This year TARA has been impacted as has very other organisation by the restrictions imposed on society by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Despite the problems we have managed to continue to find ways of working with Councillors and Officers in the council and maintain links with other key organisations and city centre stakeholders.
In the last year we have been in constant discussion with both BANES and the Bath BID about the management of trade waste and in particular the use of on large on street dumps in some of the most iconic parts of the heritage site many of which appear to lack the correct approvals.
We have continued to lobby for more resources to be given to policing the city centre. We are concerned about the nature of the debate about policing issues as believe we need a much more serious debate about where any additional resources should be spent. For instance, not just creating a new police station but spending on having more and or better-equipped officers, more CCTV coverage or perhaps properly funded programmes to tackle the drug dependence and mental illness that drives much of the theft and anti-social behaviour.
We continue to be concerned about the management of the streetscape and in particular:
For many years we have been campaigning for a plan of action to address the scandal of high levels of pollution poisoning residents, visitors and workers in the city centre. We were pleased when central government funding became available to create a clean air zone and actively participated in the discussions with officers and their specialist advisors in designing the best way to implement it. During the consultation that followed, we actively campaigned that the officers’ carefully consider recommendations should be implemented. Unfortunately, the CAZ became a political football where the voting intentions of North East Somerset took precedence over swift and effective action to stop city centre residents’ health being damaged.
Pollution has a major impact on NHS services in terms of costs and service demand but also in terms of patient outcomes. We have been talking to the BANES Clinical Commissioning Group about the possibility of them becoming more proactive in campaigning for more funding for anti-pollution measures.
We have highlighted the issue of impact assessment for fireworks displays not properly addressing the environmental impact. Big fireworks displays always create a large spike in particulate pollution across the city and most worryingly a spike in the very dangerous PM 2.5 levels.
We have been concern at the behaviour of the National Trust in taking over the management of one of Bath most important community and cultural assets and displacing one of Bath’s and indeed the world’s most important museum collections. Despite repeated requests they have failed to hold any proper consultations with Bath residents and have only conducted some very sketchy briefings out on Claverton Down.
We have continued to assist members in dealing with problems caused by licensed premises and the complexities of licensing law and procedure.
With the invaluable expert assistance of Michael Brett we have responded to a range of planning issues particularly those created by the several major development project underway in the city and in particular the proposed development of the Min site. We also worked with the Rosewell Court residents association on issues around planning policy and HMOs.
City centre issues involving rough sleepers, beggars and street drinkers continue to be a significant problem. In addressing this issue, it is important to be clear that not all or even most of the people involved are homeless. Some are homeless, some are not technically homeless but remain part of the street community some are merely criminals exploiting the generosity of passers by. It is also important to recognise the fear that the behaviour of some of this community generate in vulnerable residents and visitors. There is an ongoing programme of outreach work seeking to meet the accommodation problems of this community and the problems of untreated mental illness, addiction and substance abuse which often underpin them.
However, we are concerned that:
We have been working with both BANES and event organisers to ensure that plans to close streets in Bath have proper consultation processes which ensure that the views of all affected residents and in particular vulnerable residents are understood and taken into consideration.
BANES licensing policy came up for statutory review during this period and we actively engaged with officers to ensure residents issues were taken into consideration and in particular we urged policy which encourage licensees to actively engage with the local community.
One issue continues to be unaddressed in the licensing framework despite our representations to parliament concerns pre-loading. This is where drinkers buy and consume cheap alcohol prior to their night out. Often the symptoms of drunkenness from this practice only become apparent after they have been admitted to licensed premises. Licensees often have, in addition, to deal with the problem of customers smuggling cheap alcohol into their premises which as well as fuelling increased drunkenness hits their profits and therefore damages a sector of the Bath economy. Late night revellers can regularly be seen drinking alcohol in the streets and on public transport in defiance of laws and regulations. Little of this drink is supplied by clubs and bars who are strictly regulated and who's drinks are relatively expensive but it is readily available from supermarkets and off-licenses at very low prices. Off-licenses and in particular supermarkets are in comparison very lightly regulated and under the current legislation, as interpreted by the licensing authority, hard for residents to object to or get conditions imposed on. They also fall outside the scope of the Cumulative Impact Policy.
As usual we attended the AGM of the Rec. Trust. The meeting highlighted the work some of the organisations supported by the charitable work of the trust which was often inspiring and impressive. However, much of the rest of the meeting served to highlight the unsatisfactory nature of the constitutional arrangement for the Rec. and the growing distrust an antagonism between the Trustees and their Bath City neighbours and, in our view, the failure of the Trustees to properly acknowledge or manage these problems and concerns. The AGM is the only official chance the people of Bath get to publicly question the Trustees about their stewardship of the Rec. or their decisions about how they pursue their charitable objectives. Questions were raised about the basis of decisions about how charitable funds were being spent and the trustees priorities. We for instance questioned an apparent assumption that there was little or no poverty in the city centre either in absolute terms or in terms of access to sport and recreation. However, many people had come to question the Trustees about their role as neighbours and custodians of one of the cities most important green recreational asset. Responses to these question fell into roughly two categories:
This latter category raised further concerns about the constitutional arrangements. People naturally asked if their questions where not appropriate to this meeting which meeting would be appropriate. The answer to this seems to be the AGM of the company that manages the charity. The catch here being that you can only attend that meeting if you are a member of the company and the only members of the company are the Trustees.
It is widely known that due to the bizarre way in which BaNES is structured, of the fifty-nine Councillors in BaNES only twenty-six (44%) represent the fourteen wards that comprise the City of Bath. Eleven Councillors, about one in five of the total, have Bristol Post Codes. It is less well known, but apparently the case, that not a single Councillor with the possible exception of Sue Craig (Liberal Democrat, Kingsmead) whose address is not posted on the Council website, lives within in the area covered by the three main city-centre residents' associations, TARA, CARA and PERA which comprise the City Centre Action Group. Could such an imbalance in representation partly account for the sorry state of the heart of our city when compared with peer cities such as York and Chester which do not have the advantage of World Heritage Site status. This serves to underpin, the importance of having active local residents' groups to speak up for the interests of the city centre to the Council. And there is no substitute for having your local Councillor as a neighbour as residents in communities such as Norton Radstock and Keynsham, who having ten Councillors between them. In this connection we were asked to contribute to the debate about the future of the Bath City Forum which has widely been seem as as failure:
Alternatives for moving forwards seem to be:
From the point of view of Bath City centre residents, we would prefer BANES to go down the route of reforming BANES structures. However, if this is considered to be too radical we would support the creation of a Bath City/ Parish Council.
Looking forward some the issues on TARA and the CCAG’s agenda are:
I would like to end this statement by thanking your committee for their hard work on your behalf and the support they have given me. Finally, I have been indicating for sometime that I think it is in TARA’s best interests to appoint a new chairperson and we also anticipate the retirement of a number of key committee members in the near future therefore it is essentially for the future of TARA as an organisation that more members consider joining the committee and taking up officer roles.