Saturday, 28 September 2019

Supermarkets and the problems of the nighttime economy

One of the biggest issues in the management of drink fueled anti-social behaviour in Bath's nighttime economy is pre-loading. This is where drinkers buy and consume cheap alcohol prior to their night out. Often the symptoms of drunkenness from this practice only become apparent after they have been admitted to licenced premises when they have topped up.

Licensees often have, in addition, to deal with the problem of customers smuggling cheap alcohol into their premises which as well as fueling increased drunkenness hits their profits and therefore damages a sector of the Bath economy.

Latenight revellers can regularly be seen drinking alcohol in the streets and on public transport in defiance of laws and regulations. Little of this drink is supplied by clubs and bars who are strictly regulated and who's drinks are relatively expensive but it is readily available from supermarkets and off-licenses at very low prices.

In addition off-licences and supermarkets often offer multi-buy discount encouraging people to buy larger quantities than they may have intended. They also supply high strength drinks in pocket-sized containers.

Off-licenses and in particular supermarkets are in comparison very lightly regulated and under the current legislation, as interpreted by the licensing authority, hard for residents to object to or get conditions imposed on. They also fall outside the scope of the Cumulative Impact Policy.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Council representation in city centre wards

It is widely known that due to the bizarre way in which BaNES is structured, of the fifty-nine Councillors in BaNES only twenty-six (44%) represent the fourteen wards that comprise the City of Bath.  Eleven Councillors, about one in five of the total, have Bristol Post Codes.

It is less well known, but apparently the case, that not a single Councillor with the possible exception of Sue Craig (Liberal Democrat, Kingsmead) whose address is not posted on the Council website, lives within in the area covered by the three main city-centre residents' associations, TARA, CARA and PERA which comprise the City Centre Action Group.  This area contains not only an unusually high resident population for a city centre but all of the city's main visitor attractions including the Roman Baths and Bath Spa, the iconic mainly 18th C. streets, terraces, crescents and squares, the city's main churches and museums, its commercial core and principal shopping centre.  It is a thriving community which underpins the BANES's economy as well as its global reputation.

Could such an imbalance in representation partly account for the sorry state of the heart of our city when compared with peer cities such as York and Chester which do not have the advantage of World Heritage Site status.  The physical infrastructure of our city-centre is way below current European standards and comments by visitors on its messiness and unkempt appearance are common in the media.  There is no police station or post office worthy of the name (Melksham and Wells have both).  Waste collection and litter removal have serious unresolved issues, traffic management is incoherent and air quality in many parts of the city centre below legal standards.

All of this underpins, the importance of having active local residents' groups to speak up for the interests of the city centre to the Council.  And there is no substitute for having your local Councillor as a neighbour as residents in communities such as Norton Radstock and Keynsham, who having ten Councillors between them.  The Bath City Centre Forum has entirely failed to address any of these issues.

The 'parishing' of the city has been discussed and although the process of achieving this might be lengthy and difficult it is one we would support.

Pedestrianisation - a magic bullet?

A number of politicians, pressure groups and officials have talked about pedestrianising all or part of the city centre. We have a number of concerns about this:

1. We doubt that BANES have well a founded traffic management scheme which can avoid considerable disruption and chaos if the is extensive experimentation with pedestrianisation. The traffic management in the city centre is poor even under normal circumstances. One-off closures of Milsom Street and Queen square have shown our doubts are not without foundation.

2. Any pedestrianisation scheme needs to be part of a carefully thought through a traffic plan for the whole of the city centre to avoid unintended consequences elsewhere in the city. We have yet to see such a scheme. This traffic management plan needs to encompass more than just traditional traffic issues and in addition cover, the range of things address by the late lamented Public Realm and Movement Strategy.

3. Pedestrianisation will create numerous problems for city centre residents ranging from loss of parking to problems with access. A large number of people live in the city and nobody seems to accord them and their needs any priority in pedestrianisation experiments or longer-term schemes. There are many residents and visitors with impaired/variable mobility and energy, who don’t meet Blue Badge criteria but would be adversely affected if the centre was pedestrianised. Accessibility for them appears to have been overlooked.

4. Most importantly this whole debate seems to be starting from the wrong end. We should be talking about how to improve the city centre for all those who live, work and visit. Pedestrianisation may have a role to play in these plans but it cannot and should not be seen as an end in itself.

It has been suggested that pedestrianisation is the magic bullet to improve air quality in the city centre. TARA has a long history of fighting to get improvements in air quality and this has shown us that the issue is much more complex than this and those advocating extensive pedestrianisation need to acknowledge this or we will fail to have the result that we would all wish to see. This is particularly true if we move from our current focus on NOX to the much more dangerous small-particulate pollution.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

The Rec Trust AGM

We recently attended the AGM of the Rec Trust.

The meeting highlighted the work some of the organisations supported by the charitable work of the trust which was often inspiring and impressive.

However, much of the rest of the meeting served to highlight the unsatisfactory nature of the constitutional arrangement for the Rec and the growing distrust an antagonism between the Trustees and their Bath City neighbours and, in our view, the failure of the Trustees to properly acknowledge or manage these problems and concerns.

The AGM is the only official chance the people of Bath get to publicly question the Trustees about their stewardship of the Rec or their decisions about how they pursue their charitable objectives.

Questions were raised about the basis of decisions about how charitable funds were being spent and the trustees priorities. We for instance questioned an apparent assumption that there was little or no poverty in the city centre either in absolute terms or in terms of access to sport and recreation.

However, many people had come to question the Trustees about their role as neighbours and custodians of one of the cities most inportant green recreational asset.

Responses to these question fell into roughly two catagories:

  1. Anodyne legalistic responses which often failed to ackowledge either the legal issue raised or the concern that the underpined them
  2. Assertions that such questions where not appropriate at the AGM.
This latter catagory raised further concerns about the constitutional arrangements. People naturally asked if their questions where not approprite to this meeting which meeting would be appropriate. The answer to this seems to be the AGM of the company that manages the charity. The catch here being that you can only attend that meeting if you are a member of the company and the only members of the company are the Trustees. 

How then do you become a Trustee? Well you apparently apply to the existing board of Trustees and then they and they alone decide if you are a suitable candidate.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

The impact of pollution on NHS services

Pollution has a major impact on NHS services in terms of costs and service demand but also in terms of patient outcomes.

We have been talking to the BANES Clinical Commissioning Group about the possibility of the becoming more proactive in campaigning for more funding for anti-pollution measures.

Following recent discussions we are now more helpful that they are shifting the view on this and will start gathering the financial and medical data they have to make the business case for increased funding to substantially reduce pollution in BANES.

Our discussions with BANES also suggest a willingness on their part to work with and encourage the NHS in this arena.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Response to the Licensing Policy Consultation

Broadly, and because we recognise the limitations imposed on the Licensing Authority by legislation, we are supportive of the Policy as drafted. 

We particularly welcome the emphasis on best practice and the incorporation of examples of best practice in the policy so that they can be taken into account in judging applications, enforcement activities and reviews. 

We would have liked to have seen more in that best practice about working with local residents and residents’ representatives. 

Where licensees have shown a willingness to engage with local residents we have seen a significant reduction in complaints and real reductions in public nuisance. Examples include pre-application consultations, acceptance of conditions to hold regular meetings with residents, giving residents contact telephone numbers and participation in Nightwatch.

We accept that the redrawing of the boundary of the cumulative impact boundary reflects the new situation on the ground, largely due to key premises closing or significantly changing their business models. 

We did have one suggestion that BANES might consider. While acknowledging that it would fall outside what was envisioned by Cumulative Impact Assessment in the Act. We would propose including the river bank outside the Rugby Stadium and relevant adjacent streets and areas on the grounds that there is soon to be a substantial planning application which includes several new licensable premises in this area and that this is likely to greatly increase the cumulative impact within the timeframe of the review.