Thursday, 31 August 2017

Pollution and political inertia

Politicians don’t like dealing with traffic management issues because they always find themselves between a rock and a hard place because they must try to balance the desire to reduce traffic with the fact that the economic vitality of their constituency is linked to people coming to the area. This is particularly true of Bath as a major tourism and shopping destination.

In practice, there are only really two strategies for reducing the number of vehicles coming to the area:
·         creating a barrier to entry either physical or economic and/or

·         creating a public transport system that people prefer to cars.
From a political perspective, the former is a problem because it creates howls of protest and threats from the business community and commuters and can rapidly create real economic harm if managed badly. The latter is difficult, expensive and takes a very long time to implement. Both these strategies, but particularly the public transport option, are hampered by considerable legislative confusion.
For these reasons politicians tend to do very little and as we have seen with the saga of the eastern park and ride even that can be derailed by the slightest resistance by special interest groups however small. We have also seen how local politicians of all colours use such situations to gain narrow political advantage.
TARA’s priority has always been the reduction of pollution not because we are entirely indifferent to congestion but because we are much more concerned about damage to peoples’ health.
Unfortunately, because their advisors have always had to tell them that the only way to reduce pollution is to reduce traffic politicians have been as reluctant to deal with pollution as they have with congestion.
Over the last few years this has begun to change. It is now possible, in policy terms, to see pollution and congestion as two separate problems. Euro emissions standards and the recognition of the disproportionate contribution of diesel engines means it is now possible to conceive of relatively low pollution levels from large numbers of vehicles in relatively short timescales. So, for instance, if you banned diesel cars from George Street and forced the bus companies to upgrade their fleet you would more than halve the pollution levels. Banning diesel cars would be relatively pain free politically, legislation is already been discussed, and BANEs are already moving to implement a CAZ which would force an upgrade in the bus fleet.
TARA is therefore focussing on getting BANES to do things to reduce pollution in the short term and are seeking to get the business lobby to support our campaign. This means that we are not pushing to arbitrarily ban traffic from the city but are pushing for measures which will encourage the adoption of new low pollution technologies and discourage older more polluting technologies.
There is one other area of vehicle generated pollution which needs to be addressed and minimised and that is braking. This is particularly important for the very dangerous 2.5 particulates. Clearly this can be addressed by reducing congestion but in lieu of any political enthusiasm for doing this the next best thing to do is manage the vehicles coming into the city to reduce the amount of driving and in particular stop-start driving they do in the city centre. We are therefore campaigning to have better coordinated and fewer traffic lights and better signposted off street car parking with a more realistic assessment of the amount of off street planning required.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Failure to adequately control building development in the city centre

Recent problems with major  developments in the city centre highlight 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 be routinely 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.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The ongoing issue of Party Houses

We in the city centre have be grappling with the very many issues created by the operation of short term holiday lets and in particular "party house" for several years and TARA has been involved in a number of discussions and activities aimed at ameliorating this problem. Latterly various political interests and pressure groups have recognised the issue so it seems and appropriate moment summarise TARA's view of the current "state of play"

Two years ago, we successfully lobbied the council to review the legal advice to their planning officers in the light of Appeal Court Judgements which allow them to view this type of letting a “change of use” requiring planning permission and opening the owner to a more stringent set of regulations and potentially a requirement to pay business rates.

The appeal court said that whether the use of a dwelling for commercial holiday lettings amounts to a material change of use is a question of fact and degree in each case and the answer depends on the particular characteristics of their use as holiday accommodation. The courts have taken a very narrow view of what characteristics are relevant and have demanded a very high standard of proof.

In the intervening period BANEs have occasionally been able to make use of this judgement and enforce change of use but in most instances, the applicants have successfully argued that they fall outside the criteria required to enforce an application for change use.

The most recent use of this mechanism has received some publicity mainly because a number local politicians have raised objections to the change of use being granted. This represents a gamble on their part which might effectively block the use of this device in future because if change of use is refused the applicants have already indicated that they will appeal saying that change of use is not required  and this might well create an unhelpful precedent. However, if change of use is granted they will continue to trade but be subject to a more stringent regulatory regime.

What is really needed to address this problem is action by central government. However, this year the City Centre Action Group got our then MP to raise a question in the House of Commons about whether Minsters intended to do anything to improve or even clarify the law in this area and the answer was that they don’t.

Local authorities across the country have tried a number of approaches to this issue most of which have collapsed under legal challenge. BANE's have recently indicated that they are considering adopting procedures developed by Brighton involving mechanisms for promoting better cross agency collaboration and voluntary codes of conduct backed by the local hotelier's organisations. We will be interested in seeing BIGHA's response to this as many Bath party houses appear to be operated by their members. 

We welcome the initiative taken by the Avon Fire Service to invite holiday property proprietors to voluntary training and awareness session about fire safety.

We are also asking the police and local authority rigorously apply the provisions of the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Police Act 2014.

There are a number of ways in which the police and environmental protection service can use the powers of the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to make landlords more responsible for the behaviour of tenants and their property management practices but they need support from residents in the form of formal complaints and evidence gathering. 

The use of any of these provisions requires close cooperation between various BANEs enforcement departments and the Police. Some years ago, we used the Community Trigger Provisions of the Act to accelerate this. However, we are now concerned that this may be undermined by manpower reductions in the policing of Bath and in particular the Anti Social Behaviour Unit.

In the meantime we are urging affected residents’ to complain regularly to BANES Environmental Protection Team who can be reached via Council Connect. It is really important that there is a body of officially recorded complaints that can be referred to in any enforcement proceedings

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Trade waste

We are concerned about the permanent and semi permanent trade waste dumps which there are in the city centre. As far as we have been able to establish no one has authorised or licenced any of these dumps which are often positioned to block highways and pavements. Indeed highways officers have acknowledge that some are illegally blocking pavements but have taken no action.

Trade waste bins are large and invariably cause problems. They block highways and access to premises, they are often dirty and smelly and the attract litter and vermin. They also attract and encourage other forms of waste dumping and littering.

We are told bins have to be on the streets because businesses have no room to store them on site. This argument does not go down well with flat dwelling city centre residents who are expected to find space to store their rubbish within their homes for a week. It also allows business to ignore the consequence of their own poor waste management practices. If they had to store waste on their own premises and put it out for collection outside their own premises they would be much more careful about minimising dirt, smells and ensuring their waste did not attract vermin. It also offers them little incentive to invest in technologies that might minimise storage such as cardboard compactors and glass compactors.

In addition, we understand that some these businesses gave assurances to the planning authority about storing rubbish on site which they are now failing to deliver.

Many bins are located near listed buildings, in conservation areas and close to major tourist attractions.

 Although they often block pavements 24 hours a day seven days a week the highways authority do not take action. Why?

They are often a smelly health hazard but environmental protection takes no effective action. Why?

Waste dumped anywhere other than the perimeter of your premises constitutes fly tipping but waste enforcement takes no effective action. Why?

We have endeavoured on a number of occasions to engage officers in a discussion about these dumps we have also expressed our concern to the BID whose contractors collect from many of these dumps and who continue to give tacit support to these dumps in the teeth of complaint by both resident's and businesses.