Editor : David Kernek (kernekdavid@gmail.com)

Talking Bath up … and down

CITING Bath’s second World Heritage accolade, the filmed-in-Bath Netflix Bridgerton epic seen by 82 million households in its first 28 days, and the Tokyo Golds won by ‘Team Bath’ Olympic contingent – including nine swimmers, three Judo players and a modern pentathlon squad – the town’s council leaders have churned out an extraordinary appeal to residents, who are asked by Liberal Democrat council leader Kevin Guy (pictured) ‘big up Bath and North East Somerset and celebrate all that’s positive about the area’.

He’s joined by Coun. Richard Samuel, deputy leader and cabinet member for Resources: ‘While we all need to remain cautious, because Covid hasn’t gone away, bigging up Bath and North East Somerset rather than bringing it down is a much more positive message to help the area, its communities and businesses recover.’

Yes, let’s accentuate the positive, but the inference in this talk-it-up plea is that thin-skinned politicians are mistaking some kosher online criticism of their policies and rational critiques of the town’s state – its shortage of affordable housing and sustainable employment, its continuing reliance of low-rent, day-trip tourism, its traffic mess, its less-than-thriving retail zone, its every-growing student population, its spreading scruffiness, and half-baked council planning proposals – for malign carping to do the town down.

New chief at the Bath Preservation Trust

THE Bath Preservation Trust has a new Chief Executive. He is Alex Sherman (pictured), who for the past seven years has been Head of Business for the South West Heritage Trust. He takes over from Caroline Kay who stood down as CEO at the end of April.

Alex says: ‘I am delighted to be joining Bath Preservation Trust at such a significant time. As we look forward to the future, I am excited to work with our many passionate staff, volunteers, and members, as well as existing and new partners, to make the trust more resilient, inclusive and relevant to all people.

‘Covid-19 has shown the importance of our green spaces, and made us value our built heritage, and the rich culture which Bath has in abundance. I want everyone to be connected to and inspired by this heritage through learning and events, a varied public programme, and our amazing museums, shining a light on Bath’s contributions to creativity, science, and the arts.’

With a background in project management, fundraising and economic development, Mr Sherman has previously managed grant programmes to support projects run by small businesses and charities. Alex developed the award-winning Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership scheme.

The trust runs four museums in Bath – No. 1 Royal Crescent, the Museum of Bath Architecture, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, and Beckford’s Tower.

Revised hotel plan for the Min tipped for green light

AN amended plan to convert Bath’s grade II*-listed former Royal Mineral Water Hospital into a 160-bed hotel have been welcomed by planning officials despite a torrent of objections.

Officers said the building’s owners had dealt with all of the grounds for refusing its previous proposals. Councillors turned down the original scheme because of features that would make life in neighbouring properties ‘almost untenable’, while failing to boost bio-diversity.

The owners – Singaporean investment firm the Fragrance Group – has appealed that decision and submitted revised plans.

In an open letter to councillors, signed by more than 500 residents, objectors said: ‘Local people are angry and feel sidelined by both the planners and the council. They feel that Bath is no longer their city but exists “just for the tourists”. They feel that the needs of residents are secondary to the needs of developers.

 ‘We need to protect our heritage for future generations and we believe that the Min should continue to be used as an amenity for the public good. We need tangible community benefit with income being pumped back into the local economy rather than being syphoned off to shareholders of multi-national corporations.

‘We want to see the garden setting/wildlife/plantlife protected, the historic building protected and importantly, the nearby residents protected from the significant psychological harm they will inevitably suffer if the extension is allowed to block their sky.’

But Historic England says the level of harm being caused had been minimized, and the Bath Preservation Trust said the reduced height and scale meant the scheme was much improved. The Abbey Residents’ Association concluded that the developers had made a ‘serious attempt’ to address the complaints and come up with a ‘reasonably convincing solution’.

Opponents say the town did not need any more luxury hotels and argue that the former hospital should be used for housing or as a museum.

Planning officers say all of the highest bidders when the NHS put the building up for sale wanted to turn it into a hotel. It was not, they said, for the planning system to intervene in the market.

‘As a redundant hospital, there is the risk of neglect and decay if a sustainable use is not established. Securing the optimum viable use for this building is essential to achieve a successful sustainable outcome for this site. This scheme will achieve a new use for this building which is now vacant with the new investment and use ensuring that the building does not remain empty, putting the heritage asset at risk.’

New UNESCO award for Bath … and a warning on Stonehenge

AS if one weren’t enough, Bath now has two UNESCO world heritage site accolades. It’s been listed as one of the Great Spa Towns of Europe.

The list comprises 11 towns in seven European countries, including Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, and Italy.

‘All of these towns,’ explains UNESCO, ‘developed around natural mineral water springs. They bear witness to the international European spa culture that developed from the early 18th century to the 1930s, leading to the emergence of grand international resorts that impacted urban typology around ensembles of spa buildings such as the kurhaus and kursaal (buildings and rooms dedicated to therapy), pump rooms, drinking halls, colonnades and galleries designed to harness the natural mineral water resources and to allow their practical use for bathing and drinking. Related facilities include gardens, assembly rooms, casinos, theatres, hotels and villas, as well as spa-specific support infrastructure. These ensembles are all integrated into an overall urban context that includes a carefully managed recreational and therapeutic environment in a picturesque landscape. Together, these sites embody the significant interchange of human values and developments in medicine, science, and balneology [the study of medicinal springs and the therapeutic effects of bathing in them].’

Good … all Bath Council has to do is ensure an ‘overall urban context that includes a carefully managed recreational and therapeutic environment in a picturesque landscape.’

Picture – The Great Bath © David Kernek

Meanwhile, could Stonehenge be stripped of its world heritage site status?

UNESCO has confirmed that Stonehenge could be stripped of its world heritage site status. It’s concerned that a road tunnel, backed by the government, would irreversibly damage an area of ‘outstanding universal value’.

A report to UNESCO’s world heritage committee setting out concerns about the £1.7 billion A303 road tunnel was approved unchanged on Thursday. Unless the designs for the two-mile tunnel are changed, the committee recommends placing Stonehenge on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites in danger next year.

Bath to lose Regency Laundry

BATH’S Regency Laundry (pictured) is to bring its 125 years in the town to a close in October, when it will move ten miles to Corsham, Wiltshire.

Managing Director Stuart Calder says the laundry needs more space, which isn’t available at its Lower Bristol Road site.

He says: ‘Our new premises give us the opportunity to spread our wings and allows us to invest in class-leading technologies to further advance the quality service offering you expect from Regency. We’re expecting all of our magnificent team to come with us and we’re working with them on the logistics of the re-location.

‘We will be dual-running both our current and new site for most of 2021 and be fully moved to Corsham by the end of the year. The sale will not negatively affect our operations whatsoever; we will continue to deliver the finest quality laundry and dry cleaning services to leading businesses across the South West.’

Covid impact on council’s capacity warning

WITH Covid case rates in Bath & North East Somerset among the highest in the South West, council leaders have issued a warning about the impact on key services facing the authority. 

Covid rates have increased dramatically over the last few weeks and are well above the English average. With the government’s lifting of restrictions they are expected to climb further. The seven-day rate per 100,000 population in B&NES was, at July 15, 650.9 and the comparable English rate on same day was 473.5 per 100,000. There were 12 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the RUH. There have been four notified Covid-19 deaths from the RUH this month. 

Council leader Kevin Guy said: ‘The lifting of restrictions coupled with the lack of guidance from the government is seeing case numbers rise rapidly and this is having a direct impact on our own services. The council’s capacity is at breaking point after 16-months of Covid response. This coupled with long-term lack of funding for local government is bringing local authorities including ours to a critical moment.  Despite the pandemic, we have delivered an on-budget outturn in 2020/21, with a slight improvement to our predicted end-of-year accounts. However, further financial challenges lie ahead if the third wave is followed by a fourth wave. Unless additional grant funding is forthcoming from the government, we will continue to face severe financial challenges posed by the pandemic.

Covid impacts on the workforce are affecting services including waste and re-cycling where the council is having to run a six-day service to manage a backlog.   

Will Godfrey, Bath & North East Somerset Council chief executive, said: ‘Public services are facing an existential crisis with increased demand coupled with the impact on workforces associated with the ongoing Covid pandemic. We are seeing a critical impact on the short-term capacity to deliver our services. We already have staff self-isolating even though we have worked hard to minimize the impact of this, and we anticipate this will increase as case numbers climb rapidly.

‘We will continue to prioritize services for our most vulnerable residents but we may have to take short-term action to reduce some service as we focus resources where they are needed most.’

World heritage status: A warning from Liverpool

WITH news from Liverpool comes a reminder that UNESCO world heritage status cannot be taken for granted. UNESCO has scrubbed the city from its World Heritage status list after a United Nations committee found developments including the new Everton football stadium threatened the ‘authenticity and integrity’ of the historic waterfront. 

The city was named a World Heritage Site in 2004, joining Venice, the Taj Mahal in India, Egypt’s Pyramids and Canterbury Cathedral.

The UNESCO body was asked to make a decision after a report said ‘inadequate governance processes, mechanisms, and regulations for new developments in and around the World Heritage property’ resulted in ‘serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes’.

UNESCO warned in 2017 that the city’s status as a World Heritage Site was at risk of being rescinded in the light of planning and development proposals. English Heritage said the proposed Liverpool Waters development would leave the setting of some of Liverpool’s most significant historic buildings ‘severely compromised’, the archaeological remains of parts of the historic docks ‘at risk of destruction’, and ‘the city’s historic urban landscape … permanently unbalanced’.

Plans for Everton’s £500 million stadium were approved earlier this year despite objections from heritage body Icomos, acting on behalf of UNESCO, as well as the Victorian Society and Historic England.

The decision to recommend removing Liverpool’s World Heritage status was ‘painful’, a UNESCO director said. Dr Mechtild Rossler said the city had been warned of its potential deletion from the list for many years.

Bath gets top ranking

BATH is one of the only two English holiday destinations to have made it on to TIME Magazine’s third annual list of the World’s 100 Greatest Places … for folks on holiday.

Why? The citation reads:

‘The southwestern British city of Bath may soon be better known for its pop culture contributions than the ancient Roman baths for which it’s named. Author Mary Shelley created scientist Victor Frankenstein and his monster while living in the city in the early 19th century, and this summer the House of Frankenstein will open and welcome its first guests to brave an immersive exhibition that includes escape rooms inspired by Frankenstein’s laboratory. Elsewhere around town, fans of the Netflix series ¬ Bridgerton, which was filmed, in part, in Bath—have been pouring into the city to immerse themselves in the drama and scandal of the Regency-era romance with new guided tours. There’s no shortage of places to stay downtown, including the Hotel Indigo Bath, a 166-room boutique hotel set in a historic Georgian terrace house, which opened in fall 2020.’

How TIME’S choices were made:

‘The challenges of the past year and a half have transformed our world, and few industries have been as affected as travel, tourism and hospitality. In many ways, our third annual list of the World’s Greatest Places is a tribute to the people and businesses at the forefront of those industries who, amid extraordinary circumstances, found ways to adapt, build, and innovate. It shines a light on ingenuity, creativity, revitalization and re-openings in destinations across the world.

‘To compile this list, TIME solicited nominations of places – including countries, regions, cities, and towns – from our international network of correspondents and contributors, with an eye toward those offering new and exciting experiences.

The result: a list of 100 unique destinations, from the idyllic Portuguese town of Arouca, now home to the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge, to the continent of Antarctica, which this December will experience a rare total solar eclipse. And while it may not be possible to safely visit each place just yet, they’re all well worth reading (and dreaming) about until it’s time, once again, to explore.’

Also on the list … Athens, Beijing, Berlin, Cannes, Christchurch (New Zealand), Denver, Edinburgh, London, Memphis, and Venice.

Picture © David Kernek

Conservatives slam ‘reckless’ council decision to restrict Bath centre access

DRIVERS will be permanently excluded from Bath centre following a ‘reckless’ decision by Bath & NE Somerset Council (B&NES) cabinet members, say Conservative councillors.

At tonight’s cabinet meeting, members agreed to go ahead with proposals to completely restrict access to Bath’s historic centre through the controversial ‘Ring of Steel’ proposals.

The process can now start whereby access to the centre will be restricted 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week for 365 days-a-year. Reinforced bollards and anti-terror street barriers will be erected at numerous places in the centre.

Some of the more controversial proposals have been moderated to allow a degree of access for Blue Badge holders. But these changes, the B&NES Conservative Group says, do not go far enough and will severely restrict the freedoms of residents.

The Tories say these ‘unnecessary’ measures will leave city centre residents unable to park their cars outside their properties, receive deliveries to their doors or be dropped off at their doorsteps by taxis late at night.

Councillor Karen Warrington (pictured) said: ‘The people of Bath will wake up tomorrow morning in a city they no longer recognize. When these regulations come into force, this administration will have turned a once welcoming and vibrant city centre into a no-go zone for residents. The concessions the administration has made for Blue Badge holders do not go far enough and they have given themselves the power to remove these concessions whenever they see fit.

‘Let me be clear – the Liberal Democrats are using the threat of terrorism to further their anti-motoring agenda. This is reckless, cynical, and underhand in the extreme.’