in the Government's proposed reform of the planning system and many of its proposals will greatly reduce the ability of local residents to participate in decisions about developments in their area. For instance:

The approval of new development in growth zones will shift to the plan-making stage. The traditional process of politicians deciding planning applications with opportunities for the public to make representations is effectively at an end.

The White Paper suggests that people’s right to be heard in person will be changed. The paper states that inspectors will now have discretion as to what form an objector’s representations might take. Under paragraph 2.53 the paper goes even further and suggests any form of ‘right to be heard’ might be removed.  The right to be heard at Section 20 of the 2004 Planning Act is the only clear civil right that exists in the planning process for the individual citizen. The right includes the important phrase ‘in person’ in order to allow an individual to appear in front of an inspector and exercise other opportunities to cross-examine witnesses.  So, the opportunity to appear at a public inquiry has been replaced with the opportunity for an inspector to have a telephone conversation with you, or ask for further written comments if they choose to do so.

The White Paper does not provide a single new right for community participation or a single new opportunity for a democratic moment in the plan-making process but rather reduces both rights and opportunities to participate. The only potential additional opportunity comes from the White Paper’s belief that digitising information will encourage community participation.  Digital information can potentially lead to more openness and will hopefully make planning more accessible, but it does nothing on its own to give communities more control over their future

For Bath, there is an additional concern a little-noticed comment about "exploring whether suitably experience architectural specialists can have earned autonomy from routine listed building consents." This clearly opens the system to abuse as it leaves open such questions as:

What criteria will be used to decide if autonomy has been earned?

Who will judge whether these criteria have been met and continue to be met once autonomy has been "earned"?

What qualifies as "routine"?




TARA Response to the Liveable Neighbourhoods Consultation

As an organisation that has been in existence for 20 years, we approach the current liveable neighbourhoods consultation and debate with a degree of cynicism. In twenty years we have seen many proposals for improving traffic management and the quality of the public realm in Bath many of which have had the benefit of expert input, sometimes expensively bought, have been subject to extensive consultation and offered many benefits if their conclusions were implemented but to date none has. They have fallen foul of a lack of finance and often becoming part of a political football match as soon as trade-off needed to be made or elections loomed. Against this background, it is concerning to note that at a time when the council is facing a financial crisis the proposal for the livable neighbourhood are as far as we can tell largely unfunded.

In principle, we support the thinking behind liveable neighbourhoods. There is potentially much to be gained from fresh ideas about how street space in residential areas, too much of which is currently assigned to vehicles, could be used. The idea that extraneous traffic should be confined to perimeter roads has been in use in city centres for decades. Experience has shown, however, that caution is needed in transferring such ideas to residential neighbourhoods.

One of the key criteria for success is that there should be really effective consultation at all stages with residents who are likely to be impacted. This raises some concerns about the initial consultation process. The consultation is largely online thus making it difficult for the very many residents who suffer from digital exclusion to participate particularly at a time when IT facilities and support are not available at local libraries. COVID restriction means that there is little opportunity for residents to attend the sorts of educational events that were held as part of the CAZ to help people understand the research base of these proposals and decode the jargon. We are also concerned that this consultation is vulnerable to attempts by well-organised lobby groups to drown out the voices of local residents.

The council needs to ensure that where liveable streets are being considered residents are aware that trade-offs are inevitable. For example,

Access. While reducing rat running and parking by commuters is undoubtedly a gain there will always be an irreducible need for access for vehicles, not only to residential areas but even to individual homes, particularly for waste collection, for emergency vehicles, for taxi pickups, for local buses if car usage is to be discouraged, and for increasing numbers of delivery vehicles as on-line retailing takes hold. And there will those for whom the alternative modes available, walking, cycling, e-scooters, electric bikes, etc, are impractical.This implies a continuing need for car parking for residents, and for visitors, carers, etc, which, in the relatively high densities typical of Bath, is likely to be mostly on-street parking.

Displacement. The council will be well aware that reducing the amount of space on residential streets available to vehicles may cause some residents to use other means of travel but many others will simply transfer to alternative routes on the network thus leading to increased congestion on perimeter roads and in neighbouring residential areas where improvements have yet to be made.

Journey times. Residents need to be aware that any welcome improvement in environmental conditions may have to trade off against increased journey times as traffic circulation in their local streets is reorganized.

Maintenance. New planting, lighting, and seating is to be welcomed but who will maintain it? As things stand the council is barely able to keep residential streets free of litter.

The concept of "Liveable Neighbourhoods" needs better definition in relation to places like Bath too much of the current definition refers back to the Waltham Forest example. Waltham Forest and Bath have little in common for instance in London people have access to plentiful subsidised public transport. Experiences in London of trying to deploy schemes based on the Waltham Forest example have reinforced the need for high-quality public engagement programmes that clearly set out the likely trade-offs which are inevitable. We note that several London schemes have had to be abandoned.

One notable omission from the BANES consultation is any real proposals to reduce the overall amount of traffic coming into Bath either through disincentive scheme or diversions such as an A36-46 link or through improved access to public transport. Without this, the issues of access and displacement are likely to be magnified to an unacceptable degree.

Another mechanism for reducing traffic coming into the city which has been further highlighted during Covid is remote working which places an emphasis on the provision of high quality IT and communications infrastructure. This again does not seem to be addressed in the BANES documentation.

The mention of COVID raises another issue; these proposals are being put forward at a time of great potential change in the likely role of neighbourhoods. We are looking at much more home working with its attendant shift to neighbourhood shopping, we are seeing an acceleration in the decline of traditional shopping centres and potentially a comparable decline in the commercial property market and it is far from clear how BANES see these trends being factored into the debate.

In contrast to many of the other issues, the role of cycling seems to gain undue prominence in BANES proposals. As city centre residents we have some issues with this emphasis. Firstly many city-centre residents are elderly and cycling is not a viable option for them, particularly given Bath's topology, electric bikes are an expensive solution which only partially addresses this issue. Also, most city-centre residents live in flats and have limited storage capability, certainly for storing something as bulky as a bike, in addition to that many city-centre buildings are listed and have no lifts.

We are also concerned that too many BANES documents refer to facilities for cycling and walking as if those these two were equivalent activities. Many of our members find the increasing intrusion of high-speed bicycles into what should be pedestrian spaces unacceptable, and for those with mobility issues, frightening.

As we have said many city-centre residents live in flats and few have access to off-street parking all which calls into question strategies which feature plugin vehicles. Flat dwellers would be financially penalised as they would be forced to use expensive public charging provision.

We have considerable concerns about the council's proposed mechanism for identifying and adopting a liveable neighbourhood. Few residents have any training in traffic engineering or urban design nor do they have access to data and modelling software. The council's approach is already generating some rather questionable plans and is already creating conflict between groups of residents with competing ideas. We would have preferred the council to use its expertise to proposes viable schemes which formed part of a wider strategy and focussed residents efforts on evaluating this plan. From the council’s point of view this would also avoid the problem of raising un attainable expectations about what is achievable.

This issue is particularly acute in the city centre where there are numerous legitimate stakeholders whose competing needs need to be carefully balanced. We and many other of these stakeholders have been concerned at the lack of consultation over the emergency schemes which been put in place, the lack of feedback about the many experimental schemes and the prominence given to calls for pedestrianisation schemes in the absence of an overall plan for improving the city centre overall.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Residents' Parking

There has always been inadequate provision for residents parking in the centre of Bath and city centre residents do not enjoy the privilege accorded to other Bath residents of having visitors permits.

This already inadequate provision has been further eroded by the unjustifiable practice of selling quantities of on-street parking permits to hotels and B&Bs for onward sale, often at a substantial markup, to their guests.

Residents on-street parking spaces are regularly taken away from residents and allocated to film companies and developers, in the latter case sometimes for years. While BANES often receives substantial compensation for its loss of parking revenues little of no thought is ever given to compensating residents' for their loss of amenity. 

Motorcyclist are allowed to take up car parking spaces without charge and we have seen a recent example where the council has taken away parking spaces from car users and dedicated their use to motorbikes.

The fashion for pedestrianisation schemes has removed further parking without any consideration for residential amenity or access.

Traffic schemes, carried out under Covid emergency legislation, have further reduced residents' parking and the suspicion must be that some of these schemes will become permanent. When plans for electric charging points are rolled out it is not clear that the bays are taken out of commission for non-electric vehicle will reflect the reality that electric cars and plug-in hybrids will not be viable options for the majority of Bath residents for the foreseeable future.


Monday, 3 August 2020

Licensing Application Reference: 20/01103/PAVE

We are sympathetic to businesses struggling in the wake of Covid 19 and consequently have not objected to any similar applications. However, this application is taking advantage of the more relaxed procedures to move beyond what is reasonable even in these extreme times. The proposal to put tables in North Parade Passage leaving only 2 metres passing space in one of the narrowest and busiest pedestrian routes in Bath would be unacceptable even if people were not being told to socially distance. 

 It is, however, the large block of tables in North Parade Buildings which is most objectionable. This amounts to a proposal to create a new business by taking over what is currently a rare residential enclave in the city centre. The proposal places a large number of tables within 2 metres of the windows of listed Georgian buildings that have limited ability to introduce soundproofing measures, particularly in hot weather. The applicant offers no comment on noise nor do they suggest any noise management or mitigation measures. As well as generating considerable noise a large number of tables and chairs will effectively block residents and their support networks from easy movement to and from their homes. Many residents are elderly and have mobility issues. 

We note that disability groups have already highlighted the issues created for those they represent with the expansion of alfresco dining elsewhere in the city. This access issue would be unacceptable, even if the applicant has procedures in place to tightly control the behaviour of customers and keep them within the designated area. 

The applicant has not outlined any such procedures and observation of other similar alfresco dining areas, licensed by BANES, suggest such procedures do not exist. This is all bad enough, but to suggest that residents would have to put up with this noise and obstruction from 9 in the morning until 11 at night is completely unreasonable. Would the end time, in fact, be 11pm because the tables would have to be cleared and that is a noisy process in itself? 

 As we have said we are sympathetic to the plight of local eateries in these exceptional times and understand that BANES is prepared to relax its standards and procedures to help. However, there still have to be limits. BANES has a duty of care to its residents and council taxpayers and it is our contention that granting this license would breach that duty.