This is the report on my sixth and final year as FoBRA Chairman, including a short review of the whole period (at Annex A):
Ordinarily, we would have invited the main Parliamentary candidates to come to speak to the FoBRA Committee, and answer questions, before the General Election in December, but the notice was so short that it was impossible to do this in an impartial way. Similarly, we considered asking the candidates for Police and Crime Commissioner, but these elections have been deferred by a year, because of Covid-19. The Council Leader, Cllr Dine Romero, came to speak to the whole Committee on 21st Jan.
Membership has again risen slightly, from 35 to 36 organizations (32 full members and 4 affiliates), and seems likely to rise to 37 at the forthcoming Committee, as Entry Hill RA has applied for membership.
Transport Policy was prominent this year, as usual. Following the Council elections in May, talks were held in July and October with the Cabinet members for Transport and Climate Emergency to establish their priorities. The Clean Air Plan was confirmed, broadly as had been proposed by the previous administration: Class C and small adjustments to improve the area of the Zone. Another consultation on this ran through the Autumn, with a detailed contribution submitted by FoBRA; and some Govt grants were secured to build the infrastructure and help businesses to adapt, but, even now, the final amount of assistance is not decided, and some parts of the Plan have had to be shelved. The Cabinet approved the business case in January and the whole scheme was due to start in November, but this has been deferred to next year by Covid-19. During Lockdown, pollution levels reduced markedly, but are now returning to previous levels. As had repeatedly been urged by FoBRA, experimental removal of traffic from Milsom Street took place in September and during the Christmas Market; and was thought successful. This was reinstated following Lockdown, and also introduced elsewhere, for example in Westgate and Kingsmead Square. Another Council manifesto objective had been Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), about which Adam Reynolds gave a talk to the September Committee; and a Council-arranged lecture on their successful introduction in Waltham Forest took place in January. Following this, several member Associations started to develop LTN plans of their own (notably Camden, CARA and Lansdown), which were welcomed by the Council. In parallel, FoBRA developed a Traffic Movement Plan to set these conceptual LTNs in context, based on reducing existing traffic volumes in the city, particularly through traffic, and including the historic core of the city. This was approved for discussion with the Council by FoBRA members. The Council has yet to give a substantive response. The Council has produced a paper on 'Liveable Neighbourhoods' on which consultation will be invited. This not only covers LTNs, but also parking policy and electric vehicle charging provision. However, it fails to address the critical issue of the cumulative impact of LTNs on traffic movement in the city. We have urged the Council to correct this deficiency. Lastly, a crucial feature of transport in Bath has been the need to repair Cleveland Bridge, in preparation for which an 18 tonne limit has been imposed, which has markedly reduced HGV traffic across it. FoBRA would like this to become permanent.
The hard, unending and skilled work of Patrick Rotheram, our Subject Lead, on all this, supported by his Transport Group, needs to be recorded.
Rugby and the Rec:
Bath Rugby's Planning Application for a new stadium still has not appeared. I raised our concerns about its Environmental Impact at the Rec Trust's Annual Meeting – a noisy affair held in September; and, as their response shed no light on the matter, I exercised my right to speak about it at the following meeting of B&NES' Full Council, in October. Since then communication has improved! In a subsequent press statement, Stadium for Bath issued plans for a 550-place under-pitch car park which "will not increase parking spaces in the city". This led to some scepticism amongst members. In November, I wrote to the Council Leader, asking that the principle (of whether such a car park should be built there) be determined before any stadium planning application is submitted. Since Lockdown, this subject (like so many) has quietened, but the detail of FoBRA's efforts, and those of the member Associations neighbouring the Rec, particularly PERA, can be found in the Planning Reports (particularly Sept and Nov).
We have continued to monitor Planning, publishing a report on relevant activity prior to every Committee meeting. In addition to the Rugby Stadium, notable work has included:
• Examination of and comment on the Local Plan Review, which is continuing.
• Consultation on the future of the Dick Lovett site, Lower Bristol Road – with student housing proposed as part of the mix.
• The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission's proposals.
• Continued lobbying for a revised HMO SPD, with a simpler and more accurate definition of density.
• Christmas Market 2019 – response to consultation.
• Historic Centre definition.
• North Quays development – response to consultation.
• Planning applications:
o City Football Club redevelopment, including student housing.
o Mulberry Park – housing heights and screening.
o Hartwells garage site – including PBSA.
o Bristol Airport expansion.
o Mineral Water Hospital – hotel proposals.
o Locksbrook Road – PBSA.
o Homebase site – Care home.
o Rosewell Court – HMO.
o Victoria Hotel, Twerton – HMO.
o Wellsway and Wells Road – PBSA.
o Jubilee site, Lower Bristol Road – PBSA.
o MoD site, Warminster Road – additional proposals.
o 5G mast in Widcombe.
All this represents a large and important body of work, for which I thank the Vice Chairman and his Planning Sub Committee (while remembering also the parallel Planning work of individual member Associations). Scanning the list above, the preponderance of student housing applications is evident, for which one must question the need, as both of our universities have declared that they are not expanding, and as neither is sponsoring these proposals.
Work in this area has been rather slow since the departure of Barry Gilbertson as subject lead. However, Graham Feltham agreed to take up the reins in January, bringing up to date our Housing Position Paper, and drafting Housing & Public Realm Reports in March, May and July. Lack of housing, especially Social Housing, continues to be a great worry, but this is a national problem, of which the National Organization of Residents' Associations (NORA) is well aware (and on which it has been campaigning). Further to that, FoBRA has campaigned for compulsory regulation of Short Term Lets (STL) in Bath and nationally, through NORA, for two reasons (a) because of the noise and disturbance usually associated with them, and (b) because they often lead to reduction in dwellings available for long term rental. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has greatly reduced STL, which has helped availability of long term rental, but this is likely to be temporary, particularly as landlords in Bath could, before the pandemic, earn as much as four times more. Party Houses, of which there are over 70 in Bath, are a subset of STL, but even more lucrative and upsetting to neighbours. In July 19, a party house in Greenway Lane was shut down by Council Enforcement, after a long campaign, with the assistance of FoBRA, which has served as a lesson to others, but none of this is easy, and the Ministry (MHCLG) has never been helpful. Lastly, eternal vigilance is needed to keep the numbers of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in check, as they also are the cause of disturbance and reduction in houses available for families. During the year, FoBRA has pressed Council Planning to revise the Supplementary Planning Document limiting the density of HMOs to make this measurement more logical; and this has been agreed.
National Organization of Residents' Associations:
FoBRA continues to be an active member of NORA. During last summer five member Associations joined NORA on their own account, thus gaining access to NORA's stream of nationwide data and advice. NORA talks with the Ministry (MHCLG) in January were unhelpful, as was a letter to Christopher Pincher MP, Housing Minister, about STL in Feb. However, Patrick Rotheram represented NORA at Airbnb's roadshow about registration in Bristol in March; and talks with Karen Buck MP (Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on STL) in April went well; as did those with the Chairman and DG of the Short Term Accommodation Association in July.
We held two meetings of the Executive, to review policy and to prepare for the AGM, on 27th April (when Justin Draeger and Graham Feltham were co-opted) and 14th July. Routine meetings, with a broad agenda, were held with the Council Leadership by Nick and me on 19th Sept 19, 2nd Dec, 3rd March and 13th May: another one being due on 2nd Sept. Nick, Justin and I had talks with our MP on 17th July 20.
I retired as Chairman of the Lansdown Crescent Association at its AGM in July; but continue to serve on NORA's Committee; on the Police Independent Advisory Group; and on the Bath City Forum (possibly to be renamed Bath Area Forum – see Annex A) as a co-opted member, as well as being a member of its sub-committee on allocation of funds from the Community Infrastructure Levy.
Lastly, we held two popular parties: the summer one, on 12th June 19, (with 41) was to have been in the gardens in the centre of Catharine Place, but was rained off. Instead, Ian and Morny Hay-Davison welcomed us into their beautiful home there. On 12th Feb 20, our usual winter reception took place in the Victoria Art Gallery, having guests of importance to FoBRA members, with 69 attenders, including the Mayor and Council Leader. Both of these were most successful, and made a small profit. No summer party was possible this year due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Robin Kerr, final, 21st Aug 20
Annex A: A look in the rear view mirror!
I have been an office-holder in FoBRA for over 11 happy years! During my 6¼ years as Chairman, membership grew from 31 to 38 Associations (despite some amalgamations), with residents' representation rising from about 3700 to over 5000. This is the mark of a vibrant organization, admired in the community, but still with work to do, as gaps remain in its coverage across the city.
Transport/Air Pollution has been overridingly the highest priority issue during my Chairmanship, just as it was for my predecessor. When I assumed office, FoBRA was already a member of the Bath Transport Commission, helping to produce the Bath Transport Strategy (BTS) which was approved at a full Council meeting in Nov 14 by all Councillors (less one abstention). In Oct 14, FoBRA had proposed creation of a Low Emission Zone, covering the central area including the Pulteney Estate area. In Feb 15 I wrote to our MP supporting the Council's request for extra powers, such as ability to impose a weight limit on Bathwick Street and over Moving Traffic Offences. The City Conference in July 15 sparked a good debate on the BTS. The Council's Eastern Park & Ride (EPR) proposals were published in Sept 15, leading to approval at a full Council meeting in Nov, despite 86 public speakers, only 6 of whom were in favour (one of them being me). The Bath Alliance for Transport & the Public Realm ("The Alliance") was formed in Feb 16, with FoBRA as its first member, leading to a formal launch in front of a stellar Council audience in Nov, by which time membership had risen to 15. In Feb 17, our MP, Ben Howlett, submitted to Parliament his petition for an A36/46 link to relieve traffic (especially HGVs) on Cleveland Bridge, Bathwick Street and the London Road. Meanwhile, calls for action also on pollution (particularly since revelations about diesel particulates) were being raised by FoBRA and in the Press to our MP and Council Leader. Following judgement on a case brought by Client Earth, the Government announced in July 17 that Bath (and 28 other cities) must plan to reduce NOₓ pollution to safe levels by 2021. Our new MP, Wera Hobhouse, held two conferences, the first in Feb 18, where I conducted the summing up, and in June, where FoBRA also spoke. In April 18 the Council published its Clean Air Plan (CAP) for consultation, at which FoBRA called, in the Chronicle, for a more ambitious proposal, implementing much of the 2014 BTS, but to no avail; and in July 18 the Council withdrew its EPR proposal after a long but ineffectual battle against a well-organized campaign. FoBRA was prominent in the debate on the CAP throughout winter 18/19, supporting the Alliance (membership now up to 21) which held two conferences, in Nov 18 and Apr 19, at the second of which the Alliance's 'Ideal' policy was presented to the candidates at the May municipal elections: this resulted in substantial agreement. The new Council has brought forward proposals for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. This brings us up to date (see pp 1-2 above). It has been a tough row to hoe, but FoBRA has had a positive influence on Transport Policy and implementation, and there has been a clear shift in favour of reducing traffic in the city; although we have yet to see any concrete results.
Rugby and the Rec: After much activity on this subject when I was Secretary, slumber returned until summer 18, when concepts for a very large stadium appeared, and later the idea of the under-pitch car park emerged. FoBRA supported objections raised largely by PERA throughout winter 18/19.
Planning: Consultations on the Council's Placemaking Plan took place, unbelievably, from 2014 to 2018, a process with which FoBRA involved itself throughout! In 2015 we persuaded the Planners to treat central Bath as a 'Place' and to incorporate parts of the new BTS. In 2016 I spoke at no fewer than six sessions of the Examination in Public. It was finally approved in July 2017 at a full Council meeting, to which I spoke; and was later merged with the (already approved) Core Strategy to become the new Local Plan.
In 2015, we identified student housing and upstream flooding as problems; and Curo proposed merging its Foxhill Estate with the ex-MoD site there which it had recently acquired (later to become Mulberry Park), ignoring the ~100 homes which were owner occupied. This resulted in a campaign by the new Foxhill Residents' Association (with FoBRA support), taking this to Judicial Review, financed by Crowd Funding, which was ultimately successful in persuading Curo to drop its plans.
Between 2016 and 18, FoBRA succeeded in mitigating the worst aspects of the Council's new Refuse Policy: exposing the scandalous state of some streets and shaming both the Council and the residents into better behaviour. We nominated two doughty street champions for the award of 'Neighbour of the Year', Polly Riddle and Ann Love, and they won!
In 2017/18, student housing, short term lets and party houses became issues, because of their nuisance to neighbours and the consequential reduction of long term housing in the city. FoBRA devised and negotiated with the Planners a Party House Nuisance Log, available to all, use of which was instrumental in the closing down of the one in Greenway Lane in July 19.
Finally, in 2018/19, the Local Plan Review started, with FoBRA providing suggestions in Jan 19. Then followed a campaign to persuade the Planners to recognize the over-approval and excessive building of both hotels and Purpose-Built Student Accommodation; and to accept the notion that the universities must 'consume own smoke' in providing extra on-campus housing to accommodate any additional student places created by new teaching space.
Governance: Bath has had no separate legal existence since 1996, when Bath City Council was abolished, being absorbed into the unitary Council of Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES). This means that no organization in Bath has any legal powers to affect matters in the city, nor is there any statutory consultee, despite Bath's housing half the population. By contrast, the other half of this Local Authority is substantially parished, and both Keynsham and Radstock have Town Councils. Several attempts have been made by B&NES to address this democratic deficit, with all of which FoBRA has diligently cooperated and advised, but none of them has been successful: Bath City Liaison Forum in 2008, a 6-month all-party study in 2014, leading to the Bath City Forum (BCF) in 2015; and now, apparently, evolution to a rather similar Bath Area Forum in 2020. The only model which has not yet been tried is parishing, which at least has the merits of being recognized under the law, and offering some decision-making power.
I was co-opted onto the BCF from its start. The following year I co-chaired (with Cllr Romero) a BCF sub-committee on Environment, drafting and proposing a new policy on upstream flooding risk, but made no headway with it due to lack of interest by Councillors. They may rue the day when increased river flooding (due to climate change) inundates numerous houses, including some Listed Grade 1. This is bound to happen!
In 2015/16 the FoBRA Constitution was revised and simplified. In 2017/18, Kirstie Rowlandson replaced Barry Henderson as Secretary; and we introduced Transport and Housing Reports, alongside the existing Chairman's and Planning ones.
Parties: Every year during my Chairmanship we have held two parties: a reception in the Victoria Art Gallery after Christmas, to which we invite people of importance to FoBRA; and in the summer a garden party for ourselves: 2014 – Lansdown Crescent; 2015 – Violet Bank Farm; 2016 – Lyncombe Court; 2017 – Casa Bianca; 2018 – Crowe Hall; and in 2019 – Catharine Place.
Long Live FoBRA!