Editor : David Kernek (kernekdavid@gmail.com)

Bath rental housing costs higher than London’s

HOUSE and apartment rents in parts of Bath are higher than London levels, according to a survey by Inventory Base. Housing costs here – on average £14,460 a year or £1,205 a month – can take more than half of annual salaries compared with 46% in London and 38% in Bristol.

The 10 UK cities with the highest rent to income difference are, with rent as a percentage of income in brackets:

  1. Winchester – £15,600 rent, £29,000 salary (53.79 per cent)
  2. Bath – £14,460 rent, £28,000 salary (51.64 per cent)
  3. Oxford – £15,600 rent, £31,000 salary (50.32 per cent)
  4. Brighton – £13,140 rent, £28,000 salary (46.93 per cent)
  5. London – £17,220 rent, £37,000 salary (46.54 per cent)
  6. Norwich – £10,812 rent, £26,000 salary (41.58 per cent)
  7. Chelmsford – £11,388 rent, £28,000 salary (40.67 per cent)
  8. Salford – £8,700 rent, £22,000 salary (39.55 per cent)
  9. Cambridge – £12,012 rent, £31,000 salary (38.75 per cent)
  10. Bristol – £11,940 rent, £31,000 (38.52 per cent)

For those looking to buy in Bath, the forecast isn’t good. According to Zoopla, the average house price paid in the last year was £522,768, up by 6.78 per cent on last year. To get a house in Bath, a 5% deposit of £26,159 and an annual salary of £110,391 would be needed.

Bath centre security zone plan … decision delayed

THERE are times when the sound of cans being kicked down the road by politicians and bureaucrats is to be welcomed. The decision by Bath Council’s cabinet not make a widely-publicized final decision on its seriously controversial City Centre Security proposal at its meeting on June 23 could be one such occasion. It’s been put off until a cabinet meeting later in the year.

The proposed city scheme would see measures introduced allegedly to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks in the historic centre. These would include a ban virtually all traffic and parking – including Blue-Badge vehicles and taxis, plus:

  • Strict vehicle access restrictions for delivery vehicles within the city centre’s most crowded streets
  • Access points operated 24/7 by the council’s CCTV control room
  • Re-enforced static and sliding protective bollards

Councillor Manda Rigby, cabinet member for Transport, explains: ‘Our priority is to keep the public safe and we know there is also a balance to ensure accessibility.  We now have the benefit of a detailed independent accessibility study, we have listened to consultation feedback and to the police.

‘Taking all this into account, we need more time to consider this balance so we can better meet the needs of the public. For this reason a report on City Centre Security will be coming to a later cabinet and not on June 23 as we had anticipated. We have asked for comments on the accessibility report and consultation by June 1 and we still want to receive these.’

The proposals attracted more than 520 responses from residents and businesses, with a majority opposing the scheme. Many objections were about the adverse impact on disabled residents and visitors, and others asked why it was thought bollards and barriers would be problems for terrorists planning attacks on foot or by cycles.

The 60-page accessibility study and consultation feedback report documents are available online at https://beta.bathnes.gov.uk/bath-city-centre-security-consultation-update

Police station hope for Bath

AVON & SOMERSET’S new Police & Crime Commissioner, Mark Shelford, has talked about his ideas for restoring a ‘significant’ police station in Bath, but warns that it will be a long term project.

The only police presence in the centre of Bath currently is a part-time enquiry desk in Manvers Street, which is being expanded.

But in an interview with SAM.FM radio, the Commissioner says the Manvers Street site is merely a ‘temporary stepping stone’ on the way to a more significant base.

‘We’re working,’ he said, ‘alongside the fire and ambulance services on their site by Cleveland Bridge to see if we can get as part of a proper tri-service a well-organized police station. But my aim is to have a 24/7 contact centre in the centre of Bath, with a very big blue lamp outside that people know they can go to safely to report issues they might have.’

He cautions that he has ‘no idea’ at this stage how long the project would take. ‘It’s a long term process. It’s going to be five years or 10 years, but it is a significant piece of work that needs to be done.’

Bath’s 24/7 police station, also on Manvers Street, was sold to the University of Bath in 2015 for £7 million. The then PCC said the station was too big and expensive to run, and that selling it would protect officer’s jobs.

World Heritage Centre and Roman Baths Clore Learning Centre ... a step closer to opening

BATH’S new World Heritage Centre and Roman Baths Clore Learning Centre (together the Archway Project) has come a step closer to opening, as construction work has finished, and the buildings have been handed over to the council by Beard Construction.

The council’s project team, working with architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, will now focus on the fit-out of the buildings ready for opening later this year.

Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project will provide:

•          A World Heritage centre in York Street with free admission, where people can find out why Bath is so special, and pick up trails and guides to help them explore the World Heritage Site

•          A Roman Baths Clore Learning Centre for pre-booked school and community groups, with three state-of-the-art learning rooms, and a hands-on Investigation Zone set among real Roman remains

•          New areas of the Roman Baths including a Roman gym and laconicum (a type of sauna) which will be brought to life for visitors by projections and sounds depicting the Roman spa experience

Mike Hedges, director at Bristol-based Beard, said: ‘It is extremely rare that anybody gets to go to work every day among 2,000-year-old remains, which are literally part of the fabric of our nation’s history. Of course, the Romans were renowned for their innovative building and engineering skills. So as a construction firm with a specialism in the heritage sector, it was a unique experience to work among the remains of their construction work. It is a project that will bring this fascinating part of our history to life for future generations and we’re proud to have played our part in making that happen.’

www.romanbaths.co.uk/archway

Call for Christmas Market re-think

A BATH councillor is calling for a re-think over the location of this year’s Christmas Market.

Councillor Karen Walker (pictured), Leader of the Independents and former Chairwoman of the council, wants to see the market moved from its current location at the Abbey Churchyard to The Royal Avenue.

She said: ‘In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Christmas Market was cancelled last year. Currently located around the Bath Abbey and the Orange Grove area, the space just is not big enough for the near half-a-million people who visit.

‘Cramp passageways and overcrowding means it is impossible to socially distance. If the market is going to attract such large numbers of people, we need to seriously look at moving the event to a bigger space that can accommodate them.’

Founded more than 20 years ago, the Bath Christmas Market runs for two-and-a-half weeks from the end of November until the middle of December.

Coun. Walker believes moving it to the Royal Avenue, with all of the surrounding space at the Royal Crescent and Royal Victoria Park, would be an ideal setting for it.  

It’s expected that the council’s cabinet will make a decision on the idea at its meeting on June 23.

Wanted: The right kind of tourism

THE national tourism agency, VisitEngland, has given Visit Bath and Visit Bristol money for promotions as the two centres re-open to visitors. The money comes from  Visit England’s Destination Management Organisations’ Recovery Marketing Fund – it just rolls off the tongue – along with the customary torrents of hype: ‘Digital Visitor – the UK’s leading strategic digital marketing agency for travel, tourism and hospitality – has been commissioned to deliver a dynamic campaign, which will drive potential visitors to new landing pages on the Visit Bath and Visit Bristol websites, with bookable experiences available direct from the landing pages.’

The ‘dynamic’ publicity campaign – Escape the Everyday – targets domestic visitors, since it’s clear the re-growth prospects for the international travel and tourism market have yet to be seen as encouraging.

Support of this kind has to be welcomed; hospitality and the rest-and-recreation industry has been Bath’s bread and butter on and off for 2,000 years, and its World Heritage status means that it will continue to play a very important part in the town’s life. But every care must be taken to avoid a reversion to the perilous over-reliance on day-trip domestic tourism we saw during the decade preceding the Covid-19 plague.

The endless months and months of the Covid LockDowns followed years of economic change and 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 landed the town then with an existential anxiety, an answer to which has yet to be heard from a local council that has given the impression that it’s been more interested in saving the planet from catastrophic climate change than in developing a local economy that includes sustainable tourism.

That would be an economy that isn’t reliant wholly on day-trippers, the so-called Night Time Economy, and Hen Parties who come here to – what was it? Escape Their Everyday.

Conservatives call on council to scrap Bath ‘ring of steel’

DRACONIAN plans to build a ‘ring of steel’ around Bath city centre must be scrapped immediately, Conservative councillors have said.

The call follows the publication last week of an independent access report and the findings of a public consultation, both of which ‘clearly show how damaging the proposed measures will be to residents and businesses in Bath’.

The proposals involve restricting access 24/7 to the city centre. They also involve erecting reinforced bollards and anti-terror street furniture at numerous places in the city centre. https://www.bathtelegraph.co.uk/2021/05/23/bath-centre-traffic-ban-plan-accessibility-report-studied

Councillor Karen Warrington (pictured) Conservative councillor on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: ‘We’ve been warning the Liberal Democrat Administration of the problems with these draconian plans for Bath city centre since they were first tabled. It’s now crystal clear just how much people will suffer if these measures go ahead, simply to appease the Lib Dems’ anti-motoring impulses.

‘We are therefore calling on the administration to withdraw these plans immediately and apologise to the people of Bath for tabling, at great cost to the taxpayer, such ill-thought out proposals in the first place.’

The Conservatives say the ‘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’.

The restrictions will also result in Blue Badge holders having to park in council car parks rather than outside their homes.

The independent access report questions the ‘reasonableness of excluding vehicles used for the purposes of enabling access’ and states that the increased distance from points of arrival to destinations would result in some people ‘having to endure pain for longer and at higher levels’.

The report also makes it clear that using barriers and hurdles to prevent people from gaining access to city centre locations can significantly affect peoples’ wellbeing, and that increasing the distances between points of arrival to destinations will lead to people with toilet access-related needs not risking a journey.

Of the 522 people who responded to the consultation, around 60% were against the proposals.

One respondent said: ‘The purpose of a Blue Badge is that it allows 2.5 million people to maintain their independence. The proposals do not promote independent living. These proposals remove independence from disabled people.’

Bath centre traffic ban plan – accessibility report studied

THERE has been scant comment so far on the accessibility report commissioned by Bath & NE Somerset Council (B&NES) following the publication of its proposal to ban virtually all traffic – including Blue Badge cars and taxis – from the historic centre on alleged anti-terrorist security grounds. This might in part be because the 60-page report – by Atkins, a design, engineering, and project management consultancy that’s a subsidiary of the Canadian company, SNC-Lavalin, which claims to be ‘experts at mastering complexity’ – is written in a form of English designed to be understood only by management consultants and other experts at mastering complexity. It’s to be hoped that a plain English translation has been given to the councillors who will make a decision on the so-called ring-of-steel package, which comprises:

  • 24/7 vehicle access restrictions within the city centre’s most crowded streets
  • Strengthened secure vehicle access points operated by the council’s CCTV control room
  • Purpose-designed reinforced static and sliding protective bollards and street furniture

Buried in the accessibility report is an assessment that suggests the proposed ban on Blue-Badge cars could be binned: ‘ … From an equity perspective, we would be obligated to question the reasonableness of excluding vehicles used for the purposes of enabling access.  We are of the view, especially following stakeholder engagement, that in order to maintain equity of access that B&NES Council would be best advised to devise security protocols that enable rather than exclude access for Blue-Badge holders if at all possible and, whether by car, by taxi or care organization.’

The report (extracts from which have been edited) takes note of the following factors facing disabled Blue-Badge holders in Bath:

  • Blue Badges are issued only where someone is not able to walk further than 160ft/50m. The [proposed] restrictions would result in people having to travel more than 160ft.  
  • For some blind people this is further than they can reasonably navigate.
  • For some people with mobility difficulties this is further than they can walk; if they could walk further it would involve enduring intolerable pain.
  • Using a car also reduces the likelihood of tripping and falling on Bath’s uneven streets by enabling people to get close to their destination which may not be wheelchair accessible.
  • Some might ask ‘why cannot people use a wheelchair?’  The problem here is that many of Bath’s pavements are uneven, too narrow, and obstructed by street furniture.
  • There are insufficient dropped kerbs. Moreover, wheelchairs would be of little use for blind and partially-sighted people who are able to walk independently.
  • There are significant changes in level across the city if people were to use manual chairs, while obtaining and using powered wheelchairs to make such journeys is not as straightforward as people might imagine. For example, it would appear that Shopmobility is currently located too far from the shops and that take-up in its use may be impacted by the problems posed by the current streetscape.

The report goes into considerable detail about the possibilities for permitting access to Blue-Badge cars, and also the problems raised in doing so:

‘The consistent feedback that we obtained from stakeholder engagement was that Blue Badge holders ought to be provided access and that security protocols be devised around their use. The eligibility and administrative hurdles were seen as potentially being too much of a barrier to what many considered are legitimate and a necessary basis for access. Having heard the testimony of Stakeholder panelists, we would agree that an over-complicated permit system could be a problem. However, what is apparent, is that there would need to be some form of security protocol used by Access and Security staff that could easily link cars and taxis with Blue Badges holders, including occasions when taxi drivers have been asked to pick up a Blue Badge holder. Moreover, there are other vehicles such as those operated by social care service providers, health and social care workers, and meals-on-wheels providers and a service such as, or similar to, dial-a-ride services that ought to be permitted access on a basis other than occupants holding Blue Badges, or at the very least meeting agreed criteria for assistance.’

The shuttle solution?

The viability of electric shuttle transport into the security zone is also examined. ‘It was worth noting that this approach is not uncommon in large transportation domains such as major rail stations and airports where travel distances are known to be too great. It is also reported that Cardiff introduced an electric shuttle service. Even so, points to consider would be as follows:

• How would this effect the viability of Shopmobility and would it work in conjunction with Shopmobility and/or make a shuttle service less or even more viable?

• The Cardiff example utilized golf buggies and many transport domains examples don’t carry wheelchair users in their chairs and consequently it would be wise to explore options that utilized the electric version of the London cab rather than offer a solution that did not include space for wheelchair users.

• Would an electric shuttle service function as a form of timetabled bus service or could they be called upon and/or even booked?

• It might even be seen as a positive attraction and chargeable for use by those without disabilities.

• It may be that if some form of electric shuttle service were provided, this might offer some solutions if there were an exchange point for particular deliveries that other residents might seek.’

The study suggested that permitted access could be given to those who met particular criteria, such as:

  • Holding evidence of their access requirements, such as a Blue Badge or evidence from a doctor that supports a person’s need for a permit (so that those with injuries, awaiting surgery or not otherwise eligible for a Blue Badge can gain essential access, even for a limited period.
  • Satisfying the security services that they don’t present a likely threat.
  • Either living within the proposed security area/zone or immediately outside it (such as those who currently have difficulty accessing bays that are

regularly obstructed by others), or living within Bath and within a pre-determined catchment/hinterland (such that Bath can reasonably be considered as their local city).

  • Regularly working in the proposed security area/zone.  

Security … weighing the risks

The study does not question directly the security assumptions on which the traffic ban is said by the council to be based, but it does record the challenges to those suppositions that have been made by scheme’s critics.

‘It is recognized that Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM) proposals are intended to reduce the risk posed by Vehicle as a Weapon attacks and that the HVM proposals are also part of a layered security system that includes awareness training for front line staff, additional CCTV, temporary HVM measures put into place for events such as the Christmas Market, and the police’s “Project Servator” which raises the presence of police officers in the centre when necessary. However, we would also recommend that the risk perspective also considers the impact of proposals on people over time and the risks that these impacts have on individuals who would be adversely affected. We therefore recommend that whilst it is recognized vulnerability can come in the form of short and well recognized security-related events, overall project assessment takes into account the “vulnerabilities” experienced by multiple people as a result of the detrimental effect on their wellbeing over time. This is because the accumulative result of barriers and hurdles preventing people from gaining feasible access to destinations enjoyed by others can significantly affect people’s wellbeing.

‘Whilst an assessment of security is not our remit, given the pressures placed on accessibility posed by proposed changes (even with mitigations), there are questions that have been raised during public consultation and by those with whom we have talked to, such as:

  • What will the proposed measures do to prevent terrorist attacks that do not involve vehicles?
  • If someone was wanting to introduce a bomb, would they not use other means of entering the area other than by a vehicle?
  • Is footfall the only criteria that terrorists look for, and are not local concentrations of people, such as outside pubs, clubs, places of worship and waiting for buses outside the security area/zone just as likely to also attract hostile vehicles?
  • Is allowing Blue Badge holder access to the security area any more likely to present a risk than any of the above and, if not, then why consider that excluding Blue Badge holders limits the risk if, like water, the risk can be more easily directed elsewhere?
  • Mention has been made of security threat levels and that current national alert levels are at Substantial. Would it not be more reasonable and proportionate if restrictions were related to the threat levels in force at the time and only if the threat went higher than a particular level or there was particularly relevant intelligence would restrictions be increased? And, if threat levels dropped, would there then be scope to lift restrictions? Similarly, if it were known that footfall drops below a particular threshold on particular days in the week or year, could not restrictions also be lifted on these days?

‘We don’t intend to be conclusive by raising these security questions, but believe it important to address the “other side of the coin,” through these questions.’

Decisions on the ‘ring-of-steel’ plan are expected to be made by Bath Council’s ‘cabinet’ on June 23.

E-scooter risk warning, but London starts trials

E-scooter trials are to start in London next month, despite an admission by transport chiefs that they could be 100 times more dangerous than bicycles. A 12-month rental scheme starts on June 7, but a study by Transport for London (TfL), based on US data, found riders needed hospital treatment after accidents every 3.1 years on average, with many suffering head or neck injuries.

TfL said comparisons with the US were problematic, but the number of cyclists killed or seriously hurt in London was 2.7 per one million journeys ‘or roughly 100 times fewer injuries than expected in US e-scooter studies’. It added: ‘Cycling in London would be considerably less risky than e-scooters if these figures were replicated here.’ 

More than 200 injuries to e-scooter riders have been recorded in London in the past two years, according to police, along with 39 incidents of pedestrians being hurt after being hit by e-scooters.

There have been calls for the London pilot scheme, which follows 57 similar trials across the country – including Bristol and Bath – to be halted.

Sarah Gayton, street access campaign co-ordinator at the National Federation of the Blind, said: ‘It is absolutely shocking that TfL is launching yet more rentable e-scooter trials. It is very clear from other ongoing trials in the UK that there are inherent dangers to all pedestrians from how the e-scooters are being ridden. It is pure recklessness for the trials to start in London and we would ask TfL to withdraw from them.’

The scooters – provided by operators Dott, Lime and Tier – will be restricted to six North London boroughs. They will be limited to 12.5mph, should be ridden only on roads, and riders will have to take an online safety course.

Matthew Scott, Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: ‘We’re in danger of… placing additional burdens on policing. Too many people are using them in places they shouldn’t.’