This is the report on my fourth year as FoBRA Chairman.
We have heard and questioned: Det Insp Turner in January, on the subject of the Government's "Prevent" policy; and our MP, Mrs Wera Hobhouse, during a special 1½ hour meeting devoted exclusively to her, in February.
Membership has risen slightly: we have 33 member organisations (29 full members and 4 affiliates), with some leaving (or amalgamating) but more joining. Full membership is shortly to rise to 30.
The tangled politics of Transport policy in Bath have continued to progress during the year. Transport & Pollution are now at the top of the local agenda, thanks to the game-changing judgement on air pollution in cities won by Client Earth against the Government. This resulted in the Government's declaring on 30th July that the 29 most polluted Local Authorities had to submit plans to rectify this, and achieve it by 2021. Our MP, Wera Hobhouse, held a fact-finding conference on 23rd Feb, at which I conducted the summing-up, and is to hold a more comprehensive one on 9th June, where I shall also be speaking. Meanwhile, the Council published its consultation on 3rd April about how to tackle the problem, called "Breathe – Bath's Clean Air Plan 2021", requiring it to tell the Government its preferred plan by December (largely revolving around a Clean Air Zone). FoBRA wrote in the 12th April Chronicle, seeing this as a 'Golden Opportunity' to be much more ambitious, and implement other aspects of Bath's 2014 Transport Strategy, such as parking control and traffic management.
All through the year, FoBRA has been vocal in the debate: with a public statement on the Eastern P&R on 12th July (following its cancellation by the Cabinet); letters to the Council Leader on 4th Aug, about addressing pollution, and on 12th Oct about the Council's consultations on Air Quality, Coaches and Parking, (published in the Chronicle on 19th Oct); and Chronicle letters on 23rd Nov, on the need to provide an alternative route for A36/46 traffic, and on 21st Dec and 3rd April, about the purposes and consequences of restricting parking. On 10th November members of FoBRA's Executive were given a presentation on reintroduction of trams in Bath.
FoBRA has remained a (founder) member of the Bath Alliance for Transport and the Public Realm. This has now grown to 21 members, and met the Leader & Cabinet for an update on 12th December (and with the LibDem Transport Group in January).
National Organisation of Residents' Associations (NORA)
FoBRA continues to be an active member of NORA: on 27 Sept, I again joined the NORA team to quiz DCLG's Chief Planner and his staff on current problems – Party Houses & short term unregulated holiday lets (on which I led), calculation of housing need, affordable housing, Art 4(1) land protection, sustainability, Neighbourhood plans, compensation for student Council Tax exemption and the licensed trade. Following this meeting, FoBRA devised, with the Council's Planning Enforcers, a Party House Nuisance Log with which neighbours could complain anonymously. NORA held a Committee meeting in Bath on 31st Jan; and I attended the NORA AGM in London on 1st March. More recently, NORA has conducted a skilled critique of DCLG's (now renamed MHCLG) redraft of the National Planning Policy Framework.
We have continued to monitor Planning, publishing a report on relevant activity prior to every Committee meeting. Notable work has included the following:
• The final adoption of the Placemaking Plan, where I attended and spoke at the associated Full Council meeting; and preparation for the Local Plan Review to come.
• Alteration of the Christmas market proposals again.
• Challenge to Curo's proposals to redevelop the Foxhill estate, leading to an ongoing Judicial Review campaign, led by one of our members with full FoBRA support, which seems (so far) to have succeeded in persuading Curo to withdraw its plans. The Chronicle published a FoBRA letter about this saga on 14th Sept.
• A plethora of proposals for student accommodation, and associated pressure on the universities to increase the proportion of their students housed on campus. Our 15th Feb letter in the Chronicle refers to the effect on affordable housing.
• The Bath Quays (North & South) office development.
• The Destination Management Plan.
• Party Houses (see above). On 24th August the Chronicle quoted FoBRA's concern at the BCF about fire danger in Party Houses.
• Empty homes – on 8th March, FoBRA issued a statement supporting the Council's Empty Homes policy.
• Flooding risk upstream of Churchill Bridge (paper prepared for the BCF).
We have held two meetings of the FoBRA Executive, to review policy, on 19th Dec and 16th April. These resulted, inter alia, in the introduction of pre-Committee reports on Transport and Housing & Public Realm, alongside the existing Planning and Chairman's reports. Kirstie Rowlandson replaced Barry Henderson as FoBRA Secretary on 1st October. Routine meetings, with a broad agenda, were held with the Council Leadership by the Vice Chairman and me on 14th July, 22nd Nov and 24th April.
I have continued to serve as Chairman of the Lansdown Crescent Association; on NORA's Committee; on the Police Independent Advisory Group; and on the Bath City Forum (BCF) as a co-opted member. I have taken an active part in its meetings, including co-chairing (with Cllr Dine Romero, leader of the LibDems) its Environment Group, encompassing Refuse and Flooding Policies. I am a member of the BCF's sub-committee on allocation of funds from the Community Infrastructure Levy & Empowerment Fund.
On 27th Aug, FoBRA wrote to the Council Leader, warning about the perils of the new refuse policy. The Council introduced its new regime in November, and FoBRA was involved in this, across the city, both during its introduction and once implementation started, providing advice to residents and to Council Officers. While the increase in recycling is commendable, some streets were a disgrace, and FoBRA had to apply knowledge and pressure to clear 'side waste', especially where the Council's 'Educators' were not engaged. In some streets, 'activists' were identified to help in clearing up and instilling civic pride (very much associated with successful Residents' Associations).This work continues.
Nothing to add at present, but the new General Data Protection Regulations might have future Constitutional significance.
We refreshed our website in March, and made it compatible with mobiles and tablets.
Lastly, we held two popular parties: the winter reception took place in the Victoria Art Gallery, as usual, with guests of importance to FoBRA members, with 60 attenders, and the summer party (with 55) was in the garden of Casa Bianca, Bathwick Hill. Both of these were very successful, and broadly broke even, now that the ticket price has been raised to £12.50.
Robin Kerr, final, 9th May 18