Chairman's Report for FoBRA Committee 4th Feb 16
[This report has been compiled a little earlier than usual because I shall be abroad 24th to 31st Jan.]
The Council's Placemaking Plan has moved on since I last reported. As I predicted, the authors gave us a "last look" in mid Nov at the draft before it was frozen for Cabinet approval. Using our various subject leads, we were able to submit our quick thoughts within the very short timescale offered (six days!), and some of these comments were incorporated in the text. I then exercised my right to speak (http://www.bathresidents.org.uk/cms/uploads/placemaking-plan-speaking-notes-cabinet-draft-4-2-dec-15.pdf ) at the Cabinet meeting on 2nd Dec (as did Chris Beezley, on student housing, and Ian Herve, of flood risk), giving the members a "tour d'horizon" of the subjects which we prioritise: student housing, brownfield before greenfield , space standards, central Bath as a 'place', transport strategy and flooding risk. The consultation version of the Placemaking Plan was finally issued just before Christmas, and I alerted members to this on 22nd Dec. Comments have to be submitted by 3rd Feb. I tried at a recent Council Scrutiny meeting to have this very short deadline extended, but to no avail. Various subject leads (Nick Tobin, Patrick Rotheram, Chris Beezley and Ian Herve) have been working hard and I hope to be able to circulate FoBRA's first draft to you by ~20th Jan, to garner your views and to help you in drafting your own responses. We can discuss this at the 4th Feb Committee, but, unfortunately, it will be too late to change anything.
Bath City Forum (BCF)
Members may be pleased to know that I have been selected to be a BCF co-optee: as have Jeremy Boss (Widcombe), Nigel Sherwen (Camden) and Van DuBose (St James Square). The first meeting which includes co-optees will have taken place on 21st Jan 16, so I shall be able to report on it at the 4th Feb Committee meeting.
Nick and I met the Council Leader, Cllr Tim Warren, on 15th Dec: he was accompanied by Cllr Tony Clarke, Cabinet Member for Transport. We spoke about:
• Air Pollution: need for and efficacy of various sizes of a Low Emission Zone in Bath, principally aimed at HGVs and buses.
• Transport: way ahead for the Eastern P&R; implementation of the Bath Transport Strategy; the A36/46 link; city centre on and off-street parking; and city centre temporary parking permits for hotels.
• Placemaking Plan: Student housing policy; definition of Bath's central area; upstream flooding risk; space standards for market housing; Govt support for brownfield before greenfield¹; and way ahead for the Foxhill development.
Referendum on B&NES Mayor
The Council Chief Executive (who is B&NES' Electoral Returning Officer) has announced that the referendum to decide whether B&NES should be led by an Executive Mayor will be held on Thursday 10th March 2016. As the 4th Feb Committee will be our only opportunity to stage a public debate to discuss the issues, I have asked the Secretary to adjust the agenda to accommodate one.
National Organization of Residents' Associations (NORA)
1. We replied on 6th Jan to a query from another NORA member about access to details from one's Local Authority (LA) about pollution levels, stating that we had good availability, adding the usual stuff about the "Corridor of Death", glacial progress on the Bath Transport Strategy, the threat of fines on the LA and the lack of Govt action on diesel cars.
2. Last Nov, NORA recounted a cautionary tale about two Residents' Associations in London, each of which took a decision by their LA to appeal. They reached an accommodation before it went to court, but too late to avoid substantial costs, which one of them was ordered to pay. The sum was £10,000 but the Association was in Mayfair, so they could presumably afford it!
3. On 10th Sept, I joined the NORA team for the annual meeting with the Chief Planner at the Department for Communities and Local Government. I volunteered to address the subject of "solving England's housing crisis", covering such aspects as:
a. Extending Council Tax bands (upwards) so that property owners cannot simply ignore the tax and leave the property empty.
b. Incentivising older owners to downsize once their families have left.
c. The Government's building houses on its own account, as was done in the 1950s.
Other subjects which were covered were:
d. Monstrous extensions built using the Permitted Development route – licensing laws may be one way to curtail some of the worst excesses
e. Building on greenfield sites.
f. The need for the new Building standards to be "adopted" by one's LA to be brought into force.
g. How to curtail activities of HMO landlords.
4. All this can be found in greater detail in the minutes of the meeting – apply to the Vice Chairman if you want to see more.
Government to Build Houses
Though I can take no credit for this (see 3c above) the Govt announced on 4th Jan that it intended to commission 13,000 new houses on publicly owned land from smaller builders to try to break the stranglehold of the eight large housebuilders which currently control England's housing market (and make the buying of a house or flat by the young well-nigh impossible).
London Road Cycle Lane
Having been alerted by the Camden Association to problems with the London Road Cycle Lane, FoBRA wrote to the Cabinet Member for Transport (http://www.bathresidents.org.uk/cms/uploads/cycle-lane-changes-in-london-road-12-jan-16.pdf ). Cllr Clarke's answer indicates that his thinking is more towards diverting cyclists to the upgraded canal towpath, thereby segregating cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.
Robin Kerr, draft 2, 17th Jan 16