Yesterday I was in Bath for a meeting of the Bath and North East Somerset council Development Control Committee. We have been campaigning with local residents and supporters from ‘Response2Route’ and Save Bathampton Meadows against council plans for the Bath Rapid Transit Scheme.
This scheme involves the creation of a new park and ride development, new roads and a new fleet of bendy buses to take visitors to Bath from the car park to the city centre.
The problems were highlighted to me some months ago by local campaigners Helen Samuels, Tony Lees, Jo McCarron and John Weston. Visiting the site, I couldn’t believe the council would meddle with Bath’s wonderful architecture in the first place. In this job I visit all sorts of places and Bath ranks as one of the most aesthetically pleasing locations in the country.
Discussing the plans with local campaigners, I found out how badly put together the BRT scheme is. At yesterday’s DCC meeting we were given the opportunity to put our objections to the committee who would decide the fate of the BRT. Or not, as the case turned out to be…
The objections to the plan are pretty simple to explain - there's a gaping hole in the council's budgeting for the BRT, which means Bath's residents could face tax hikes to fill the void. The council haven’t budgeted for the extension of the Newbrigde car park. Wessex Water contest the council’s estimates for engineering costs to the sewage system, valuing the proposed changes at well over £800,000 above the council’s estimates. The proposed new route will sweep away vast amounts of residential garden space, reducing property values as well as lumbering them with a higher council tax bill when the funding black hole becomes clear to the council..
The authorities in Bath should have been more cautious about these plans. With memories of the Bath Spa disaster (£30 million over-spend and 5 years late) all 20 of the objectors made their points to the DCC.
As the planning officer went through the plans, his talk went from being descriptive to overtly propagandistic. Giving us reason after reason, laughed out of the room by local residents present, he even had the temerity to say that the recession meant the BRT scheme was necessary.
How unbelievable! In our polling with ComRes we found 67% of people believe government over-spending has caused the recession. Furthermore as has been pointed out, and as I stressed in my talk, the recession means there won’t be a pot of money from central government to bail out the council as its costing underestimates become apparent. There’s talk of cuts in departmental budgets and with councils up and down the country clamouring for their share it means there’s a real threat of higher taxes if the BRT went through.
With our 2 minutes of allotted time, each objector made their point. Come the vote, our side won by 6 votes to 5. However, that wasn’t the end of it. Taking a nod from the ‘EU handbook of spiting Democracy’, the committee were asked to vote again, this time explaining why. This second vote resulted in a tie and has been described in local reports as a complete farce.
So the fate of the BRT still hangs in the balance. But with a vote against the plan and a tie on the record, we have managed to fend off that ‘yes’ vote that would have condemned Bath residents to a higher tax bill and an unpopular development.