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Monday, 24 November 2014

The Governance debate – managing the expectation

We attended the last meeting of the BANES Working Group- “options to strengthen community representation and civic governance within Bath “. The meeting had a very good cross party discussion of two options for giving a little more influence over what happens in Bath to either a Bath committee of Bath ward councillors or a Bath Parish/city council.

Our concern is that if you talk to people in Bath about the issue of governance they talk about things like:

·         Retaining money generated by Bath in Bath and in particular keeping control of the money generated by the Cities commercial an heritage estate
·         Control over planning decisions
·         Control over investment in infrastructure
·         A real city mayor

Almost all of which will not be delivered by any of the options under consideration by the working group.


We are not aware of how BANES is planning to manage the potential gap between public expectations and their current discussions.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Statement on Bath Transport Strategy

While we were not consulted in its development, in general we support the principles of the proposed transport strategy together with the recommendations that flow from them.  We support, in particular, a reduction in the use of cars for commuter trips in favour of modes such as walking and cycling which improve air quality and the health of individuals. 

We strongly support the creation of an eastern park and ride and in principle we also support some well thought through constraints on long term parking in the city centre. However, such constraints should not be imposed until such time as adequate park-and-ride facilities are in place on the entire city periphery.

We agree that conditions for pedestrians and cyclists in the city centre should be improved and we support the reduction of extraneous through traffic especially on city centre streets.

We note however, that many of these principles and recommendations have been the subject of previous reports, have been the policy of successive councils for many years, sometimes for decades, but have been implemented only partially, haphazardly or not at all.Examples of this include:

·         the enforcement of standards in the Air Quality Management Area
·         serious constraints on through traffic and especially heavy goods vehicles which have no business on Bath streets
·         a park and ride facility east of the city
·         the quality of environmental design and management, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, on city centre streets. 

The Public Realm and Movement Strategy, which was designed to address this latter issue, was generally well received and made a promising start but seems to have run out of money and political support. In consequence our city centre still fails to meet standards which are commonplace among European peer cities.  It is unfortunate, in this context, that the strategy contains no detailed proposals covering costs, staging or timing, for its implementation.

TARA and the City Centre Action Group are primarily concerned with the potential impact of these proposals on city centre residents.  Our estimates suggest that, at about 6%, the proportion of Bath residents living in the historic core wards of the city is about twice comparable figures for UK peer cities such as York and Chester.  City centre residents are the eyes and ears of the community at all hours of the day and night; we support the city centre economy throughout the year and few of us commute by car or use our cars for shopping trips.  There are a number respects in which we believe transport policy in the city centre should more closely and more urgently reflect the needs and concerns of city centre residents. In our view the most important of these issues is:

Air Quality.

Perhaps more than any other group city centre residents suffer from unacceptably high levels of nitrogen dioxide on our streets.  Reports indicates clearly that NO2 levels have consistently exceeded legal levels for almost twenty years and are not declining. 

The Action Group has made representations to the European Commission through Julie Girling MEP and we understand the UK government faces legal action for failing to take steps to reach mandatory air quality standards in urban centres including Bath. It is galling, to say the least, that there is a prospect that Bath citizens may see their taxes being used to pay fines imposed on their government and local authority for consistently failing to protect them from poor air quality.

In this context it is also worth noting that in our opinion BANES do not even have in place adequate systems to measure and monitor the pollutants that pose the greatest risk to the health of city centre residents.

Coaches

It seems to us extraordinary that Bath only has a coach management plan at Christmas, that existing restrictions on coaches in Brock Street are not enforced and that coaches that do not intend to stop in Bath have unrestricted access to the major historic sites.

Residents Parking


The council should consider allocating a higher proportion of the dwindling number of on-street parking spaces available in the city centre to residents.  Increasingly residents are finding that they are unable to use the permits they have paid for because available spaces are occupied, often by commuters or shoppers.  Moreover it is for the most part impractical for residents to use the park and ride facilities available to others.  Implementing the modal shift proposals outlined in the report should include an increase in parking provision for residents at the expense of other users even as the overall supply of spaces declines.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Budget Fair

We attended the Council's Budget Fair at the Guildhall last night and asked two questions. One about funding for the Air Quality Management Plan and one about on going funding for the Public Realm and Movement Project.

While the council were keen to talk about the Bath Transport Plan they had no information about funding for non transport related measures to reduce air pollution.

They confirmed that there was no plans for funding further phases of the PRMP and they focused instead on the development of Saw Close related to the Casino and the Seven Dials shared use space project.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Planning Application 5 Bladud Buildings

This application seeks consent for the erection of a single storey block providing facilities for staff in what remains of the garden of a Grade II listed terrace property at 5 Bladud Buildings in Bath city centre.  The building is used for mixed restaurant and residential accommodation.

We ask that the application be REFUSED on the following grounds
Originally a residential terrace conceive by Attwood and Jolly in the 1750s Bladud Buildings is believed to have been converted to provide for shops on lower floors in the mid-19th Century.  When such uses are established, permitted or encouraged in a single terraced structure it is vital that commercial premises do not, as a result of accumulating planning applications, gradually undermine the amenity of local residents.

That is what we contend is occurring in this case.

As would be expected there have over time been a number of extensions at the rear of commercial premises at Bladud Buildings but generally some garden space has been preserved.  This application for a comparatively large and fully serviced building seeks for all practical purposes to eliminate the garden altogether thereby setting a dangerous precedent and adversely affecting the amenity of residents on higher floors.  The applicant appears to respect the amenity value of rear gardens in that in an application for consent to fell four sycamore trees in 2012 (12/02950/TCA) he undertook to replace each of the trees and carry out a landscaping plan for the garden.  However, although consent was granted and the trees were felled, no improvement scheme appears to have been carried out.

The potential for loss of amenity to neighbouring residents many of whom, to avoid traffic noise from the Paragon to the north, have their main bedrooms at the rear extends to the use of the facility by staff in the late evening hours when the restaurant is at its busiest and after it has closed.


For these reasons we ask that the application be refused.  Should the committee be minded to grant consent, however, we ask that a condition be imposed requiring that the removal of domestic and restaurant rubbish be carried out at the front of the building as is presently the case rather than using the rear entrance via Walcot Street.

Retrospective Planning application 5 Bladud Buildings

This application seeks retrospective consent for air conditioning and air extraction equipment which has been positioned at first floor level immediately adjacent to the front and rear elevations of a Grade II listed terraced property at 5 Bladud Buildings in Bath city centre.  The building is used for mixed restaurant and residential accommodation.

We ask that the application be REFUSED on the following grounds
1.     At the rear of the building a single air conditioning compressor unit has been positioned though it appears not currently to be in use.  At the front of the building in the well above the restaurant entrance no fewer than three items of mechanical equipment have been placed at some time in the past.  We have been able to find no information in documents supporting the application as to the size, specification, appearance, material composition, output or sound and odour emission characteristics of the unit at the front of the building for which consent is now sought.  It is therefore difficult to determine whether the equipment is consistent with details approved in the discharge of conditions under a previous consent (13/01901/FUL).  Moreover the item of equipment currently operating for which, as we understand it, consent is now sought appears to be different from equipment shown in documents supporting the application.

1. This unit is unsightly and emits a continuous, harsh humming sound which varies in intensity but is at its most offensive in late evening hours when the restaurant is at its busiest and ambient noise levels from the street are relatively low.

At the front of the building the unit for which consent is sought is a few feet from the first floor kitchen and living room windows of the adjoining residential property at 4 Bladud Buildings and the air conditioning compressor at the rear is immediately adjacent to the main bedroom.  Neighbouring homeowners at this address, who have been in residence for more than ten years, are therefore in the actual, or potential, position of being unable to open their windows at night due to noise emitted by apparently illegally installed compressor and extract fans. While the noise from the equipment is most noticeable in the kitchen, living and main bedroom areas it can be heard throughout the property and kitchen smells are also noticeable.

When commercial and residential uses are established, permitted or encouraged in single terraced structures it is vital that commercial premises do not, as a result of accumulating planning applications, some of them retrospective, gradually undermine the amenity of local residents.  Noise, lighting, ventilation and kitchen smells are of particular importance and that is what we contend is occurring in this case.

2.  In our view it is plainly unacceptable to introduce noisy and unsightly mechanical equipment which partially obscures the front and rear elevations of a Grade II listed terraced property in the centre of Bath.  This is particularly the case at Bladud Buildings which was planned by Attwood and Jolly in the 1750s to have elevations of equal status viewed from both the north and south.  The applicant intends to provide at the front of the property a raised screen to mask the equipment consisting, as we understand it, of a black painted steel balustrade and artificial box plant material.  This material is likely to deteriorate quickly and, in our opinion and with all due respect, is a crude, unsympathetic and inappropriate solution to a problem that ought not to exist.  Moreover, to grant consent for the current proposals risks setting a dangerous precedent for other properties at Bladud Buildings.

Beyond the use of a metal grill not so far installed there are no proposals, so far as we are aware, to screen equipment at the rear of the property.


If however, the committee is minded in principle to grant consent we ask that any decision to that effect be deferred, or made conditional, until noise and odour assessments have been carried out by competent persons at both the front and the rear of the property and that any necessary mitigation measures have been implemented to the satisfaction of the Local Planning Authority.