Editor : David Kernek (kernekdavid@gmail.com)

The hole in the traffic ban plan

COUNCILLORS and officials working on the so-called ring of steel plan to ban virtually all traffic from Bath’s historic centre – the alleged security purpose of which is to keep the space safe from terrorists using cars and vans as weapons – might have noticed that the latest attack – in New Zealand – was by a knife-wielding pedestrian who stabbed six customers in a supermarket.

It’s been the method recommended by Islamic State for some years.

Bath Tories ask Transport minister to stop ‘unfair’ Ring of Steel plan

THE Conservative group on Bath and North East Somerset Council has asked the government for help in the fight to stop the council’s town centre Ring of Steel proposals.

Councillor Vic Pritchard, leader of the Conservative group has written an open letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to review the policy.

It follows the recent Cabinet meeting at which the council’s Liberal Democrat administration approved the plans to restrict access to Bath city centre.

In the letter, Coun. Pritchard highlighted the fact that the proposals are, in reality, insufficient to stop a terror attack and would instead leave people, especially people with mobility problems, locked out of the city centre.

He explained that the policy is against the spirit of the Equalities Act and that, following the economic shock that has been visited upon towns and cities across the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, councillors should be championing city centres, not walling them off to residents and visitors.

‘The Ring of Steel proposals,’ he wrote, ‘are unfair and unnecessary and we are seeking help from the government to try to get this administration to see sense and ditch these controversial plans.

‘The Liberal Democrats are using the threat of terrorism to further their anti-motoring agenda and further demonize drivers. These proposals will not actually prevent terror attacks from taking place and will simply marginalize members of our community who are not able to move around easily.’

All In This Together … Greensill: Cameron 'made $10m' before company’s collapse

DAVID CAMERON made approximately $10 million (£7 million) from Greensill Capital before the finance company collapsed, documents obtained by BBC Panorama suggest.

The documents indicate the former prime minister (pictured) received $4.5m after cashing in Greensill shares in 2019.

Greensill, which made its money by lending to businesses, went into administration in March, leaving investors facing billions in losses.

Greensill collapsed after its insurer refused to renew cover for the loans it was making.

Before its collapse, Mr Cameron unsuccessfully tried to persuade ministers to invest taxpayers’ money in Greensill loans.

The details about Mr Cameron’s shares were revealed in a letter from Greensill Capital to the former prime minister. According to the letter, Mr Cameron was going to be paid $4,569,851.60 (about £3.3 million) after tax for a tranche of his Greensill shares.

As well as the shares, Mr Cameron received a salary of $1 million (£720,000) a year as a part-time adviser. The BBC also understands that the former prime minister was paid a bonus of $700,000 (£504,000) in 2019 on top of his salary. In total, it looks like he made around $10 million before tax for two-and-a-half years’ part-time work.

Mr Cameron’s spokesman said his said his remuneration was a private matter. ‘He acted in good faith at all times and there was no wrongdoing in any of the actions he took.’

Better very late than never … Test and Trace boss Dido Harding to step down from NHS role

BARONESS Dido Harding (pictured), who ran the government’s Covid-19 test-and-trace programme in England, will step down from her NHS role in October.

The Conservative peer recently applied unsuccessfully to be the new boss of NHS England.

The test and tracing scheme has been criticized repeatedly during the pandemic. A BBC investigation found it was failing in areas which had some of the worst infection rates, and was beset with IT problems. A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee in March said there was ‘no clear evidence’ that he £22 billion venture contributed to a reduction in coronavirus infection levels. In June, the National Audit Office found there were still significant weaknesses in the performance of Test and Trace, particularly around slow turnaround times for test results.

Before being employed by the NHS, Baroness Harding was chief executive of TalkTalk and had held senior roles for Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Help on hand for dead High Streets, but …

EMPTY shops in Bath are being revitalized and re-purposed as part of a project to breathe new life into the town centre. Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Vacant Units Action Project finds new uses for empty retail units as part of a programme of support to help High Street recovery.

Local charity Share and Repair, which aims to help local people save money and the planet by reducing waste and repairing and reusing items, is opening a new shop at 3 York Buildings on George Street on August 11. The shop will house the charity’s ‘library of things’, carry out repairs and host ‘how-to’ workshops.

Fringe Arts Bath and Bath Fringe have recently taken over 5 Broad Street. Renamed ‘This is not a Shop’, the former retail unit is now hosting events, performances and art exhibitions Wednesdays to Sundays from 12noon to 5pm, until August 27.

Steve Henwood, Fringe Co-Director said:  ‘Contemporary arts activity is an excellent antidote to the much-feared ‘decline of the High Street’. A city and community like Bath is well placed to run an endless creative stream of modern arts experiences at the drop of a shutter: all it needs is a little support and the artistic imagination, and suddenly we have a phenomenon which is good for everyone.’

The project forms part of the council’s High Streets Renewal programme and was awarded £500,000 from the West of England Combined Authority’s Recovery Fund. Alongside this, further match funding and in-kind support has been provided by the council and Bath BID.

 Other vacant units across the city have been put to a variety of uses from the rapid Covid-19 testing centre at 3 Burton Street to the High Street Hub in Cheap Street which provides support and advice to businesses.

Earlier this summer, ‘In the Meanwhile’ brought art exhibitions and theatre performances to 17/18 Milsom Street and Milsom Place and a wide range of entertainment, events and activities for all the family are continuing throughout the summer with Summer Sundays.

Meanwhile, of course, charity stores, art shows and theatre exhibitions do not generate revenues needed by the council … and that very large empty Debenhams store in Southgate will take some filling!

Bath Festival, 2021

Picture by Geoffrey Breeze

Who speaks for England?

THE Archbishop of York has criticized the London ‘metropolitan elite’ for treating people who are proud to be English as ‘backwardly xenophobic’. The Most Rev Stephen Cottrell called for ’an expansive vision of what it means to be English’ and for the country to rediscover a sense of ‘national unity’.

Writing exclusively in The Daily Telegraph, he also questioned why it had become taboo to be patriotic.

His comments come in the wake of a visit to Scotland by the Prime Minister aimed at boosting support for the Union, and after last month’s European football championships revived debate around English patriotism.

The Archbishop said: ‘Many English people feel left behind by metropolitan elites in London and the South East, and by devolved governments and strengthened regional identities in Scotland and Wales. Their heartfelt cry to be heard is often disregarded, willfully misunderstood or patronized as being backwardly xenophobic.’

The government is keen to stress the strengths of the UK as a whole, rather than the individual nations. Last month, Michael Gove, who is in charge of union policy, said that the system of “English Votes for English Laws”, which means only English MPs vote on matters which affect only England, should be scrapped.

The Archbishop, in contrast, suggests there should be greater devolution to the English, not less. ‘What we need is an expansive vision of what it means to be English as part of the United Kingdom. It is this that will help us rediscover a national unity more fractured than I have ever known it in my lifetime.

‘A first foundation would be a more developed and strengthened regional government within England. This would enable Westminster to be the government for the United Kingdom, holding on to those big issues to do with our shared sovereignty, while empowering the separate nations and regions to have powers at the local level to serve their own localities better.’

Bath 2000-2019: Glamour & Grit

Foreword

‘It will be two years tomorrow since we left Bath … with what a happy feeling of escape.’  Jane Austen, letter, 1808

Jane Austen as a visitor liked Bath, but it annoyed and bored her as a resident for six years. Having lived here since the mid-1980s, I know how she felt. No town is immune from the ebbs and flows of fashion and the ups and downs of market forces beyond the control of local politicians and often omens of rough beasts slouching towards our familiar streets. Being of a certain age, my eye tends to be drawn miserably to marks of decay and woe, as some, but by no means have all, of the pictures in this book suggest.

Perhaps the only significant constant in Bath’s history from a Roman spa 2,000 years ago to pre-Covid-19 England – the exception being its medieval centuries as a malodourous livestock market – has been its function as a centre for rest and recreation, known in the trade as tourism. Bath’s tourism is not as discerning as it was. Visitors, prevented for a while by Napoleon from enjoying Paris, Florence, and Venice, once came for the season to take the waters, often at the cost of their lives. The emphasis in recent decades has been on sightseers coming for the day to take a) the burgers and b) pictures of themselves eating burgers by the great doors of the town’s Gothic abbey. The drive for day-trip – almost over-tourism – coincided with the rapid growth of Bath’s two universities. It was estimated in 2019 that close to a quarter of the town’s population were students. They came, caused trouble, took their degrees, and left.

The Covid-19 Lockdown followed years of economic change that saw the closure of many of the cute artizany independent shops that were promoted, along with Bath’s over-budget and far-too-small Mineral Water spa, across the planet as Unique Tourist Attractions. It has landed the town with an existential anxiety. Will the tourists and the undergraduates – many of them from China – return, and if they don’t, what will Bath actually be for?

All but two of the pictures in this book were taken, roughly, from 2000 to 2019. The purpose is to present a portrait of a town in the round: the unrivalled architectural gems, pinched from our Italian friends, in the historic town centre along with some of its less distinguished buildings, and its Retail Therapy Solutions, visitors, workers, wretched hen parties and horrid fast-food outlets.  Also included are its best, smallest and oldest inns, all of which, it must be hoped, will be able to sustain their character while meeting our dismal Post Pestilence Elf-and-safety directives.

Finally, two points of explanation. 

I’ve described Bath as a town, not a city which, legally by virtue of its 1590 and 1974 royal charter charters, it is. In real life – a concept that’s often lost sight of in Bath – it’s a smallish town of some 88,800 people. It no longer has a police station a villain would recognize as such, its main Post Office is now on the 1st floor of a not very large WH Smith’s branch, and it doesn’t have a concert or festival hall a Vienna Philharmonic violinist would recognize as such.  

The mighty River Avon that flows through the town is ignored in this book. It’s an asset disregarded over the decades by the town’s councillors and developers and ignored other when it’s been recognized as annoying flood risk or an opportunity to decorate its banks with blocks of schlock-Georgian townhouses.

David Kernek

£15 per copy, including postage.

kernekdavid@gmail.com

Pitches wanted for Bath’s Xmas Market

THE Bath Xmas Market pitch application process has been opened by Bath & NE Somerset Council.

Pitch fees, says the council, are being advertized at a reduced rate to traders who have struggled for many months, and there will be some very short-term pitches for traders who are either starting out or have always wanted to sell at the market but maybe couldn’t make enough stock or are unable to attend the for full duration of the market. For the first time in its 20-year history it will run for 25 days, with pitch options for 11, 14 and 25-day trading.

Pitch fees (including VAT) range from £1,914 to £6,000.

Although many residents find it a nuisance to be avoided, Bath’s Christmas Market is ranked in Europe’s top ten and attracts 400,000 visitors per year, with an estimated spend in the city of £32.5 million in 2019. It will not be promoted in Europe this year, when the number of stalls will be cut from 205 to 161.

Single-use plastics are not permitted and stallholders must use environmentally-friendly bio-degradable alternatives to common single-use plastic products such as product packaging, bags, bottles, straws, containers, cups, and cutlery.

Hobson’s Choice on the Min

PLANNING approval – at the second attempt – for the conversion of Bath’s Royal Mineral Water Hospital has done nothing to weaken opposition to the development.

Objectors argue that the decision by Bath & NE Somerset Council to approve the amended design was illegal, since planning law requires that no harm should be done listed buildings unless there is an overwhelming public benefit. In this case, they say, there isn’t one. With this in mind, they are taking legal advice, and there’s talk of challenging the legality of the decision at a judicial review, but this would be an expensive gamble: the cost for each party for a one-day High Court hearing would be £25,000 to £40,000 … with no money back for the loser.

In approving the application, the council pushed aside its own 2016/2036 Local Plan, which said there was no capacity in Bath for more luxury hotels, and ignored its Visitor Accommodation Study, which found ‘reduced market potential’

There was, the study found, ‘some limited capacity for budget hotels, but not before 2031 and no more market capacity for high-end hotels during the plan period. ‘We cannot predict how the pandemic will affect our tourist industry over the next few years – but it is extremely unlikely that there will be growth.’

But councillors and planning officials were faced with a Hobson’s Choice: all of the multi-million bids for the building were for hotel conversions; there were no community or social alternatives such as a concert hall or exhibition. The options being a high-end hotel the Bath does not need or a Grade II Listed building at the heart of the historic centre left to rot.