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.
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