Bath's wasted millions

October 05, 2011 12:30 PM

A slab of pavement, a chronically underused bike scheme and an electric van trundling around the streets of Bath delivering goods to just a handful of shops are just some of the questionable benefits derived from a taxpayer funded scheme costing millions of pounds.

My attention was first drawn to this waste of money when I saw Boris-Bike-style stands going up at four locations across the city of Bath. After the first week of this trial scheme, these bikes have proved to be a dismal failure.  Only 29 people have signed up to use the bikes, making a total of 36 trips. This is far less than the predicted 210 trips per week hoped for on the scheme’s website.

This is partly due to the complexity of the scheme itself.  One local found it a far from ‘pain-free process’ of registering for a bike pass at the Tourist Information Centre. It involves  paying a subscription up front of £9 for a daily card and £13 for a weekend card. ‘By comparison,’ said the local resident, ‘in London the daily access charge is £1, or £5 for seven days. I really do not think this level of charging is going to encourage Bathonians to make use of what is a fantastic facility.’

Fantastic or not, Bath is a very concentrated city that can be easily walked around—the ultimate in low pollution, high personal health transport. But that would be too cheap. The backers of this bike scheme have a much bigger vision in mind.

It is part of a bundle of measures pulled together under the umbrella of ‘Civitas Renaissance’. Alongside four other European cities, Bath is being used as an experiment for improving local transport and the urban environment. The total cost of this package of policies in Bath is expected to be €7 million, with €4 million of this coming from the European Commission's Civitas initiative, that is, the European/British taxpayer.
It is funny how a taxpayer-funded project can sound so grand to begin with and then end up ending spending money on initiatives like a slab of pavement. But this is no ordinary slab of pavement—it is the St James Rampire demonstration area ‘designed to enhance the urban realm.’ In reality, it is wilderness of pavement that is ludicrously wide and dominates the street to an ugly and environmentally unfriendly degree. And yet Civitas claims this as a success, saying it has ‘Improved perceptions of personal safety and security against a 2010 baseline.’ Well, there you go!Civitas Renaissance,’ claims its website, ‘aims to demonstrate how the legacy of the Renaissance can be preserved and developed through a renaissance of innovative and sustainable clean urban transport solutions.’

Another scheme is ‘Freight Transhipment’, that is an electric van that takes goods pooled together from a warehouse on the edge of the city and then delivers them to businesses inside the city’s narrow streets. Not a bad idea actually, but again this has not been met with much enthusiasm. Only five retailers have signed up to the delivery scheme business, far less than the anticipated 30 businesses.

Far more futuristic is the ‘Personal Rapid Transit’ system that involves passengers zooming around Bath in a pod on a ‘guideway network’, similar to the system running at Heathrow Airport. ‘As the system is emissions free, it is an excellent alternative to the bus, train or car,’ says Civitas, but is such a system really appropriate to the historic streets of Bath? I think they would face an uphill battle with that one.

So far, Bath & North East Somerset council has presented this project as a victory for Bath residents, bringing in outside investment, even if it is just shifting taxpayers’ money around. But the reality is that B&NES is matching the incoming European grants with its own expenditure. So all this under-performing nonsense is costing the local taxpayer. B&NES budget for 2010/11 reveals that £381,000 of EU grant was matched by £388,000 of B&NES Local Transport Plan expenditure. In addition to this, comes at least £438,000 from central government funding spent in 2009/2010.

Some of this money is paying for the usual freebies enjoyed by bureaucrats as they are shuttled around Europe to see how our cash is being spent. In 2008, Bath and North East Somerset Council hosted a two-day Civitas transport workshop in which delegates from four other European cities visited Bath to hear the then Leader of the Council announce ‘we all welcome the opportunity provided by the Renaissance project to bring about much needed improvements in the quality of life for our citizens.’ As millions of our money is spent on questionable and disappointing schemes, we are still waiting to see any real improvement to our streets…

Tim Newark, Bath and South-West TaxPayers’ AllianceA slab of pavement, a chronically underused bike scheme and an electric van trundling around the streets of Bath delivering goods to just a handful of shops are just some of the questionable benefits derived from a taxpayer funded scheme costing millions of pounds.

My attention was first drawn to this waste of money when I saw Boris-Bike-style stands going up at four locations across the city of Bath. After the first week of this trial scheme, these bikes have proved to be a dismal failure.  Only 29 people have signed up to use the bikes, making a total of 36 trips. This is far less than the predicted 210 trips per week hoped for on the scheme’s website.

This is partly due to the complexity of the scheme itself.  One local found it a far from ‘pain-free process’ of registering for a bike pass at the Tourist Information Centre. It involves  paying a subscription up front of £9 for a daily card and £13 for a weekend card. ‘By comparison,’ said the local resident, ‘in London the daily access charge is £1, or £5 for seven days. I really do not think this level of charging is going to encourage Bathonians to make use of what is a fantastic facility.’

Fantastic or not, Bath is a very concentrated city that can be easily walked around—the ultimate in low pollution, high personal health transport. But that would be too cheap. The backers of this bike scheme have a much bigger vision in mind.

It is part of a bundle of measures pulled together under the umbrella of ‘Civitas Renaissance’. Alongside four other European cities, Bath is being used as an experiment for improving local transport and the urban environment. The total cost of this package of policies in Bath is expected to be €7 million, with €4 million of this coming from the European Commission's Civitas initiative, that is, the European/British taxpayer.
It is funny how a taxpayer-funded project can sound so grand to begin with and then end up ending spending money on initiatives like a slab of pavement. But this is no ordinary slab of pavement—it is the St James Rampire demonstration area ‘designed to enhance the urban realm.’ In reality, it is wilderness of pavement that is ludicrously wide and dominates the street to an ugly and environmentally unfriendly degree. And yet Civitas claims this as a success, saying it has ‘Improved perceptions of personal safety and security against a 2010 baseline.’ Well, there you go!Civitas Renaissance,’ claims its website, ‘aims to demonstrate how the legacy of the Renaissance can be preserved and developed through a renaissance of innovative and sustainable clean urban transport solutions.’

Another scheme is ‘Freight Transhipment’, that is an electric van that takes goods pooled together from a warehouse on the edge of the city and then delivers them to businesses inside the city’s narrow streets. Not a bad idea actually, but again this has not been met with much enthusiasm. Only five retailers have signed up to the delivery scheme business, far less than the anticipated 30 businesses.

Far more futuristic is the ‘Personal Rapid Transit’ system that involves passengers zooming around Bath in a pod on a ‘guideway network’, similar to the system running at Heathrow Airport. ‘As the system is emissions free, it is an excellent alternative to the bus, train or car,’ says Civitas, but is such a system really appropriate to the historic streets of Bath? I think they would face an uphill battle with that one.

So far, Bath & North East Somerset council has presented this project as a victory for Bath residents, bringing in outside investment, even if it is just shifting taxpayers’ money around. But the reality is that B&NES is matching the incoming European grants with its own expenditure. So all this under-performing nonsense is costing the local taxpayer. B&NES budget for 2010/11 reveals that £381,000 of EU grant was matched by £388,000 of B&NES Local Transport Plan expenditure. In addition to this, comes at least £438,000 from central government funding spent in 2009/2010.

Some of this money is paying for the usual freebies enjoyed by bureaucrats as they are shuttled around Europe to see how our cash is being spent. In 2008, Bath and North East Somerset Council hosted a two-day Civitas transport workshop in which delegates from four other European cities visited Bath to hear the then Leader of the Council announce ‘we all welcome the opportunity provided by the Renaissance project to bring about much needed improvements in the quality of life for our citizens.’ As millions of our money is spent on questionable and disappointing schemes, we are still waiting to see any real improvement to our streets…

Tim Newark, Bath and South-West TaxPayers’ Alliance

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