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Monday, 31 October 2016

Building projects in the city centre

The issues which have been raised by residents living near the new hotel being created in South Parade include:
  • Access to property
  • Safety
  • Loss of parking
  • Unnecessary obstruction of the highway
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Noise and dust
  • Early and late working on the site
  • Loss of trade
  • Completion timescale being grossly overrun
  • Site traffic management
  • Lack of information
All these need to be addressed as a matter of urgency and we are pleased that our local MP has committed to making that happen. However, this situation highlights systemic problems in the way permission for significant development in the city centre is given and the way in which compliance is monitored and enforced.

In granting planning permission much more attention needs to be paid to the likely impact on the local community and conditions and guidelines put in place to minimise them.

BANEs needs to be much more proactive in monitoring and enforcing conditions and BANEs officers should routinely be talking to neighbours about their experiences and encouraging developers to do the same not just waiting for them to register complaints.

We are facing over the next few years unprecedented numbers of development projects in the city centre and it is vital that BANEs gets better and managing them in a way which minimises disruption to communities and ensures that they are fully informed about what is going on.










Comment on the Planning Application at 4 Edgar Buildings




THE PROPOSAL


The applicant seeks to extend an existing cocktail bar, Sub 13, currently occupying the basement of 4 Edgar Buildings to the ground floor above and requests a change of use from A2 to A4 in order to achieve this.  Existing offices on the first floor would be retained as would apartments on the second and third floors.  The combined complex would have a new entrance from the street shared with offices and flats above.  The proposal would double the number of staff, and presumably also of customers, to be accommodated at the premises. 

The scheme would essentially eliminate one of two existing levels, the ground floor, which currently act as a buffer limiting the impact of any noise and disturbance in the basement on residential levels at the second and third floors.  The applicant proposes various measures, both internal and external, to mitigate this impact and an acoustic analysis is provided in supporting documentation describing these measures.

COUNCIL POLICY AND CONTEXT

The applicant cites current council policy in support of the application as well as pre-application advice provided by officers (16/00442/PREAPP).  This states, inter alia, ‘The change of use to a drinking establishment would be acceptable in principle under current policy.  Considering the context of the site it is my view that the proposed change of use would not be harmful to the character of the Conservation Area or the vitality or viability of the centre.  It is my view that there is not an over concentration of A4 uses in this locality and the proposed change of use would support vitality and viability by attracting more people to the area.’

Unsurprisingly the applicant was ‘particularly heartened’ by these comments.  Residents in the George Street area are likely to be less enthusiastic.  The applicant does not refer to the potential impact of his proposal on an area already stressed by excessive noise, violence and drunkenness associated with the night time economy.  Nor does he acknowledge that, in addition to licensed premises, George Street contains offices, an hotel, numerous other businesses and many residents, some of long standing, most of them in flats above commercial premises including 4 Edgar Buildings.  A study carried out in 2014 by the two local residents associations, TARA and The Circus Area Residents Association (1) highlighted the existence of 14 licensed premises in the 300 meter stretch of George Street in which Edgar Buildings is situated, a concentration unmatched anywhere else in Bath.  This comparatively small area has long been known in Bath for high levels of noise, disturbance and crime associated with the night time economy all of which adversely affect the amenity of local residents and visitors alike.  Problems reported by residents include fights and assaults (28% of recorded violent crimes between April 2012 and February 2013 in Bath took place in the George Street area), littering, public drug taking and urinating, shouting and obscene language, threats of violence and damage to property.  38 reportable offences were committed during August 2016 including six violent and/or sexual offences.  The Council’s Cumulative Impact Policy, introduced in Guidance to the Licensing Act 2003,  while acknowledging these problems and the widespread demand for public action that resulted from them, has done nothing to limit the number of licenses premises in the area or their hours of operation.

CONCLUSION

The applicant claims there is nothing in council policy to prevent the granting of further A4 consents in this locality. The council does, however, have  various Retained Policies from the 2007 Local Plan which do place upon it an obligation to consider any potential adverse impact on local residents, and others,  where such applications are being considered.  These include policies D2f and S6, which is cited in support of the application, but which states ‘Proposals for A3, A4 and A5 uses within and adjoining the city centre…will be permitted provided that (either singly or cumulatively with other similar existing uses) they preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the relevant part of the Conservation Area and do not have an unacceptable impact on the retail viability and vitality of the area or the amenity of local residents.’

If there is anywhere in Bath where such policies have relevance and should be routinely implemented it is in the George Street area.  Compared with peer cities such as York and Chester Bath is exceptional in the proportion of its citizens who choose to live in the city centre.  This contributes to the character of the city, to its economy and to its reputation for being a friendly, busy and engaging place to visit and in which to live.  If the legitimate concerns of residents are ignored they will leave the city centre, the fragile balance of interests there will unravel, and the city will pay the price. 

While we support the night time economy we conclude that it would be consistent with council policy to REFUSE this application and request that this action be taken.

(1)   The Impact of the Night Time Economy in the George Street Area.  A Joint Report by CARA and TARA

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Rough sleepers, beggars and street drinkers


City centre issues involving rough sleepers, beggars and street drinkers have worsened over the last year. Key issues have included the leisure centre camp, rough sleeping in Milson Street and more recently, Kingsmead Square. We have seen an increase in Anti-Social Behaviour and criminal offences. The police have taken some action to tackle these issues however everybody agrees that the solutions require us to go much wider than a policing activities.


In addressing this issue, it is important to be clear that not all or even most of the people involved are homeless it is also necessary to differentiate between people who are in distress and those who are merely criminal particularly in relation to aggressive begging. It is also important to recognise the fear that the behaviour of some of this community generate in vulnerable residents and visitors.

We have now attended two meetings with key agencies to discuss how to address the complex issues surrounding this community.

Partly as a result of these meeting police have been running operations making use of relatively new powers against anti-social behaviour and will run other operations including some aimed at addressing the problem of professional begging.

There is an ongoing programme of outreach work seeking to meet the accommodation problems of this community and the problems of untreated mental illness, addiction and substance abuse which often underpin them. This work has been consistently reducing rough sleeping in Bath against the general trend elsewhere. This work is designed to understand, engage with and challenge individuals.     

There are currently 25 rough sleepers in Bath, this has been consistent over last 3-4 months.

The multi-agency meetings we have been involved in have reviewed the work the Bristol Streetwise Project. This is a joint project between Bristol City Council and the Police Anti-social Behaviour Team and it is their full-time role to engage with individuals, guiding them towards the appropriate pathways.

In Bath the intention is to create our own version of Streetwise, using monthly multi-agency Task & Targeting meetings and grading problematic individuals by their impact on residents and businesses. Agencies will refer individuals to the meeting were their case can be discussed with the group members and actions agreed. This process will coordinate urgent action to prevent further nuisance from the highest risk individuals and look at longer term preventative and early intervention work for the rest.

We have welcomed this initiative but would like BANEs to look at appointing someone to hold overall responsibility for this process and highlight what is working well and what needs to change.

We were concerned to learn that the Police and Crime Commissioner has revealed a potential reduction in the community safety grant.

 We believe there is also a need to reinvigorate the Kindness can Kill campaign to stop well intentioned tourists from fuelling the problem by giving money to individuals who will often use the money to feed their adictions.


Friday, 14 October 2016

An insight into the BANES planning department

In reviewing an application to change the use of a premises in Edgar Buildings from its current use as an Estate Agency to a late night bar we came across the following astonishing pre-application advice from a BANEs planning officer from which we quote verbatim:

'The change of use to a drinking establishment would be acceptable in principle under current policy.  Considering the context of this site it is my view that the proposed change of use would not be harmful to the character of the Conservation Area or the vitality or viability of the centre  It is my view that there is not an over concentration of A4 uses in this locality and the proposed change of use would support vitality and viability by attracting more people to the area.'

A4 use is planning jargon for Drinking establishments - Public houses, wine bars or other drinking establishments.


George street has the largest concentration of drinking establishment in BANES and BANES recognise this by including it in the area covered by the cumulative impact zone. The George Street area regularly tops the police statistic for alcohol fuelled disorder.

Our questions would be:

  • Who is this person?
  • Have they ever been to George Street?
  • Have they ever been to Bath?
  • How do you get a job in planning and know this little about the major city in your area?

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