This is the report on my fifth year as FoBRA Chairman:
In accordance with our usual practice in the run-up to elections, in this case the Municipal Elections in May, we heard from and questioned: B&NES Independent Group in October; the Conservatives in December; Labour in January; and the Liberal Democrats in March.
Membership has again risen slightly, from 33 to 35 organizations (31 full members and 4 affiliates), despite the absorption of one Association into another.
Transport Policy continued to be foremost during the year, with a second Transport & Pollution Conference organized by our MP in June, at which I spoke, emphasising the need to move from talking to action. FoBRA agreed its response to the Council's Clean Air Zone (CAZ) consultation in November, with a complementary letter published in the Chronicle a few days later. Most discussion centred around (a) adjusting the CAZ boundaries to minimise 'rat-running', and (b) whether Class C (HGVs, LGVs, coaches and taxis) or Class D (+ cars as well) was to be adopted. The Council announced their decision of Class C (+ some traffic management) in March, just before electoral purdah was imposed (FoBRA's members having been equivocal about this choice). Meanwhile, in readiness for the Municipal Elections, and mindful of the importance of Transport Policy, the Bath Alliance for Transport and the Public Realm, of which FoBRA is a founder member, held two conferences, both of which we supported financially. In the November event, experts from other cities and a wide range of opinion spoke, while, in the April conference, after the WECA Mayor had spoken, Transport specialists from the Parties in the Elections summarised their proposals, should they gain power, after which the Alliance delivered its 'ideal solution'. This approach appeared to have been successful, as no Party's proposal differed much from the 'ideal' one. In parallel, FoBRA formed part of a team to open talks with WECA's Director of Infrastructure in January; and, following this, FoBRA submitted its comments on Version 4 of WECA's Joint Local Transport Plan, in March.
Rugby and the Rec
Bath Rugby's comprehensive consultation on a stadium concept took place through the summer, during which three worrying aspects emerged: its huge size; the idea of housing a large car park under the pitch, thereby raising the whole thing even further; and the need for an interim pitch and stadium, perhaps on the unused part of the Rec. I introduced these concerns in my October Report and FoBRA wrote to the Chronicle about the parking proposal on 13th Dec. A searching debate was held about all these at the January Committee, led by PERA, as a consequence of which a FoBRA paper was drafted, approved, and sent to relevant bodies on 18th Feb. We await the Planning Application.
We have continued to monitor Planning, publishing a report on relevant activity prior to every Committee meeting. In addition to the Rugby Stadium (see above), notable work has included:
• The quirky decision by the Development Management Committee (DMC) to approve development at the Cricket Club. The Bath Preservation Trust started a Judicial Review on this, in which we supported them financially, but ultimately they had to withdraw.
• The proposal to demolish Bath College's Ralph Allen Building and replace it by yet another hotel. This dragged on for most of the year, in sharp conflict with the Council's Hotel and Visitor Accommodation Study, resulting in another curious approval.
• The University of Bath's (UoB) proposal for a new School of Management, where we proposed that UoB should commit to build on its own land enough student accommodation to house the consequential increase in numbers (the 'Oxford' model). This was not accepted, but the idea has now appeared in the Council's Local Plan Review (see below), along with several of FoBRA's other proposals for tackling student housing problems – a hopeful sign?
• The Local Plan Review consultation, submitting comprehensive comments in January.
• Foxhill Residents' Association's Judicial Review of Curo's proposals there, which was ultimately successful.
• The Christmas Market, resulting in a rather good use of Milsom Street.
National Organization of Residents' Associations (NORA)
FoBRA continues to be an active member of NORA. Its Chairman, Dr Alan Shrank, who founded it in 2003, has been replaced by Mrs Zofia Lovell, from Farnham, an experienced campaigner in the Planning field. I attended NORA's annual talks with the Chief Planner in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in November. Subjects included: the National Planning Policy Framework; Housing; Neighbourhood Plans; Deliverability Targets for House Building; the 'Broken Housing Market'; and Short Term Letting and Party Houses (on which I led). This latter item has resulted in further talks, first with the Short Term Accommodation Association in March; and renewed discussions in April with the Chief Planner and his staff about possible compulsory registration of 'Airbnb style' properties in England & Wales (as is the practice in many other countries), a limit to the number of nights per year they can be let, and even the type of controls that apply to Houses in Multiple Occupation.
We held one meeting of the Executive, to review policy and to prepare for the AGM, on 14th February. Barry Gilbertson (CARA) stood down from the Executive, where he covered Housing, in October, due to pressure of other work. Routine meetings, with a broad agenda, were held with the Council Leadership by the Vice Chairman and me on 25th Sept and 11th Feb.
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, and continue to be a member of the BCF's sub-committee on allocation of funds from the Community Infrastructure Levy. I was asked to chair a Ward Hustings in Lansdown on 14th April.
Lastly, we held two popular parties: the winter reception took place in the Victoria Art Gallery, as usual, having guests of importance to FoBRA members, with a splendid 79 attenders, including both Vice Chancellors and the WECA Mayor! The summer party (with 48) was in the beautiful gardens of Crowe Hall, Widcombe Hill. Both of these were most successful, and both made a small profit.
Robin Kerr, 21st Apr 19