Meeting with Council Leader
Nick and I held our first meeting with Cllr Tim Warren, the new Council Leader, on 11th June. The following subjects were covered: Air Pollution and creation of a Low Emission Zone, Transport Strategy and project incoherence, Parking (particularly control of visitor parking), Upstream Flooding concerns, the Placemaking Plan (see below), Planning (need for discipline and the adoption of conservation area documents), a new joint project (called a "Task & Finish Group" in Council-speak), for example on Enforcement, and the City Centre Action Group.
Transport and Pollution
On 9th July I was invited to take part in a discussion on Radio Bristol with Cllr Tim Warren about Transport problems in Bath. This revolved around the usual aspects (see below).
At the Bath City Conference, Peter Dawson (Head of Transport Policy) led a lively discussion of the Bath Transport Strategy recommendations, supported by Cllr Tony Clark, Cabinet member for Transport. Dawson reiterated a commitment to the Strategy's basic principles, such as an early Eastern Park & Ride (for which it was said the Cabinet had already earmarked sufficient funding), consequential reduction of all but essential and residents' vehicles in the centre, an A36/46 link (for which central Govt finance and approval would be needed), a Low Emission Zone (for which central Govt approval would be needed), etc. These were supported by most speakers, but rather less so by the Cabinet member.
In parallel, Patrick Rotheram and I held a meeting with our MP, Ben Howlett, at his request. Discussion focused on the A36/46 link, a Low Emission Zone, (and Ben's part in getting both of these created), and prosecution of Moving Traffic Offences by B&NES. In the meeting's margins I raised with him the continued plague of gulls in Bath and whether a change in the 1981 law to permit their reclassification as "pests" in towns/cities with such a problem (and hence their direct elimination) would be a task he could contemplate.
Patrick Rotheram subsequently wrote to the Chronicle, on our behalf, reiterating many of the Transport Strategy's principles, as a recent article in it had cast doubt on the extent of air pollution in the city (copy attached).
Invitation from Ben Howlett MP
At my meeting with Ben (see above), he invited FoBRA to organize a visit to him at the Houses of Parliament in (say) the Autumn. I have asked the Secretary to make the arrangements, so please let him know if you are interested.
Nick and I revisited the Placemaking Plan, on 9th July, with the Officers who are writing it. The next stage will be a 6-week consultation starting in October. We repeated our concerns: that central Bath needed to be treated as a "Place" in its own right (about which FoBRA had submitted much excellent material), the need for a Student Housing Policy (especially in view of the cascade of planning applications for student housing blocks recently), space standards for housing, correlation with Bath's Transport Strategy, and the desirability for building on brownfield before greenfield sites.
Bath City Conference (BCC) – 10th July
The BCC followed its established "trade show" pattern, but with enhanced debates/discussions in the Council Chamber. I thought both aspects were useful and all parts seemed well attended. Discussion sessions covered Transport Strategy (see item above), Getting started in the Community, Bath Governance, and the usual Q&A with the Leader/Chief Executive (joined by his whole cabinet, Network Rail and the police). On your behalf I submitted 8 questions, of which 3 were chosen by the Chairman, Don Chambers (on rail electrification, upstream flooding and Bath governance).
Bath City Forum
At the 16th July Council meeting an advisory "Connecting Communities" committee was approved for Bath, to address its 'democratic deficit', following 1½ years of cross-party discussion. Consisting of (some) Bath Councillors and appropriate co-optees, it will meet 3 times a year, to discuss matters of relevance to Bath, but will have no specific powers, nor has a path to greater usefulness been included in its terms of reference. Ways to rectify this were proposed but defeated. In view of all the prior work on this, its importance when it begins, and the dismal record of earlier initiatives without power, I view this as a missed opportunity and wrote, with your permission, to the Chronicle about it (letter attached). This was published on the Chronicle website and was followed by a full page about the subject on 23rd July, including a response to all the criticisms from Council Leader, Tim Warren.
National Organization of Residents' Associations (NORA)
1. Japanese knotweed: NORA consulted members on this problem in June. Their conclusion is that, although DEFRA has wailed against this foreign invader, it seems that Councils can still avoid having to deal with the problem except when it affects Council property.
2. Magistrates' Court Closure: In a Justice Department consultation, either Bath Magistrates' Court, County Court and Family Court or North Avon (Yate) Magistrates' Court is proposed to be closed. The rationale is that money must be saved; but also that modern IT allows quite a lot of procedures which normally go through these courts to be done remotely. I have asked members either to take action themselves or to ask me to deal with it jointly (and, if so, to tell me what answers to the consultation questions members want: in particular why should Bath be favoured over Yate?).
3. Chairman: NORA is looking for a new Chairman. Any volunteers?
Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)
Colin Skellett, Wessex Water's Chief Executive, continues as the LEP Chairman, but has recently appointed 8 new business leaders to its board. Colin Clark keeps an eye on this for us.
A Council consultation on its Gambling policy is underway, ending on 11th Sept. The Executive has looked at this but so far feels it has nothing to add to the Council's current procedures, but it would be good to know if any members are participating in the consultation.
Bath Police Independent Advisory Group (IAG)
I have agreed to join this new group, which is one of many set up at the behest of the Chief Constable to act as "critical friends" of local police across the Force. As part of this, I have visited the new charging and custody centre at Keynsham, and have taken part in a Saturday night patrol in Bath. In due course, I shall let you know how effective I feel the role is, and whether I should continue with it.
Updates to reflect the new FoBRA Priorities have been posted. Please tell me what you think of them (and if you can suggest better, please do so).
Burlington Street Wall
I last wrote about this in my 12th May Report. St Mary's church state that they have applied (a) to register their right to suppress the 3 windows in the side of the adjoining building above their car park, and (b) to fell the chestnut tree, so it looks as though they are progressing towards building on the car park (and thereby solving the wall problem).
FoBRA's Summer Party
The summer party took place on 23rd July in the garden of Richard and Sue Wales, on Widcombe Hill. Some 40 of us were blessed by a dry evening, beautiful views and great hospitality.
Robin Kerr, final, 24th July 15
Attachments: Rotheram Chronicle letter on Transport Strategy and Kerr Chronicle letter on Bath City Forum.
Chronicle Letter on Bath Transport Strategy
The Federation of Bath Residents Associations (FOBRA) welcomes the news that the Council is making a start toward the construction of a park-and-ride to the east of Bath (Report, 9 July). An eastern park-and-ride is much needed and has been delayed far too long.
The article states that Bath's levels of air pollution 'are said to be' above EU guidelines. There is no hearsay about this. According to B&NES monitoring data, nitrogen dioxide levels along most of the main road network in Bath and in the city centre are well above the limit set by British and EU law (not 'guidelines'). Along the London Road and parts of the city centre, pollution levels are 50% over the legal limit. Pollution has remained at these high levels for more than ten years and shows no sign of reducing. The data can be seen on the FOBRA website http://www.bathresidents.org.uk/ at the 'Papers' tab.
There are well-established links between nitrogen dioxide pollution and respiratory and other diseases. Particulates from diesel vehicles are linked to both lung and heart disease. Some ten thousand people live within the worst affected areas, and their health is daily being put at risk. This is a serious public health issue, and the Council must take action to reduce air pollution. As 92% of nitrogen dioxide pollution in the city comes from motor vehicles, this means reducing the amount of traffic.
The Bath Transport Strategy was approved last November by the Council with all-party support. Its aim is to promote sustainable transport and reduce the intrusion of traffic in the city, particularly the historic core. We urge the Council to press on urgently with the implementation of the transport strategy. The eastern park-and-ride is one part of the strategy. Action is also needed in accordance with the strategy to reduce traffic volumes in the city by reducing visitor parking in the centre as park-and-ride capacity expands, and by traffic management. A Low Emission Zone (LEZ) should be created covering the whole central area to deter the most polluting vehicles.
Federation of Bath Residents' Associations
12th July 15
Bath City Forum - letter to the Chronicle
At last Thursday's full Council meeting an important opportunity was missed, and the people of Bath are the poorer for it. Bath is the largest city in UK without its own separate legal existence or governance. Keynsham and Radstock have Town Councils, but Bath has nothing of its own: residents are represented only through their ward councillors at the level of the Local Authority, B&NES. For the last year and a half, a cross-party working group of Councillors has been meeting, joined sometimes by other stakeholders, to investigate ways to provide Bath with a useful form of its own governance so that the people of Bath can have an effect on the issues which beset it. Many of these are collective, City of Bath, urban matters that require special expertise and focus.
A consultation last year considered either parishing Bath (which could include a single City Council with parish council powers) or a "Voice for Bath" area committee of Bath Councillors (and possibly co-opted stakeholders), which would exercise some of the B&NES Council functions which are currently carried out in other ways. Such a committee could, for example, have delegated responsibility for matters vitally affecting the city, such as the Bath Transport Strategy or the World Heritage Site Management Plan.
Unfortunately, as you perceptively pointed out in your editorial, none of these options has been chosen. Instead the Cabinet decided to create a talking shop called the Bath City Forum with no defined delegated powers, tasks or resources: not even those which a Parish or Town Council has. South Stoke Council has more powers and responsibilities than this paper tiger. There were positive suggestions at the Council meeting of tasks which might be delegated to it, such as oversight of the Community Infrastructure Levy, the World Heritage Site Management Plan, implementation of Bath's Transport Strategy, Parks and Open spaces, and Tourism, but all were ignored.
We have experience of talking shops like this: the Conservatives created one called the Bath City Liaison Forum seven years ago and, worthy though it was, it died from lack of interest in a few years. These animals have to be given purpose and roles or they are pointless, but this new Forum doesn't even have a mechanism by which its mission and objectives can be developed. Bath deserves better than this, especially after a year and a half of study. FoBRA calls on the new Cabinet to think again, try harder and come up with a viable solution to the problem of Bath's democratic deficit.
Robin Kerr, Chairman FoBRA
20th Jul 15 - final