Newark Works News
|Information Sections||Planning Applications|
|Planning update [17/8/08]||Listed Building Consent|
|Recently Published [7/6/08]||New Development|
|Our photo montage [4/4/08]|
|The 19th March DCC [22/3/08]||Public Inquiry [7/9/08]|
|Before the DCC meeting||Dyson withdraws [19/10/08]|
[21/2/09] We have had a good look round the works this week, and the workmen's plant has gone, and the last of the repairs, the replacement of the missing louvre panes have been completed. The building now seems to be weather-tight and wildlife-proof, which is all we asked for (though we would like to see the buildings brought back into use before too long). Our thanks go to the council officers who made all the necessary arrangements to get the emergency repairs done.
[1/2/09] We have been keeping an eye on progress, and have taken some photographs to show what has been done.
There is still work to be done (the top panes in the louvres at the back are still missing, for instance) but the work done so far is encouraging. We will continue to observe.
[25/1/09] We had been pestering the Chief Property Officer, since September about the need for emergency repairs to the Newark Works to keep them weather proof - the gutter at the front overflowed in two places when it rains and there were a number of broken windows and pigeons are entering the building through them, and that pigeon droppings are corrosive so they need to be kept out.
On 6 January 2009, we received an e-mail saying that a contract for the emergency repairs had been arranged and contractors have been seen working at the front of the building. We kept an eye on progress.
So far, the contractors have cleared the mud out of the downpipes and drains, and have put plastic sheeting over the top windows at the front. It doesn't look pretty, but it has effectively kept the pigeons out which was one of the main objects of the exercise. Pigeon droppings are corrosive.
Round the back, a "cherry picker" has been seen in use. A contractor appears to be inspecting the roof and guttering at the back in this picture taken on 21 January. However the broken windows are still visible. It will shortly be the bat breeding season and they will be looking for summer roosts, so we can only hope that the window openings are blocked up before the bats discover them. The building has never before been used as a roost, and it is important for the future of the building that it never is.
[19/10/08] Watchdog has been sent a copy of an e-mail from the applicants asking for the planning applications to be withdrawn, so it is now official.
[12/10/08] In articles in the Western Daily Press and the Bath Chronicle, we read that James Dyson was withdrawing his planning applications for his Academy. The final straw appear to have been the failure to secure Government funding for the remainder of the cost (though as the costs have crept up from £25 Million to £56 Million this does not come as a complete surprise).
At the time of writing this, the formal letter requesting the withdrawal has not been received by the council and until it is, the applications remain extant and the Public Inquiry remains as scheduled. Nevertheless, the council officer has requested that the planning Inspector defers the deadline for papers, so that if the formal withdrawal is received, the council has not invested a lot of money in preparing what may be nugatory work. This seems sensible; James Dyson is not likely to announce to the press that he is withdrawing, and yet proceed with the Public Inquiry.
Watchdog has mixed feelings about this decision to withdraw. On the one hand, public inquiries are expensive and time consuming, so the drain on council taxes (and on Watchdog's manpower) is best avoided. On the other hand, an Inquiry would have reached a set of conclusions that would have guided future decisions. Among the conclusions that we expected the Inquiry to reach were:
• Although there is Government support for Academies, this is subordinate to the requirement not to build educational establishments on a flood plain.
• The council's decision that the benefits of an academy outweighed the requirement for a comprehensive Sequential Test and the Government's policies on flood risk was wrong, and their Vision for Bath assumption that South Quays is suitable for educational purposes is fundamentally flawed.
• The English Heritage advice that the benefit of an academy outweighed their obligations to protect a listed building was wrong.
• The applicant's claim that they have the right to design their own bridge over the Avon is wrong, and that such authority rests only with British Waterways.
• The assumptions made by both council and English Heritage that a building in the wrong style, in the wrong materials and oversized for the location would not affect the setting of a World Heritage Site were wrong.
Unfortunately, unless there is another test case in the future, such unequivocal rulings will not be made if this inquiry does not take place.
After Dyson made his announcement, according to the Chronicle, another developer is interested in the site. We wait with interest to see what happens next.
Meanwhile, we have reported to the council some damage to the building. One is vandalism, where a window has been smashed and pigeons have been seen flying in and out. If bats choose to roost there it will make it difficult to do anything with the building in future. The other is nature, where weeds have taken root in the guttering and blocked it, so that when it rains the water overflows and splashes down the front of the building, and there are signs that this is eroding the mortar. In the absence of any response from the council, we have notified SAVE for their "Buildings At Risk" register.
On Sunday 21st September, on Radio 4's "Broadcasting House" programme there was a news item lasting about 10 minutes on the Dyson Academy. For copyright reasons, and because of the sheer size of a sound file on an internet page, it cannot be reproduced here.
One thing that stands out is that those speaking against the proposals (our chairman, the Bath Society and the Environment Agency) emphasised the objections to building it there. Those who spoke in favour (James Dyson, actor Simon Shepherd speaking as a parent, and a governor of Hayesfield School) emphasised the benefits of the Academy in Bath. The point is that the objection to the plans is not about whether the Academy should be built, but whether it should be built on a flood plain, doing so much damage to a listed building, and in a style which will affect the environs of a Conservation Area. But it doesn't matter how many times we say that, the pro-Dyson lobby don't want to listen.
Listeners to the programme will also have noticed some misconceptions in James Dyson's contribution. He claimed that the site is derelict when we know that it isn't, it is just empty because the council wanted to offer it with vacant possession.
He claimed that the site hasn't flooded since 1937, yet we have photographs from a number of years (like this picture from 1954, where the tall chimney near the centre of the picture belongs to the Newark Works and an enlargement of the picture shows that the water level is well above its river bank), and some of our members have personal memories of flooding there in 1960 and 1968.
He pointed out that by raising the site by 2 metres it puts it above the flood risk and it will never flood, which entirely misses the point that the location is a flood plain, and by raising it above the flood level, it increases the flood risk elsewhere because the displaced water has to go somewhere. PPS25 makes this absolutely clear that this outcome is unacceptable, and if James Dyson hasn't been informed of this by Buro Happold, then they are not advising him of the true facts. The next lowest point down the river is the Grade I listed Norfolk Crescent, so that is where there would be a greater flood risk if the Dyson Academy is built.
He accused planners of overstepping their remit, yet their remit is to enforce Government policies. Whilst it is Government policy that academy schools should be built, it is not Government Policy that academy schools should be built on a flood plain. It is also not Government policy that an academy school should justify the virtual destruction of a listed building when other designs could have left it intact. The only planners overstepping their remit are the B&NES Development Control Committee members (Cllrs Beath, Crossley, Curran, Kew, Organ, Veal and Willcox) who thought that their opinion was more important than Government policy, even when the planning officer's brief left them in no doubt what this policy was.
It was an interesting broadcast, demonstrating yet again that that James Dyson still fails to understand why he chose the wrong site for his plans.
[10/8/08] On 6th August 2008, GOSW wrote to the Planning Office to report that the Secretary of State has decided to call in the decision on the Dyson Academy.
On Saturday we received an e-mail from somebody who had studied the exact text of that call-in letter, to alert us to the ambiguities it contained, which he was pursuing. The heading on the letter referred only to 07/01034/EFUL, with no reference to the Listed Building Consent application 07/01044/LBA, leaving that application in limbo. Also the reference to listed buildings and world heritage were in the paragraph about PPS25 (flooding policy) rather than making them separate objectives.
[17/8/08] On Tuesday morning we received a copy of the corrected and reissued call-in letter and this corrects the ambiguities. We have no residual concerns about the reissued wording, and this is the full text of that letter.
So what happens now? The Planning Inspectorate, who will mount the Public Inquiry, is an independent organisation. They will have to source their own experts with at least two areas of specialist knowledge: flood risks and historical environment. It will be the decision of the Planning Inspectorate how to manage this, but in the past any Inquiries requiring two very different skills have seen them provided from two different people: one would be the Inspector holding the inquiry, the other an Assessor advising the Inspector. There will be at least three parties putting forward their case: the applicant; the council; and the Environment Agency. English Heritage could be invited to attend by the Inspector. But there is scope for others to be involved, such as The Victorian Society (concerned about the listed building) , British Waterways (concerned about the bridge and the riverside path), or ICOMOS-UK (concerned about the World Heritage Site). It will be some time before exactly what will happen becomes clear.
We will be watching with interest what approach the council takes. On the one hand their "Future for Bath Vision" which has influenced decisions even though it has no formal status, proposed that "South Quays" should be part of the city's "Smart Quarter" (which is why Dyson and Bath Spa University first showed their interest in the Newark Works site). On the other hand, the Officer's Report to the Development Control Committee explained very clearly why the Dyson Academy which is the subject of the planning applications was not a suitable development for that site from both a heritage and flood policy perspective, and this report was reinforced by the Environment Agency who (as an unprecedented gesture) sent officers to the meeting to explain in person what the Government policy was. The fact that a small majority of the Development Control Committee then thought they knew better than their experienced officers will be particularly relevant to the Inquiry. It will be interesting to see how confident Cllrs Beath, Crossley, Curran, Kew, Organ, Veal and Willcox are that their reasoning remains sound. On their heads rest the responsibility for the drain on the council budget this Public Inquiry will cause.
Of course, there is now a lot of press coverage where James Dyson and others scatter blame around for the current situation, but as both he and the the council have known since June 2005 (according to the documents submitted for the planning application) that Government policies do not support this development in this location, they actually only have themselves to blame. Meanwhile, the cost being quoted for the Academy is escalating, so that originally public funds were going to cover half of the £25 Million cost of the Academy with the James Dyson Foundation providing the other half, but the latest figures quoted indicate that this proportion has changed to four fifths of £56 Million (quoted in the press in early August 2008) met from public funds and one fifth being met by the James Dyson Foundation.
[7/9/08] Watchdog has decided that it will take an active part in the Public Inquiry, and have now registered that intention with the Case Officer. An initial letter describing the scope of Watchdog's intended submission has been sent, and preparations for the fully detailed line of argument are in hand.
A reminder of what would be lost
Cycling through: As it is today and What would be demolished, and What it would eventually look like
Demolition codes: and
[29/6/08] We have been informed that GOSW have issued an Article 14 Directive and Holding Letter to the council (and we explain these below). We regard this as good news, because it means that GOSW will not be rushed into a decision.
So what are they? When the council refers planning applications to GOSW, by default the council can assume after 21 days have elapsed that if the Secretary of State has not made a decision within that time, then the council is free to decide the planning applications without further hindrance (and the committee had already decided it was mindful to permit). However, within the legislation under which the council refers applications to GOSW, there is provision for GOSW, on behalf of the Secretary of State, to remove that default. That is an "Article 14 Directive" for a planning application and a "Holding Letter" for a listed building application. By issuing these documents to the council, the Secretary of State extends the period in which a decision will be made. There is now no time limit. This allows as much time as is necessary to for the Secretary of State to consult the Environment Agency, British Waterways, English Heritage or any other organisation that is considered relevant.
It remains to be seen what the decision will be, but at least we now know that it can be properly researched, and that is good news.
We are offering here the relevant documents relating to the GOSW submission until they are placed on the council's on-line service.
The environmental statements, sequential test etc documents referred to in the original submission are available on the council website, as are the officer's reports.
[22/6/08] Whilst we know that the people who put the council planning documents on-line are very busy, something as important as the Newark Works submission would have been given priority. Apparently not. So as a temporary measure so that the general public know what has been said, we have placed links to the main documents in the box on the right.
Logically, these planning applications should now be called in for a public enquiry. However, the Secretary of State's track record for making decisions for Bath that comply with the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 is appalling, so this cannot be taken for granted.
We are advised though that if GOSW does not call the decision in for a public enquiry, the Environment Agency has the right to ask for a judicial review of that failure to act, and also the right to challenge in the courts any planning permission granted by B&NES in the face of the Environment Agency's opposition. We will watch what happens with interest.
[15/6/08] In the correspondence sent to GOSW (see box above right) was a letter from the Planning Officer explaining the reasons why the applications were being referred - if the case of the Listed Building application because of the amount of building fabric to be destroyed; and in the case of the Planning Application because no agreement had been reached with the Environment Agency over the flood position.
The correspondence admits that the plans have been reviewed and "minor inconsistencies" have been corrected, which skirts around the fact that Watchdog informed each member of the DCC before the meeting that the two applications were different (see the meeting description below), and that committee rejected a proposal to defer a decision to resolve issues and opted to recommend approval of both. Surely if they deliberately and knowingly approved applications with differences that had been specifically brought to their attention, they intended to do just that; and amendments to remove differences afterwards should be referred back to the Committee? This is particularly so when the so-called minor amendments completely invalidate the Transport Assessment, which was a key document in the Full Application, and has not been updated.
The correspondence also fails to mention that the bridge over the river has no agreement with British Waterways, and British Waterways have said they will not grant the necessary licence to allow it to be built, which makes a mockery of the plans for using it. The plans for using it now include providing access for emergency vehicles, in spite of all the drawings referring to it as a pedestrian bridge. In reality, neither pedestrians nor cyclists can use a bridge that cannot be built so all such assumptions in the Transport Assessment are invalid.
The correspondence claims that the scheme is supported by English Heritage, when the true facts are that English Heritage would accept the changes to the listed building if such changes allowed the Environment Agency to approve the flood protection proposals. But the changes didn't gain the support of the Environment Agency, so the English Heritage support lapses.
The record of the Environment Agency's objections is little more than a chronology of what happened when. It makes almost no reference to the fundamental disagreement that the Environment Agency had - that Government policy is to deter inappropriate developments in areas prone to flooding, and the Agency should not be expected to find ways round the restrictions because that policy is inconvenient. And as far as the applicant's flood scheme is concerned, the flood compensation area allocated is on the vulnerable area of the flood plain, so would already be underwater by the time it was expected to be needed. So no flood compensation is really provided - it is all smoke and mirrors.
So GOSW has received a set of weasel words that are not worth the paper they are printed on. We can only hope they recognise that and act accordingly.
Writing for Private Eye, "Piloti" was critical of the scheme.
The changed documents
[8/6/08] We have found on the 07/01044/LBA documents list an acknowledgement from GOSW for the papers submitted on 27th May. Also among those documents are two new photo-montages and a drawing showing the existing front and rear elevations.
On the 07/01034/EFUL application there is no similar acknowledgement, but GOSW have confirmed by e-mail that the papers were received on 6th June. According to the planning website there are new drawings. Amongst those are an attempt to change the site boundary, so that the new boundary omits the riverside path but includes more of Green Park Road and the Lower Bristol Road, and now included the 1905 Machine Shop (immediately west of Thomas Fuller's building). However the revised drawing showing the External Realm Design Plan still shows the original site boundary! The same drawing also omits the coach parking that is shown in other diagrams but not mentioned in the Traffic Analysis.
As these drawings have been introduced after the DCC made its decision, it follows that the planning applications are no longer those that were approved on 19th March. Furthermore, the revised drawings have been date stamped 22 May but only appeared on the council website on 5th June, and neither the Listed Building set nor the the Full Application set have been offered for public comment before the papers were sent to GOSW.
Don't be concerned by the photo-montages. They have no real relevance in a planning application (it is the text and drawings that define what is planned). Generally speaking photo-montages are offered from the most attractive viewpoints to persuade people that what is planned might not be as bad as the drawings suggest. The view from Beechen Cliff submitted by the applicant puts the gasometers in the background, but tourists go to the Beechen Cliff viewpoint to photograph the Royal Crescent. Look at our animated montage at the top of this page and our animated view from Beechen Cliff looking towards the Royal Crescent further down this page and you will see that from a different angle the proposals don't look so innocuous. We have sent our photo montage to UNESCO.
[24/5/08] In an e-mail on 23 May 2008, the Planning Officer confirmed that "the website" (he didn't clarify whether this was 07/01044/LBA or 07/01034/EFUL or both) would be updated to show the papers that are being sent to GOSW. He claimed that little of this would be new or of particular significance, apart from a list of conditions should approval be granted.
Elsewhere in that e-mail was an outline of what had been discussed with the Dyson team. That included replacement plans to align the two planning applications, and the news that the Dyson team refused to reduce the damage to the frontage because the Environment Agency wouldn't negotiate with them. [Sour Grapes, anyone?]
On a point of procedure, if there are new drawings, we think that they should be offered for public scrutiny. The devil is in the detail, as they say, and we are not prepared to take it on trust that no other changes have been sneaked in and no other contradictions have been created. Nor do we think the new plans are valid, because the Development Control Committee were mindful to approve the originals, and it cannot just be assumed that they would approve any replacements, no matter how probable it might seem. They delegated the production of the approval paperwork to the Officer; they did not authorise him to assume that they would change their mind.
The DCC were fully aware that the plans were inconsistent because we informed each member by e-mail before the meeting. So they made their decisions in the full knowledge that they were inconsistent, and we have to assume that such was their intention. It now look as as though the Local Authority is now trying to conceal from GOSW the shortcomings of those decisions. It is unacceptable to do that outside of the planning process. So we maintain that any replacement plans or drawings must be offered for both public consultation and formal acceptance before they can be submitted to GOSW as a valid part of any submission.
We will be writing to GOSW to point out that all replacement documents are invalid, unless consultation takes place.
As far as the list of conditions are concerned, they include restrictions associated with the use of the bridge, which carefully ignores the fact that British Waterways have said they will refuse to issue a licence to build it. They include requiring plans to protect the fabric of the listed building during development "to safeguard the character of the listed building". [What a sick joke that is - see our animated graphic at the top of this page] Another condition requires the preparation of a Flood Event Plan, which carefully ignores the anomaly that the flood compensation is illogical: you can't provide space as compensation in an area that would already be underwater by the time it is needed. Other conditions include control of contamination, protecting bats, any archaeology that might exist and protection of the public from dust and noise during development, and control of light spillage afterwards, all of which are perfectly reasonable.
However, the conditions also include the production of a travel plan for approval. Yet a Transport Assessment was provided as part of the planning application and that included a travel plan (which was aligned to the original plans) and the DCC approved it, so this is another example of sneaking changes in through the back door without public consultation. The possibility that a new travel plan might render the design unacceptable must be taken into account.
All in all, this looks like a fudge. We have some sympathy for the Planning Officer because the DCC decisions placed him in an impossible position, but that does not mean we will forgive him if he ignores the planning regulations in order to paper over the cracks. Consult first, then submit please.
[18/5/08] On 14th May, the case officer gave a further update on the Dyson Academy report on the "Matters Arising". Again, we made notes.
Following his last briefing, he had done as he was asked and tried to get the Environment Agency to engage with the Council and the Dyson Foundation in consultation via e-mail. He showed the councillors the letter he had written to the Environment Agency. He told the councillors that negotiations had broken down; he had received a response from the Environment Agency stating that the Environment Agency had sought legal advice, were not prepared to discuss the matter, and would leave it up to GOSW.
Then he informed the Committee that they had resolved any residual problems the Council had with the proposals with the Dyson Foundation and that as a result of this, he would be submitting his brief some time next week. He said that all this would have benefited from the attendance of the Environment Agency. [In our view, it would have also benefited from having planning applications that were consistent and not two that were mutually exclusive. We shall be checking the papers sent to GOSW to ensure that this has been honestly represented.]
Cllr Kew said he still found the EA's approach "incomprehensible, that they were not prepared to solve what was, in essence, a mere engineering matter", proving once again that he would rather show his ignorance than actually read and understand what PPS25 sets out to achieve.
Here is a clue, Cllr Kew: it is not, and never was, an engineering matter, no matter how many times you claim it is. If you still find this incomprehensible after all that has been said, then you should resign and make way for somebody who can understand what the Government policy is.
The Previous Month
[19/4/08] On 16th April, the Development Control Committee met again.
We quote from the minutes without comment at this stage, and leave you to make up your own minds how well you think the councillors who voted in this way (Cherry Beath, Paul Crossley, Gerry Curran, Les Kew, Bryan Organ, Martin Veal, Steve Willcox) assessed the plans and studied the heritage policies.
The minutes of the 19th March Development Control Committee meeting were agreed as a true record of what took place. According to those minutes:
• The DCC, by a majority vote agreed that the proposed development would not be detrimental to the Conservation Area/World Heritage Site/listed buildings and would in fact enhance and promote the World Heritage Site. The benefit to the community resulting from the development would outweigh the risks of flooding; the proposed new bridge would be a welcome part of the development, and, with regard to the loss of existing office space, Members felt that high quality educational facilities should take priority over office accommodation in this location.
• The reasons for granting listed building consent were considered to be that the proposed development would improve and enhance the listed buildings, the World Heritage Site and the City centre in general. The development would retain the facade of the listed building and was preferable to the site remaining unused. Members felt that these factors mitigated the loss of listed building fabric.
At the meeting of the Development Control Committee on 16th April, the Planning Officer gave a 15 minute verbal update on the current position. We made notes:
The committee were reminded of what they had agreed - that they were minded to permit both applications.
They were reminded that because their decision went against Government policy that it had to be referred to the Secretary of State via GOSW and that GOSW were aware that the DCC decision would be conveyed to them.
There was more work to be done by the Officer before he sent his submission to GOSW.
The Officer confirmed to the committee that there was to be a meeting the next day between himself and senior members of the DCC, the Dyson Foundation and a representative of English Heritage. This meeting would discuss:
(i) How the proposal will deal with the flooding issues e.g. evacuation procedures and the relocating of pupils to higher levels of the building to await rescue in the event of flooding.
(ii) Possible reduction of the loss of listed material. Both council Officers and EH would like to retain as much as possible, but the committee was informed that there was a significant doubt that this could be achieved.
(iii) How to control the level of illumination and light pollution, which could perhaps be achieved through conditions.
(iv) A list of conditions that would be acceptable to GOSW.
It was confirmed that the Environment Agency would not be attending this meeting and had refused to suggest a list of conditions that would lead them to withdraw their objections. The Officer felt that as this was a technical briefing it would benefit from their attendance, but they had made clear to him the reasons why they could not.
The Committee members were then invited to speak.
To save Cllrs Veal and Curran waiting for a response from the EA, we invite them to imagine a reply along these lines:
The Environment Agency was established to advise on Government policy regarding flood risks. It was not empowered to negotiate relaxations of this policy nor to seek ways to circumvent it.
The EA has made it abundantly clear that the vote of a few councillors on a local council does not and cannot change Government policy, and has no intention of wasting its valuable time on those who cannot understand that.
Cllr Veal said he was horrified at the approach of the EA and found their continued opposition to the scheme "incredulous" and that a strong letter of condemnation should be sent to them saying that as they the DCC were in favour that the EA should drop its current approach and work with the Council to find a solution. Cllr Kew seconded this with support from the others who were minded to permit. They then tasked the case officer to contact the EA.
The case officer explained that he felt that the EA had made their position perfectly clear in their correspondence that their attending the meeting could be interpreted as 'tacit approval' as they object in principle to any educational establishment on this site and to the approach adopted in relation to the sequential tests, and that their task is to advise the Secretary of State as to why their objection based on PPS25 cannot be overruled. He also stated that he felt sure that the EA had fully thought out their approach.
Cllrs Veal and Curran then suggested that the EA be made to give their reasons for not attending. The case officer stated that as they maintained their objection in principle there was little benefit from them attending.
Because the case officer was specifically tasked with contacting the EA by the committee, he will no doubt discharge that duty. We think he is wasting his time though (see box on the right).
We note that there was no discussion on the bridge, even though the last communication from British Waterways was that they would not be granting a licence to construct the bridge, based on the plans submitted to the DCC.
On 17th April, the day after the DCC meeting, a technical briefing took place, where the Planning Officer and key members of the DCC met the applicants and English Heritage. We are hopeful that as a "technical briefing" some minutes might be produced, but the feedback we have received so far is that no changes were discussed, and the offer from the applicants was of "helpful explanatory documents" only.
Watchdog will be keeping a close eye on what happens next. If there are any intentions to alter the plans after the DCC had made their decision, then such alterations must be offered for public comment. Deals done behind closed doors will not meet the Government guidelines on public involvement in planning applications; and while the EA maintain their insistence that these planning applications have not followed the Government policy described in PPS25 (which is our belief too), mere explanatory documents are not likely to be effective.
Meanwhile, we have noted that the wording of the English Heritage comments on the planning applications ("If the creation of the arcade would overcome the Environment Agency objection, we would concede the loss of the plinth") and have sought clarification from the Environment Agency on whether their objection is overcome. The EA have confirmed that their objection remains, and that they are not in a position to negotiate any relaxation of Government policy. Logically then, it follows that English Heritage do not concede the loss of the plinth, and we are trying to get them to confirm that.
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In Private Eye, Issue 1207, out from 4th April, the Nooks and Corners column features a scathing attack by 'Piloti' on English Heritage and the Dyson design. The text is not on-line and copyright originally prevented me from reproducing it here, but Private Eye have now given me permission to add it to this website for a year. Read the article here.
The draft minutes of the meeting have appeared on the council website. Noticeably, the minutes emphasise the RISKS of flooding, conveniently overlooking the advice from the members of the Environment Agency that the Government POLICY was that the question of risk enters into the discussion ONLY after the Sequential Tests have been properly completed, and the EA view was that they had not been. Therefore, it was the Government's policy that an educational establishment could not be in Flood Zone 3, REGARDLESS of any risk reduction measures that might be considered.
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From Beechen Cliff there are views over most of Bath. This animation (which will take about 4 minutes to load through a dial-up connection) is based on a real photograph from there, and demonstrates the impact of the Dyson Academy if it is built. The size, shape, and sheer visibility is sadly all too obvious when presented like this.
Tourists with a camera with a slightly wider angled lens will get more in their photographs, but the Dyson Academy will still be prominent.
Note that this view includes Royal Crescent, Lansdown Crescent and Somerset Place, so many will want to take this photograph.
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Before the committee were two planning applications, one for Listed Building Consent, and one for New Development. They also had a Planning Officer's Brief, jointly written by the Major Projects Officer and the Conservation Officer, which ended with a strong recommendation that the applications should be refused.
Two and a half hours later, the committee had decided by 7 votes to 5 that they were mindful to permit both applications, but realised that because they had ignored the advice of a statutory consultee (The Environment Agency) in reaching this conclusion, the decision would have to be referred to the Secretary of State. The Planning Officer was tasked with preparing the arguments for the Secretary of State, taking regard of the views of the Committee.
After the statistics on how many public comments had been submitted in favour and against the applications, the Heritage Officer explained the importance of the listed building from both an architectural and industrial heritage viewpoint, and explained the listed building status, that the primary building was the Newark Works, listed Grade II, but the associated buildings - the Foundry building, the 1905 Machine Shop, the Boiler House etc were all "curtilage listed", which means that they too are listed buildings because of their proximity to and group value with the main building. He also pointed out that if the Dyson Academy is built attached to the primary building, that too will become Grade II listed because of its proximity.
There were four speakers against the applications:
• Tony Crombie from the Bath Society reminded the committee of the degree of destruction of the listed building, the fact that the Academy building would be too big, uncharacteristic of the area, and in the wrong scale and materials to fit into its surroundings.
• Alan Morgan of the Bath Preservation Trust expressed his concerns about the effect on an important listed building and the flood assessment, and concerned himself about the risks to the children, so while he confirmed that the Trust was in favour of the Academy, he recommended that the decision be deferred for six months while a more suitable design was investigated.
• Alan Aldous spoke on the flood risk assessment, pointing out that it failed to reflect Government policy and explaining exactly why it was logically flawed; in some detail he explained why this development would increase the flood risk elsewhere along the river.
• Kirsten Elliott read Stephen Mark's notes, pointing out the irrelevance of the Urban Regeneration Panel's criticism of the Environment Agency flood risk concerns because the Environment Agency exactly followed Government policy, and reminded the committee that both the listed building and its architect were revered abroad, and as a World Heritage Site that overseas interest was important.
There were three speakers in favour of the applications:
• Sir James Dyson explained the rationale behind the Academy, the international climate that led him to the need for it, the source of funding and the fact that the council convinced him three years ago that this was the right location for it. He admitted that the site posed problems to be solved, but did not say what they were or how they would be solved.
• Alan Travers, on behalf of Buro Happold emphasised his flood risk experience, claimed that Buro Happold had found it impossible to discuss the flood risk assessment with the Environment Agency, and claimed that they had successfully used a similar flood risk approach on other projects (which were not specified).
• Andrew Davis, representing the Head Teacher's Association, emphasised the need for education to look forward, and expressed his concerns that the Academy might go elsewhere if these plans were not approved.
Only the statement from Buro Happold needs further comment. If there really was a problem communicating with the Environment Agency, why does paragraph 3.2 of the latest Flood Risk Assessment document describe the level of consultation between Buro Happold and the Environment Agency, with no hint of criticism? Elsewhere in the planning files are the minutes of a meeting which the Environment Agency and Buro Happold both attended, in which the Environment Agency emphasised the importance of conducting the Sequential Test thoroughly before any Exception Test is considered (the exact message the Environment Agency gave to the committee). So Alan Travers's statement to the committee and Buro Happold's papers submitted to the Planning Office cannot both be true.
Exceptionally, two members of the Environment Agency attended and addressed the committee. They explained how flood risks should be addressed, and reminded the committee that the Government policy on what can be built on a flood plain is intended to deter inappropriate development, not be treated as a challenge to find ways to circumvent the rules: Government policy is not negotiable. They frankly did not believe that for a National Academy, South Quays was the only possible site.
Paul Crossley spoke first. He spoke from typed notes, so obviously he had decided what to say in advance of all the public comments to the committee. He started by saying that he had received a large number of e-mails and had read them all and taken them all into account, even though he had not replied to any of them. Unfortunately for Cllr Crossley he failed to understand the significance of the Watchdog e-mail or he wouldn't have moved to approve an impossible situation, see "The Nonsense They Voted For" below! He went on to say that on the basis that the future will be knowledge based, and that the Academy made a positive contribution to that goal, he moved to overrule the Officer's advice and grant permission.
Eight other councillors spoke. Although they did not all say which way they would vote, from what they said it appeared that four were in favour of granting permission and four were against. Geoff Webber reminded them at the end that the committee had the option to defer the decision if they were mindful to permit, to enable negotiations to take place to make the applications more acceptable, and that in any case, by overruling the objections of the Environment Agency, a statutory consultee, any decision to permit would have to be referred to the Secretary of State. Cllr Crossley moved to reject that suggestion to defer, instead placing the onus on the Officers to secure approval through submissions to the Secretary of State if the vote was to permit, and that secured enough backing by a simple show of hands.
The Chairman, Les Kew, asked for a show of hands for the motion to permit. Six hands went up. The Chairman then said that he had perhaps miscounted and could the hands be shown again. Seven hands went up. Whose was the extra hand? The Chairman's, Les Kew. How could he possibly have miscounted himself? Clearly he didn't, so did he change his mind to avoid being left with the casting vote? Then five voted against. So the motion that the committee was mindful to permit and tasked the Officers to represent their views to the Secretary of State in order to have planning permission granted, was passed.
The vote (in alphabetical order):
FOR: Cherry Beath, Paul Crossley, Gerry Curran, Les Kew, Bryan Organ, Martin Veal, Steve Willcox.
AGAINST: John Bull, Eleanor Jackson, Malcolm Lees, Carol Paradise, Brian Webber.
The Nonsense They Voted For
We wonder whether those voting in favour of these applications read the papers? If they did, then clearly they did not understand them. Because the following is the nonsense that the committee have now tasked the Planning Officer to negotiate through the Secretary of States office.
A Bridge across the river, which the drawings on both applications show as a pedestrian only bridge, as does the FUL application text. The LBA application describes this as an access bridge for emergency vehicles, without explaining how a fire engine, for example is expected to either climb a flight of steps, or else negotiate a wheelchair ramp containing a sharp turn that is not as wide as a fire engine is long. If by some miracle the vehicle does get across the bridge, it arrives at a pedestrian area of the site with insufficient room to turn round, and no means of reaching the majority of the building. Furthermore, as British waterways point out in their comments on the planning application, no bridge can be erected without a licence from them, and they are not inclined to grant such a licence without changes to the planning application. But as the committee voted to permit rather than to defer, any change to the application now to meet the demands of British Waterways will need to be a new application with a new public consultation period. Effectively, what the committee have voted for is the absence of bridge.
A Coach Park on the north bank of the river in the FUL application and on the south side of the river in the LBA one. By voting to approve both LBA and FUL applications, they have voted for two coach parks, which will affect the rainwater runoff figures and invalidate the Flood Risk Assessment. Furthermore, if the coach park is built on the north bank, council enforcement officers will be obliged to demand its removal because it contravenes the LBA application, which specifically states that there is no coach park on the north bank. If the coach park is built on the south bank, council enforcement officers will be obliged to demand its removal because it contravenes the FUL application, which states that the coach park is on the north bank and the south bank contains only a dropping off bay. Effectively, no coach park can be built on either side of the river without raising a new planning application and starting a new consultation period.
A Cycle Path that links to the bridge (which can't be built, remember) on the west side of the building according to the FUL application, and along the north of the building according to the LBA application. Again, whichever one is built, council enforcement officers will be obliged to demand its removal because it contravenes one application or the other. Effectively, no cycle path can be built.
A Pedestrian Crossing across the Lower Bristol Road that is in one position in the FUL application and in a different position in the LBA one. Again, whichever one is built, council enforcement officers will be obliged to demand its removal because it contravenes one application or the other. Effectively, no pedestrian crossing can be built.
Given that the two planning applications are mutually incompatible, we wait with interest to see what the Planning Officer submits to the Government Office of the South West. If he succeeds in producing a document that doesn't make the Development Control Committee appear to be completely stupid (those who voted against excepted), then we are inclined to give him five loaves and two fishes to see what he can do with them! If the Officer is struggling for words, we suggest the following.
In total ignorance of the details contained in the planning applications, without a thought to the impact on a world famous listed building in a World Heritage Site, completely against the advice of the experienced staff in the Planning Office, and despite staff from the Environment Agency attending in person to state categorically that the plans are unacceptable because they contravene Government flood policy, the majority of the Development Control Committee voted to permit two mutually incompatible planning applications that do not have in place the necessary approvals of the controlling agencies to allow them to be delivered. Can I suggest that these applications are now subject to a full public enquiry led by an experienced inspector, because B&NES has proved incapable of making sound decisions, and should not, under any circumstances, have the decision referred back to them.
Meanwhile, given that Councillors Beath, Crossley, Curran, Kew, Organ, Veal and Willcox have demonstrated that they were incapable of evaluating the consequences of ignoring the Officer's advice, we recommend that they resign from the Development Control Committee to make way for others who might have a better grasp of the complex issues on which they vote.
What Happens Next
Immediately after the decision, we informed UNESCO. They replied that the decision is unexpected and unwelcome and they will consider carefully what their reaction should be. We also informed British Waterways who will also consider what to do next, but they confirmed that no bridge can be built without a license from them, and granting planning permission does not change that, nor force them to provide a licence.
Clearly, those in favour of the Academy will be using whatever contacts they have to try to massage approval through, though how that can be achieved when the two applications are incompatible is not immediately obvious. If any new documents are accepted by the council to try to align the two applications now that the decision has been made on them we shall complain to the council and then to the ombudsman about the lack of public consultation.
For our part, apart from the press comments that we have been asked to supply, we shall take a few days to study all the anomalies in the decisions that have been made, and then discuss how best to bring the Development Control Committee's foolhardy decisions to the appropriate organisations.
We have established that GOSW have changed staff, and David Brown has replaced Phil Warry as the contact point. We are advised not to send our comments to GOSW yet, because until B&NES send their report to them, they will not open a file, so there is a risk that anything provided early might not be correctly associated with the council report. We understand that the council report is not likely to be ready before mid April at the earliest.
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The National Heritage Act 1983 created English Heritage and tasked it to:
(a) secure the preservation of ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England,
(b) promote the preservation and enhancement of the character and appearance of conservation areas situated in England, and
(c) promote the public's enjoyment of, and advance their knowledge of, ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England and their preservation.
PPG15 is the Governments advice to Local Authorities on how planning decisions should be made when they affect the historical environment
PPS 25 is the Governments advice to Local Authorities on how planning decisions should be made when they include an element of flood risk. Annex D states "Only where there are no reasonably available sites in Flood Zones 1 or 2 should decision-makers consider the suitability of sites in Flood Zone 3"
For the 19th March meeting of the Development Control Committee the Officer's report advises the committee to reject the applications. We think the Officer's Report is sound and well argued (in particular, examine the box on the right which identifies what English Heritage should be considering), and we hoped that the committee members have the wisdom to refuse planning permission. There will be other options for an academy (see below) but unless the current applications are rejected, there is no incentive to investigate them. Even Building Design the architect's on-line journal, expected the plans to be rejected.
Those of us who live in Bath become accustomed to what is around us. We know that we live in a World Heritage Site, but rarely give a thought to what the world thinks of our city and what we allow, through planning permissions, to happen to it. Until, that is, the world reminds us of our responsibilities. So the arrival of an e-mail from Victoria University in Canada that provides just such a reminder, is a salutary lesson to us all. Please read it. We have copied it to DCMS and UNESCO.
[22/2/08] On 21 February, members of the Watchdog Committee met with representatives of the Dyson Foundation to clarify exactly what their plans are, because the two planning applications are inconsistent. The transport assessment still talks about the coaches using a lay-by on the north side of the river, yet the Listed Building Application now shows the coach park alongside the Academy building, and the supporting correspondence for those drawings says that the coach parking on the north side of the river are no longer needed, and the removal of the need to lay tarmac improved the flood risk. They cannot both be true! No replacement flood risk analysis has been provided either, so this remains a site with an unacceptable flood risk, according to the current documentation.
We ended up even more confused when the assurance was given at our meeting that the upper floors of the new building would no longer overhang the Newark Works building, yet all the relevant drawings lodged still show that it does. Given that planning approvals, when given, list the drawings on which that decision is based, then we must believe that the drawings are true and the assurances are false unless replacement drawings are submitted.
We did take that opportunity provided by the meeting to point out that by puncturing the facade to make arches, the plans created an ideal environment for rough sleepers to spend the night sheltered from the rain. We also pointed out that photographic evidence from the past showed that the Lower Bristol Road starting to flood before the river had got high enough to overflow the bank behind the Newark Works, so demolishing parts of the plinth would provide a path for the water to enter the site from the road, increasing rather than reducing the flood risk.
The other point that we made is that because the Dyson Academy was no longer required to occupy the site alongside another development, it did not have to damage the Fuller building at all.
A mirror image of the development planned would place the Academy behind the 1905 workshop, which is of less architectural merit. The current plans show the 1905 workshop completely untouched, and as we discovered at the meeting, it would eventually be converted into business units, so a mirror image places the structural damage along this 1905 extension, leaving Thomas Fuller's gem unscathed for use as business units. It is also possible to retain the Foundry Building too. We are not specifically recommending the use of a mirror image in preference to a proper reassessment of what might be suitable, but it does demonstrate that there is no need to damage Fuller's building at all. This becomes particularly relevant when it is recognised that the design life of the Academy is 60 years, and yet Fuller built for longevity, so that there is rather more than 100 years life left in his structure. What would become of an internationally important listed building with its plinth destroyed, when the reason for that destruction has been demolished as life expired? Neither the council nor the Dyson Foundation are likely to pay to have it restored to original, so it would either be demolished completely or remain as a permanent reminder of the folly of the current plans.
As for flood relief, there is no need for tall arches, when rectangular low-level ducts can carry sufficient water. And those ducts could run through the 1905 workshop, which has no pennant stone plinth.
Whether there is any desire to follow such suggestions remains to be seen, but meanwhile it is essential that objections are made to the decision to approve the current proposals, which are inconsistent, and inappropriate treatment for a listed building.
[3/2/08] Unannounced, the Newark Works listed building planning application has been updated with a comment from English Heritage. The author, Chris Smith, is already the subject of a formal complaint to English Heritage because of his previous advice on another planning application that failed to comply with the National Heritage Act 1983 (see box top right), and this latest advice is similarly unlawful. Nothing in the legislation under which English Heritage is supposed to operate gives English Heritage permission to look for excuses not to recommend preservation of listed buildings.
Yet effectively Chris Smith argues that bringing the building back into use is so important that it justifies the destruction of most of it, and the destruction of most of the facade is justified by the reduction in the flood risk to the Dyson Academy when built. The reality is that before the council broke its own planning policies to evict industrial businesses, the building was in use and could have continued to be so. If the vacant premises were advertised for industrial businesses, it could no doubt be occupied again, and without destroying much of the fabric, and PPG15 makes it clear that preserving the original use of a building is far more important than a new, albeit more profitable, use.
Industrial premises are permitted in that location, according to the guidelines on flood protection in PPS25, whereas educational establishments are not unless all other possible sites with a lower flood risk have been examined and rejected as unsuitable (this is called the Sequential Test). So by failing to oppose the partial demolition of the Newark Works, arguing that it thus affords additional flood protection for an academy, Chris Smith once again demonstrates his inability to understand the legislation he is supposed to enforce. His assessment is rubbish, in simple terms. Watchdog has therefore escalated their complaint against English Heritage to DCMS, and will report both DCMS and English Heritage to the Parliamentary Ombudsman if the complaint is not taken seriously.
[9/2/08] After several days when the council's on-line website has not worked, it now shows four new drawings (actually, two new drawings at two different print sizes), plus a letter from Buro Happold explaining that an updated Sequential Test will be produced, which is interesting, because no complete Sequential Test documentation has been made public, although there was a token gesture in the planning documents. (We speculate that the update will probably be equally unconvincing, but we will be assured that it is everything that we need.)
The new drawings show the same building for the Dyson Academy, with the same plans for the Newark Works to remove the Victorian windows and remove the plinth below them as were in the original planning application (see below). The changes take advantage of the absence of the Bath Spa University building which previously shared the site, to remove the coach parking on the north side of the river into the site of the Academy. The cycle and pedestrian ramps have also been removed to provide flood compensation space.
Because there were drawings made available and then withdrawn last August, here is a quick reminder of the current plans for the Newark Works.
Fuller's original design
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The site was intended to be sold to Bath Spa University, the highest bidder. It was a puzzle why they tendered for the land though, because all the obvious uses a university might have for it are ruled out by the flood regulations, in the same way that Dyson's were. Clearly they realised this, because they eventually withdrew their tender, leaving the Dyson Foundation as the only extant bid. That bid has not yet resulted in a land sale, and Watchdog does not expect the land sale to take place unless planning permission is granted first.
The listing of the Newark Works early this year provoked a rethink of the plans to demolish them, but the revised scheme by architects Wilkinson Eyre (who also designed the "Busometer" to replace Churchill House) is equally controversial because it virtually destroys Thomas Fuller's building. In Building Design, a journal for architects, the controversy is briefly mentioned in their article "Spot-List Delays Dysonís Design School by a Year". The Newark Works would be reduced to a shell Dyson's plans go ahead in their present form, in spite of it being a Grade II listed building. Nevertheless, the planning applications 07/01044/LBA and 07/01034/EFUL have been lodged and will be decided in due course. Dyson's website continues to announce it too. The original scheme shared the land behind the Newark Works between the Dyson Academy and a building for Bath Spa University, which forced Dyson's architects to use the eastern end of the site, leaving Bath Spa University to design something for the western end. This shared use proved problematical, and Bath Spa University finally decided they could not share the location, at which point the council invited tenders for the whole site. That brought another set of complications, see box on right.
The Dyson planning application had stalled because a comment from the Environment Agency must be received for a building on a flood plain before the application can be decided. Meanwhile, the model for the building lies forgotten under a table in the public area of the Council Planning Office gathering dust, so the pictures on this page will remind you of the horror planned.
After the recent floods in Hull, Barry, Gloucester, and a number of other locations, it is difficult to imagine the Environment Agency agreeing to building an educational establishment on the Avon flood plain and so close to the river. However, the length of time this application has been waiting for a response from the Environment Agency suggests that intense negotiations are going on in the background, trying to persuade them not to reject the site.
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- Newark Works - Last updated 15 June 2014.
- Watchdog has been given a brief overview of a project named "Craneworks" which describes itself as as having the rather ambitious aim of developing "an international model of creative collaboration" which would "connect technology, engineering, advanced materials, and digital production with art, design, literature, and film." Whilst that sounds complex, the underlying idea is much simpler, to couple design and invention with the means to develop prototypes and models, and with the arts and crafts that can bridge the gap between initial idea and a promoted product, all on a single site. The site chosen is the Newark Works, or at least those buildings which front the Lower Bristol Road.
- The Documentation on the Project and the Press Release are due to be released on Monday 16 June. We are jumping the gun slightly with our announcement the night before, but it is close enough to the official announcement that we don't think that the project team will mind if we offer a first impressions view of the overview we were given.
- The logic of a multi-disciplinary site looks sound: some of our members who have worked in creative employment believe that some of the best ideas arise when people chat and relax, in kitchens while waiting for a kettle to boil perhaps, or over lunch in on-site canteens. Putting all the innovation facets in one place maximises these possibilities. When used by Stothert and Pitt the Newark Works site housed administration, a canteen, design, prototyping, manufacture, component storage, assembly and testing, so there is a historical precedent for the multi-disciplinary approach proposed by the Craneworks team. The overview included the expectation of public access to some of the facilities, which might encourage the young to consider a future career in innovative activities. This aligns with the aspirations for the site given in the draft Core Strategy.
- Watchdog's main concern is the impact on the Newark Works site and the listed buildings on it (because the listing isn't just for the Thomas Fuller's 1857 building but extends to give a strong group value to the 1905 extension to it and the other industrial buildings. The Craneworks approach is to use the entire 1857 building and the 1905 extension. The best protection for a listed building is to retain it in regular use, and this project if it goes ahead would do that. It is a pity that it could not also use (and therefore preserve) the other real rarity on the site, the latrine block; and the foundry building has an impressive presence on the site too. However we can only consider the ideas for the buildings chosen.
- Ultimately the view we take will depend on the details of what works are proposed, but first impressions are that the ideas are sensitive to the location: the exterior will remain largely unaltered, and the ideas for the interior appear to be flooring and partitioning that do not conflict with the original building structure. Our first impressions are that the designs are sympathetic and worthy of support, and we hope that Watchdog can be involved in the preparation of the more detailed designs as they emerge.
- Once the official announcement documentation is available we may have further information to express an opinion on.
- "Craneworks" - Last updated 22 June 2014.
- The Chronicle item on the plans has been published and an information brochure for the Newark Works proposal is now available online. This gives a good insight on how the project aims to use and benefit from the space, and it reflects the overview we were given, on which we commented below. Our only slight reservation is that the current buildings have an even roof height and some of the sketches indicate one part taller than the rest which hopefully is casual use of graphics rather than a firm intention (which would run into listed building problems because it would change the character). The scheme has attracted some support from the business community according to a further Chronicle item.
- One stumbling block is the apparent determination of the council to support some BMT proposals for the site without examining critically the practicality of those ideas. Despite flood mitigation measures already announced (which effectively only increase water storage and not floodwater throughput when as the Somerset Levels proved, it is the throughput which is the critical issue), long-term local residents know that the Lower Bristol Road is as much at risk from water run-off from the southern hills as rising river levels, and river improvements alone may not be the whole solution. Also, the policy of the Environment agency is that new buildings in flood risk areas are not acceptable if there are other less risky places to build; convenience and land availability do not outweigh this. The Craneworks are safe enough from Environment Agency scrutiny because their plan is to reuse existing buildings. According to the Chronicle item, BMT are proposing housing (which clearly would not use the existing buildings), and any attempt to grant that new housing planning permission will almost certainly end up with the Environment Agency calling in the decision for a Public Inquiry, in the same way as the Dyson School was. Council taxes should not be squandered on wishful thinking, and no deal should be made with BMT until it can be shown that their plans are demonstrably deliverable. Leaving the site unused for a while longer while the risks are realistically assessed, both for BMT and Craneworks (the first for compliance with planning law, the second for funding), is good husbandry.
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