Bath is a city steeped in history but it doesn’t stand still, and 2021 is set to be another bumper year for developments that could change it for years to come.
The clean air zone will be the first outside London when it is switched on in March to bring nitrogen dioxide emissions within the legal limit.
Bath and North Somerset Council’s Liberal Democrat administration is pressing ahead with its flagship “liveable neighbourhoods”, but is bracing for stiff opposition, and plans to protect the city centre from terrorists using “hostile vehicles” have also proved controversial.
Yet more student flats are being proposed, while developers that had their plans thrown out could mount appeals.
And in a move that is certain to divide opinion, this could be the year Bath Rugby finally submits plans for a new stadium at the Rec.
Bath’s clean air zone
Four years on from the Government’s order to cut nitrogen dioxide levels in the city, Bath’s £23million clean air zone is scheduled to be activated on March 15.
Some 70 number plate recognition cameras are being installed to monitor the traffic that enters, with daily charges of £9 or £100 imposed on non-compliant buses, coaches, taxis, lorries and vans. Private cars will not be charged.
The zone will operate in the city centre 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
The council was ordered in 2017 to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide in Bath in the shortest possible time, and by 2021 at the latest.
It is offering grants and interest-free finance to eligible drivers to upgrade their vehicles.
More information can be found at www.bathnes.gov.uk/BathCAZ
In December council leaders voted to adopt some of “the most radical changes to transport infrastructure” Bath had ever seen, designed to make it “a connected city fit for the future”.
The Liberal Democrats’ flagship liveable neighbourhoods policy includes modal filters to restrict vehicular access to residential neighbourhoods, improvements to walking and cycling, new residents’ parking zones and more charging points for electric vehicles.
The group has been accused of being “car haters” who will force traffic onto main roads occupied by lower income residents, reducing their quality of life.
The council said the plans will reduce overall traffic levels.
Councillor Joanna Wright said: “For years the council has tinkered around the edges of community problems with ad hoc traffic calming schemes, the odd bollard and strips of yellow paint. Liveable neighbourhoods, for the first time, address the issues faced by communities in a holistic way.
“This will require an inordinate level of political will and will take courage from the politicians as well as communities to take forward these necessary changes.”
The council has worked with Avon and Somerset Police to draw up “proportionate measures to improve security and safety within the city centre”.
Concrete barriers are already in place but these could be replaced in 2021 with a series of static and moving bollards intended to fit with Bath’s character. The measures will protect against “hostile vehicles”, which can be driven at pedestrians, conceal a bomb or contain terrorists.
Under the proposals, all parking in the “secure zone” will be removed and vehicle within the most crowded parts of the city centre will be managed 24-seven. Control room staff will have the final say on who gets through the barriers.
The council is consulting city centre users on the measures until January 15. Visit the Bath and North East Somerset Council website to respond.
Bath Rugby Club wants to build an 18,000-seater stadium at the Rec to replace its existing 14,500-capacity venue.
It had intended to submit finalised proposals early in 2020 but a submission has yet to be made, following a protracted court case.
A “narrow legal point” on whether covenants on the Rec are enforceable is likely to prove a hurdle to future permanent development taking place. The club said in October it was considering its options, which could include an appeal against the ruling.
Chief executive Tarquin McDonald said that the new stadium is “an opportunity to create an amazing development” for the city.
The club’s vision is for a new stadium with a hybrid playing surface and a car park underneath to protect it from flooding.
Opponents have said the stadium will harm Bath’s World Heritage Site and the parking provision is incompatible with the clean air zone and the council’s climate emergency declaration. Some are calling for it to be built outside the city.
Plans to turn Bath’s historic Royal Mineral Water Hospital into a 167-bedroom lifestyle hotel were thrown out in September.
We should see in 2021 if Singaporean investor the Fragrance Group intends to appeal that decision after it drew up £35million proposals to preserve the grade II-listed building.
Recommending approval, planning officers said securing an “optimum viable use” for the Min outweighed the impact on neighbours, who would still have “appropriate living conditions in this city centre location”.
But Councillor Sue Craig, who proposed refusal, said: “I commend the applicants for the compromises to minimise the impact on the building, its setting and neighbours. However, I do have a problem with the size and mass of the extension.”
She said it would be many years before the habitat recovers and the Fragrance Group’s use of “every inch” of land for the extension would be overbearing for Parsonage Lane residents.
A spokesman for the developer said: “We are extremely disappointed by the decision taken by members earlier this year, especially given the positive recommendation for approval we had received from officers following over 18 months of hard work with officers, statutory consultees and stakeholders.
“The proposals for the Mineral Water Hospital represent an important opportunity to rejuvenate the landmark building in a sensitive manner and bring it in to positive use once again. The plans would also deliver approximately £35 million investment in to the city of Bath and create 120 full time jobs, helping to support local growth in these difficult and uncertain economic times.
“We are currently taking time to reflect on the issues that were raised by members and local residents and are considering our next steps.”
Another historic building, proposals have been submitted to turn the Grade II-listed Kelston Park House, three miles east of Bath, into a hotel, restaurant, bar and events venue.
The application submitted by David Matthews from Bath Priory said: “There is great opportunity within the house, gardens and park to restore and add to the heritage value.
“However, this can only be achieved via substantial expenditure.
“Our client has the opportunity to offer this investment should the proposed changes be approved as this would allow a sustainable and viable economic solution.”
The intention is to pass the property into the ‘successful and multi award-winning Andrew Brownsword Hotel group’, it said.
The target decision date of December 18 has passed so the fate is likely to be decided in 2021.
The Watkin Jones Group has created more than 40,000 student bedrooms across the country, including the Depot, Avon Studios and Riverview Court in Bath.
It has submitted plans to redevelop Dick Lovett’s BMW and Mini dealerships in Lower Bristol Road to build 335 student rooms, plus 343 build-to-rent flats.
The application says: “The development will introduce an appropriate, active use on a previously developed site, in a highly sustainable location for the uses that are proposed.
“It will have a positive impact on the Bath Western Riverside area and the city as a whole, through regeneration benefits, townscape benefits, and economic, social and housing benefits.”
The plans also propose some 750sqm of commercial space.
Dick Lovett has planning permission for a new showroom in Melksham, freeing up its land in Bath. Plans for 290 student flats in two five-storey blocks in place of its Mini dealership in Lower Bristol Road were rejected in August.
Another student development, this time for 96 student rooms on the site of Oldfield Park’s former Scala cinema.
If approved, Rengen’s development will preserve the facade of the Scala and create a new hub for Norland College, a world-renowned trainer of nannies for royalty and the rich and famous that currently relies on various sites across Bath.
The Co-op that has been at the Shaftesbury Road site since 1961 is now unfit for purpose and will be upgraded, and Freedom Through Dance’s dance centre will be fully refurbished.
A decision expected in February, some 12 months after the plans were submitted.
Longacre Estates and Watkin Property Ventures could launch an appeal after its plans to demolish the Jubilee Centre and build 121 student flats were denied permission.
The proposals were also set to provide a new HQ for current tenant Mercy in Action, a charity that has continued to support dozens of families through the coronavirus crisis. It had warned that its future in Bath was uncertain without the new base.
We will also see if Guild Living tries to challenge the council’s recent decision to reject its plans for 288 retirement flats on Bath’s former Homebase store.
Councillors criticised the proposed buildings’ six-storey height, aluminium-clad design and impact on the World Heritage Site.