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Bath - A World Heritage Site


News, 2013 and earlier

Bath Quays - Last updated 2 February 2014.
Newly discovered on the council website is a page they call Bath Quays Waterside.  At the moment it just gives the background to what will eventually be a fairly complex project.
We will keep an eye on it, but we are sceptical about the impact of the flood prevention measures described.  There is a mathematical model called "Queuing Theory" which predicts what happens when things arrive at a faster rate than they can be dealt with.  It gives three approaches to managing this situation:  allowing longer queues;  improving the handling of each queued item;  allocating more resources thus dealing with more queued items in parallel.  In the case of flood water, adding another river to the sea (dealing with the water in parallel) is not practical, so that option is discounted.
The method proposed, of raising the banks and widening the towpath is the equivalent of allowing longer queues.  This is very much a local solution, in that a higher water level kept within the banks in Bath implies a higher water level spreading out over a wider area before it gets to Bath, in Bathampton and Batheaston, and a higher water level after it leaves Bath, spreading out in Newbridge Meadows, Saltford and Keynsham.  This seems a selfish "I'm all right in Bath" approach, and it creates problems for the Bath riverside if the water ever overtops the raised bank because the floodwater being a higher level, then covers a wider area.  This is amply demonstrated by the Mississippi where no matter how high the banks ("levées") are raised, eventually the water goes over and the higher the bank, the wider the area consequently affected.
Improving the handling of the queue is a better solution.  If the river could carry more water, then the queue (the potential flood) would not build up so much.  The best way to have the river carry more water is to make it wider (which is not really practical) or deeper:  dredging the flow to the sea.
This does not seem to be the normal policy for the Environment Agency, in that for the Somerset Levels the idea of improving the drainage by improving the river flows was resisted by the Environment Agency, and it took ridicule in the media and finally an announcement in Parliament by the Prime Minister to shift them from that position.  By working in partnership with the Environment Agency, B&NES seems to be foreclosing the best option.  Yet those old enough to remember the dredger which used to work on the Avon will know the large amounts of silt it removed downstream of Newbridge;  and the fact that it has not been seen operating for many years means that a large volume of silt is now occupying space which used to be flowing water.  The council's Rivers Champion has said as much in the past.  With the flow thus reduced, there will come a time when the "queue" of floodwater will build up faster than the river can remove it.  There is a mathematical principle to prove this, and as has been seen with the Mississippi, raised banks will eventually be insufficient protection.
Bellotts Road Bridge - Last updated 26 January 2014.
We reported last week that Brunel's bridge carrying Bellotts Road had been damaged by workmen and that we had reported the damage to Network Rail.  We placed more information and photographs on our Brunel's GWR page.
We have now received a communication from Network Rail's Property Services Group confirming that they were now dealing direct with Sustrans because Network Rail had not given permission for the work to take place.  We will now leave the matter in Network Rail's capable hands.
James Street West - Last updated 26 January 2014.
Among the permissions granted this week was one for the demolition of the office buildings in James Street West that sit alongside the Green Park train shed and run down to (but doesn't include) the former NHS Walk-in Centre.  Part of the justification was that the buildings were designed with a 25-year life which has now expired.  The carbon footprint of the embodied energy in the manufacture and construction will not have been repaid in such a short time which does illustrate the folly of assessing sustainability in terms of insulation and running cost energy rather than the whole life (from empty site before to empty site after) energy bill.  We also make the comparison between James Street West and MOD Foxhill where the 1939 buildings which were expected to have a 15-year life will be demolished in 2014, thus spreading the embodied energy bill over 75 years, a tribute to the traditional construction methods employed.
That aside, we notice that in the planning documentation is the drawing showing that the site contains two buildings, only one of which is empty, the other hosting several small businesses.  We note that demolition was granted on the basis that the current buildings do not make a positive contribution to the Conservation Area.  In appearance terms this is true (which leaves unanswered the question of why they were permitted in the first place), but there is more than physical appearance to be considered.  The occupied building provides a place of work, and nothing in the application documentation proposes providing equivalent office space so that such employment can continue, nor assesses whether the existing businesses could sustain relocation costs and continue to employ the current staff.  Yet the ability of a Conservation Area to provide employment opportunities ought to also be a material consideration.  In the Local Plan we read in Policy ET.2 that "Planning permission will not be granted for developments involving the loss of established office floorspace unless: ... the site is no longer capable of offering office accommodation" and clearly it is or the second building would be as empty as the first.  The planning decision allows both buildings to be destroyed without imposing any condition protecting the occupants of the building in use.
If we can find the above in just a 5-minute search through the council website, we have to wonder why the Case Officer didn't.
Decorative hoardingPump Room - Last updated 19 January 2014.
There isn't much good news this week, so we will start with a pat on the back.  There are building works taking place at the Pump Room, and as is usual with such works there is a need to erect hoardings to keep the public protected from the work in progress.  Usually such hoardings are purely functional, in a plain blue or grey, and detract from rather than decorate the area.
At the Colonnades end of the Pump Room things are rather different.  Some decorative artwork adorns those hoardings, and although not in exact alignment with the wall behind, it is a pretty good imitation of what the hoardings hide.  Full marks to whoever thought of that, and genuine appreciation to whoever created the artwork.  Well done!
Kingsmead Square - Last updated 19 January 2014.

Quote from the document:

The Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) is statutory document which sets out:

  how and when the community can be involved in the planning process;
  what feedback the Council will give following consultation; and
  what will happen to your views in the decision making process.


This is the first of the bad news items.  The plans to turn Kingsmead Square into an "al fresco dining area" with tables and chairs have been amended several times, the final time with documents dated 2 January, though we had to find these ourselves because despite having put in two previous objections, nobody in Planning thought it appropriate to inform us of the new documents.  When revised documents are lodged, the council's adopted Statement of Community Involvement offers at least 14 days for further comments from the public.  Thirteen and a half days after the new documents were filed, and just over an hour before Watchdog's additional comments were e-mailed in, a decision was made.  The Case Officer's report makes interesting reading.
The fact that the plans conflict with the council's own Public Realm & Strategy Policy and the emerging Pattern Book was mentioned in our objections but not in the Officer's Report.  As a planning decision has the force of law and the council is unlikely to ask the Secretary of State for permission to withdraw the consent, we now look forward to examining the necessary amendments to the Public Realm policy, which is an adopted policy and therefore needs public consultation on any changes to it.  We have to wonder why one part of the council seems completely unaware of the significance of what another is doing.
The Urban Design Team and the Historic Environment Team both said originally that there was insufficient information provided for them to make a recommendation and put in a holding objection, yet they were not allowed to comment on the revised drawings and their holding position was ignored.  The Highways Department objected to the plans on safety grounds and the Case Officer minimised these risks with personal views on the traffic density.  This would have been a reasonable thing to do if there was evidence of local knowledge, but there was none:  the concerns over noise affecting residential properties was addressed with reference to the flats in Rosewell Court, when it is local knowledge that the upper stories of many of the premises in Kingsmead Square itself (including Rosewell House) are the nearest and most likely affected residents.  Also ignored was the question of how and when the area would be cleaned:  with tables and chairs permitted from 7am to 10pm, there doesn't seem time for the council's street cleaners to do it and there is no condition attached to the permission granted requiring the applicant to do it.  The seagulls will flock there.
Finally, we are assured that "The revised proposed layout of the tables and chairs will still allow for pedestrian movement through the square and is not considered to cause an obstruction of the existing pavement".  The early reaction from a number of our members is that the drawings do not show that, but given the stated assurance that there is no obstruction, then the area can continue to be treated as an open space and perhaps the existing desire lines will be treated as a challenge to be achieved.  After all, planning permission was granted on that assumption.
The saving grace is that planning permission is just a permission and not an obligation.  If the businesses who are expected to use this area realise the risks that they would be taking asking their staff carry food and drink across a road with limited visibility, and decide that a health and safety prosecution if staff are injured doing so is not worth the risk, then apart from the applicant wasting money moving seats and cycle racks, nothing will change.  And it must be the applicant and not the council that pays, because the formally adopted Public Realm & Strategy Policy does not include such works.
Thai By The Weir - Last updated 19 January 2014.
The Chronicle reported a fire in this Argyle Street business, which apparently started in the kitchen ducting.  The fire was in the basement, and a look through the front window of the now closed premises doesn't show any obvious damage at street level, so it may be that the damage is mostly confined to the basement.  There is no indication in the press whether more damage to the listed building arose from the fire itself (the fire was described as "well developed" and the photos on the social networks show a substantial amount of smoke) or from the large quantities of water used to put it out.
Unlike modern buildings which have a predominance of concrete floors, older listed buildings tend to have a large amount of timber, and the installation of kitchen ducting will inevitably run close to some of it.  Which does suggest that the willingness of Case Officers to approve the use of listed buildings for preparing hot food without a full inspection by the Heritage Environment Team of the proposed ducting routes might lead to similar fires in other listed buildings at some time in the future.
Footnote:  A minor snippet involving another food outlet is the observation that McAvoy's at the bus station is also closed because of a local disaster.  Not a fire though, because McAvoy's did not cook any fried food.  They suffered a flood instead.  So Wilkinson Eyre not only created a much denigrated "Busometer" building, but they put the entrance to its eating establishment at the lowest point in the pavement, without a doorstep, and all the electrical supplies were in the floor.  Another triumph of form over function!
The Rec - Last updated 12 January 2014.
The Rec is in the news again, this time over a challenge to the land-swap scheme favoured by the Charity Commission.  The outcome could have far-reaching effects.
There are some difficult legal questions to be tackled in the hearing.  For instance as a condition of acquiring title to the land, the council is bound by an undertaking to protect a specific piece of land as an open space, and a land-swap does not comply with that agreement, so is the council's ownership still legal if a land-swap takes place?  Also, unlike most charities, the one covering the Rec was not set up voluntarily but under the direction of the High Court.  As far as we can ascertain the Charity Commission did not seek the High Court's agreement to vary the earlier ruling, so by agreeing to a scheme which is contrary to the original Court ruling they may be in contempt of court.
We will watch the outcome of the hearing with considerable interest.
The Future Of Bath - Last updated 12 January 2014.
In the printed Chronicle is a double page spread of different views on the future of Bath as laid out in the Core Strategy, but unfortunately this does not appear to be a single news item but a number of short items revealed by an item search.
Of particular interest to us was the heritage comment.  There is nothing here that we disagree with, but we would add a couple of other considerations:
 •  There have been a number of relatively small scale schemes which collectively add up to a significant number, where a planning application is pursued through to an eventual granting of permission, and then afterwards the site is offered for sale "with planning permission"  The applicant clearly had no intention of building what was applied for, the planning permission merely being a device to acquire an instant profit from the land.  Perhaps if the planning permissions had been granted with a condition that it expired on change of land ownership, development would take place rather sooner, and the need to consider development on the green belt (which the World Heritage Committee regards as Bath's "buffer zone") would not exist.
 •  We also think that there is a real need for a design code that unambiguously recognises the Outstanding Universal Value of a city with buildings of human scale interspersed with open space and green sight lines, so that considerably less time is spent arguing against "build them dense and tall" schemes.  The Core Strategy commits to upholding the values of the World Heritage Site, and it is time that some investment was made into defining exactly what is expected of developers.  Then the definitions should be adhered to by Case Officers making planning decisions.  Similarly, the Bath City Wide Character Appraisal has been an adopted policy (and therefore has the force of planning law)  since 2005, but precious little heed is taken of it in reaching planning decisions, and this attitude needs to change.  Bath is a World Heritage Site because of its homogeneous appearance, and there is a limit to how many brutalist block of flats and architects' flights of fancy that tourist will put up with before the tourist feedback websites announce that Bath has been ruined and it is no longer worth visiting.  A lot of jobs rely on that not happening.
 •  Finally, the freeing up of the MOD sites has been at the cost of some 5,000 Bath jobs which were exported, mostly to Bristol, and whilst additional housing is important, places of employment should be of equal importance.  This needs to be thought through properly, not just following the current assumption that if there is office space available employers will come.  There is currently an enormous amount of empty modern office space behind "To Let" signs along with planning permissions granted for offices which are not being built because nobody wants them, so that assumption is clearly flawed.
Annual Report - Last updated 5 January 2014.
As is customary at the end of each year we have recorded our activities, and the statistics about the readers of our website.  Particularly notable in this year's report is the increase in overseas readers.  Clearly by focusing on World Heritage issues we are meeting a need, and we welcome this readership.  We hope to continue to meet this need in the coming year.
After some rather limited updates over the Christmas and New Year period, this update brings up to date all the new applications, comments on applications and decisions made.  A Happy New Year to all our readers.
Kingsmead Phone Box - Last updated 15 December 2013.
We received a tip-off about an unsightly phone box outside Silcox, Son and Wicks (so actually in New Street) at about the same time that the Chronicle featured it in an article showing the stark appearance of the new box, which incorporates a phone and an ATM.  In that article it reports that the new box has planning permission, and it does, from application 13/03257/FUL.
But when we examined the application, there was no clear indication of what it would look like and the Design and Access Statement includes the assurance "The design of the housing has been chosen to fit in and work with current payphone kiosks. It can sit alongside existing payphones and will not look out of place."  Clearly in hindsight this is not true, but the Case Officer would have found nothing in the application documentation submitted to suggest that there would be sufficient harm to the Conservation Area to justify refusal.  It remains to be seen whether BT will tone down the appearance.
But the onus now rests with BT to keep the telephone functional, because the permission granted was for a "combined public telephone and ATM".  Without a working telephone, there is no planning permission for it to remain there as a free-standing ATM.  Also the Highways Act only allows Deemed Consent for a telephone box or kiosk, and without the phone the local authority has the right to require its removal under that Act.  So Bath only needs to be stuck with it for as long as the phone remains functional.
Walcot Cattlemarket - Last updated 8 December 2013.
There is a news item on the Council website that the council is looking to sell the Cattlemarket site for development.  Whilst there is some opportunity for developing this site, the wording of the item suggests that some things have been overlooked.  For instance the popular Saturday market cannot just be rendered homeless, another site with similar footfall must be found for it.

Riverside building

"Riverside building built into bank below Cornmarket.  OS ST7565
C17 or earlier origin vaults below Cornmarket, early warehouse? 2 storeys rangework with 5 2-light stone mullioned windows. 6 semi-circular blocked archways presumably to former wharf. Left hand part has 3 blocked ashlar surround windows to top of wall, small triangular arched niche or blocked aperture below string to centre of this part."

Some conditions need to be attached to any chosen developer to ensure that the Cornmarket is restored.  Then there is a heritage asset associated with the Cornmarket beneath part of the car park surface and fronting the river, which will make it difficult to open up that part of the site to the river (see box, right).
Some conditions also need to be attached to any sale to ensure that a developer cannot buy and then land-bank the site.  Also, there is no benefit in transferring ownership of the site unless something publicly acceptable for the site is to be developed, and within an acceptable timescale.  People have long memories, and the Dyson Academy and the busometer replacing Churchill House will remain as examples of how little care the council has taken in the past over what Bath looks like.
This is an ideal opportunity to follow the lead of Weston Super Mare where alternative designs for their rebuilt pier were put to the public vote and permission was then given to the preferred option.  So why not have developers' ideas voted on by the residents of Bath to choose a preferred developer, and then hold back on transfer of ownership until planning permission is granted and a development timetable agreed?  That way the council doesn't lose control of the site and cannot be held to ransom by a developer who owns the site and threatens to leave it derelict unless they get their own way.
This is too important a site for the council to relinquish control too soon.  And because once it is sold all future control is lost, the site should perhaps be leased rather than sold even when a suitable scheme is proposed.
Green Park House - Last updated 1 December 2013.
The Chronicle has published an item about the redevelopment of Green Park House as student accommodation, and announces two dates for a public exhibition on the proposals:  Monday 9 December from 4-7pm and Tuesday 10 December from 3-7pm, both in "Sally Ann's Café" in the Salvation Army's Bath Citadel on the corner of Green Park Road and James Street West.
We have also been in touch with the new owners, Berkeley Group, and we have been given the address of their newly created website.  They hope that as many people as possible can attend their exhibitions, but for those unable to do so they intend to put the exhibition material on their website at a later date, so it will be worth re-visiting.
We were told that the development site covers not just Green Park House, but also the other buildings up to (but not including) the Salvation Army building.  Thus, although taking some of its external design cues from the previously approved hotel, it is a bigger structure with a different internal layout, and includes private grounds and gardens for the students to use.  It will be a managed building with a 24-hour presence of management staff, along the lines of similar managed facilities in Oxford.
The Rec - Last updated 1 December 2013.
Latest modelThe public exhibitions in November provided artists' impressions to further assist the understanding of the raw outline exhibited at the end of September.  There was also a model showing what was proposed in the context of the surrounding area.  This model can now be seen in the Bath Rugby Tickets outlet on Pulteney Bridge.
The latest exhibition material had been put on-line and at that time was provided with an on-line feedback form so that those who could not attend any of the exhibition dates could express their opinions.  The closing date for such feedback is now passed, but at the time of writing this the exhibition material was still viewable.
There isn't room on this front page to show the photographs we took of the model, so we have created an exhibition section on our News Summary page.
Widcombe Traffic Scheme - Last updated 24 November 2013.
Although a little outside Watchdog's normal remit, we are drawing attention to news of an exhibition of the latest designs for Widcombe Parade and Rossiter Road, a scheme which might have future heritage implications.  There is a short item in The Chronicle referring to the exhibition on Saturday 30 November from 2pm to 7pm in the Natural Theatre Company building near the White Hart, Widcombe.
Core Strategy - Last updated 10 November 2013.
As part of the Inspector's examination of the draft Core Strategy, the council has been asked to identify exactly what green belt boundary changes are proposed in order to use for future housing some locations which are currently green belt.
Those details are now available and are being offered for public consultation, with public comments given the deadline of 20 December 2013.  Full details of the proposals and the method of commenting are now on the Core Strategy section of the council website.
MOD Foxhill - Last updated 3 November 2013.
We have had brought to our attention that a new newsletter has been published on Curo's website.  It covers some of the information already released but also includes new material, so we are putting the link here so that anybody interested can find it easily.
Kingsmead Square - Last updated 27 October 2013.
It has been brought to our attention that although there is a new drawing and correspondence on what the expectations for the location are on planning application 13/00977/FUL, the planning system doesn't allow the public to comment on them through the on-line comment system ("Comments are no longer invited for this application" shows on the summary screen).  However the council's policy on community involvement includes a commitment that the public are entitled to comment on application revisions, and by custom and practice such comments can be submitted until the application is about to be be decided.
We have taken an initial look at the revisions and it appears that there has still been no attempt to provide paths through the area that reflect where people currently walk thus forcing everybody into a detour, nor to provide seating for the general public, since all seats now shown appear to be owned by various cafes.  The correspondence suggests that there will be no obligations on the surrounding businesses to keep the area clean.  We will study the plans in more detail in due course, but at first sight it looks like just a minor variation of the original plans to remove a public open space from public use, which conflicts with the Council's emerging Public Realm And Movement Strategy.
Meanwhile, if any readers do want to comment on the proposals, in view of the usual methods of submitting comments via the planning system being blocked, we are providing access to the comment form for those who want to use the facilities with which they are familiar, and an e-mail link so that those who would prefer to e-mail their comments can do so.
Finger Posts - Last updated 13 October 2013.
During the week, yet another finger post disappeared from the City streets.  A supporter saw it taking place and sent us photographs of it being removed and permission to use them.  The resulting item became too large to be practical on a page intended to be a news summary, so we have collected together our set of comments on finger posts and have created a new section on our Public Realm page.
Herman Miller Building - Last updated 6 October 2013.
The Herman Miller building is the derelict but Grade II listed ex-factory on the Lower Bristol Road near the Golden Fleece pub.  There are currently a number of planning applications for this building:  Listed Building consent has been granted to Lidl for the restoration and conversion work leading to the opening of a store in part of the building.  The corresponding planning permission has been stalled however, because both the building and the land is in the ownership of two different companies and planning officers have so far failed to get both parties to agree to a suitable S106 agreement.
An article in the Chronicle indicates that progress might finally be possible, with planning applications being raised for each half of the site.  Whilst this could be good news, we nevertheless wait with some concern to see what is covered by the individual planning applications.  Lidl originally applied to restore the entire building and then occupy part of it.  This gave some reassurance that the roof structure (which is the main reason for listing the building) would be renovated to a common standard, and that all the hazardous materials (neoprene and asbestos) would all be dealt with at the same time.  If the restoration of the building is proposed under two applications as the news item suggests, the same reassurances may not exist.  The risk is that granting of planning permission does not force the plans to be implemented, not jointly or even individually, and the worst possible outcome would be for only half the building to be restored.  For that reason, we shall be examining the two sets of planning applications closely to check that the combined plans are appropriate for the entire building, and that they can be expected to be implemented in tandem.
Western Riverside - Last updated 6 October 2013.
We have been informed that there will be another public exhibition of ideas for the riverside buildings beside Victoria Bridge and the replacement for the Destructor Bridge.  The exhibition will be in the Brasserie end of the Green Park Station train shed on Friday 11th October between 1pm and 7pm, and this will be an opportunity for the public to influence the appearance of what have been called "landmark" buildings before a planning application is raised.
When the Development Control Committee granted outline permission for the Western Riverside Masterplan, it established the layout of the site as far as where the buildings were to be placed, the land area each should occupy and the height of each building, but left the appearance of each new construction phase as "reserved matters" which means that a separate application needs to be raised to give specific permission for the appearance and internal layout.
In August we reported on a public exhibition held in the Green Park Station train shed for the next phase of apartments, and gave a link to the Western Riverside website where the proposals exhibited had been made into a format that can be viewed on a computer screen.  The whole document is seven pages starting with background information and leading on to the detail of the next phase, which starts at Page 5.  That phase of the development has now progressed to Application 13/03929/ERES to seek formal approval.
In September, a similar type of exhibition gave the public the opportunity to comment on the ideas for the townhouses which would be positioned east of the group exhibited in August, and this exhibition is also now viewable online.  It has not yet progressed to a planning application.
The October exhibition is not online, and some of the DCC Members had reservations about the heights (although they did give outline permission) so we expect there to be considerable public interest in the designs on show, which is why we are publicising the exhibition.
Sainsburys - Last updated 8 September 2013.
It would be inappropriate to read too much into the Chronicle story of the Sainsbury's planning application being withdrawn.  We regard it as a matter of timing.
Among the comments on the application was a formal objection from English Heritage.  The effect of this is that if the council makes a decision other than a refusal, a Public Inquiry would follow.  Sainsbury's have the option of making alterations to the plans to overcome the English Heritage objection, but they would have to be submitted before the council's target date for making a decision, which given the scale of the development leaves a lot to be done in a short time.  By withdrawing the application, it gives Sainsbury's a considerably longer time to consider any changes they might make to the plans, with the plans held in abeyance rather than being refused.  Hence our assumption that the withdrawal should only be seen as a matter of timing at this stage.
Our other observation is that under the World Heritage Convention, a development of this scale in a World Heritage Site should be referred to UNESCO via ICOMOS UK, and we can see no consultation response from ICOMOS on-line.  The withdrawal gives more time for this consultation to complete.
Guildhall Market - Last updated 8 September 2013.
For many weeks now there have been a series of letters in the Chronicle about a stall in the Guildhall Market, mostly complaining that the council was being unreasonable and should not be pursuing enforcement action on the stallholder.  So many letters were published that eventually we decided to examine the planning situation.
It appears that this "trial by media" is unfounded.  The planning application was considered to be inappropriate, not only by the Planning Department (who had advised in a pre-application consultation that such a structure would be unlikely to secure consent, only to see that the application submitted ignored this advice) but also by an independent Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State, who wrote a comprehensive report which describes not only why the stall should not have planning permission, but also notes that it was constructed after the planning application was refused, and therefore is "unauthorised works".  Given that the Secretary of State's representative has made that ruling, the council has no option but to pursue enforcement action.  No amount of newspaper column inches will change that.
Station Ramp - Last updated 1 September 2013.
Among the notifications of decision that we received this week was one for 09/00296/COND.  We don't normally record on this website any sign-off decisions for applications to have Planning Decisions discharged, but this one is quite unusual.  It is an application to have a Condition regarding the demolition of the station ramp discharged, except that it was not discharged and it has now been withdrawn.  Furthermore, the Condition 3 which has not been discharged and now won't be, says:
"3. No work shall start on site until a full method statement for the demolition of the structures associated with the goods yard is submitted to and approved by the Local Planning Authority in writing".
The application now withdrawn did not provide a full method statement, which is probably why it was not discharged, and yet the work did start (and a spokesperson from the Major Projects Team assured the Chronicle that there was no planning impediment to the work taking place), and the ramp was demolished.  The law is quite specific:  a demolition in such circumstances was a criminal activity.
There is a legal principle that a council cannot revisit a planning decision it properly made, so the problematical Condition 3 cannot now be withdrawn.  The ramp has gone, so approval of a method statement before work starts is not now possible.  The only fully compliant method of getting out of this legal quagmire is for the developer to rebuild the ramp, and then supply a full method statement for removing it again.  We won't hold our breath.
It would be interesting to know who authorised the statement to the press which showed that the council actively condoned an illegal act of demolition before the Condition 3 had been discharged, that it knew was taking place.  It is unlikely that we will ever find that out though.  But we do note that the relevant Act states that there is no time limit for prosecutions for unauthorised damage to listed buildings, so the developer will be at risk of a criminal prosecution indefinitely.
Newark Works - Last updated 25 August 2013.
There is an item in the Chronicle about ideas for the Newark Works and the area on the other side of the river.  The description of the reported vision doesn't seem to recognise that the Newark Works is listed in its own right and has a group value with the other industrial premises; and it is held in high esteem by the Canadian Government because Thomas Fuller was appointed as the Canadian National Architect and the Canadians regard his last and greatest work in Bath (the city of his birth) as especially important.  That rules out any scheme that retains just the facade.
It is also worth pointing out that until the council at the time spent council taxes removing tenants who were happily trading there by buying back their leases, the buildings were in full commercial use.  The tenants could have remained on site until the leases expired, and by occupying the buildings they would have kept the buildings in good condition (empty buildings deteriorate far more quickly than ones that are occupied) and would have prevented the scrap metal thieves gaining access.
The idea of an Enterprise Area that wants more office space, situated just along the road from office accommodation advertised as being for let, and locations given planning consent to build offices which are not being built because nobody wants them, may not be the best use of the Newark Works site.  Besides, the character of Bath is one of mixed occupations so that an employee is only a few paces away from a hairdresser or an estate agent or whatever else might be sought in a lunch break and before going home, and zoning is going to stand out as atypical of the World Heritage Site.  This type of social engineering has been tried in many places in the past and the passage of time always shows the flaws in imposing solutions rather than letting them evolve.
The other point of concern is what is planned for the coach park.  Tourists expect to walk between coach and places of interest, so it can't be relocated far from its current location without coach tour operators deciding to give Bath a miss because drop-offs and pick-ups are too complicated.
Gasworks - Last updated 18 August 2013.
It has long been forecast, but the Chronicle now reports that the removal of the final gasometer is now imminent.  In the run-up to this there have been conflicting views expressed, some impatient to see it go, and others wanting it to remain and be reused.  A search of the Chronicle website using the search term "gasometer" will retrieve most of the correspondence on the subject.
It tends to be overlooked that Bath's gasworks was one of the first ever in this country.  It dates from Georgian times rather than Victorian as is generally assumed.  The last remaining gasometer is of 1920s vintage and was repaired after suffering wartime damage so from a heritage perspective its value is from being one of the last visible remnants of a big chapter in Bath's industrial past rather than being a truly historic object.  The real tragedy was the loss of the smaller gasometer next to it, which the Victorian Society were sure was either the oldest or second oldest in the country;  yet despite their request to have it carefully dismantled so that they could re-erect it elsewhere, it was cut into pieces (which we reported at the time).  Ironically, despite the fact that the excuse for its removal being that it was unsafe, it was solid enough to withstand the first attempts to remove it, and bigger and mightier demolition equipment had to be brought in and even that struggled as we watched it at work.  It looks as though the Health and Safety Executive, who ordered its removal, had been misled.
We think it unlikely that the last gasometer will be reprieved, despite the safety restrictions it currently brings being removed by simply disconnecting it from all gas services and cleaning all vestiges of gas from it;  its demolition afterwards is not strictly necessary on safety grounds.
If it is to go, it is especially important that a detailed archaeological investigation of this historic gasworks site takes place to record all the details before it is lost forever.  Planning conditions for the Western Riverside require a "written scheme of investigation which has been first submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority" and we urge the Local Planning Authority to ensure that such a scheme, when approved, is sufficiently thorough to do justice to a Georgian industrial location.  Most of Bath's Georgian heritage was based on buildings for leisure and pleasure, so the importance of understanding how the Georgians approached industrial manufacture and utility service provision cannot be overstated.
Enforcements - Last updated 11 August 2013.
We have changed the way we record enforcement cases.  Take a look at our new Enforcements page.
Streetscape - Last updated 21 July 2013.
Our piece on Streetscape Designs last week (see below) encouraged a reader to get in touch to point out that having policies on what the streetscape looks like is only as effective as the level of compliance, and the number of businesses which are currently complying with the A-Board rules (officially the Footway Obstructions Policy) are now in the minority.  This is probably an exaggeration, but given that the policy is only a little more than a year old, the fact that this impression exists doesn't instil confidence in the effectiveness of the policy.  We were given a number of locations and examples of infringements to look for, so we will take a look over a number of weeks to see if the problem is occasional or persistent.
Streetscape Designs - Last updated 14 July 2013.
Watchdog takes an interest in other locations with similarities with Bath.  Edinburgh for instance, has a World Heritage site at risk from unsuitable development;  and York, like Bath, suffered from wartime Baedeker raids, has a river that poses a flood risk, has a historic core which is a tourist destination, a university on the outskirts, and issues with bendy buses and street clutter.  However, unlike Bath, York has already banned A-boards and tables and chairs on pavements on the grounds that they detract from the views and ambience.
So when we saw a newspaper article about a consultation on improving the look of city streets we went to the York Council website to look at the detail.  It is a fully open public consultation and anybody can submit their views on the proposals.  There is a consultation leaflet which gives the gist of the issues and asks for comments, and there is a more detailed (78 pages, 14Mbytes) consultation paper which also explains the rationale.
There are some lessons in the latter that Bath could learn from:  Not putting waste bins in what the Heritage Environment Team consider to be sensitive locations;  using appropriate surface materials and lighting styles for a location;  using bollards only as a last resort after considering whether other street furniture (litter bins, street lamps, seats, bus shelters etc) could be used to achieve the same purpose;  maintaining historic kerb lines, and more.
We know that Bath is working on a Streetscape Manual, and we would like to see a similar style of public consultation before it is finalised.
HMO Supplementary Planning Document - Last updated 7 July 2013.
We received the formal notification that a Supplementary Planning Document was adopted by the Cabinet, and it came into force on 1 July 2013.  It will now be taken into account when Case Officers evaluate planning applications.  The full details of the policy and the full text of the SPD can be found on the Council website.
Kingsmead Square - Last updated 30 June 2013.
Among the new planning applications this week is one from a private organisation asking for permission to use Kingsmead Square for alfresco dining and performances;  effectively for business use.  Whilst it is legally permitted for anybody to raise a planning application on land or property that they don't own, delivery of any permission (if granted) depends on the owner expressly allowing it.  In this case the owner is the council, because this is a public open space in the streets of Bath.  It is a space in the environs of several listed buildings, so there is a heritage consideration too.
So the public (residents and visitors alike) who currently have free unlimited access to this space ought to be informed whether the council is prepared to transfer the control of the space currently freely used by the public to a business enterprise, and if so what rental income will be derived from it as compensation for the loss of the public freedom to use it.  It is not a stated policy in the Core Strategy.
This is not a local issue on a one-off planning application, it is a policy issue that might in future be applied to any other part of the public realm, and there should have been a public consultation on the principle.  Until there is, the council has no remit to give away public open spaces.
Foxhill - Last updated 30 June 2013.
We have been sent a copy of the recent Curo newsletter about the Foxhill MOD site.  In it we read that no decisions have been made about the plans for the site, and a public exhibition will be held later in the summer, and also that a planning application has been submitted for the demolition of the existing offices.
The council's Local Plan policies require that permission for demolition should only be granted where the replacement would be an enhancement to the area.  Whilst it is entirely possible that a replacement plan would be an enhancement, it is not guaranteed.  The Foxhill MOD site is clearly visible on the skyline from many locations around Bath, and structures that are too tall or too reflective would be unacceptable (which is why the former Bath City Council ensured that the current site was designed to be inconspicuous).  Until there are reasonably mature plans for the replacement so that the potential impact can be assessed, any application for permission to demolish must be considered premature.
Locally Important Buildings - Last updated 9 June 2013.
According to the York local newspaper, York Council has launched a consultation:  "A City of York Council consultation is seeking views on whether a Local List should be produced, outlining sites which play a part in the architectural and historic fabric of the city".  Given that Bath already a step ahead of York and has a Local Plan policy for handling locally important building applications, we hope that B&NES will follow York's example and identify which buildings and structures merited the Locally Important definition.
Newark Works - Last updated 9 June 2013.
After a brief squat in the Newark Works, the campaigner has moved to a boat with a prominent message on its sail at Pulteney Weir.  The Virtual Museum of Bath reported their interview with the campaigner.  The Chronicle also reported the story including the council's reaction.
Our concern is the quote in that Chronicle news item that the council hopes to "transform Bath Quays South".  So we are offering a timely reminder that not only is the Newark Works main building listed, but also included in the listing description is the fact that it also has a group value with the other buildings on the site.  The reason why this listing exists is because the Canadian Government wrote to the British Government to ask for these buildings, featuring the last UK work of the man who became the National Architect of Canada, to be protected when a previous "slash and burn" scheme for the site gave no thought to the heritage value of the buildings.  The site is ripe for reuse;  it is not ripe for transformation even if it includes a "façadism" scheme.
The 1954 floodWe also consider the flood compensation proposals in the Core Strategy to be inadequate for the level of protection assumed.  If this site is raised above the flood protection level, the displaced water threatens the listed Norfolk Crescent.  The Newark Works frontage onto the Lower Bristol Road also acts as a dam and protects the area behind from storm water run-off from the hills, a characteristic not recognised in the flood compensation description.
It is perhaps also worth reminding the current administration that the buildings were once occupied by thriving businesses, and the council at the time decided that not only were they prepared to forego the rental income, they were also prepared to squander council taxes on buying out the extant leases so that the tenants could be evicted by a given date.  That decision has cost the council finances dear, as will (in hindsight) the neglect of the buildings since.  Any scheme that cannot be accommodated in the current buildings is likely to result in the Canadian Government asking the Secretary of State to call in the scheme for a Public Inquiry, and that will make a huge dent in the council finances while defending the indefensible.  It is time for any grandiose schemes for the site to be formally dumped before any more council taxes are wasted;  to be replaced by the reality that this site used to pay its way and could again, whilst remaining in its current configuration.  It just requires a change to the political mind-set.
University of Notre Dame - Last updated 2 June 2013.
We dropped in on the public exhibition to show their Architecture students' ideas for the Manvers Street area.  It was not as well attended as they hoped, but in view of the continuous heavy rain that day it was to be expected.
There was a formal presentation in the evening to an invited audience which included two Watchdog representatives.  All seats were taken at that session.  We have put a brief overview on the Notre Dame page.
Regional Spatial Strategy - Last updated 26 May 2013.
In the minutes of the Inspector's preliminary meeting on the Bath Press application we found this quote:  "An Order to revoke the Regional Strategy for the South West was laid on 24 April 2013. The Order also revokes all directions under paragraph 1(3) of Schedule 8 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 preserving policies contained in the Joint Replacement Structure Plan.  The Order will come into force on 20 May 2013 after which the development plan for the area will comprise saved policies in the Bath and North East Somerset Local Plan". Effectively this means that The Regional Spatial Strategy is now obsolete and the obligation for Local Authorities to use structure plans based on it and the Joint Replacement Structure Plan is removed as at 20 May 2013.
As an aside, the Statement of Common Ground for the Bath Press application appeal says that the appellants have undertaken appropriate public engagement.  Yet they haven't.  Public engagement took place on the previous application raised by St James' Investments, and not on this one raised by the applicant Tesco.  Planning applications are supposed to be self-contained, and not carry over anything from previous applications.  Tesco have therefore not conducted appropriate public engagement, and B&NES should not have agreed that they have.
Woolley Valley - Last updated 12 May 2013.
Although Woolley Valley is outside the area covered by Watchdog, we are aware that a number of our readers are interested in that location.  So we are reporting the Chronicle item covering the 8th May DCC meeting, where all the retrospective planning applications were refused permission.
Planning Procedures - Last updated 5 May 2013.
In recent weeks we have noticed a number of planning applications where revised drawings have been submitted, very closely followed by a planning decision based on the revised drawings.  Often, the revised drawings address criticisms of the original application which formed part of the Watchdog comments, and we appreciate the time and effort given by the case officers in negotiating improvements, and the level of success they achieve.
Nevertheless, we would prefer to have the opportunity to examine the changes and if appropriate to comment on the extent to which they address our original concerns (for instance the amendments to the Corridor scheme were still not good enough and still require the eviction of an established business in order to implement them), rather than have our views assumed.  The council's adopted Statement of Community Involvement offers 14 days for such comments to be made on amendment documents, and therefore there is no necessity for a decision to be made sooner than that.
James Street West - Last updated 28 April 2013.
Watchdog went along to the public exhibition on Thursday 25 April and we have put an outline of what we saw on our News Summary page.
13th Foot Regiment
World Heritage Day - Last updated 21 April 2013.
Sunday 21 April saw the World Heritage Day event in Victoria Park, featuring the 18th Century life of the 13th Foot Regiment, which had connections to the Pulteney family.  In hazy sunshine, there was a good crowd enjoying the music and the spectacle.
Bath's Industrial Heritage Day - Last updated 7 April 2013.
We saw a very good turn-out for the Industrial Heritage Exhibition despite the date coinciding with the opening event of the Two Tunnels path.  A number of the people we spoke to went to both events.
"A" Boards - Last updated 17th March 2013.
Watchdog keeps in touch with events in York because like Bath it has a compact centre full of heritage that is not ideaaly suited to the expectations of 21st century living.  Like Bath, York introduced a policy aimed at controlling "A" Boards, and like Bath, York has discovered that without active enforcement, voluntary measures have not worked as they hoped.  The latest item in the York local press now suggests that zero tolerance might be the only way forward.
Interestingly the Readers' Comments don't all support the council's position, though they did identify a section of the Highways Act that makes "A" Boards illegal which supplements the section of the Police Town Clauses Act that we quote on our Public Realm page.  Our rough and ready survey suggests that "A" Boards don't work as well as businesses think they do, and pedestrians faced with one obstructing their way are too intent on avoiding it to either read it or look in the window of the business which placed it there.  It would seem that they detract from the business rather than enhancing it.
Bridges - Last updated 10th March 2013.
At the Museum of Bath At Work is an exhibition on the Victoria Bridge, which includes information on the Council's plans to restore it and the opportunity to comment.  Unfortunately the exhibition is only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until the end of March (see flyer), so we are putting here the link to the council's consultation page so that those who can't get to the museum have an opportunity to take part in the consultation.
Also at the exhibition is some information on the replacement for the Destructor Bridge.  Originally part of the Green Park Station complex, where it was provided to allow the first class passengers to be driven in their carriage to join their train without having to share facilities with the second and third class passengers.  Later mechanisation required trams to cross the river and the bridge was not strong enough to carry the weight, so it was moved downstream to its current position.  The development of the Western Riverside requires a bridge that will carry two lanes of buses, one lane of cycles and two lanes of pedestrians, and the current bridge falls far short of this requirement and must be replaced.
Watchdog was given a preview of the replacement (and the Virtual Museum Of Bath carries pictures) and it has some design similarities with the Victoria Bridge in that the arch, if removed and inverted, would follow the line of the suspension chains of the Victoria Bridge.  The design has obviously been given some thought.  We note too that there are no spaces that could be used for bird roosts, and the support mechanism although substantial and strong, offers a very small profile for bats using the river corridor, and should not interfere with their flight paths;  in fact the new bridge offers slightly less of a barrier to the old one.  In many ways it is as carefully designed and functional as James Dredge's Victoria Bridge and that makes it a worthy example of 21st Century engineering.
Whilst we have some regrets about the loss of the Destructor Bridge, English Heritage did not consider it important enough to list, and it was not built sufficiently strongly to have many years left before expensive restoration became essential.  Even as a pedestrian/cycle bridge its residual life before major maintenance would be required makes its use elsewhere uneconomic.  We are assured that the decorative scrolls on the end will be retained somewhere in Bath and will not just be rendered for scrap, so something of the old bridge will remain as a reminder of a past age.
Planning Legislation - Last updated 3rd March 2013.
Planning decisions have always been one-sided.  If a planning application is refused, the applicant has a right to ask for an independent Appeal Inspector to review the decision and decide whether the decision gave the appropriate weight to planning legislation and local plan policies, and at the end of that review the Inspector can agree with the local authority that the decision was correct, or overrule the refusal and grant permission.  However, if the situation is reversed and the local authority grants permission and somebody affected by that decision considers that the local authority has not given due weight to legislation or local plan policies which suggest that a refusal would have been appropriate, there is no mechanism to ask an Appeal Inspector to review the decision to permit.  There is the option of a Judicial Review through the High Court, but the judgements in the past have generally focused on whether the local authority has followed the planning process correctly rather than whether the judgement to permit was sound.
To correct this imbalance, Chris Skidmore MP is seeking support for a Community Right of Appeal Bill, which the Parliament website says is due for its second reading on 26th April, and suggests that those in favour of such a Bill should lobby their MP and DCLG.  The Civic Voice website provides an easy link for those interested in expressing a view.
Bath Spa Station - Last updated 24th February 2013.
On Monday 18th February 2013, a "Red Wheel" plaque was unveiled on Bath Spa Station, the successful end to a three year project by Bath Heritage Watchdog.  Full details are on the Red Wheel section of our GWR page.
The Rec - Last updated 17th February 2013.
Alerted by a Chronicle item, we looked for the underlying information from the Charity Commission, to assess the situation for ourselves.
Essentially, because the public consultation resulted in a mixture of comments of support and objection, an independent review must be conducted, with the reviewer being somebody who has not previously been involved in any past decisions concerning The Rec.  That review will examine all the different points raised by the consultation.  The number of times any particular point was mentioned is unimportant, it is whether any point has substance and is relevant that is important.
The reviewer expects that most of the representations made as part of the public consultation should be self sufficient, but anybody who made a representation who believes it needs clarification or amplification can ask for an opportunity to speak to the reviewer, provided the request to do so is submitted by e-mail by 1st March (the email address in in the Charity Commission link above).   Those who did not respond to the original consultation will be ignored.  Again it is the substance of the clarification that will be noted, not the number of times it is made.  Once all the points to be taken into account are identified, the evaluation will consider the best interests of the charity (ie the Trust specifically, not Bath Rugby or its supporters), and the question of whether the changes proposed are within the Charity Commission's remit to approve.
Our summary of the issues we think the Charity Commission will have to take into account is below in our 3rd February entry.  In addition two other issues might affect the outcome.  The arrangements to vary a Charitable Trust are intended to cater for "unforeseen circumstances" and the long history of planning applications for the East Stand proves that the desire to expand the rugby facilities cannot be described as unforeseen.  More telling is the background to the Charity Commission's involvement, and it may be judged that it is not within the Charity Commission's remit to approve because the Charitable Trust was set up as a result of the High Court Judgement in 2002, so that any variation on that Judgement should be endorsed by the High Court and not the Charity Commission.  However, the 2002 Judgement refused the council permission to appeal, so that process might not be straightforward.
Significantly, the outcome of the review can only affect the document which describes the Charitable Trust's purpose, and it cannot rewrite conveyances or covenants.  So those with rights under these covenants over the specific area of land described in the conveyances retain the right to sue the council as landowner for breach of the covenants, even if the Charity Commission allows any part of it to be taken out of the current Trustees hands.  Expecting a definitive answer by April looks optimistic.
Western Riverside - Last updated 10th February 2013.
In the new applications this week are two for the Western Riverside, dealing with "reserved matters".  For those not familiar with the process, this is what that means.
When the approval was given for the outline plans, that decision notice included a requirement that further applications should be raised for each phase of the development about to start, to obtain approval for "scale, appearance and landscaping", and two such applications have now been raised.  Because they are reserved matters, it is not possible to comment on whether the building should be built, or where it should be built, both of which were decisions made in December 2010.  But it is possible for the public to comment now on each proposed building's character and surroundings:  those aspects are not yet decided.  That is the purpose of reserved matters, to ensure that each new building proposed complies with the Western Riverside Design Codes, and is set in appropriate landscaping.  We encourage the public to look at the plans and make their views known on whether the scale, appearance and landscaping is considered acceptable.
Heritage Blog - Last updated 10th February 2013.
We have had a website Virtual Museum Of Bath brought to our attention.  Despite its name, it is presented in the form of a Blog website, updated whenever there is anything to add, which could be as often as daily.  From the entries in its Archive section, it has been going about 6 months.  We have no connection with that site, and whilst that site and ours don't have the same focus, there is sufficient overlap that we think that our readers might also find the Blog of interest;  and we are happy to add it to our Links page to make it easy to find in future.
The Rec - Last updated 3rd February 2013.
We have put together some short notes on the items that have appeared in the Chronicle recently, rather than go through all the commentary that can be read on our The Rec item, though we have used selected extracts from it.
First there was the news of an application for Town Green status.  Given that the Recreation Ground was last conveyed in 1956 for the benefit of the citizens of Bath, and because the 1922 covenant was expressly added to the 1956 conveyance of that land forming an unbroken chain of assignments, then the current owner, B&NES, and therefore the Trustees are obliged to both enforce the 1922 covenant and to protect its applicability, and that in 2002 the High Court upheld the conditions of the 1956 conveyance, Mr Sparrow who lives in Bathwick in the neighbourhood of the Rec is entitled by the 1922 covenant to enforce a restriction "that nothing shall be hereafter erected placed built or done upon the said hereditaments and premises ... which may be or grow to be a nuisance annoyance or disturbance or otherwise prejudicially affect the adjoining premises or the neighbourhood".  A Public Inquiry into a Town Green must be cheaper for the Trustees to service than another High Court case which would arrive at the same conclusion as the 2002 hearing, and which remains an option if the Town Green application fails.  For a Trustee to dismiss this action as "a stalling tactic" simply demonstrates that he has not properly understood his role as Trustee as distinct from councillor, has not studied the legal judgements, and has not complied with the instructions of the Charity Commission:  "The Commission directs that ... BANES demonstrate that it has discharged its responsibilities as charity trustee in respect of any decision relating to the current and future uses of the Rec and the resolution of issues arising from the Rec's current occupants".
The second Chronicle Item is the news of the Charity Commission consultation.  The problem is that the consultation is not a popularity contest, and the size of the majority is irrelevant.  The 1922 covenant is binding and it places conditions on a specific piece of land, not any mixture of sites as suggested in the consultation.  The Charity Commission will be acutely aware that if they vary the Trust and place it in conflict with the 2002 High Court Judgement, they can be accused of maladministration, or even contempt of court, as indeed can the Trustees.  They will also be aware if they study the documentation, that the neighbourhood has a legitimate expectation that the trustees should protect their rights and "no workshops warehouses factories or other buildings for the purpose of any trade or business" is part of that collection of rights.  While Bath Rugby was an amateur club, the erection of clubhouse and stands were not forbidden as the amateur club was not a trade or business;  but the current privately owned professional club is a business and is excluded from further construction by the covenant. If this is ignored, then each and every household in the vicinity of the Rec can sue for damages if they feel they are, or even could be, prejudicially affected.
The third Chronicle item is a letter from The Bath Society, effectively accusing the council of misleading the public by only advertising that opposition to the Town Green is possible without also informing that support comments for the application is also possible.  The sheer scale of 25,000 spectators (Bath Rugby's original target, and probably still the ultimate goal) as described at the end of the letter, is an eye-opener.
We have gone into some detail here to emphasise that although the Rec is held in trust by the council, it is and must remain completely separate from the council's own plans and aspirations.  To do otherwise risks significant court costs in the future, and a council already struggling with a tight budget would be acting recklessly if taking any path that could lead back to the High Court.  It may not be to their liking, but the council is bound by the signature that was placed on the 1956 conveyance, to which they are successors in title.  They should be vociferously trying to enforce the covenant in the manner that the 2002 court ruling interpreted it.  So should the Trustees.
Expert Advice - Last updated 3rd February 2013.
We are somewhat puzzled by the advice given by English Heritage and the Georgian Group about the Bath Abbey planning applications.  Both objected to the original plans, and both commented again after the plans were revised.  Both revised comments made it clear that these organisations were unhappy with the plans even after the revisions.
English Heritage took the somewhat bizarre view that although they maintain their position that "the physical works to Kingston Buildings will cause substantial harm to these designated heritage assets" and "there remain matters of detail regarding structural and thermal upgrading works" they would withdraw their objection on the grounds of offsetting public benefits, despite the benefits being almost entirely for the Abbey and not the public.
The Georgian Group took an even stranger stance, insisting that they objected to the changes, and providing a sketch to show why they believed that the centre of the terrace would be structurally unsound if the changes went ahead.  They nevertheless admitted that if the Local Planning Authority ignored their objection they would not take any further action even though they have a right to do so.
Both of these organisations are Statutory Consultees, so that they have a legal right to ask the Secretary of State to call in the decision if they disagree with the plans and the Local Planning Authority is mindful to permit.  Both have waived that right.  It looks as though the Secretary of State has asked not to be bothered with planning decisions and the Statutory Consultees are complying with that instruction.
It is also strange that neither commented in the gaping holes that would be made in the view of the Abbey that is on many picture postcards on sale in Bath, focusing only on Kingston Buildings.  Yet those who buy the postcards and then take a look at the scene depicted cannot fail to notice the difference, and they are very unlikely to consider it a change for the better, despite English Heritage's claim of public benefits.
The UK Government is under obligation to preserve Bath as a World Heritage Site for the enjoyment of the world at large, and the Statutory Consultees have not met their obligations.  It remains to be seen whether the DCC Members care about World Heritage (or indeed, public safety if the Georgian Group's concerns about structural soundness are well founded) when they discuss these applications on 13th February.
Neglected Listed Buildings - Last updated 27th January 2013.
We were informed that English Heritage has updated and re-issued its advice on how to deal with listed buildings that are suffering from neglect.  There is a public information leaflet, and also a revised full text (100+ pages) of guidance for Local Planning Authorities.
Unfortunately the listed heritage assets most at risk from neglect (The Cleveland Pools, the Newark Works and the Walcot Street Cornmarket) are all in council ownership, so the council is unlikely to do anything about those, but there may be some useful pointers in the English Heritage guidance to dislodge the current impasse over the development plans for the former Herman Miller Building which is deteriorating steadily despite Listed Building Consent having been granted in 2009 and then subsequently renewed in July 2012 after the first consent time expired.
Houses In Multiple Occupation - Last updated 20th January 2013.
Watchdog did not take a position on the council's consultation on HMOs because it is not really a heritage issue.  However we know that some of our members did take a personal view as residents, so we are providing a link to the interim report of the results of the consultation exercise.
Vaults - Last updated 20th January 2013.
The council website has published some new guidance on heritage vaults.  In view of the number of planning applications seen last year proposing conversion of such vaults, many of which were refused, this guidance is welcome.  We have converted the council's website page into a downloadable document so that owners of properties with vaults can download a copy to keep if they wish.
We hope that this advice is the first of several conservation guidance notes.  A similar publication on shop signage on listed buildings would be a welcome addition.
Transport Package - Last updated 13th January 2013.
Early in December 2012 we noted a news item in the Chronicle about the inclusion of Bathampton Meadows, and we placed our commentary on it on our Park And Ride page.  We observed at that time that new planning applications would be needed for expansion at all the existing Park And Ride sites because they were presented to the DCC on an "all or nothing" basis, and because "all" could not now be delivered (the discontinued BRT formed part of one of them) nothing could be used from the previous applications.  VeraCityBath Ltd secured this interpretation during their legal action in 2010 and reported it in a Press Release at the time, so the council, having attended that hearing, cannot be unaware of the situation.
The December news item followed a report at the end of October that work was underway in the Donkey Field at Newbridge which we reported at the time on our Park And Ride page.  From a heritage point of view, the Newbridge site is sensitive, incorporating as it does a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as forming part of the character of the World Heritage Site.  It is important that any work that might impact on that scientific interest should be properly described and assessed for potential consequences in a planning application:  it is the worst possible place for the cavalier approach that the council adopted instead.
So the latest Chronicle news item that the council has been forced to admit that the work underway at the Newbridge Park And Ride site has no planning permission and a planning application will now be raised (which is also covered by a press release by Newbridge Matters) doesn't really go far enough.  A new planning application for Newbridge needs to include an impact assessment for the unauthorised work that has already taken place, and ought to be accompanied by a retrospective application for Odd Down where work is claimed to be complete, and Lansdown which the Chronicle item hints will soon be underway.  These works are part of a revised Transport Package which has still not been offered for public consultation despite it being radically different from the original which was subject to a consultation process, so it is not yet able to become adopted policy.
In our Annual Overview we expressed our concern about the number of occasions when works have been carried out either without planning permission or in advance of permission being sought.  By its bad example set at the Park And Ride sites the council has considerably weakened its position in dealing with other offenders.  A "Do as I say and not as I do" approach is never well received.
Annual Overview - Last updated 6th January 2013.
We have written our customary review of the year just ended.  It can be found on our Year Reports page.
Government Consultation - Last updated 6th January 2013.
The Government has announced a consultation on a report into how to make Government planning guidance simpler.  In the press it is reported thus "An external review of planning practice guidance led by Matthew Taylor, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor has recommended rationalising advice and making it easier to use, as a consultation is launched on just where and how, with an urgent closing date of 15 February.".  It is difficult to argue that simplification would not be beneficial, in that there is often a paper trail to follow in order to establish the latest position, and the search might include Acts, Statutory Instruments, Circulars, Guidance Notes and Letters to Local Authorities.  However the report proposes what is effectively an early bonfire of useful documents on the assumption that the useful bits can be re-introduced by June 2013.  We saw this approach with the National Planning Policy Framework which purported to simplify everything by deleting other documentation which then had to be rapidly re-introduced (sometimes under a different title) when it was realised that it served valuable purposes.  Given the size of the bonfire, June 2013 seems to be an impossible target for completion, and no doubt there will be a requirement for interim guidance along the lines of at least some of what was deleted.
For that reason, we think that anyone interested in planning should read the full report and take part in the consultation which runs until 15 February 2013.
One of the on-line architectural magazines has published the first reactions of English Heritage, but we couldn't find any similar document on the English Heritage website so this may be just a discussion with a reporter.  Nevertheless it does point out an anomaly in that Government bodies like the Planning Inspectorate and Statutory Consultees like English Heritage and the Environment Agency currently provide their own guidance, and care must be taken that this contribution is not sidelined.
10 York Street - Last updated 16th December 2012.
This is a misleading planning application.  It asks for permission for the principle to convert this former Levi's Jeans shop into a food and drink outlet.  Then came two support comments from people who named a particular business, even though none of the documents in the application provided that name.  Then nearly a week after these support comments were lodged, the company they named wrote a description of their business and identified their sub-contractors for the interior design;  and two days after that, floor plans went on-line along with correspondence that shows that the interior design company has been in discussions with the Case Officer the previous week.  Yet the application form still pretends that it is just an agreement in principle.  Clearly it is not, and the original documentation now has very dubious legality under the Town and Country Planning Act.
The original application needs to be withdrawn and replaced by a set of documents for both permission for change of use with a properly described interior layout, and a listed building application detailing the impact on this listed building.  Once the truth has been told, the applications can be properly assessed.
World Heritage - Last updated 2nd December 2012.
UNESCO sent Watchdog a newsletter with information about where online to find information on the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention ("the most ratified international treaty for cultural and natural heritage preservation in the world"), which was on 16 November 2012.  UNESCO's anniversary events were not a celebration but an analytical review of progress from the first germ of an idea ("This is so good it should be preserved for ever") to the present, with a recognition of the work still to be done and the problems still to be solved.  Although Bath had no event to mark this anniversary, it ought to be interested in the theme which was sustainable development.  In the on-line magazine (which includes the unlikely pairing of Liverpool and Bethlehem on the same page) is an article on Sustainable Development in Historic Cairo (amongst others).
Southgate's Red Telephone Boxes - Last updated 25th November 2012.
On 25 November we photographed red telephone boxes in Brunel Square.  These used to be in Dorchester Street opposite the station ramp, but were removed to allow the Debenham's shop to be constructed.  The telephone boxes were always destined to return and we are pleased to see that this obligation has not been overlooked.  Unfortunately they have been installed wrongly, and not in compliance with the planning legislation.  Full details are on our Southgate page.
Western Riverside - Last updated 18th November 2012.
Watchdog was invited to a public exhibition of the designs for the next stage of the Western Riverside, the plot just east of the Victoria Bridge between the Homebase car park and the river.  We established that the contents of the information boards would be put online so that anybody who couldn't get along to Green Park to view them could look at them on screen.
They have been put online and readers who want to see them can view them here.
During our hunt for the exhibition, we discovered that there had been an animated "fly through" of the Western Riverside made, and it is on Youtube.
Cheltenham Street - Last updated 18th November 2012.
The granting of permission for new residences in Cheltenham Street, which is currently occupied by industrial businesses some of which operate through the night comes as a surprise, because it is likely to give rise to environmental complaints from new residents once they have moved in.  For their own protection, the industrial businesses might find it beneficial to secure certificates of lawful existing use for their current operations, so that such complaints when raised can be rebuffed.
Consultations - Last updated 11th November 2012.
We have had our attention drawn to some council consultations.  In June 2012 we drew attention to the consultation on an Article 4 Direction on converting houses into Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)  Our June entry remains below for those who need clarification on what an Article 4 Direction is.  That consultation finished at the end of July with sufficient support that the council has now moved on to the next stages:  To prepare a draft Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) to advise applicants and planning officers of the council policy, and to update the council's licensing policy for HMOs.
Both of these initiatives are now offered for public consultation, and comments on both have a deadline of 30 November 2012.  The outcome of these consultations will influence the final decisions on the policies to adopt.  Once those decisions are made, it will be too late to wish things had been done differently.  HMOs can have an impact on the character of Conservation Areas and to some extent on the character of the World Heritage Site, so we are giving details here in the hope that readers will examine the drafts and make their opinions known.
SPD:  The SPD document is not large (unless you print it, in which case you need an A3 printer or it is too small to read), but it is important, because it will not only influence the decisions of planning officers, it will also be taken into account by Appeals Inspectors.  Any clumsy or ambiguous wording needs to be spotted and marked for improvement, and it also needs to be the right policy, hence the invitation to comment.  There is more background information on HMOs and on the consultation on the council website.
Licensing:  By law every HMO building with three or more floors must be licensed by the local authority before it can be let by its landlord.  The legislation allows local authorities to extend the requirement to licence to other buildings that do not fall into the category of minimum legal requirement, and the council has chosen to consult on such an extension alongside the consultation on the SPD.  The consultation documents consist of a main text and a number of appendices, and the documents are all available from one page on the council website.  The same page gives information on how and where to respond to the consultation.
Western Riverside - Last updated 4th November 2012.
In this week's Chronicle is an article on the Western Riverside.  Whatever views are held on the appearance of the buildings (and we recognise that there are divided opinions, strongly held), the fact that there has been a steady take-up of the accommodation is good news.  A newly built white elephant would be of no benefit to Bath at all.
The reason for mentioning the article here is the Chronicle article following immediately after our last week's item on Newbridge without the BRT.  We had our attention drawn to the Minutes of the DCC meeting of 20 May 2009:  specifically the quote "The Development Manager advised that the current details of BWR would have to be radically reconsidered if the BRT did not proceed."  We said at the time that this was a lie, and Crest Nicholson have delivered the ultimate proof that it was.

Andrea Palladio

Born Andrea Di Pietro della Gondola, it was his patron Gian Giorgio Trissino who named him Palladio (= Wise one).

His hypothesis for which he is famed was that if architecture was designed to the proportions of the human body the outcome is always harmonious (Book 2 Chapter 2).  Materials are less important (some of his most famous works are rendered cheap brick) and provided his design principles are followed, detailed designs can vary.

Many of his buildings are preserved in the World Heritage Site "City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto".

A linked item in the Chronicle is headlined "Avoiding mock-Georgian", which completely misses the point that the World Heritage Site, praised by UNESCO for its homogeneity, consists of a mix of Jacobean, Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and inter-war buildings, each with a different yet distinctive style.  There is not, and never was, a need to build the Western Riverside as a mock-Georgian development to give it "Bathness".  What gives Bath its character and its Outstanding Universal Value is its general adherence over the centuries to the guidance offered by Andrea Palladio in his world famous "I Quattro Libri dell' Architettura" (The Four Books of Architecture), published in 1570 and still available today.  Palladio's principles have been followed by many famous names, including Inigo Jones, Christopher Wren and the American president Thomas Jefferson.  Nearly everything built in Bath from Roman times until the 1940s follows Palladio's proportions, thus giving Bath its homogeneous appearance;  it is only the post-war architects who have too often failed to understand the character of Bath.
The use of Bath stone alone is not sufficient, there should be proportion, rhythm and symmetry as well.  Modern buildings can be (and some have been) designed with all these things and have "Bathness" without being even remotely mock-Georgian, but unfortunately it doesn't happen often enough.  The later phases of the Western Riverside are not built yet, so there is still hope.
Belushi's - Last updated 4th November 2012.
Oh dear!  After four years of ignoring the planning legislation (and a history of making further changes, see the comments on our enforcements page) and a series of planning applications that were refused or withdrawn, the latest application has been granted a permission which leaves us completely puzzled about exactly what the permission covers.
Fascia damageFascia damageThe main thrust of the application and the justification in the Heritage Statement (submitted very late in the process and after we had submitted our objection) was the benefits of removing the swan-neck lamps, which were an enforcement issue which should have forced their removal in any case.  The fact that they had been attached to the replacement fascias (again replaced without a planning application and another enforcement issue) seems to have escaped both the applicant and the case officer, hence the undertaking to repair the stonework, when it is the fascias that need repair, see pictures.
The Design Statement (also submitted very late in the process and after we had submitted our objection) says that "the proposed alterations will have a histrionic effect on the appearance" which is an interesting claim when the dictionary defines histrionic as "excessively dramatic, insincere, artificial".  Are the holes deliberate and part of the histrionics?
But the main confusion stems from the Decision Notice, which is a legal document.  It says "The development/works hereby permitted shall only be implemented in accordance with the plans as set out in the plans list below."  The plans list says "Site location plan date stamped 2 August 2012 and drawing 3020/01 date stamped 13 August 2012 and photographs date stamped 27 July 2012".  The site location plan is no problem, but we have provided easy links to the other documents to illustrate what has been given permission.  What has been granted permission is the "before" drawing complete with swan-neck lamps and the blue colour in the photograph before the latest colour change.  The photograph shows the menus fixed to the pilasters but the drawing doesn't so the exact status of these is anybody's guess, though we believe they have not got permission and remain an enforcement issue.  Technically we should now ask Enforcement to ensure that the latest changes are reversed because they have not got Listed Building consent, but that would replace the lighting we have campaigned for years to have removed and would be undesirable.  So we merely point out that the Case Officer has made a mistake which now has the force of law thanks to the erroneous Decision Notice, and the onus is on him to sort it out.
Halcyon Hotel - Last updated 4th November 2012.
A similar decision notice problem exists for this South Parade site.  The Decision Notice says it grants permission for the planters, but one of the conditions requires them to be removed 9 months ago!  As the Decision Notice is a legal document enforceable in law, the planters are therefore an Enforcement issue unless the Case Officer corrects the erroneous Decision Notice.
In Parliament - Last updated 28th October 2012.
We had our attention drawn to the report of evidence taken by the Communities and Local Government Parliamentary Committee on Planning Housing and Growth on 15th October 2012.  The transcript makes heavy reading, but there are a few interesting points worth drawing out:
•  The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (PUSofS) for Planning and Development admitted that people who carry out work under Permitted Development can request a Certificate of Lawful Development from their Local Planning Authority, a safeguard that might make selling the property easier.  Whilst there is no Government policy to encourage such applications, it was categorically stated that there were no plans to remove that right nor to change the associated charging policy.
•  It was confirmed that the NPPF has a clear "brownfield first" policy.  However the PUSofS accepted that not every brownfield site could be viably developed (he did not amplify, but in view of this year's weather, a question mark must hang over land in flood plains).  More importantly he drew a very clear distinction between greenfield (ie not previously developed) and green belt (is protected by legislation).  His full quote was:
"I think it is incredibly important to draw a clear distinction between greenfield and green belt. Green belt is land that is protected through local authority decisions in their local plans. The continuing protection for green belt was restated very clearly in the NPPF and, if I may say so, was restated even more clearly by the Secretary of State in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference last week. It is not in doubt. It has always been the case that local authorities can vary their own green belts but only if they do so through local consultation and the local planning process. Green space is not necessarily protected. Obviously, there is certain other non-green-belt land that is protected: AONBs, SSSIs, national parks and the rest".
The implication is that building on green belt land can only be permitted where Local Authorities have conducted a public consultation exercise and then made a formal amendment to the Local Plan.  We note that he did not reiterate the Government policy against "garden grabbing" but nor did he suggest that it no longer applied, so the assumption must be that there is no change.
Planning Capacity - Last updated 28th October 2012.
A recent report by English Heritage in partnership with the Association Local Government Archaeological Officers has discovered that nationwide the number of historic environment specialists (including hired in specialists) has dropped by a further 6% in the last 12 months making a total drop of 31% since 2006.  The number of planning decisions has remained fairly constant.  There are no individual figures published at the moment (though they may show up on the DCLG website in due course), so we don't know the numbers for B&NES that contributed to that report, but any reduction could explain why we are seeing what appears to be an increasing number of Listed Building applications allocated to officers who are not historic environment specialists.  We believe that there is a qualitative difference between decisions made based on advice, and decisions made based on first hand knowledge and experience.
Heritage At Risk - Last updated 21st October 2012.
There was an article in this week's Chronicle drawing attention to the English Heritage "At Risk" register which is reviewed annually and has recently been updated to produce the 2012 version.  English Heritage started this register in 2008, and it focused on the Grade I and Grade II* listed assets; and nationally slow progress is being made, as reported in their overview.  The detailed register is available on-line.
Locally the three buildings on the list are King Edward School in Broad Street, now assessed as "Fair" after the roof was repaired sufficiently to make the building weather-tight, the Cleveland Baths are assessed as "Very Bad" which might hopefully speed up agreement on a rescue programme, because the long drawn out discussions so far have seen the condition steadily deteriorate, as we have recorded over the years.  The Victoria Bridge is the third and more recent entry.  We would suggest that also at risk is the Walcot Street Cornmarket, sagging in the middle and stabilised with scaffolding, and perhaps English Heritage will include that when they complete their research into Grade II buildings.
Given the correspondence on file where English Heritage tried to preserve Brunel's Grade II* ramp at Bath Spa station only to be thwarted by the sheer number of iterations of planning applications concerning Southgate, it remains to be seen whether they approve of the appearance of the station without it, especially when the latest (as yet undetermined) applications received for the incoming businesses seem more intent on individual corporate branding regardless of how inappropriate the combination of various styles will look,  than on preserving the character of the location.  The current plans to change the appearance of Bath Abbey might also come under scrutiny unless amended sufficiently to preserve its current character.
This year there is a survey of Conservation Areas, of which Batheaston is assessed as in "Poor" condition and in Keynsham, Dapps Hill is "Poor" and deteriorating, whilst High Street is "Very Bad" and deteriorating.  Unfortunately the plans about to go before the DCC will spoil what character is left in the High Street if they are approved, but English Heritage have not commented on that in their register.
B&NES have an adopted City Wide Character Appraisal SPD covering Bath (though there have been planning decisions made that have paid no heed to it) but unfortunately for Keynsham there is nothing similar to protect the character of their Conservation Areas.
Historic Environment Guide - Last updated 21st October 2012.
While on the subject of English Heritage, they have produced, in conjunction with the Department for Communities and Local Government a "Historic Environment Planning Practice Guide" which adds to the National Planning Policy Framework the advice that used to support PPS5.  Planning Officers have known about this for a while and have taken it into account in their decision making, but we have now found a link to an on-line copy for anybody who wants to read it.
"Colonnades" proposal - Last updated 14th October 2012.
Following our initial item on this subject based in details that have been published in the Chronicle article, and our views on the idea which we placed on our Public Realm page, we have now traced the council's Cabinet briefing paper.  One thing included in that paper that was not mentioned in the press was the appointment of some commercial organisations to the project.  As a public body, the council is obliged to tender for such assistance, so that there is evidence for the auditors that those taking part are the the most cost-effective suitable companies.  There is no mention in the Cabinet paper of any such process;  it reads as though these are just single choice nominations.  If so, then the project has a dubious legality.  We hope the Cabinet does not make a decision on just the information in the briefing paper without clarifying this ambiguity first.
Combe Down Heritage Centre- Last updated 14th October 2012.
The Chronicle has publicised the public meeting called by the Combe Down Stone Legacy Trust (a registered charity) to gather ideas for the Heritage Centre which was part of the planning application for the former Gammon Plant Hire site in Combe Down.  When we commented on the planning application we described the Heritage Centre as a "token gesture", inadequate in size for the expectations, and tucked in a corner with no parking provision.  Nevertheless, that was what was given permission and the Trust has to do the best it can with it. 
We wish the Trust every success in setting out and running the centre, and hope that as well as the features on Bath stone they can find room for a recognition of The Maltings that were also an important part of Combe Down's heritage but despite the wishes of English Heritage to preserve them, were sacrificed for Government funding and a development which will never look as though it belongs in Combe Down.
Electrification of the Railway - Last updated 7th October 2012.
Watchdog was invited to a meeting with Network Rail, to meet a member of the team responsible for the Bath segment, and to discuss the associated issues.  The aim was to explore the main concerns rather than discuss solutions at this stage, and we have put together a short summary on our GWR page.
Riverside Path - Last updated 30th September 2012.
Crest Nicholson have improved and reopened the riverside path between Homebase and Victoria Bridge.  We have put the details on our Public Realm page.
Speed Limits - Last updated 23rd September 2012.
We first raised on this issue in January when councillors were thinking about whether and where 20mph limits might be appropriate in Bath.  At the time we mentioned that according to legislation a 20mph limit is "non-standard" and as such the area thus limited not only needs start and end points but also needs regular reminders ("Repeater signs") at intervals to be enforceable.  In a World Heritage City with a desire to de-clutter the street views, we asked councillors to bear in mind the visual impact of all these extra signs.
There have been some developments recently which are too lengthy to place here, so the full article is on the Public Realm page.
Claverton Pumping Station - Last updated 16th September 2012.
On 12 August, Watchdog was among the invited guests to the unveiling of the Red Wheel plaque, newly awarded to the Claverton Pumping Station.  The details of the award and of the day's event are on our Kennet & Avon page.
Council website - Last updated 9th September 2012.
We were critical of the new look planning pages last week.  It appears that we were not alone in our dislike, and the Chronicle has a news item on it which includes a statement from the council.  Our commentary is too long to appear here, so it is on another page.
Public Realm - Last updated 2nd September 2012.
Orange GroveAlso decorating (which doesn't seem the correct word) the public realm is one of the ridiculously tacky cycle stands in the Orange Grove.  The Orange Grove is a well used location, being a green oasis very near the coach drop-off bays.
On a warm sunny day the grass in the Orange Grove is covered in visitors, relaxing, chatting, eating, taking photos or simply killing time until their coach arrives to pick them up.  Nobody would bat an eyelid at conventional cycle stands by the roadside, but some of these visitors will be leaving with this unsightly object that looks as though it was designed in a primary school in the foreground of their photos of the east end of the Abbey, and of the Empire Hotel if they stand in the wrong place.  Visitors go home and show their holiday photos to friends and relatives then post them on Facebook and Flickr, so these photos become part of the image of the city for people who have never visited but might be considering it.  We thought these cycle stands were to be phased out, not relocated to where they could do more harm than in their original positions.   A wonderful "own goal" for Bath.
Street Clutter - Last updated 26th August 2012.
Meanwhile, the York press continues to report York's efforts to do what Bath should be doing but isn't, which is to improve the appearance of the city by removing street clutter.  In York the need for additional telephone boxes is debated and as reported, refused.  In Bath the streets are cluttered with Wayfinders, "A" boards, tables and chairs, an excess of bollards, and all sorts of other detritus, all with the council's blessing.  How sad.
Sydney Gardens - Last updated 19th August 2012.
The bridge reopenedThere is good news and bad news about Sydney Gardens.
The good news is that the broken boards on the cast iron bridge have been repaired in the appropriate timber (the new boards are clearly visible in this picture taken on 19 August, at the photographer's end of the bridge) and the bridge is now reopened for the public to use.
The bad news is that the temporary wooden fencing which was installed without the necessary listed building consent and that we reported on 29th July (see our news item below) is still in place, with no apparent action being taken to regularise the situation.
Listed Buildings - Last updated 19th August 2012.
We did get a chance to examine the proposals on the consultation on possible changes to listed building legislation which was on the DCMS website, and we and we did (just) manage to comment by the closing date of Thursday 23 August.
The consultation sought opinions on whether there should be a cut-off time after which listed building consent could be deemed granted if no decision to the contrary had been issued (we thought not);  whether it would be practical and beneficial to define things that would be the listed building equivalent of permitted development (we thought that this had possibilities provided local variations were possible);  and various flavours of options where the council might outsource the Heritage Team role (which we thought would be detrimental because of the difficulty of controlling the quality of training standards, appropriate specialisms, and the quality of advice across a large number of independent advisory agents).
Reading between the lines it looked as though DCMS was exploring methods of weakening local authority control over listed buildings.  That might not be risky in areas where a local authority has a handful of listed buildings and perhaps sees a couple of listed building applications a year and have no dedicated specialist staff to deal with them, but Bath has several thousand listed buildings and has an Outstanding Universal Value as a World Heritage Site that is partially dependent on them, so it was important to bring this end of the spectrum to the attention of DCMS.  We can now only wait and see if our message is taken into account.
From the DCMS (among others) website - Last updated 19th August 2012.
Several snippets:
•  Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is considering allowing S106 agreements to be re-negotiated in the hope of restarting stalled developments, and is conducting a consultation into the subject.  The architectural press is sceptical about the success of such a move, pointing out that greater access to credit for developers is what is really needed.  Because S106 agreements are permitted in law only to overcome the infrastructure impact of developments, any reduction must have a penalty for the neighbourhoods around them.  Luckily, B&NES is not in the forefront of this misguided policy.
•  Work is about to start on the Gammon Plant Hire siteEnglish Heritage objected and wanted the existing Maltings buildings preserved and Watchdog objected, but the offer of HCA money and a (too small) Interpretation Centre triumphed.  In the article the Cabinet Member for sustainable development's comment completely overlooks the fact that her Cabinet role portfolio includes heritage, of which the Maltings plays an important local part.  Also overlooked is the fact that demolition, site clearance and materials disposal along with materials manufacture, delivery and installation, has a total carbon footprint that the replacement buildings will not last long enough  to repay, so the development in "whole life" terms is not going to be as sustainable (or as appropriate for the Conservation Area) as reusing the Maltings would have been.  This site cannot therefore be used as a project from which best practice can be developed.
•  Natural England is actively encouraging apprenticeships in traditional building skills with a restoration project for Wykeham Priory in Scarborough.  Bath could do with a similar project for the Corn Market.  If only ....
Heritage Day - Last updated 12th August 2012.
The Heritage Day event was well attended, surprisingly so when the competition for people's attention was the Olympics and the Bristol Balloon Fiesta.  The organisers received feedback that made it clear that there was a continued public interest in such functions; so much so that discussions have already started on the timing and content of the next one, and the suggestion that it should cover a wider area.
ExhibitionWatchdog teamed up with the Bath Blitz Memorial Project to provide a wide-ranging display that covered the history of Bath's main industries including (where different) their wartime role, and their impact on the people who worked there.  Those exhibits were in the area with vinyl flooring in this photograph.
Other displays included the Museum of Bath at Work (to the right on the pictured carpeted area), and local history displays of the London Road and Walcot area (partially in shot on the extreme left of the carpeted area).  Also present but out of shot in our photo were exhibits from Akeman Press who specialise in books on local history, Saltford Brassmills (which also had a premises in Weston), the Avon Valley Railway, and the Weston Local History group featuring the industrial heritage of Weston.  Photographs, artefacts and relics of the Gasworks, Stothert and Pitt, and the Titanic (which had connections to a number of Bath companies) were also on display.
Woolley Valley - Last updated 5th August 2012.
Watchdog has been monitoring though not taking an active part in the campaign by the Save Woolley Valley Action Group to preserve and restore the character of the valley.  We reported about a year ago that the Group had been given permission to pursue two Judicial Reviews:  the first over the council's decision that the chicken sheds did not need planning permission;  the second arguing that the retrospective application for the "Stock Pond" was not properly evaluated.  Having failed to persuade the council to take appropriate action to protect the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from inappropriate development without recourse to the courts, High Court hearings took place early in July and the judgements were published this week.  The court ruled that the council had wrongly interpreted the law over the chicken sheds, and that the permission for the stock pond was given without a proper screening.  The council was refused leave to appeal, the court ruling that council taxes would be better spent upholding the law rather than challenging it. This information is from the group's Latest News page.   On a Planning Law website is an even more detailed analysis, including the fact that the Secretary of State supported the Group's view rather than the council's, and that the law considers a temporary building permanent in landscape terms if it only moves within its local environment and doesn't leave it.  So that principle is now established in Case Law.
This is not just local news.  Obviously the Chronicle carried an article, but it is also national news with The Press Association making the story available, and we found it taken up by The Independent, The BBC, and even The Yorkshire Post.  The judgement has already appeared in the on-line Case Law library, and perhaps most seriously for a World Heritage Site, the Independent's article has been reproduced verbatim on the World News website.
Great Western Railway - Last updated 5th August 2012.
English Heritage have been reviewing Brunel's structures along the line from Paddington to Bristol to see whether everything that should be listed is on their list and at the correct grade.  We were provided with the complete list and there are a number of entries in the B&NES area.  Within Bath itself, Twerton Wood Tunnel Portals were upgraded to Grade II*, as was the iron bridge in Sydney Gardens mentioned below.  It was upgraded because it is the last surviving example of a cast iron bridge, which makes its repair and restoration particularly important.
Sydney Gardens - Last updated 29th July 2012.
We were tipped off that a fence had been erected along the railway as it passes through Sydney Gardens, so we went to have a look.  It is a wooden paling fence going the whole way along the railway balustrade, and there are (locked) gates in each section.  It doesn't look permanent.
If Network Rail intend to do maintenance on the balustrade and the fence is to ensure that nobody (children especially) strays through any gaps that they might temporarily make, then the fence is a necessity and we are grateful that the customary method using a solid hoarding was recognised as being unacceptable in this location.  However, if the fence is just to prevent the general public from using that part of the gardens adjacent to the railway, then it is a structure that affects the character of listed heritage assets, and it needs listed building consent.  We have been in touch with Network Rail, who in their initial reply simply said that it had been put there for safety reasons, but so far we have not found out what they are trying to make safe or their longer term intentions.
Train seen through the fenceWe took this photo from one of the seats thoughtfully provided by the Parks Department for those wishing to observe the trains, and the extent which the fence detracts from the view from the seats is obvious. The balustrade is Grade II* listed and it is rendered almost insignificant.  The average adult when standing can easily see over the fence but children can't, and while we were taking our photos two young children leaped onto other seats to wave to the driver over the fence.  If children do so and overbalance, they could be hurt.  It could be that this safety fence might have introduced a new safety hazard.
Broken boardWhile we were in the gardens, we took a look at the iron bridge over the railway which is currently blocked off from public use.  We saw that one of the boards which form the pedestrian surface has given way making it dangerous to walk on, which makes it a completely different issue to the fencing along the balustrade.
Cleveland Pools - Last updated 22nd July 2012.
Watchdog has been monitoring the fate of the Cleveland Pools, the only surviving Georgian lido in the country and Grade II* listed, and has a Cleveland Pools article on another page, which currently tells the story as far as the 2010 Heritage Open Day.
We recently met some of the trustees of the Cleveland Pools Trust who brought us up to date on the latest developments.  After the 2010 open day, with the aid of a grant from English Heritage, a complete assessment of the site was conducted, including the draining of the main pool which confirmed that the structure below the water level was sound.  This whole-site assessment informed the preparation of a business plan, and identified the risks of further deterioration.  The last of the English Heritage grant was spent on emergency repairs, replacing missing and damaged roof slates to seal the leaks, adding temporary guttering and downpipes so that the walls can dry out, putting temporary roofing on those changing rooms that had been open to the sky so that they too could dry, dealing with the vegetation that was putting the structures at risk from root damage etc.  These are temporary repairs to ensure that anything that should be weatherproof is now weatherproof and protected from further deterioration.  Proper repairs in the correct materials would be part of the Business Plan.
By April 2012, a Business Plan in sufficient detail to be the basis of a Stage 1 Heritage Lottery Fund application was ready, and was put forward as a bid so that it would be considered by the HLF Board in mid-July.  The Trustees have just heard the outcome informally, and have passed the news to us.  The full content of the decision will be made in writing soon.
The HLF Board did not make a grant;  but that meeting did not offer any grants to any other first-time applicants either;  all bids granted funding were re-applications.  More importantly the Trust's bid was not refused.  Informally, the Trust was told that the HLF considered the project worthy and it deserves to succeed.  The HLF want the Trustees to resubmit in the autumn, providing additional information so that the application can be reconsidered.  The Trustees regard this as a positive indication, and so do we.  Once the full written text of the HLF Board's decision is available, work on preparing the autumn resubmission can begin in earnest.  The Trust would like to hear from anybody who has information on the maintenance and servicing of the pools facilities when they were open for swimming.  E-mail if you can help.  It wasn't mentioned at our meeting, but we imagine that offers of funding wouldn't go amiss either!
"A" Boards - Last updated 15th July 2012.
Exactly three months after the council issued a press release about the restrictions to be applied to "A" Boards, a press release which announced Trader A-Board rules now being enforced, we checked on the impact.  A very quick look-around (with umbrella!) in the central area suggests that enforcement is sadly lacking and businesses are taking advantage of that.
Council A BoardBANES LogoIt is difficult to feature offences without giving offenders advertising that their behaviour does not deserve, but we can feature the board pictured on the right which carries the council's logo and its Public Realm website address.  It also breaks most of the rules in its "A" Board policy.  If the council openly flouts its own rules, what hope is there for persuading businesses to take heed of them?
And so it has proved.  In our quick look, we noticed some who had complied with the council policy (well done to those businesses, but space does not allow us to feature them), but a significant number of blatant offenders.
We noticed an "A" Board chained to railings (in High Street, right opposite the Guildhall, so officers and councillors can't fail to have seen that one) which we know has been there almost every day since before the policy was introduced.  "A" Boards in other streets advertise the same business.
We noticed a premises in Westgate Street with two "A" Boards, identical on one side but different on the other, one at each end of the shopfront.
We noticed advertisements fixed to a unicycle chained to a lamp-post in Monmouth Street, advertising a business that the advert says is in Kingsmead Square (but it isn't - it is in New Street).
Satire!We noticed several boards with arrows pointing to businesses far from the board's location, including one in James Street West where the board was inside a roped-off area where workmen were busy.
We noticed that one business in Westgate Buildings had a board outside its premises that was far too tall, and two other advertisements in neighbouring streets mounted on springs so that in the wind they became swinging signs.
Our favourite is the "A" Board we spotted on Bog Island advertising something so far away that its owner may be unaware that their board had been modified by others to make a political statement.  We have shown a trimmed photo on the left (so as not to advertise the original business nor the campaign that made the modification).
When the policy was proposed, we had our doubts about whether it would be effective.  Our own surveys (in March, May and July) suggest that introducing the policy has made very little difference to numbers, and enforcement of the policy seems to be non-existent (effectively making it pointless to have a policy at all).  Placing "A" Boards on the footway is an offence under the Town Police Clauses Act, and consideration should be given to a total ban to comply with that Act, a ban which other tourist towns and cities have successfully implemented.  This would remove a large amount of clutter from the streets of a World Heritage Site.
World Heritage - Last updated 8th July 2012.
The World Heritage Committee closed its 36th session (which coincidentally also celebrated the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention) on Friday 6th July.  In the keynote speech, the chairman said "We must keep in mind the indisputable reality that the outstanding universal value of World Heritage sites is based on local values, local experience and most importantly on local conservation efforts".  In other words, the world is relying on Bath to look after Bath.  Next year (in the 37th session) we will find out how well the committee thinks we are fulfilling that obligation.
By the end of the 36th session, 26 new sites were inscribed, including four in countries that had not previously been represented in the list.  Five sites (including Liverpool) were added to the "In Danger" list, and two were removed from that list after what is described as "conservation successes".  More details can be found on the UNESCO website.
Chewing Gum - Last updated 1st July 2012.
In a letter to the Chronicle, a German visitor to Bath accused the council of being ineffective in preventing Bath from looking so scruffy and dirty.  In particular the writer notes the abundance of chewing gum except in the very centre, and compares this unfavourably with spa towns in Germany.
Torbay oneSo we made a very quick check on a couple of other UK locations where we had contacts who could provide a swift response, and the successful approach to chewing gum appears to be to have specific and clearly visible facilities for its disposal, which seems to provide a subliminal message that if it is to be discarded it is better to do it here and now in a receptacle rather than 20 paces further along the road when the pavement would be the final resting place.
ExeterTorbay close-upThe picture on the right is from Exeter, which like Bath is a university city and also a tourist location.  An additional receptacle is built into the top of every litter bin, providing a final resting place for both cigarettes and chewing gum.  The two pictures on the left (the full unit and a close-up) are from the Torbay area.  The same principle of a combined unit for cigarettes and chewing gum has been adopted, but this time the units are mounted on lamp posts.  The variation of "Ashtray" on one and "Butts" on the other does not appear to change the effectiveness of the message.
If this approach works in other parts of the West Country, why not in Bath?
World Heritage - Last updated 1st July 2012.
The World Heritage Committee is meeting from the 24th June until the 6th July.  The architectural press has been speculating on the fate of the World Heritage status of Liverpool after a Mission there condemned a proposed "Liverpool Waters" development which had been granted outline planning permission.  Whilst one on-line article majored on the possibility of World Heritage Status being stripped by UNESCO, the news reports from the World Heritage Committee which started its 36th session make it clear that at this stage the decision was taken to place Liverpool on the World Heritage In Danger list.  To UNESCO, this is always a short term option not a permanent one:  sites are either taken off the "In Danger" list because the danger has been averted, or sites are delisted as an admission that negotiations failed.  Dresden was deleted from the World Heritage list in 2009, and Istanbul is currently under scrutiny, so the threat is real.
The fact that the driver for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decision on the site "Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City" was the granting of Outline Planning, is of significance to Bath.  The World Heritage Committee reviews the condition of World Heritage sites on a two-year cycle.  This year for the UK the cycle includes the Palace of Westminster with Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London, Liverpool Mercantile and Cornish Mining.  Bath (and others) will be reviewed next year.
And since its last review Bath has granted Outline Planning permission to the later phases of the Western Riverside; the very phases that the World Heritage Committee required to be amended, asking for "a time-bound revised plan for the second and third phases of the Bath Western Riverside project, including revised density and volume of the ensemble, so as not to impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, its integrity and on important views to and from the property".  No revision of density or volume has been offered; indeed the tower blocks that were omitted from the earlier proposals were added back in the 2010 superseding documents and outline permission for them now exists, so the situation is worse rather than better.  The next review of Bath can't fail to notice that.
This year Liverpool, next year Bath, perhaps?  Given that much of Bath's economy is based on tourism, a loss of World Heritage status would be serious:  It suggests that what was once worth visiting no longer is, which would be reported in nearly every newspaper around the world.
Houses In Multiple Occupation (HMO)s - Last updated 1st July 2012.
A planning application 12/01664/FUL was accepted through validation and was recently granted permission.  Watchdog did not comment on it because it had no heritage connotations.  However, the existence of the consultation on a proposed Article 4 on HMOs (see below) caused us to research HMOs.  And we spotted this anomaly (underlined):
From 12/01664/FUL: "Change of use from ancillary retail (A1) to 7no. bed HMO (C4)"
From Statutory Instrument 653/2010: "Class C4. Houses in multiple occupation - Use of a dwellinghouse by not more than six residents as a house in multiple occupation".
It appears that planning permission has been granted for something that has no basis in law.  7 or more occupants is Use Class C1.  Oops!
Consultations - Last updated 10th June 2012.
Notices have appeared in a number of locations around Bath announcing an intention to make "an Article Four Direction".  There is a description of the consultation on the council website, and that page has links to other supporting information.  One of the links looks insignificant, but it does lead to the details of the decision the council made.
The council's description is a little indigestible with reference to classes and schedules so simplify the issue, we offer the following "nutshell" summary.  Within the planning legislation is the concept of "Permitted Development", which are minor changes that the Government has said can be made without planning permission.  Article 4 of that Statutory Instrument allows councils to remove permitted development rights so that something that remains permitted elsewhere is locally only allowed with planning permission (in this case converting a dwelling house into a house of multiple occupation).  It doesn't mean that such conversions will not take place, only that a planning officer will consider each on its merits rather than the current arrangement where permission can always be assumed.
There are three stages to an Article 4 Direction:  The council's suggestion and the public's views on the suggestion;  the Secretary of State's verdict;  and the council's guidance to its planning officers on how to evaluate such planning applications.  Note that the council needs the agreement of the Secretary of State, and that the Secretary of State can decide on the Direction as submitted or can impose modifications to it.  In making a decision, the Secretary of State will normally take into account the views of the public during the consultation period (which ends 20th July 2012), so it is important that as many members of the public as possible make their views known, either by email quoting Article 4 in the subject to or in writing to:  Article 4, Planning Services, PO Box 5006, Bath, BA1 1JG.
Provided the Secretary of State doesn't refuse the proposal for an Article 4 Direction, in the autumn the council will prepare a Supplementary Planning Document to guide applicants and planning officers, and normally a new SPD is offered for public consultation.  So the public should get two chances to offer their thoughts, the first on whether an Article 4 Direction is wanted;  and if it is, how it should be implemented.  Note that the Direction will not be retrospective, and that a house already converted before the Direction comes into force does not need to apply for permission;  the Direction is to control any new conversions in the future.
Watchdog is not against shared housing as a matter of principle, but we do recognise that it falls into two distinct types:  there is the house that remains structurally as built, so that it could be either a shared property or a family home;  and there is the house where the internal walls have been altered to squeeze in additional rooms, which is then a building only suitable as a set of rooms-to-let because it would cost a lot to return it to a configuration that a family would want to occupy.  This second type can alter the character of a Conservation Area, particularly if festooned with dormers and skylights.  Unfortunately the council's papers do not recognise that distinction, so we will try to get that point across in the consultation process.
Consultations - Last updated 3rd June 2012.
•  Carr's Mill.  The full set of the exhibition boards is now on-line, but the file is 6MB which leaves some browsers struggling to display it properly.  If you can't see all 8 pages using our link below, we advise you to use the right mouse button on this link and save the file to your own computer, where you should be able to read it all.
•  World Heritage.  The consultation on the World Heritage Site Setting was launches on 28th May and closing date for comments is 6th July.  This consultation focuses on the appearance and landscape of the World Heritage Site and its surroundings.  More details can be found on the council website, and that linked page also contains the references to the document offered for consultation, and to the form to be used for comments.  The various maps do not resolve well from the low resolution version of the consultation document, and the high resolution copy is a large file which again may need to be saved onto your computer to make it easy to read.
•  Traveller's Sites.  We would not normally consider this as a heritage issue if it wasn't for the rather bizarre timing of this consultation which overlaps World Heritage Setting dates and the outcome of either consultation could have an impact on the other.  The Traveller's Sites consultation runs from 23rd May to 18th July, and two of the list of "preferred options" are within the World Heritage Site boundary and thus could potentially affect the setting.  So we are including this consultation for completeness in case you might want to comment on this aspect.
BT Cabinets - Last updated 3rd June 2012.
In March, we were critical of the DCC when they permitted a BT cabinet to be installed beside a listed building in Fountain Buildings, completely against the advice of the Case Officer, in a location that had remained unspoiled for over two centuries, for totally spurious reasons.  This week we found in the press the news that the London Borough of Kensington And Chelsea objected to the installation of cabinets in its historic streetscapes after BT had refused to compromise on the design and number of the cabinets.  Even more interesting was the comment at the bottom of the piece that the same thing had happened in Warwick.
Why is it that planners elsewhere care about the appearance of their neighbourhoods, but Bath with the added status of World Heritage Site readily consents to being despoiled?  For all its bullying tactics of publicly announcing "ceasing deployment" (which they were forced into by the lack of planning consents), BT will eventually compromise because it wants the added income from the premium prices of its Infinity services, and London and Warwick will be all the better for it.  Bath (and the citizens of the world who expect Bath to be looked after on their behalf) deserved better.
Kingsmead House - Last updated 3rd June 2012.
We noticed in April that the site was being offered for sale, and we wondered how this would align with the decision of the DCC that permission should be granted subject to a satisfactory S106 agreement.  The application is among this week's decisions made, and a S106 agreement binds the owners "and any successors in title" to a commitment to pay for specified highway works, within a ceiling figure.  So the site can now be sold with an extant planning permission, and the purchaser has a worst case ceiling to include in a financial model thus making any decision to purchase less risky.
Victoria Bridge - Last updated 27th May 2012.
We have noticed that the Victoria Bridge has been newly entered onto the English Heritage "Heritage at Risk" register, categorised as "Deteriorating slowly with no solution yet agreed".
Typical cyclistVictoria Bridge is important because it was the first one ever constructed using the "Taper Chain" principle invented by James Dredge, and it was used as the reference model in Dredge's advertising.  On the strength of that he received orders to construct around 50 other bridges, three of which still survive on the British mainland.  It is that historical heritage that made its II* listing so well deserved.  We wait with interest the plans for restoring the bridge, and would be happy to give our opinions if asked.
Meanwhile, there is good news for pedestrians in that the temporary metalwork that was the subject of recent planning applications is now open and it is once again possible to cross the river there (though the last time we used it there was no access to the towpath from it).  The bad news is that the ability to ride a bicycle and the ability to read don't always go together, as our photo shows.
Carr's Mill - Last updated 27th May 2012.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday at Twerton Park there was a public exhibition of plans for redeveloping "Twerton Mill" which may be the formal name for the site, but Carr's Mill is what most people call it.  Watchdog went along.
This is a challenging site to develop, situated as it is between river (and Weston Island) and the listed brick-built railway viaduct with residential listed Bath stone buildings in Rackfield Place, and despite the destruction from wartime bombs there are still relics of the original mill on-site.
Watchdog has provided its feedback at the exhibition, and we chatted to some of the other members of the public who were there at the same time that we were.  We concluded that different people focused on different facets of the design, and therefore the developer would be best served by as many people as possible giving their views, uninfluenced by our opinions at this stage.  So we invite you to look at the proposals for Twerton Mill which will be placed on-line very soon, and make your views known.  It is always easier to influence (or reinforce) a design before a planning application is submitted rather than afterwards, so please do make the effort.
Western Riverside - Last updated 27th May 2012.
The council have embarked on a "Bath Parking Survey", quoting the Western Riverside and the potential uses of the MOD land as the basis for the need.  This looks like the first public admission that the council knows that the parking provision for Western Riverside is hopelessly inadequate, yet the obvious conclusion does not seem to have occurred to them:  that if there is concern that these sites will have inadequate parking provision and cause problems elsewhere, the logical solution is not to simply study the current parking situation but to abandon the anti-car dogma and replace it with the pragmatic approach and increase the parking provision in the later phases.  This can be done, given the will.  In 2009, the Students of Notre Dame University produced a design for the Western Riverside that not only had more dwellings than the Crest Nicholson scheme but followed their New Urban principles and provided adequate parking:  "Parking is located as much as possible within urban blocks and garages, and along streets" they said.
Given that the council has on a number of minuted occasions stated that the Western Riverside is wholly dependent on the Bus Rapid Transit proposals which have since been cancelled, there is unarguable justification for an amendment of the later phases, which are the ones that the World Heritage Committee, on the strength of the UNESCO Mission to Bath report, specifically asked to be redesigned.  Similarly, the MOD sites are only at the concept stage, and it would be easy enough to include a generous parking provision within the concepts.  In fact the closing date for public input to the concept consultation is 30th May so there is still time for the public to make that point (if they haven't already).
The Packhorse - Last updated 20th May 2012.
After our item on The Packhorse last week, we were sent details of a Save the Packhorse website, so rather than Watchdog continually trying to track developments in what looks like a well organised campaign, we suggest that those interested use that website to keep up to date with developments.  However, Watchdog will raise the subject again if planning applications are raised, which the latest Chronicle article indicates would be necessary for a change of use.
"A" Boards - Last updated 20th May 2012.
In April 2012, the council introduced a new policy for controlling "A" Boards, and we have put links to the relevant documents on our Public Realm page.  In the background we did a series of surveys, before and after the introduction of the new policy, to assess its effectiveness.  This update examines the observable differences in number terms, because with a stated limit of one board per business we would have expected a reduction in numbers.
There was an overall reduction but it was insignificant, amounting to just one fewer board on a typical day, or a quarter of one percent of the boards in the central area.  But when we examined a more localised breakdown of the figures rather than the overall total there were some interesting findings:
The part of Abbey Churchyard facing York Street showed a reduction of about a quarter, but that was more than offset by the part of Abbey Churchyard between Abbey and Colonnade which almost doubled.  However, even with this large percentage increase, the Abbey Churchyard was not the most populated.
That honour went to Milsom Street which retained the highest count despite a 4% reduction in numbers.  It was closely followed by Upper Borough Walls (increased by 2% since March).  Argyle Street with Pulteney Bridge was third despite a 15% reduction and Westgate Street was fourth thanks to a 9% increase, and then came Abbey Churchyard in fifth place.
The prize for the fewest boards goes to Cheap Street, which on one of the days we surveyed had just two.  However given the width of the pavements we question whether there should have been any.  A survey of infringements of the new policy seems justified.
Bath Press - Last updated 20th May 2012.
One of the new planning applications this week is 12/01999/EFUL for the Bath Press site.  The description is very similar (though not identical) to that for 10/03380/EFUL which was withdrawn in March, just before it was considered at the DCC.
However, with 91 documents in the application set, it will be a while before we can completely evaluate what is proposed this time.  The immediate difference seen from the application summary is that this time the applicant is shown as Tesco Stores and previously the applicant was St James Investments.
The Packhorse - Last updated 13th May 2012.
Whilst Southstoke is outside the World Heritage Site boundary within which Watchdog has its primary focus, the fact that the Chronicle in its article on the Packhorse pub dates it to 1674 makes its continued existence as a pub of some heritage interest, so we are stretching our boundary.
It appears from the news item that there was only two months between the Packhorse going on the market "with vacant possession" and the latest purchase.  From the point of view of somebody intending to purchase the premises and continue to operate it as a pub, there are hoops to go through in order to become a licensee, and any fundraising would only be successful if the building was surveyed to be sufficiently sound and there was a reasonable expectation that a licence would be granted, so two months is a very short time to complete such a process and the new owner's claim that people had ample time is unconvincing.  So too is the claim that previous landlords did not put enough into maintaining the property, when maintenance would have be the responsibility of Punch Taverns, who according to investment analysts are having a lean time and would therefore be careful where they spent their money.  Raising money quickly may even be the reason why they chose to dispose of this particular pub.  Two months from advertisement to sale is surprisingly quick for a pub sale.
Also relevant is the information that the building had been sold without a licence (so effectively they sold it as a building rather than as a pub).  The local plan Policy CF7 requires permission for change of use of or modification that results in the loss of a public house must be refused unless the operation of a public house serving the local community is not viable and the premises have been effectively marketed as a public house without success (our emphasis).  By selling it vacant without a licence, Punch Taverns have deliberately not marketed it as a public house and therefore it must remain a pub until it can be proved not to be viable.  When the local residents describe it as "popular and profitable" that could be difficult.
Less obvious, but still worth exploring is the Use Class category of the premises.  If it is classed as Class A1 (g) "for the display of goods for sale" (which does seem to describe a pub), then if the new owner merely lives there it becomes a dwelling (Class C3) and if he uses it as a Chartered Surveyor's office it becomes a Business (Class B1).  If a change of use needs planning permission, the fact that the premises has not been marketed as a pub suggests that such permission should be refused.  If the action group also has clear evidence that the premises provided community space as well as being a pub, then a change of use that removes such a community facility should be refused under Policy CF1 unless the owner can show that the use is unnecessary or else he re-provides the facilities elsewhere.
All this depends on how  the council interprets its planning policies if planning applications are raised.  We will watch developments.
World Heritage - Last updated 6th May 2012.
The World Heritage Convention is 40 years old in 2012, and the UNESCO website reports numerous events around the world covering several facets of World Heritage plus some things to read, ranging from a 2-page leaflet on the role of local communities in guiding sustainable development in World Heritage Sites, to a mighty tome on Historic Urban Landscapes (of which Bath is one).
From the first document is the recognition that the custodians of World Heritage include "Local authorities working to enforce legislation and regulations".  Bath would not score highly against that measure:  extensions to listed buildings are required to be in compatible designs and materials to the host building yet the Holburne extension was approved;  the City-Wide Character Appraisal is adopted as an SPD yet there are several examples of buildings that the SPD should rule out being given approval;  there is a Western Riverside SPD yet plans that are in direct conflict with it are granted permission.  Meanwhile, Government legislation introduced the concept of Locally Important Buildings, and the Local Plan has a policy for protecting them, yet Bath has avoided implementing the policy by the simple expedient of refusing to produce a list of the buildings that fall into that category.  The UNESCO Mission to Bath reported back to the World Heritage Committee which recommended that the design for the later phases of the Western Riverside should be redesigned to be more in keeping with the Outstanding Universal Value, ideally by international competition, yet there is no indication that such a recommendation will be heeded.
Even more interesting is a quote from the second document: "Decisions taken in the planning process must be explicit, confronted one with another to verify their coherence, and referred to the aims of conservation and development which are the subject of this paper. Thereby, the urban plan guarantees a holistic vision of transformation processes that an architectural project is unable to control".  At the time when the Core Strategy is being examined, there is little evidence within it of a holistic vision.
Part of Cullinan PlanThere used to be one in the days of Bath City Council, but Avon dispensed with it and the nearest B&NES got to one was the little publicised Cullinan Plan where glass faced cubes jostled with phallic shaped towers and a series of "busometers" (as shown in this design for Green park Road), a plan which never went to public consultation but its spirit has been spotted when reading between the lines of various documents produced since.  Conservation of the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site was not part of the brief given to Cullinan, but it should have been.
Consultation on street furniture has been similarly lacking, simply tinkering round the edges with (for example) a token consultation on bus shelters that effectively said "this is the shelter, but you can comment on the slope of the roof and the shape of the seat" rather than questioning whether it was the right type of shelter for Bath (which it isn't).  Street lighting, seating, way markers cycle stands etc have been similarly arbitrarily positioned in a style imposed, with little thought for the aesthetic impact on a World Heritage Site.
Bath is believed to have a reputation for being difficult for developers, but for a World Heritage Site noted for its homogeneity which the average developer seems to want to turn into a "High Street, Anytown" clone, that is as it should be.  The problem is that the current emphasis is on saying what is not acceptable rather than what is.  Bath City Council used to have a design guide which was not perfect but generally resulted in reasonable developments with very few horrors.  Something like that is needed again so that developers who follow the height, mass, materials, colours, style and proportions guidance encounter few obstacles in the planning process.  That doesn't mean everything has to be faux Georgian, but it does mean the end of architectural ego-trips producing wholly incongruous designs - provided of course that the council's decision makers stick to the council's own guidance, which they don't always do at the moment.
Listed Buildings and VAT - Last updated 29th April 2012.
HMRC is conducting a consultation on changing the VAT rules for listed buildings.  Under the guise of reducing anomalies, they aim to levy VAT where none was payable before, with this (probably unintended) outcome that it could be cheaper to demolish a listed building and building a replica than to restore the original.  So much for the aim of listing being to protect buildings of national importance.
When we first found this consultation it had a closing date of 4th May and we hurried to meet that date.  It was only after we had submitted our response that the closing date was extended to 18th May.  So if any reader wants to make their own comments on the proposal, there is still time.
Kingsmead House - Last updated 29th April 2012.
Despite our advice that this sensitive site deserved a design with more "Bathness" than the proposals put forward, and our observation that the council's own Building Heights Strategy ought to rule out the design proposed, and the advice from the council's own Development and Regeneration Team that the Core Strategy reserved this site for office accommodation not a hotel, the DCC was so wrapped up in the idea that hotels bring tourists that they approved the applications, mostly on the grounds that the existing building could not be refurbished for continued use as offices (the concept of demolition and building a new office building did not seem to have occurred to them).  The DCC decision was to require council officers to reach a specific S106 agreement, and then to formally issue planning permission.
That S106 agreement could be a long way off, because we have found the site offered for sale as a "Hotel Development Opportunity".  We expect potential buyers to regard the negotiations to minimise the S106 commitment (a commitment that the DCC minuted so there is very little room for negotiation) as the tipping point on whether to purchase or not, particularly when the competing hotel in James Street West, refused permission by the DCC but granted on appeal, looks set to go ahead now the fabric shop has closed down.  The disused Kingsmead House could be there for a long time yet.  Perhaps our old suggestion that it should be converted internally into student accommodation to give it a function until it is eventually demolished could be dusted off and reconsidered.
Certificate of Lawfulness - Last updated 29th April 2012.
As well as mentioning the inability to comment on 12/01457/CLPU, we looked at the details of this application.  The requirement is to install a section of engraved paving outside the Abbey identifying the end point of the Cotswold Way.  The legislation quoted says:
(1) If any person wishes to ascertain whether-
(a) any proposed use of buildings or other land; or
(b) any operations proposed to be carried out in, on, over or under land, would be lawful, he may make an application for the purpose to the local planning authority specifying the land and describing the use or operations in question
Nothing in this section of the legislation covers what is actually intended, which is to change the land appearance by removing an existing brass plaque and installing a larger stone one for a different purpose, all in the environs of a listed building.  This needs a proper planning application, not what appears to be an attempt to avoid consultation using a clause which cannot authorise modification, only use.  If the modification takes place, it will be without planning permission and it will be an enforcement matter.  Although we cannot comment on the application, we can say here it must be refused.
City Trail plaqueThe brass plaque to be removed (strictly speaking to be relocated) is interesting in its own right.  It is part of the Bath City Trail.  The CLPU documentation states:
There is currently a small brass plaque marking a point on the 'City Trail', a walking route around the city. This trail is now unpromoted, i.e leaflets and guides are no longer available and the route itself is not publicised in other publications and publicity.
So now we have a perfectly serviceable walking route, one that encourages people to explore Bath, taking second place to a marker for the Cotswold Way which takes walkers out of Bath.  Who thought that was a good idea?
Now take a slightly different view.  The brass plaques exist, and each is marked "City Trail" yet the leaflets and guides associated with them are no longer available.  What is the point of Bath Tourism Plus and the Tourist Information Office if they can't recognise the value of something that already exists, and why don't they make the leaflets available?  Somebody decided to discontinue them, and that somebody ought to hang their head in shame.  We did a quick straw poll (which admittedly was too few to be statistically significant) of visitors who had been in the Tourist Information Office, and the opinions expresses were less than flattering!
National Planning Policy Framework - Last updated 15th April 2012.
Government employees are banned from commenting to the press about Government policy, but no such restrictions apply to retired or former Government employees.  Two have taken advantage of this to write to the letters page of The Times.  The Times only allows access to its content on-line by subscription so we have typed the salient points from relevant letters from the printed copy.
The text of both is here.  The letter of 5th April is from a former planning inspector and it points out that despite the claims of reducing red tape, the documents made obsolete did not contain it, so it still exists.  The letter of 9 April is from a retired Parliamentary Counsel.  That letter comments on an earlier Times article which isn't available on-line (It was headlined "New planning regulation: a lawyers' paradise?")  pointing out that the terminology in the NPPF is so vague that it is effectively meaningless.  It is reassuring that this reflects our views:  Watchdog's contribution to the public consultation pointed out that "sustainable development" was too ambiguous (and we suggested better wording); and it is typical of a Government consultation that comments from members of the ordinary public are routinely ignored as ours were.
Luckily, English Heritage have analysed the document in the context of heritage assets (listed buildings, listed parks and gardens, scheduled ancient monuments and conservation areas) and has advised that the protection previously offered to heritage assets still exists and the NPPF cannot be interpreted as undermining that protection.  We have obtained the latest statement by English Heritage which is on their website (along with a statement that PPS5 has not been withdrawn) but is reproduced here for ease of reference.  We hope that case officers and DCC Members take due note of it.
Flouting the Rules AGAIN! - Last updated 15th April 2012.
We mentioned last week that application 12/00495/FUL entitled "Bath Urban Area" was due to be considered by the DCC on 11th April despite numerous new drawings which were submitted on 2nd April and some clarifying correspondence the following day, which meant that according to the council's adopted Customer Charter which promises 14 days of consultation for changes, the application should not be determined before the 17th April.  Watchdog rushed out a comment on the revisions and expressly informed the case officer that the submission to the DCC was premature.
The case officer obviously read it, because the DCC was briefed about the contents of our objection.  What the DCC was not briefed on is the mismatch of the date when the DCC met and the earliest date that the application should be determined. Why not?
There is a bit of good news in that the items that were intended to be fixed to the historic lamp standards in the Circus will not be installed, thanks to a resounding veto by Highways on the grounds of potential damage.  There are two questions here:  why was the Historic Environment Team not equally concerned about the potential for damage;  and why are the historic lamps in the Circus not considered to be curtilage listed with the buildings that surround them?  If they had been, then a listed building consent would have been mandatory, with determination dependent on different legislation.  Perhaps the lamp standards should be listed in their own right to prevent any similar possibility of falling between the cracks in future.
The question the DCC Members should ask themselves is why both the March Meeting and the April one had applications determined that were on the agenda prematurely.
Twerton Heritage Day - Last updated 8th April 2012.
One Watchdog tableOn Easter Saturday, Watchdog went along to the Bath City Football Club, armed with as much information that we could muster on the areas being featured (Twerton and Lower Weston) with a focus on former industries, wartime damage, and the Bath connections with the Titanic (which were several). The picture on the right shows one of the four tables that Watchdog covered with material to read.
The event was opened by the Mayor of Bath, and was well attended, and our material was well used.  We thank those who came along, especially those who brought their own insights into the exhibits we had on display, and those who engaged us in some very interesting conversations.
Inside the hall 1Inside the hall 2
The first of these pictures is looking into the exhibition space from near the entrance.  To the left and out of shot are the exhibits of the Claverton Pumping Station and St John's Ambulance.  At the far end of the room is the Titanic display, mostly supplied by the council's Heritage Champion, with Watchdog's exhibits to the right of it.  The next exhibitor clockwise, hidden by the glare of the sun, can be seen in the right-hand photo.  There you see the Bath in Time exhibits with the council's World Heritage display beyond it and the Bath at Work display in the far corner.  To the right and out of shot is the Saltford Brass Mill display, featuring the Weston Island mill and some products produced by it.
When we spoke to the other exhibitors, they shared our view that the event had been a tremendous success, and there is considerable enthusiasm for future events covering other areas.  When these are arranged, we will advertise them here.  
Planning Policy - Last updated 8th April 2012.
On 27th March, the Government published its National Planning Policy Framework, and issued a letter to local planning authorities alerting them to that fact, and informing them that it was issued with immediate effect.  The aim of this document was to simplify planning by dispensing with a large number of pages in other Government documents, to be replaced by about 50 pages of guidance in the NPPF.
We pointed out last summer that the NPPF did not intend to repeal any legislation, merely to make obsolete the documentation that clarified the legislation enacted.  We thought it would cause more confusion than clarification, and offered that view in our consultation comments.
So it came as no surprise to us that immediately after the NPPF was issued, a "Technical Note" was rushed out.  This essentially reproduced the guidance in Planning Policy Statement 25, Minerals Planning Guidance 7 and Minerals Planning Guidance 13, three of the earlier documents declared obsolete but subsequently discovered to be indispensable.  It is only a matter of time before others follow.
Then came a letter published in The Times on 5th April from someone who introduces himself as "a former planning inspector" and therefore someone qualified to offer the criticism which followed.  The main thrust of the letter says that the NPPF "does indeed compress reams of superseded guidance into 50 pages.  However this is all advice on government policy, the non-statutory part of the framework of planning.  It has to be used in compliance with the statutory elements, the Planning Acts from 1990 onwards, often amended, other Acts, the stream of statutory instruments, rules, directions and directives and indeed case law.  These are where the much vilified red tape lies.  ...  Those hoping that this document will reduce red tape will be greatly disappointed."
We said the same thing last August, though rather less eloquently, and it is good to see a professional coming to the same conclusion as us amateurs.  So planning applicants and planning officers should take note:  the names may have changed but the legislation hasn't and the NPPF must not be interpreted as a rubber stamp with "yes" on it.  It just means that instead of the easily understood English in PPS and PPG documents that we usually quote when commenting on planning applications, we may have to revert to the legalese in the legislation itself, and hope that case officers will be suitably trained in interpreting it.
Cleveland Pools - Last updated 31st March 2012.
We have received a progress update from the Cleveland Pools Trust.  It said "After months of meetings and many hours at our computers, the Trustees have completed a Stage 1 Heritage Lottery Fund bid application which will be submitted in early April 2012. Then comes the nail-biting wait to hear if we have been successful and can enter the Development Phase when the hard work really starts! The HLF Board meets on 16/17th July to decide our fate so watch this space and the local press for the news after that."
We will keep in touch and report the outcome.  For those who want to know what the current plans are, their website contains a flyer.
Herman Miller Building - Last updated 25th March 2012.
Broken claddingThere is a new listed building application on our New Applications page.  There is nothing particularly significant about this;  the previously granted listed building consent expired in the first week of March, and the new one seeks to renew it because both planning permission (which is still pending) and listed building consent are needed before work can start.
The extra document this time is a Condition Report dated February 2012, which if anything understates the condition we photographed at the end of March.  Round the back of the building a number of cladding panels are smashed.  According to the planning documents, these are made of asbestos cement.  Whoever broke them no doubt breathed in asbestos dust.  It is grey asbestos mixed with cement, so not the most dangerous type nor in the most concentrated form, but nevertheless exposure to it is undesirable.  So we are publishing this photograph to alert readers that the broken pieces on the ground contain asbestos and they should not disturb them.  These fragments need clearing up by those trained to do so.  Hopefully that will be soon.
Fountain Buildings - Last updated 25th March 2012.
BT applied to place one of their fibre optic broadband cabinets in Fountain Buildings, against the currently unspoilt end of the listed Alfred Street.  It went to the DCC on 14th March with a recommendation  to refuse.
The minutes of the meeting make interesting reading.  The planning documents say that BT wanted that position because otherwise they would need to install a longer duct and to dig a trench across roads to install it.  The minutes say that the DCC overrode the recommendation to refuse "for the economic prosperity of the city that superfast broadband will bring", a reason which is breathtakingly irrelevant.  There never was a risk that it would not be made available.  The choice was between refusing (as was recommended) and suffering a couple of days of nuisance while a trench was dug and the cabinet was placed in a less conspicuous position, or the spoiling of a previously pristine environs of a listed building permanently.  And by letting their overactive imagination prevail over the true facts, it is the latter which the DCC have decided the public and tourists will face, forever.  Oh dear!
Bath Press Site - Last updated 18th March 2012.
Just days before the planning application for the site went before the DCC which would be considering a recommendation for refusal, as the Chronicle reported the application (10/03380/EFUL) was withdrawn, along with the similar application (11/02674/EFUL) which was due to be considered at a Public Inquiry later this year.  Shortly afterwards the Bath Chamber of Commerce expressed its sadness at the temporary abandonment of the Bath Press scheme (our emphasis).  Unfortunately the spokesman for the Bath Chamber of Commerce appears to be recommending that any scheme, no matter how bad, is better than no scheme at all.  Whether he really takes that view or whether that is just the way the report reads we cannot tell, but we cannot support that point of view.  When St James Investments conducted their public consultations, Watchdog attended every session and put in some practical schemes for the site with a caveat that a retail supermarket was perhaps the worst possible occupier because of the location, so we do know that there are alternatives to Tesco, and so do the site owners.
Having said that, Tesco have a reputation for not giving up easily, so it is worth musing over what they might have to gain by not pursuing the current applications.  The first possibility is that they may have judged that the Public Inquiry following their appeal would result in a refusal, and then decided that the cost of fighting their corner for no long-term benefit was not worth it.  Also if a Public Inquiry refuses permission, that sets a permanent precedent on what might be unacceptable on that site, and why.  That could be a risk that Tesco was not prepared to take.
Or else they may have judged that the DCC would have refused their original application and they wanted to avoid such a decision being made.  If they put in an application following a refusal, then they have to show that they have removed the reasons for being refused (which would have included traffic concerns which they could not remove if they obtained the level of trade they desired).  By withdrawing the application they do not have to show the same degree of proof, because there is no refusal to be quoted as a precedent, which will make the preparation of any subsequent application less onerous.  Whether Tesco persevere with a supermarket there remains to be seen, but they do seem to have short-circuited some of their major potential problem areas if they do.  Similarly, if St James Investments choose to sell the site, there would be no planning precedents to be declared to potential buyers.
There are better uses for the site, and there is scope for retaining more of the current structure than just the free-standing and butchered facade that was shown in the withdrawn applications.  The remains of the original 1888 Pitman building are still behind that facade (which incidentally is the second longest classical styled facade in Bath:  only the Royal Crescent is longer), and those Victorian remains should ideally be kept as evidence of the work of Sir Isaac.  We hope that whatever happens next recognises that.
City of Bath College - Last updated 18th March 2012.
The green growthIn the first link in the item above, Bath council commends its support for the City of Bath College's "Welcome building".  We remain critical of it;  its sombre dark face looks anything but welcoming, and round the side it is already showing signs of the Southgate problem, with algae growing on Bath stone because the chosen construction method was incompatible with the unique character of this natural material.  Given that the college offers a course on stone masonry, this sight we photographed is not the ideal advertisement for that course.
In Southgate the algae was sprayed with something that turned the green colour to a dirty brown, which if anything makes it look even worse.  We wait to see what the college will do with their problem.
The Olympics Come First? - Last updated 18th March 2012.
There was a planning application for public art works for the duration of the Olympics.  The planning website very clearly shows that the closing date for public consultation was 15th March.  Yet it was on the agenda for the DCC on 14th March, and they agreed to give consent.  Why did the the case officer not comply with the consultation expiry date on the planning file and withdraw the item from that DCC agenda because it was premature?  Does adhering to due planning process come second to Olympic decorations?  There would have been plenty of time to make the decision before the Olympic torch arrived without such short cuts
Bus shelters - Last updated 18th March 2012.
The public consultation on bus shelters has revealed a public preference.  Whilst given the limited alternatives offered in the consultation the outcome is sensible, we still maintain that there are more suitable, more practical and more elegant designs of shelter available and once again remind readers of our preferences for suitable Bus Shelters for Bath.
Drinking Fountains - Last updated 18th March 2012.
There appears to be a plan to install a drinking fountain in St James Rampire next month.  As this is a modern plumbed-in dispensing fountain not simple street furniture, and this location is within the environs of a number of listed buildings, we would expect to have seen a planning application and perhaps also a listed building application already;  it is cutting it very fine to complete the public consultation and get a decision published and still complete installation (assuming permission is given) next month.
Rather than modern fountains, wouldn't the money have been better spent on restoring the historic drinking fountains in the city such as Hedgemead Park and Rebecca's Fountain (which is looking neglected) which once provided the public with water?  We also wonder whether the current lack of public conveniences is an ideal partner to an abundance of fresh free drinking water.
Watchdog Website - Last updated 11th March 2012.
At our last meeting, the layout and format of this website was discussed.  Each week, more commentary is added and some obsolete entries are removed, but essentially the subject headings that we started out with persist and have expanded and now take a long time to scroll through.  The consensus was that some of the pages are getting too unwieldy, and that it was not always obvious where an occasional visitor to the website would find any particular topic of interest.  For instance if the visitor was looking for items on scaffolding, on the Transport Package, on frost damage or on the Cleveland Pools, would it be obvious that the website had such an item, and if so where would it be found?  Wouldn't it be better if this front page was headlines pointing to more comprehensive items rather than carrying the whole item itself?
It was agreed that a more concise page layout with a more intuitive set of subject headings should be the aim.  This would entail a substantial amount of planning and then rewriting, so there may be times in the weeks that follow where the updates put on-line might be minimal because much of the available time has been taken up with redesign.
The ultimate aim is a website that is much more flexible and intuitive, so bear with us until we get there.
"A" Boards - Last updated 11th March 2012.
Last November we reported that the council has decided on their policy on "A" boards, and we provided a link to the policy adopted.  A guidance leaflet has now been produced, which announces that from April 2nd the guidelines will be enforced.  How effective such enforcement will be remains to be seen.  Some of the enforcement cases Watchdog reports concerning listed buildings do not even get allocated a case number, and yet these types of offences should be more vigorously pursued than simple obstructions to pedestrians.  We can only hope that zeal for enforcing "A" board guidelines (which we do think is necessary, as our earlier item on Pavement Advertising shows) does not drain manpower away from other enforcement activities.
We still regret that the option of not permitting "A" boards at all (a policy adopted by Cambridge and York;  indeed York has just announced "zero tolerance" for offenders) was not considered appropriate in Britain's only World Heritage City.  When the success or otherwise of the latest guidelines is reviewed (and we will be making our own judgements on its success) we hope that the option of an outright ban might be reconsidered.
Listed Buildings - Last updated 4th March 2012.
English Heritage have been adding to their listed buildings database.  There are quite a lot to go through, so it may take a while to pick out the ones that might be of special interest, but so far we have spotted:
•  The building at the Stall Street end of Beau Street that was once the Horse and Jockey public house is newly listed.
•  Cedar Park Care Home in Oldfield Road, which unfortunately lost its landmark tree when it blew down in a gale last year, is nevertheless newly listed.
•  The Governor's House is now listed under its own name and under the correct address of Caledonian Road.  It has been listed since 1975 but it had been listed as "Premises occupied by Walters Engineering Ltd" in Stuart Place which made its entry hard to find.
Sorting Office•  The Post Office Sorting Office off Manvers Street, described as "One of very few buildings in Bath which have a deliberate architecturally ornate elevation facing the river Avon".  Unfortunately, as our photograph shows, the view from Spring Gardens Road is only possible in the winter, and the building is hidden behind foliage for most of the year.  Now that it is listed, we would like to see the tree that hides it (which is a stray rather than one that was deliberately planted) removed, to give a clear view.
•  22 Stall Street (Next Retail Ltd) which has an original shopfront designed by John Palmer and installed in 1800.
•  The Weston Public House in Newbridge Road which is listed because of its "Arts and Crafts Cotswold Vernacular style, which appears only rarely in the context of building in Bath".  English Heritage are clearly trying to preserve in Bath some architectural styles that are not Georgian.
•  Cricket PavilionThe Cricket Pavilion on the Rec.  Not the club house facilities used by Bath Rugby, but the small building just inside the listed turnstiles by Pulteney Mews.  The listing entry dates it to 1895 and says "the level of survival of its interior is remarkable".
•  Also on the Rec, the President's Lounge, part of Bath Rugby Club.  Originally it was a lime kiln fed from the end of Johnstone Street, a "very unusual survival of a late-C18 lime kiln in a city centre setting" according to the listing, now used as a club house.
•  12 Northgate Street, the entrance to the former Duck Son and Pinker shop.  Both the entrance mosaic showing "MILSOMS" and the bronze "MILSOM & SON" over the entrance are specifically mentioned in the listing text.  The adjoining shop, Number 13, the former Wards the Seedsman outlet, now Sweaty Betty, has also been newly listed.
There may well be other items of interest in the latest listings, and if we find sufficient time to explore the English Heritage database, we will identify them.
Frost Damage - Last updated 4th March 2012.
Our piece on frost damage last week resulted in other photographs being sent to us.  We have added a selection of them to our News Summary page along with those we took ourselves.
Stothert and Pitt Crane - Last updated 26th February 2012.
The scaffolding around the crane has now been removed and the results of the restoration so far can be seen.  We have put a summary of the restoration process on the Public Realm page along with the latest photographs.
Legal issues - Last updated 12th February 2012.
Since the VeraCityBath Ltd case where they received a judgement that the council could not cherry-pick from the four planning applications that underpinned the Transport Package we have maintained an occasional watch on the court lists in case there is anything new concerning Bath, particularly when the latest scaled-down transport Package does effectively cherry-pick from the original Park and Ride sites.
We have just spotted a case in the High Court "Administrative Court" list, number CO/1210/2012 listed on 23 January 2012 where the defendant is Bath and North East Somerset Council.  There are no further details on-line at present so we don't yet know if this is a related case or something entirely different;  and the current court schedule shows hearings in the immediate future being cases registered in 2011, so it may be a while before a hearing for this 2012 case is scheduled.  We will keep a watch on this one in case further details become available.
Notre Dame School of Architecture - Last updated 12th February 2012.
Watchdog continues to liaise with the university, and looks forward to reporting the results of this year's student project which is in the Manvers Street area.  We found in the University website the news that the Prince of Wales has been given a Richard H. Driehaus award for Architectural Patronage.
When Watchdog visited the university last year, we also went as guests to the Richard H. Driehaus award ceremony and we know that the Driehaus Foundation promotes sustainability through traditional architecture and construction methods, so the award to the Prince of Wales and his decision to donate the cash prize to the building skills section of the Prince's Foundation is understandable, though not particularly expected.
However, our last report of the Princes Foundation was that it was in favour of building a large number of houses on the Dutchy of Cornwall green belt land at Newton Meadows, and although things have gone quiet on that development scheme lately, there is no indication that the Princes Foundation has actually withdrawn its interest in such a development, and we can only hope that the prize money is never put towards wrecking this attractive green western approach to the World Heritage Site.
Royal Crescent - Last updated 5th February 2012.
Watchdog was provided with a news bulletin on the work that has now started on Number 1A Royal Crescent, but as the content has been reported in the Chronicle, we don't need to reproduce it here.
When the restoration plans were being finalised, we were given a tour round 1A in order to properly understand the details in the planning application.  It has a fascinating history which has resulted in a complex internal layout, and we were happy to support the planning application which is sympathetic to the building and brings it back into use.
For those who might have walked past now that work has started, and are concerned about the disappearance of the historic railings, rest assured that they have been removed for their own protection, are now safely stored, and will be re-installed to their original position when it is safe to do so.
Upper Oldfield Park Flats - Last updated 5th February 2012.
We were alerted by several local residents that work has started on the site, and we checked and confirmed that the conditions that had to precede the work had been submitted and agreed.  However we noted that whilst the construction application was in time, the demolition application had time expired.  This does show the consequences of the thoughtless way the DCC ignored the Government advice not to grant permission for demolition in a Conservation Area until a satisfactory design for its replacement was available.  The DCC refused the new construction application that was with the demolition application on the grounds that its design was unacceptable, and only later was there a modified application that they considered appropriate, hence the disparity in expiry dates.  No doubt there will be another application to demolish the (sound and habitable) house in due course.  Nevertheless, at the current time there is no permission for demolition in a Conservation Area, yet the first activity seen on the site was to demolish the garage.  It gets worse.
The hole in the wallA typical accidentA resident also provided us with these photographs.  The one on the left shows a hole that has just been made in the Junction Road boundary wall and we are told that heavy lorries have been seen inside the site having entered through that gap.  The picture on the right is of a typical accident in this location (the policeman in the background is standing exactly where the hole has been made).  We were asked (probably tongue in cheek) if we would like photos of all the future accidents involving vehicles using the newly made hole in the wall.
Yet we sat through and took notes in the DCC meeting that discussed the application for development which they subsequently approved.  One thing that was specifically recognised by the Committee was that using the existing Junction Road entrance just round a blind bend was an accident waiting to happen, and they asked for a condition banning its use except for emergency vehicles.  This became Condition 9 in the Decision Notice.  Then a different case officer dealt with the conditions application and approved a construction method statement among the submitted documents, thus allowing an access on Junction Road just along from the one which Condition 9 said could not be used, thus overriding all the safeguards that the DCC had attempted to build into the permission.
We have to ask:  When were case officers given the authority to override the intentions of the DCC?  Because that effectively is what has happened.  When the DCC barred the use of an existing entrance for safety reasons, they would not have imagined anybody being daft enough to permit another one being made alongside it.  We think that if conditions are imposed by the DCC, case officers dealing with the subsequent conditions applications should as a minimum get the approval of the DCC Chairman before permitting the conditions application.  Alternatively, the public should be allowed to comment on conditions applications to bring to the case officer's attention anything considered unacceptable in the associated documents.  The current system clearly has insufficient safeguards.
Meanwhile, the construction methods need to be revised on Health and Safety grounds;  cars colliding with lorries or heavy plant tend to result in fatalities.
Scaffolding - Last updated 29th January 2012.
Scaffolding has been erected outside 7-8 Cheap Street by Maple Scaffolding, and the workmen were seen drilling new holes in the stone facade to anchor it.  Some Decision Notices either remind the applicant that a further Listed Building application would be needed if it is intended to drill into the facade, or else add a condition requiring agreement on scaffolding fixings.  Unfortunately the Decision Notice for this application (11/04581/LBA) did neither.  Drilling a listed building without consent is an offence, but no amount of pursuit of the offenders can un-drill a series of holes.
Not every heritage facade is sound enough to provide firm anchorage, and this is especially true in the area within the old city walls where the Georgians sometimes put a new facade on an older building.  We hope case officers take this issue seriously, before a scaffolding collapses with part of a facade still attached to it rather than afterwards.
Station Vaults - Last updated 29th January 2012.
Those who remember the artists impression of the station area shown in the Chronicle (the one with the sun shining from the north!) might like to see the reality of what the vaults look like behind the ramp.  It looks very much how we expected it to look, but it will be a nasty shock to those who were so full of the shiny images in their heads that they dismissed the warnings of those who had researched the history of the station.  We have put our assessment of the latest situation on our Southgate page.
Core Strategy Examination - Last updated 22nd January 2012.
The Core Strategy Examination has begun (and all the supporting information is available on the council website) and as it progresses the programme is being modified in the light of events.  For ease of reference we have extracted the most recent programme (Issue 5 dated 19 Jan) of what will happen when.
Speed Limits - Last updated 22nd January 2012.
According to the Chronicle, councillors are thinking about whether and where 20mph limits might be appropriate in Bath.  Normally, traffic measures are outside Watchdog's remit and we make no comment, and in this instance we make no comment on the desirability or otherwise from a traffic point of view.  But according to the Department for Transport guidelines, unlike the current 30mph speed limit which is considered to be legally enforceable throughout the city once signs showing where the limit commences are in place, a 20mph limit is "non-standard" and as such the area thus limited not only needs start and end points but also needs regular reminders ("Repeater signs") at intervals to be enforceable.  In a World Heritage City with a desire to de-clutter the street views, we ask councillors to bear in mind the visual impact of all these extra signs and the possibility that popular photographic viewpoints and scenes might be marred by them, when they do discuss if and where additional speed restrictions could be appropriate.
The Rec - Last updated 15th January 2012.
Anyone listening to Saturday's commentary on BBC Radio Bristol covering the Bath Rugby match will have heard that the club is confident in getting the Charity Commission's permission soon for its expansion plans.
It is not likely to be that simple.  In their Order to the Trustees dated 20 July 2007, the Charity Commission included the obligation:
"The Commission directs that: ... BANES continue to resolve issues arising from the current and future uses of the Rec, to ensure that the Rec is managed properly as the property of the Charity for the benefit of the public now and in the future and satisfy the Commission that BANES has discharged its legal duties and responsibilities as trustee of the Charity".
Notice the constraint is "for the benefit of the public", and is not for the benefit of the occupants of the Rec.  To reach a private agreement with the rugby club in the face of their clearly documented position would be a complete U Turn.  It would also require the terms of the Trust to be varied, and to do that the Charity Commission must hold a public consultation on the proposed change.  They have not yet done so.
Even if in spite of everything, the Charity Commission reaches an agreement in favour of Bath Rugby, the conveyance of the land in trust to the council included covenants on the future use, and the High Court has considered those covenants and has found them valid as part of the ruling that the land should be held in trust.  Therefore the courts can force the council to uphold the covenants, regardless of whether the Charity Commission would be prepared to countenance change.  So don't believe everything you hear on the radio.
As Others See Us - Last updated 15th January 2012.
Now and again we notice observations by visitors to Bath, commenting on their experience.  In the past we have put them on the front page here.  But what the visitors see tends to be in the public realm, so we have put the latest one, spotted in an architecture journal, along with the ones we reported before, in a new section on our Public Realm page.  The subject of the latest one is Southgate.
Watchdog Annual Report - Last updated 8th January 2012.
As is our custom at each New Year, we have once again reviewed Watchdog activities for the previous year and have put together an Annual Report.
Planning Appeals - Last updated 8th January 2012.
As we expected, the appeal against the refusal for the Premier Inns Hotel in James Street West succeeded, and the decision to allow a hotel on the Kingsmead House site was noted by the appeal Inspector and added weight to the appellant's case.  The appellant was also awarded costs on the grounds that the local planning authority should have given a detailed justification for each reason for refusal in their submission to the appeal but they failed to do so.  This was just sloppiness, and has cost the taxpayers money.
The other notable appeal is for the Bath Press site.  Because the location is above a trigger size, the decision has been called in by the Secretary of State, and the appeal Inspector will now only advise the SofS rather than make the decision.  Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.
The Shrubbery - Last updated 8th January 2012.
Also in the December DCC was an agenda item to determine whether the stonework on this development was an acceptable colour.  Given that the DCC refused the original traditional style of building put forward and then approved a resubmission for a contemporary design using reconstituted stone, some variation from the colour and texture of natural stone was inevitable.
The materials to be used were subject to a condition, and our examination of the condition discharge suggests that although the applicant provided photographs taken outdoors on-site and made the offer of viewing samples on-site, the officer's decision was made on the photographs, since there is no mention in the report of a site visit.  And that is probably where the process went wrong.  All council offices are lit by low energy lighting and the spectrum this produces is biased towards the shorter wavelengths so that greens and blues are emphasised and reds and yellows are subdued.  The human brain compensates:  it knows that white paper is to be seen as white and adjusts accordingly, so these colour casts are not noticed.  But having judged a photographed colour under artificial light, it was inevitable that daylight which emphasises yellow would show the colour of the stone rather differently.  The lesson to be learned is that judgements on the acceptability of subtle colours should always be made in natural daylight.
Whilst the view expressed at the December DCC meeting was that the Shrubbery is an important walkway (and we agree wholeheartedly with that), it is a pity that the same concern was not taken into consideration by the same Committee when permission was granted for contemporary materials to be used.  We don't blame the applicant, who tried a traditional approach and had it refused and was advised to take a contemporary approach in a pre-application consultation, we blame the decision makers who have realised too late what it would look like.  We said in our objection that "we feel the proposal will be more visually dominant than envisaged", so the Committee cannot say they were not warned.  Their decision not to take enforcement action was correct in the circumstances.
Gammon Plant Hire Site - Last updated 31st December 2011.
At the last DCC of 2011, the members of the Committee ignored their own planning officers, the advice of English Heritage, a petition by over 230 local residents and our reminder that the development does not meet the expectations of the council's own adopted SPD called the Bath City-wide Character Appraisal which defines what is appropriate for the area;  and the applications for the site were voted to be approved.  The Officers' advice to refuse was sound, being aligned to the planning legislation that the Committee members ought to have studied and understood, and for that reason Watchdog did not think it necessary to attend the meeting.  Thus we did not hear what happened at first hand and the minutes give no real clues to how such a perverse outcome arose.

On the council website is a description of the council's Petitions Scheme.  We cannot reconcile the actions of the Ward Councillors with this scheme description and expectations.

Of particular significance was the reference in the minutes to both Ward Councillors, Cherry Beath and Roger Symonds, speaking in favour of the development.  The wisdom of this despite the local residents' petition against the development remains to be seen.  Voters have long memories and bear grudges.  We are reminded of what happened to Elgar Jenkins after he ignored the wishes of his Ward and went ahead with the traffic scheme around Sydney Gardens that turned out to be as ill-advised as his constituents forecast.
In the case of Cherry Beath who holds the Heritage portfolio yet was happy to encourage the destruction of part of Combe Down's village heritage against the advice of English Heritage, we can only suggest that she takes time to reflect whether she has the depth of perception that such a role requires.

In September 2010 we noted that one of the "Earth From The Air" exhibits was of farmland growing biofuels.  Beneath it was the text "Recent studies have discovered that it [biofuel] produces much more intense greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels".  If it is still considered an asset to use it, when was this research proved wrong?
Also, the sales brochures for solar panels suggest a declining generation level after 10 years and a usable life of around 40 years, so what will offset biofuel after that?

As far as the myth of "zero carbon" is concerned, the clearing of the site and manufacture of the materials for the replacement, shipping them to site and the build process will have a carbon footprint that the replacement buildings will not have a lifetime long enough to repay, even if they can capture enough energy to balance what the future residents use (which looks unlikely, given that manufacturing and delivering biomass fuel to a site at the top of a hill and then setting fire to it can only be cancelled out by the savings from solar panels leaving virtually nothing to offset household appliances).  Indeed the existing buildings, converted and properly maintained, will have a longer residual life than the buildings proposed and a far lower carbon footprint as a result.  Reuse is always more sustainable than new construction, and is often cheaper.
This simple logic seems to have escaped the nine committee members who voted in favour.  And when the buildings are finished and the impact of the development is clear for all to see, we hope that those nine will go along and talk to the local residents, to discover whether or not residents agree with their decision that the development "in the context of a mixed area, would not be harmful to the Conservation Area or the setting of nearby listed buildings".  Judging from the decision they made, few of the DCC members know or understand the area, and such a visit would be an opportunity for the nine who rejected their Officers' sound advice to learn from their mistakes.
Herman Miller Building - Last updated 11th December 2011.
In November we reported that planning permission for this building was stalled because the council wanted more as an S106 commitment than the owners thought was justified, and we argued that the council should back down because the building is visibly deteriorating and permission needs to be given quickly to halt the decline of this listed building.
Recently we were contacted with a report that the roof appears to be gradually collapsing and that when it rains a waterfall now flows over the Fieldings Road end.  We went along with a camera, but unfortunately by the time we got there the flow had stopped.  Nevertheless we took photographs and these clearly show that the roof is sagging in two places (the pictures are in the Lower Bristol Road (Lidl) section of the News Summary page.  Because the main reason why the building was listed is because of the method of supporting the roof, this deterioration makes granting permission while it is still repairable time critical.
Houses in Multiple Occupation - Last updated 11th December 2011.
According to the Chronicle, a feasibility study is being commissioned into ways to limit the number of HMOs in an area.  We have no objection in principle to such a study, but we hope that the guidelines for the study are a little more precise than the press item.  For instance, does the 100 metre radius have to encompass the entire plot of a building or is is included if any part of it is in range?  Some clarity is needed to avoid "islands" of HMOs 110 metres apart;  and perhaps 100 metres is too small a radius if that is the risk.
Our main concern though it that it should distinguish between houses that have their original plan form and houses where the internal walls have been altered.  The former is a house that is shared, in that if it was not in multiple occupation it could be a family residence or house-shared by permanent residents.  The latter by contrast will have been amended internally to be occupied by those happy with a small private room with common utility spaces, and as such is no longer fit for family occupation, being primarily designed for occupation by students or other short-term residents.  It is this latter category that we think should need to apply for a retrospective change of use to the newly introduced Use Class C4 because they will need further modification to turn them back into a regular Class C3 dwelling house.  A third case is where a resident owner has a building large enough to take in several lodgers or perhaps a small family, and it is a moot point whether they would actually do so if it meant having their own residence reclassified as a HMO, with all the administrative overheads that entails.  In this last case, there should be scope for exemptions in the case of owner occupiers in buildings that have not had the plan form changed.  It is important not to prevent accommodation sharing of the type that would be the norm in areas which do not have a university.  The  study must not over-simplify its recommendations.
The concept of a study is welcomed, but we ask that the results are offered for public comment before any final decision is made.
Railway Heritage Trust - Last updated 11th December 2011.
In July 2010 we published an item on the restoration of the Skew Bridge arches on our Brunel page which was partially funded by the Railway Heritage Trust.  The Trust has now released its annual report newsletter and they have featured this activity on Page 21, though they use the name Churchill Arches.  This newsletter is in an odd format, and blind readers will find that their screen-reader will not interpret it.  We will try to reproduce it in a more convenient format in a later update.
Bath Press Building - Last updated 4th December 2011.
St James Investments, on behalf of Tesco, raised two almost identical planning applications for the Bath Press building, 10/03380/EFUL in August 2010 and 11/02674/EFUL in June 2011.  On 14th November they raised an appeal on the second one claiming that the council had not made a decision quickly enough.  Yet on the 9th November they submitted revised drawings, which the council has to allow the public to comment on for at least 14 days so the earliest possible date that a decision could be made would be 24th November, 10 days after the appeal was raised.  This looks very much like gamesmanship, and no doubt the council will be offered the withdrawal of the appeal if the first application is granted permission.  We can only hope that the council don't go along with it.
There is a danger though that St James Investments, on behalf of Tesco, will claim in their appeal that the objections raised so far are invalid because they don't take into account the latest drawings.  It is important therefore that those who lodged an objection against put in a supplementary objection saying that the revised drawings don't change the opinions expressed earlier (if that is your view).  This will have to be sent to the Appeal Inspector, so quote the appeal reference APP/F0114/A/11/2164551/NWF as the subject of an e-mail and send it to as soon as possible.
We note that the council has reported the existence of the update documents to the Planning Inspector and is waiting for the Inspector's advice on what to do next.
Station Goods Lift - Last updated 4th December 2011.
We have had out attention drawn to the permission given to application 11/02753/LBA, and to the mismatch between the officer's report and the legislation and English Heritage advice.  We therefore did some research and have placed an analysis of the anomalies on our Southgate page.  We concluded that English Heritage would be fully justified in calling the decision in.
Sainsbury's - Last updated 27th November 2011.
For those who were unable to attend the public consultation events, Sainsbury's have put online most of what they exhibited (follow the links on the side of that screen in sequence) and there is an on-line form on that website for comments.
We have now been informed that part of the exhibition is now in the foyer of the Green Park store along with comments forms and a box to put them in, so those who prefer not to use on-line facilities still have an opportunity to examine the proposals and comment on them.  We understand that this exhibition will eventually move to the Odd Down store, but we haven't been told a date for that.
Flood Compensation - Last updated 27th November 2011.
One of the things we heard mentioned at the Sainsbury's exhibition was that the council had announced a floodwater storage scheme.  We reported last week that we had found the press release on the council website, but not a document detailing exactly what the proposals are.  Now we have found the proposals, except that they are not at this stage proposals.  The paper we found is based on the Flood Risk Management Strategy which tested various flood risk management options and concluded that there is no strategic solution to reducing peak flow through Bath which is either technically or economically viable. As a result the Strategy proposes the provision of compensatory storage upstream combined with on site flood defences, whereby new development must provide storage to offset the volume of water that would be displaced in a flood event by the defences on site.
Consequently, what the press release described as proposals is actually a study (Bath Compensatory Storage Study) to identify appropriate locations and capacity needed upstream, and is merely a feasibility study which recommends "that the three sites are now discussed further with Bath and North East Somerset Council and the Environment Agency in order to determine whether the sites, at this stage, are considered suitable for further investigation".  So now we know that the focus of the Core Strategy on the river corridor is based on facilities that are merely possibilities that might be worth further investigation.  It remains to be seen whether the Inspector examining the Core Strategy considers this assumption unsound, as we do.

Some old records of Bath refer to "Swan Island" which was gradually built from the deposition of silt consequent on the eddies created by Old Bridge.  When the bridge was removed the island gradually disappeared.

There is thus a real basis for our concerns about the impact of changing Frank Greenhalgh's design.

We can save the time and money on further investigation.  The idea that storage is the solution was dismissed as ineffective by Frank Greenhalgh who provided a proven effective solution based on improving the speed of flow, and the current shape of the river including the current sheet piling was designed to that end.  The odd scattered pieces of local storage to be introduced by the strategy will create eddies which will slow down the flow and therefore increase the risk of flooding upstream of the eddies.   A slower flow would also deposit silt, because the Avon carries a lot of it, thereby reducing the flow capacity upstream of any local storage in any future flood events.  The most effective means of reducing the risk of a serious flood remains increasing the capacity of the river by dredging to make it deeper, yet that idea doesn't get a mention in the latest press release, and was not part of the Terms of Reference for the report now published.
What happens next if the facts do actually get in the way of the Core Strategy's ivory tower thinking remains to be seen.
Victoria Bridge - Last updated 20th November 2011.
After last week's item (retained below in case anyone hasn't yet seen it) asking why it was unsafe to use the footpath but not the river, there was a development.  HTV News announced on Monday 14th that the river was closed to traffic as well.  The news item is available in the ITV Player service at the time this item is being written.  There was a more detailed news report on BBC Points West the following day, but the BBC website only carried it for one day so it is no longer viewable on-line.  On 16th November the council issued a further press release which explains the position in more detail.
The closed bridge[13/11/11]  A council press release announces the closure of the towpath under Victoria Bridge for safety reasons. It says "until further notice" but suggests that the north towpath would be reopened reasonably soon.  It does leave unanswered the question how a Grade II* listed bridge (which puts in in the top 5% of listed structures of importance to the nation) could be allowed to get into such a state of dilapidation that not only will it not take the weight of a pedestrian walking on the top if it, but it is too dangerous to allow anyone to walk underneath it as well.  All this while in council ownership.  Penny pinching went too far and the cost of repairs is likely to show that it was false economy.
More recent pictureIf the bridge was so unsafe that it was closed before work on the Western Riverside started, was it wise to allow the earth that had supported the sides of the pier on that side to be dug away as these pictures show?
Other questions remain unanswered.  If the bridge is unsafe to walk on, was it wise to add the weight of the hoardings to it, and subject it to the sideways pressure of the wind against the hoardings (upper picture)?  The hoardings have now been removed (see lower picture taken this week) but they remained in place for a considerable time.
Powlett Court - Last updated 13th November 2011.
After our item last week on the consultation, we are grateful for the communication we received informing us that there is a notice of the consultation at each end of the footpath, that the narrowest point across measures only 7 feet 4 inches (which converts to 2.24 metres), and providing us with a photograph taken along the footpath.  We have added the picture to our Powlett Court part of our summary page.
Know Your Flood Risk - Last updated 13th November 2011.
Rather belatedly, we have discovered that the Environment Agency announced on their Facebook page that their annual "Know your flood risk" week was 7th to 11th November.  Watchdog doesn't have a Facebook presence, but we are providing the link for readers who do.  We also discovered that there is a description of events and an Environment Agency blog page, and although the events advertised are passed, the remainder of the events site is interesting to browse.
The 1968 floodFor completeness, there are two documents that are interesting to read, one being an overview advice to home owners at risk from flooding, and the other being detailed advice.  (Both of these are slow to load and too big for a dial-up connection).
Among the information we researched was a warning about home insurance.  Effectively it warns that new dwellings constructed on a flood plain or in an area that has flooded in the last 75 years could be uninsurable from 2013.  The photo of the Lower Bristol Road in 1968 is well within the 75 year window, and very close to the Western Riverside.  Given that the council's core strategy is to concentrate more development in Bath on the river corridor (with an attempt to make this policy sound plausible by proposing a totally ineffective upstream scheme which would at best delay a flood event by about 30 minutes), this document makes essential reading.  If a property cannot be insured, nobody will offer a mortgage to buy it.
Other Village Greens - Last updated 13th November 2011.
After our short item on the Newbridge Village Green last week, we received a communication from Response2Route informing us of the outcome of the other applications for Rudmore Park and Kaynton Mead.  Unlike the Newbridge application, neither of these resulted in a recommendation that they should be registered as village greens.  The reports recognised that there was sufficient evidence that they had been used as village greens for more than the 20 years needed to qualify.  The reason for refusal was a legal technicality.  Because of the rather curious wording in the Act, it was necessary to not only prove that the land had been used as a village green, but also that the landowner had no expectation that it should be put to that use.  It is that second point that caused the refusal.
The council is due to meet in the coming months to decide what to do about the Inspector's reports recommending refusal, because the Inspector's opinion is advisory only.  We strongly suggest that because the land has been used as a village green and the Inspector accepted that evidence, and the only reason the inspector recommended refusal was because there was also evidence that the council as landowner expected it to be so used, the appropriate course of action would be to adopt both areas of land as village greens and formalise what has been an informal arrangement for more than 20 years.
Newbridge Village Green - Last updated 6th November 2011.
We recently reported that on Tuesday 25th October 2011 a decision was made by the council to accept the recommendation for a Village Green at Newbridge; and that the Newbridge Matters website has the full story.
Soon afterwards we were informed that because Village Green status permanently protects the land (some of which is a Site of Special Natural Interest) from any aspirations to extend the Park and Ride site over it, there is no longer a need to argue in the the High Court that the Secretary of State cannot overlook the illegality of that planning decision.  Consequently, Case Number CO/1787/2011, due to be heard on 29 November, would be withdrawn.
Kingsmead House - Last updated 30th October 2011.
Unsurprisingly, because of the way the disadvantages were underplayed in the Committee Report, the DCC approved the plans for a hotel on the Kingsmead House site.  The full article we wrote at the time is too long to leave on the front page so we have moved it to the Kingsmead House section of the summary page.
Consultations - Last updated 23rd October 2011.
Whether by thoughtlessness or as a deliberate ploy aiming to reduce the public input, the cut-off dates for commenting on the draft National Planning Policy Framework and the B&NES proposed changes to the draft Core Strategy were only four days apart.  Part of the council's amendments were claimed to be to reflect the draft National Planning Policy Framework, so that national documents had to be studied and understood first, and that set was over 60 pages of proposals, backed by well over 150 supporting pages in a number of other documents.
The draft National Planning Policy Framework claimed to be necessary because there were too many different policy documents at present, and they were contradictory in places.  The framework, when we studied it, was a smaller document, but still contradictory.  It also, in places, proposed actions which when the relevant legislation was studied, was clearly unlawful.  Despite this, the proposed amendments to the Core Strategy included alignment with some Framework policies which will have to be changed because they are undeliverable.  This may be the result of poor drafting, but we were required to comment on what was stated, not on what we think might have been intended.
Watchdog rose to the challenge and did succeed in responding to both consultations by the deadlines.  We have put the comments we made on-line for a short while, but website space restrictions prevent us leaving them there permanently.  So for a few weeks only, you can read our comments on the draft National Planning Policy Framework and the Update to the Core Strategy.
Heritage At Risk - Last updated 23rd October 2011.
On 18 August, English Heritage released an updated (and now searchable on-line) 2011 Heritage at Risk Register and on 19 October they announced the results of their Industrial Heritage at Risk project.  Among their findings was that the percentage of listed industrial buildings at risk is three times greater than the national average for listed buildings at risk.  With Churchill House unnecessarily replaced by a busometer, the Newark Works only just saved in spite of the council's wish to see it destroyed by the Dyson Academy scheme, and with the Bath Press building due to be wrecked by the Tesco scheme, this statistic is very believable.
Amongst the local heritage assets extending beyond the B&NES boundary, the GWR and the Kennet and Avon Canal are both of concern to English Heritage;  and more locally, the Victoria Bridge and the Cleveland Baths are specifically mentioned.  The fact that both of these deteriorated while in council ownership is not the best outcome of this stewardship.  The English Heritage website provides a link to the Maintain Our Heritage website alongside a quote which we commend to B&NES:
While regular maintenance may not be glamorous, it is essential and of course common sense: appropriate, regular maintenance (helps) avoid costly, wasteful and unnecessary later repairs.  Victoria Bridge and the Cleveland Baths are proof of this.
Enforcement advice to Local Authorities has also been updated by English Heritage;  but the lack of visible results to the enforcement cases that Watchdog has raised so far does not instil confidence that this advice will be followed.
Listed Building Decision - Last updated 23rd October 2011.
After an item about heritage at risk, it is an opportune time to mention that the other risk to heritage is from bad planning decisions.  We don't often comment on decisions because once permission is given there is usually nothing to be gained.  But in this case the situation can be rescued.
We refer to Application 11/03474/LBA for 9 Terrace Walk, where the case officer's Delegated Report contains the comment "The applicant has ensured that the fascia is traditionally hand-painted and has not simply attached a vinyl or similarly inappropriate material sign over the timber fascia as has occurred in the past"  This is flatly contradicted by one Watchdog member who brought this decision to our attention with the information that they had stood and watched the vinyl lettering being stuck on, and wondered how the case officer could think it was hand painted.  (The application documentation is ambiguous about the materials, so it could be an error of interpretation rather than observation).
We mention it here because the associated application 11/03005/AR is still awaiting a decision and we hope that its case officer insists on a hand painted sign.   On 23rd November, the second application was approved, with the case officer simply quoting the erroneous statement that the Conservation Officer made to assess the impact on the historic environment with no comment on its accuracy (or lack of it).  The consent was predictable, but that does not make it right.
Bath Spa Station - Last updated 18th September 2011.
Our item last week was rather long to retain on the front page so we have moved it to our Southgate page.
We have supplemented that with our research into the regulations and guidance that should apply, and have found a major flaw in the DfT guidelines, in that they do not cover the circumstances where changes make a situation worse rather than better.  Luckily such eventualities are caught by other extant legislation which should prevent the ramp being demolished.  We understand that First still have control of the ramp, and our advice to them is to reopen the ramp permanently rather than fight a legal challenge which we don't think they can win.
Bike In Bath - Last updated 18th September 2011.
Prompted by a Chronicle news item, we went along to one of the new Bike In Bath stands to see for ourselves.  It didn't look as bad as we had feared, but nor did it look like we expected.  We have put our picture and our opinions on our Public Realm page.
Cleveland Pools - Last updated 11th September 2011.
As part of the Heritage Open Days attractions, the Cleveland Pools were once again open to the public, and we went along to re-acquaint ourselves of this rare Grade II* listed asset.  We were disappointed in the state that the council (who own it) have allowed this cultural asset to deteriorate into.  The fact that negotiations are in hand for regeneration is no excuse for neglecting the historic fabric so that restoration becomes more difficult and more expensive.
To illustrate the problems we have put a photo montage on our Cleveland Pools entry on our News Summary page.
A Tale Of Two Cities - Last updated 4th September 2011.
Watchdog keeps an eye out for news from other World Heritage Sites and other UK historic cities which might also be relevant to Bath.  Our attention was drawn to two news items in the York local press this week.
The first concerns street clutter, and describes the comparisons that were made between York and the tourist destination of Bruges in Belgium.  If you read the article and substitute Bath for York, it is apparent that Bath also has the same problems, only in spades!
The second one is a direct contrast between the two cities.  York has invested money into building cycle ramps to give cyclists easy access to the railway station, whilst Bath seems hell bent on removing just such a facility in Bath.  Judging from the objections by the disabled and other campaigners to the undue haste in which an irreparable decision is intended to be made, Bath has not only got it wrong but is determined to be seen to get it wrong.  Lifts do break down (indeed the new one already has) and no assessment period which doesn't include a medical emergency on the platform, a Bank Holiday rush, the end of a University term, an important Rugby Match, and a commuter peak, all without the lift in operation, can be said to meet the Disability Discrimination Act or the Health and Safety legislation.  We also think that a test should be made to see what happens when a family with a pram and two bulging suitcases tries to catch a train which has just arrived on the platform and is disgorging a large number of commuters, and so each wants to use a narrow doorway in opposite directions.  Without the ramp, we don't think the station is fit for purpose, and an unholy rush to get approval before anyone realises that should not be used to cover up the deficiencies in the plans.  Unfortunately, once the ramp is removed, no subsequent replacement can restore the Grade II* heritage asset once it is destroyed.  And according to the Government guidelines, damage to a Grade II* asset should be "wholly exceptional".
It is time to revoke the planning permission that would allow demolition of the ramp.  Nothing planned to replace it is wholly exceptional, and a Judicial Review on those grounds should succeed.
Dorchester Street - Last updated 4th September 2011.
There have been a recent news item on traffic problems in Dorchester Street which follows on a similar report a year earlier.  We have put our view on the issue on our Southgate page, with the conclusion that everyone should be grateful for the current situation because as the remainder of the Southgate plans mature, things will get even worse.
Potential Conflict of Interests - Last updated 28th August 2011.
Amongst the documents on the planning applications we examined, we found correspondence from the council to the applicant drawing attention to a council service called Model Delivery Contract.  We recognise that there are advantages from identifying problem areas ahead of submitting a planning application and trying to deal with them at that stage.  Unfortunately, the offer we found was made after an application had matured and had been lodged, and the context in which the offer was made was "to try to overcome any potential reasons for refusing permission".  Taking money to achieve this, and then refusing permission because it does not meet planning policies would put the council in a very difficult position;  but the only other interpretation of such an offer is that for a fee, permission would be granted (and implied in that is that the application would be pre-determined regardless of planning policies).  What makes that particular instance worrying is that the plans as submitted very clearly do not meet extant planning policies, hence our concern over a potential conflict of interests.
PPS1 is very clear that planning processes should remain at arm's length from the applicants:  "Local planning authorities should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes. It is, however, proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness."  There is an adopted SPD (The Bath City-wide Character Appraisal) identifying local distinctiveness, so the reinforcement already exists.  However, once an application has reached the stage of awaiting determination, the only way then to emphasise local distinctiveness without attempting to impose architectural styles is to refuse permission with enough information to guide the design of any subsequent scheme.
Also in PPS1 it says "Community involvement is vitally important to planning", and preliminary discussions between applicants and planners do not give the community a voice at the stage when they might have the greatest influence.  If the applicant has paid for advice that said "do this", they are not going to give weight to subsequent public comments that say "do that".
While on the subject of planning, we spotted a completely different application where the Case Officer had requested advice from the Historic Environment Team and the Highways officer, both of which replied with very strong (and we think valid) objections.  Yet the Case Officer in the Delegated Report dismissed the experts' objections out of hand and granted permission.  We have to wonder how that was allowed to happen.
National Planning Policy Framework - Last updated 21st August 2011.
On 25th July 2011 the Government published its draft National Planning Policy Framework along with a Consultation Document and announced its consultation will end on 17 October 2011.
Members have reported that those visiting National Trust properties recently have had their attention drawn to a plea by the National Trust for support in fighting the clauses in the Framework document that put preservation of listed and historic buildings and Green Belt secondary to economic growth as far as planning decisions are concerned.  Our initial read of the Framework document indicates that the National Trust is right in their interpretation.  We therefore encourage everybody to read the National Trust's concerns and use the link on that page to their petition.  For anybody who wants to take a more active role in getting getting the draft policy changed (which includes but is not necessarily limited to seeking others to sign the petition), the National Trust also has a How you can help page.
Included in that page is advice to submit individual comments to the Framework document, and that is also our advice.  You can submit individual comments and also sign the petition if you wish, but to do not undermine the integrity of the petition by signing it more than once.
Mayor's Guides - Last updated 21st August 2011.
The services of the Mayor's Guides are a major asset to Bath, and what they do is often unsung.  So we unashamedly give a plug to their latest contribution, a walking guide to Bath, particularly when the proceeds from the sales go to a good cause.
"A" boards - Last updated 31st July 2011.
April 2011 saw a lively debate in the newspapers with arguments both for and against "A" boards.  We added a section on this subject to our Public Realm page in May, pointing out that they appear to be unlawful in that they contravene an 1847 Act of Parliament.
We have recently received an e-mail from a reader of this website, pointing out that in Cambridgeshire, such advertising is banned completely.  It is reassuring to discover that at least one local authority does not turn a blind eye to what we believe is unlawful advertising.  We have reproduced the Cambridgeshire Policy in full for all to read, and we urge B&NES to introduce something similar, starting with Stall Street.
Cambridgeshire also has a policy on tourist signage which isn't directly relevant to B&NES but it makes interesting reading.
Public Realm - Last updated 31st July 2011.
We have previously expressed our concern about the impression that would be given by the unpleasant staining on the wayfinders (the picture is of the Green Park Station one), and by the child's playgroup style cycle racks.
A new concern has now been added to our Public Realm page, that of the Electric Cycle Racks which have recently been installed.
Bath Press - Last updated 24th July 2011.
As a member of SAVE, Watchdog receives their newsletters.  In their most recent one there was (unprompted by us) an item on the Bath Press which we have put on our web page on that subject.
Also in the SAVE newsletter and on-line is the news of a decision by the Court of Appeal that the Secretary of State's guidance that demolitions outside a Conservation Area are permitted development is unlawful because it fails to comply with EC Directive 85/337/EC.  This decision means that all demolitions now need an Environmental Impact Statement to be prepared by the Applicant and considered by the Local Planning Authority and then determined as a planning application.  The court ordered the Secretary of State to amend his instructions.  We think that the council needs to recognise this ruling immediately, and not wait for the updated guidance from the Secretary of State.
Woolley Valley - Last updated 24th July 2011.
Another campaign that Watchdog has been monitoring though not taking an active part in, is the campaign by the Save Woolley Valley Action Group to preserve and restore the character of the valley.  The latest news is that the Action Group have convinced the High Court that there are sufficient doubts about the legality of the way that the council have dealt with what is happening in the valley that it has granted permission for a full Judicial Review.  Furthermore, the High Court has accepted the argument that the case should be heard urgently.  Fuller details are in the SWVAG newsletter.
Industrial Heritage - Last updated 24th July 2011.
On 23rd July Watchdog took part in a public meeting on industrial heritage, at which the English Heritage representative said that his organisation was now viewing with concern and alarm the rapid loss of Britain's industrial heritage, particularly when it is unlisted.  They asked that unlisted industrial heritage under threat should be brought to their attention.  In the case of the Bath Press, we did that as part of the event!
Canal Restoration - Last updated 17th July 2011.
Watchdog reported last week their invitation to the Opening Celebration after the restoration of the Pump House Chimney and two iron bridges, and promised a photo montage.  That is now complete and we have created a new page for it.
James St West Hotel - Last updated 10th July 2011.
The Chronicle reports that planning permission was refused for the hotel, and that Premier Inns intends to appeal.  We don't imagine the appeal will succeed, because this is a particularly impractical position for a hotel which will not only have to have guests arriving by road, but will also have to expect delivery and service vehicles to get there, all along one of the most well-used narrow roads in central Bath.
The obvious answer is for Premier Inns to come to an arrangement with the developers of Green Park House, which already has planning permission for a hotel, and is seeking an operator for the hotel in order to commence building.  Such a solution is likely to be quicker for Premier Inns than a lengthy appeal which might be unsuccessful, and it would go some way towards alleviating the concerns about an over-supply of hotel rooms if all the current plans come to fruition.
Warmer Bath - Last updated 10th July 2011.
When the Bath Preservation Trust and the Centre for Sustainable Energy jointly started to examine how historic buildings could contribute to the vision of a Low Carbon Bath, Watchdog attended the workshops to discuss options and preferences and those ideas were taken forward along with the the results of public consultations.  The approach and development of the final advice can be found in the Low Carbon Bath section of the Bath Preservation Trust website.
On 4th July, the final document was launched.  It can be obtained from the Bath Preservation Trust in printed form, or as a download from the Centre for Sustainable Energy website.
Not everything in the document is formal council policy, but we understand that discussions are ongoing with the aim of making it so.
The Recreation Ground - Last updated 3rd July 2011.
According to The Chronicle the consultation exercise resulted in a substantial majority in favour of allowing the expansion of the Rugby facilities.  This is as unsurprising as it is irrelevant.  As we reported in our own piece on The Rec, neither the Trustees nor the Charity Commission are likely to win against a legal challenge enforce the existing covenants on the land;  and the results of a flawed consultation do not replace the obligation on the Trustees to act in good faith as charity trustees.
The signThe Abbey Churchyard - Last updated 3rd July 2011.
We were sent some photographs of barriers erected in the Abbey Churchyard on Thursday, some of which we show in our Bath Abbey section of our Public Realm page.
We explain in that item what the barriers were for, but positioned as they were outside the Abbey and around the Roman Baths, we would have liked to have seen something looking a bit less utilitarian.
Street Clutter - Last updated 12th June 2011.
We reported last week that we had added a Little Southgate section to our Public Realm page, and this week we have also added a Cycle Racks section to explore the issues around the design and locations.
What is particularly disappointing is that someone had such a limited understanding of the character of Bath that they couldn't see why these cycle racks shouldn't be bought, and yet they were in a position of sufficient authority that the purchase went ahead.  Did nobody stop to consider what message this latest style of rack (variously described to us as "crude", "stupid looking", and "designed by work experience trainee welders" amongst other less printable descriptions) conveyed about the stewardship of a World Heritage Site?
Jacobs tablesThe final comment on clutter this week came from a Planning Inspector who refused an appeal for putting tables and chairs outside the Thai by the Weir.  If only the case officer who permitted Jacobs to intrusively harm the character of listed buildings in the Abbey Churchyard had shown the same level of insight.  Even more interesting is the Inspector's view that nearby "A" Boards made the idea of tables and chairs even less acceptable.  Now look at our photo and see how Jacobs have used just such an "A" Board to block the natural route for pedestrians through the colonnade.  The Jacobs barrier in the distance (beyond the person seated in the blue top) was not part of the planning permission either.  One day perhaps, case officers will realise that tables and chairs and associated detritus are never limited to just the area the planning permission says they will occupy, and any conditions to that effect are never enforced.  If in doubt, say No:  the evidence is that Planning Inspectors will uphold that decision.
The Chronicle - Last updated 12th June 2011.
The Chronicle has redesigned its website and many of the links we quote no longer work.  We will try to update our links in due course, but a quick check of a few of them has shown that some of the articles have disappeared and for those that remain, finding them will not be a quick or easy thing to do.  Please be patient.
Notre Dame School of Architecture - Last updated 5th May 2011.
Charles StreetOn Bank Holiday Monday, 30th May and twice the next day (the 31st May) Notre Dame University presented their latest project, designing a masterplan for the Kingsmead area of Bath.  All sessions were well attended.  The full presentation consisted of about 100 slides which took about an hour to show and talk about, so we can only report a summary of events on our Notre Dame Page.
The Recreation Ground - Last updated 29th May 2011.
The Recreation Ground has new Trustees.  The Chronicle has announced that Cllrs David Dixon, Tim Ball  and Nathan Hartley have taken over from Cllrs Chris Watt, David Hawkins and Vic Pritchard, the trustees under the previous administration.
Last week we gave a reminder that if anybody hasn't yet commented on the "consultation" of the Recreation Ground, there is only until the 10th June to do so.
Since then we have been researching, and have unearthed so much information that it deserves its own section of the website.  So everything discovered so far is now on the News Summary page, in a section called The Rec.  We encourage the new Trustees to read it.
Street Clutter - Last updated 22nd May 2011.
On a number of occasions in the past Watchdog has commented on street clutter.  So when somebody completely unconnected with Watchdog eloquently expresses their personal experiences of street clutter in a letter to the Western Daily Press, we thought it important to bring attention to it.  That day's readers' letters were not on-line at the time this website item was prepared so we have reproduced the text on our Public Realm page.
Local Elections - Last updated 8th May 2011.
Watchdog is a non-political organisation, and is therefore happy to offer its unreserved congratulations to all the successful candidates, regardless of party, and our best wishes for the future to those we have dealt with in the past who are no longer councillors.
The summary in the Chronicle provides what they think will be the points of interest in the results;  and the council website provides the full list of results, including (if you click on the individual ward names) the number of votes cast.
The interesting thing in this year's results is that no party has an overall majority.  Judging from the statements published before the election (and other press coverage too numerous to list here), only one party was in favour of the BRT.  We can only hope that dropping the BRT is a decision made early, to save the council taxpayers the cost of fighting the Compulsory Purchase Orders, of fighting the Village Green applications, and the cost of all the carriageway engineering works that will be necessary to allow the giant BRT buses to negotiate the ordinary city streets.  A lot of other things that the public would welcome can be done with the millions thus saved. It had a budget of £17.8 Million according to this article and although some of that will have been committed already, there must be some left unspent that could be reallocated.
We understand that every prospective councillor received a letter from VeraCityBath explaining the facts about the Transport Package (as opposed to the spin that is more usually quoted), so each of the elected councillors should be properly informed for the discussions to follow.  The letter is on the VeraCityBath website but it is not easy to read there, so we have converted it into a more easily read format for those who want to read it.
Transport Package - Last updated 10th April 2011.
Alongside a reminder that the public inquiry into the Newbridge Village Green begins on 11th April at 10:30am in the Guildhall in Bath (and is expected to last for four days), Watchdog has had its attention brought to one news item on the Response2Route website, and the link to a copy of correspondence sent to the DfT.
One criticism in that letter is particularly telling:  "B&NES council have never carried out a like-for-like comparison between the BRT and its alternatives. This should have been done at the beginning of the project. Without it, there is no data to back up the claim that it is the best option."  Watchdog representatives sat through all the DCC meetings which discussed the Transport Package, and can confirm that according to the notes taken at the time, no discussion of possible alternatives was allowed at any of them.  Nor, to the best of our knowledge, has anybody checked whether the historic vaults along the BRT route in the centre of Bath could continuously support the weight of the BRT buses.  Judging by the obvious road damage in that part of Green Park Road alongside the Avon Street car park where the current (rather smaller) bendy buses wait at bus stops, this is not a trivial question.  Unless the entire route is demonstratively capable of running the service, it is unlikely that the Compulsory Purchase Orders for just part of it will be granted at a Public Inquiry.
Great Western Railway - Last updated 10th April 2011.
We were contacted by the Brislington Community Archaeology Project to inform us that one of their projects was the GWR and that they had taken an interest in our bid to add the GWR to the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites.  We have added them to our Links page and recommend that those interested in the GWR read their news item which adds new snippets to our knowledge of the line.
As previously reported, our bid for the GWR was unsuccessful.  According to the DCMS evaluation panel, the GWR was not sufficient on its own, but might in future be combined with other heritage railway assets, yet BCAP have a link to a UNESCO web page which describes the GWR as the most complete railway of its age in the world.  It does pose the question how the same railway can be viewed so differently when measured against the same criteria!  We have added a link to the evaluation report to our Brunel's GWR page.
New Appeal Court Ruling On Demolitions - Last updated 3rd April 2011.
"Any proposed demolition which is considered to have significant effects on the environment will be subject to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. The Court of Appeal ruled unlawful most of the Secretary of State's 'Demolition Direction' which exempts demolition from planning control".  The full details of this ruling can be read on the SAVE Website.
Case Officers should take note of this element of Case Law for all future planning applications involving demolition..
Petitions - Last updated 13th March 2011.
Whilst hunting through the council website researching another item, we found that the council had adopted a petitions scheme.
Churchill House Bus StationWe welcome the formalisation of what constitutes a petition and how it should be handled.  The response to most petition types appears to be to refer the subject to the Overview and Scrutiny Panel, which can only recommend to the council executive members to have another look at something;  they have no real power of their own.
Thus although the scheme is a step forward from what went before, a petition under the new arrangements is likely to be ultimately as unsuccessful as they have been in the past.  If the council actually took notice of petitions, Culverhay School would not be closing, the Transport Package would not include the Rapid Transit route and Churchill House, saved by 11,000 signatures on a petition, would stand proudly at the end of the bus station instead of the busometer.
Bath Spa University - Last updated 13th February 2011.
From a Press Release dated 10 February which the Chronicle managed to put on-line that day, was the news that on the following two days (Friday and Saturday) Bath Spa University would be mounting a public consultation on its plans for more student accommodation on campus.  Such short notice is a joke!  Were the University hoping that nobody apart from the students and their families would actually attend?  A proper consultation is one giving enough notice that the public have time to make arrangements to get there, not something that can best be described as going through the motions.
There are details on the University website, but that is no substitute for speaking to the University staff and their architects.  The supporting material that can be downloaded is on that website but it is huge (members with a dial-up connection should allow up to 4 hours to retrieve it).  We think that the University should repeat the event, with more effective and more timely advertising next time.
PPS5 clarification - Last updated 6th February 2011.
In April last year, planning permission was refused for covering in the light well and waterproofing the vaults in a listed building in Lower Camden Place.  The applicant appealed, and Watchdog submitted some supplementary information clarifying what the planning guidelines expect in order to grant permission, and how both the application documents and the appeal documents fell short of this.  We have now received notification of the Inspector's decision:  the appeal was dismissed.  Of particular interest was the observation on the vaults:  "I saw that the vaults are damp and suffer from organic growth and salts, but this is inevitable given their location below the road.  Moreover, this was probably always a feature of vaults which may have been used for coal storage".
Other property owners concerned about mild to medium damp in their vaults should take comfort from this:  it is considered normal.
Planning Applications - Last updated 6th February 2011.
We are getting increasingly concerned by the number of occasions when a planning decision is made quoting revised drawings that the public has not had time to consider and comment on.  The most recent example was for 22 Milsom Street which was granted planning permission on 4 February and that permission letter refers to "Plans 004 and 006 date stamped 4th February 2010".  (This is clearly a misprint because the application form is dated November 2010 so any replacement drawings have to be after that date, which would be February 2011). When we have queried the timescale for revised drawings in the past when we have been notified of them, we have been assured that we would have 14 days to comment on them, so why did that not happen for this application? We did some research.
We found on the council website the reference to 14 days in a document called Statement of Community Involvement.  We found in there:  "4.24 Comments on planning applications must be made within a minimum of 21 days (for first consultation) and 14 days for re-consultation".  In the Preface The Cabinet Member responsible says "This document sets new standards for Bath & North East Somerset Council - we now have an obligation to meet these".  So there it is in print:  we are entitled to a minimum of 14 days when revised drawings are submitted (and that means 14 days from the date they go on-line because that is the only method of reading them now), and this is an adopted council obligation.
The planning permission letter was signed by the Development Manager, Planning and Transport Development, so this is the the person ultimately responsible for denying us our entitled consultation time, which the council is obliged to provide.  So there was a lack of due care on this occasion, and it must not happen again.  We will be watching.

Recent Headlines

(Application links here go to other pages where more information is given, plus a link to the planning documents. Entries are listed with the most recent updates at the top.)

A Mystery - Last updated 30th January 2011.
When everybody knows that the Historic Environment Team is understaffed and under pressure, why do we see so many instances where a case officer asks them for their opinion on a planning application and then overrides the views of these experts and makes a contrary decision.  Why ask the question if the answer will be ignored?  What a waste of scarce resources!
Notre Dame University - Last updated 16th January 2011.
In 2009, students from Notre Dame University, Illinois, visited Bath and produced a masterplan for the Western Riverside as their Summer School Project.  We reported their visit on this website at the time, plus the fact that the students' work gained an "Honourable Mention" from the Congress for the New Urbanism's Charter Awards.
The University has just been in touch with Watchdog to explain that in 2011 they want to conduct a whole term class exercise on an area of Bath, and we have offered our support.  The outline that we have been given so far is on our Notre Dame page.
We have now been informed that the university is optimistic that they can secure funding for the students and professors to visit Bath around Whitsun (exact dates are still under discussion), to present their designs and ideas to those who are interested, along similar lines to the 2009 presentation.  If anybody has suitable facilities and is prepared to host such a presentation, Watchdog will pass on any offers.  Our contact details are on the Contacts page.
Planning Decisions - Last updated 16th January 2011.
Compare:  The colour of the proposed shopfront is considered to have an adverse impact on the character and appearance of the host building and the Conservation Area.  The street scene this part of Southgate Street is comprised of a range of timber shopfronts which are painted in dark colours.  The proposal for the shopfront has been submitted with an application for the signage which is proposed to be comprised of vinyl letting identifying the retailer's name and logo in rhodamine red and cyan blue.  The combination of the brightly coloured signage and shopfront would be a prominent feature within this setting which would detract from the cohesive appearance of the adjacent shopfronts
with:  The proposals are appropriate in the context of the Conservation Area and World Heritage Site designations, by reason of the shopfront's appearance, materials and scale.  It is noted that the palette of chosen colours is bright in comparison to the more subtle shopfronts found in other parts of the Southgate development, however this is considered to be appropriate given the nature of the retailer's business and does not represent a reason for refusal.
The first quote was for the shopfront at No.1 Southgate Street, the second was just a few doors along at No.7.  The same case officer dealt with both.
Given the practice of installing Southgate shopfronts and then applying for planning permission afterwards, we wonder whether the case officer considered the bright colours of No.7 in the context of the bright colours at No.1, forgetting that No.1 was refused and is an Enforcement case attempting to get something more subdued installed.  The later consent was a bad decision; and this type of inconsistent decision-making gives Enforcement an almost impossible task.  The correct thing to do to give Enforcement a fighting chance of being taken seriously at No.1 would be to revoke the permission for No.7, but we won't hold our breath.
Planning Comments - Last updated 9th January 2011.
One of the features of the on-line system is that unlike the paper files, the public comments vanish from public view once a decision notice is posted.  This means that (apart from our own records) the only evidence of public interest in an application is the relevant statement to that effect in either the case officer's Delegated Report, or the Report To Committee if a decision is referred to the DCC.
We have been tipped off by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation that public comments are materially important, and their Blog entry identifies a council that has fallen foul of this.  From this hint we traced a couple of news items in the Ribble Valley local press, dated 4th November and 18th November.  Sadly, the remainder of the story, reporting the activities mentioned in the Blog entry have not been placed on-line, but it does look as though the council was forced to re-evaluate a number of planning decisions.
This story encouraged us to do a spot check on a few of our recent comments.  And we found that one application, 10/04906/AR, for a sign for 24 Barton Street, which we objected to on 22 December on the grounds that the size was excessive, was determined on 31 December with no mention of our comment in the case officer's Delegated Report;  nor does the case officer refer to our concerns without attribution.  Anybody reading that report would assume that we failed to comment.  One instance does not make an epidemic, but clearly we will now have to keep a close eye on such reports to collect statistics on this and any similar failures.
Bath Spa Station - Last updated 12th December 2010.
Still on the transport theme, there was an article on Bath Spa Station.  The accompanying sketch shows taxis in front of the station, but unless we have missed a subsequent amendment, that area is shown in the plans as pedestrians only.  We will leave that as an unresolved oddity for now:  it is the comments on the lift that attracted our attention.
Among the claims is that First Great Western "has made the lift bigger to accommodate cyclists and disabled passengers".  All very laudable except that the size of the lift that was given planning permission is smaller than the size declared to the Office of the Rail Regulator by FGW.
Our researches show:  that English Heritage insisted that to protect the Grade II* listed historic fabric they would not accept a lift bigger than 1500mm x 1100mm so that is what is given planning permission;  that the Office of the Rail Regulator states  "We are told that an 1800 x 1100mm lift is fully intended for installation", and that this larger size has been quoted to them by FGW - who therefore lied, and we have informed the Rail Regulator accordingly.  So this is the opportunity for B&NES to declare its hand:  is it going to enforce the size of lift that it gave planning permission to, or is it prepared to defy the maximum size declared by English Heritage in order to accommodate FGW, and thus risk a Public Inquiry into the station plans?  We need to know the stance they intend to take before work starts.
There is a third alternative, and that is to leave the ramp in place for the use of cyclists and disabled passengers, which they would welcome.  There is no question of it being demolished prematurely in any case.  We leave the final word in that respect to the Rail Regulator who has confirmed in an e-mail:  "We understand that a tripartite agreement exists that prevents the commencement of demolition of the ramp until the new lift and stairways are fully operational. We regard it as critical that the new stairs and lift are completed and open, before the closure and demolition of the ramp. The opportunity should be taken to establish the workability in practice of the station with the new lift and stairs and no access to the ramp, prior to ramp demolition commencing. During the period of construction, sufficient emergency evacuation routes must be maintained".
There never was a sound reason to demolish the ramp.  There still isn't.
Sainsbury's, Green Park - Last updated 14th November 2010.
Sainsbury's has put in a planning application for an extension to their store.  The complete set of drawings totals over 800Mb, impossible by dial-up, and a real concern to anybody on broadband with a cap on the amount that can be downloaded.  We recommend that anybody who might have a problem with this amount of data uses the council's public facilities in the Guildhall.  Allow plenty of time though, because there are 20 background papers and 17 drawings.
This is an obvious example of when an "on-line only" facility falls down.  Those who do have limited facilities at home have no way of knowing in advance whether the drawing called for is of a practical download size or not.  As a minimum, there is a requirement to show the file sizes on the on-line application screens, so that the traffic impact can be assessed before starting to download.  Until a new column can be added with this information, it should be put into the description (eg Drawing 17Mb)
Drawings produced on A1 paper are almost impossible to appreciate accurately on the current tiny screens in the Guildhall, and the Guildhall should be equipped with a minimum size of 35inch screens to properly equate to the ability to look at A1 paper drawings.  Which begs the question:  are the Guildhall facilities deliberately inadequate in order to deter the public from using them?
Tables and Chairs - Last updated 14th November 2010.
Stains 2Stains 1When commenting on applications for tables and chairs, we always recommend that there is a management plan associated with each permission (even the ones we object to) so that litter and spillages are properly dealt with.
Unfortunately, when it is decided not to enforce the businesses that set up outside seating without planning permission, no such constraints are in place.  Our pictures here show the results of this lack of enforcement.  Spilt food and drink has badly stained the pavement outside the Caffé Nero in Southgate, and in a very short time because that pavement had only recently been laid.
St James Rampire - Last updated 7th November 2010.
After last week's update on this subject, The Chronicle has obtained a comment from the owner of Abbey Church House that he was unconcerned about flooding.  Nevertheless, after a few spells of only light rain there is evidence that our concerns were well founded.  We have put the details on our News Summary page.
Planning and Enforcement - Last updated 7th November 2010.
We have previously expressed our concerns that staffing levels have been cut too far, so it was interesting to read the latest research from a 3-year project, funded by English Heritage and conducted jointly by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation and the Association of Local Government Archaeology Officers, into Local Planning Authority historic environment services.  We have put a summary of the findings on our News Summary page, with links to the preceding full reports for anybody who wants to read them.  Of particular interest was the nationwide figure of a reduction in staff by almost 7% in the 15 months up to the beginning of 2010, which does make the B&NES reductions look particularly savage.
Listed Buildings - Last updated 24th October 2010.
As well as publishing the news that the list of Bath's listed buildings on the English Heritage website, English Heritage also attended a function at the Guildhall this week to hand over the revised document to B&NES.  Watchdog's Chairman was invited, and discovered that as well as as significant number of additions to the earlier list, there were also a small number of deletions, the most notable being Brougham Hayes, a terrace of circa 1820 workers cottages built to house the employees of one of the oldest surviving Gas Works in the country.  It is not difficult to see why, when nearly all of the houses that remain (three were demolished to reroute Lorne Road) have plastic double glazing (some behind original wrought iron balconettes on 1st floor), virtually all the 19th Century shop fronts have been replaced, mostly by modern picture windows, and many have inappropriate front doors.  You can't blame English Heritage for concluding that they were not worth retaining on the list after such widespread failures to preserve the historic character.
Scaffolding - Last updated 3rd October 2010.
This week we met representatives from Property Services to discuss fixings for scaffolding.  By the end of a very informative meeting, we were aware that all works requiring scaffolding on council owned buildings were subject to a contract that required an on-site meeting with Property Services.  Part of that meeting was to discuss and agree how the scaffolding was to be secured.  The principles applied were:
•  No new holes can be drilled, but any existing hole can be reused provided it can provide a safe anchorage.
•  Holes that already contain an anchor can have that anchor reused.
•  Holes that are empty if used must use a particular type of temporary anchor that grips by the compression of a Chloroprene (a type of synthetic rubber) sleeve, and is removable.  These must be removed when the scaffolding is dismantled.
•  Holes must be left uncapped when no longer in use.
It was explained that capped holes retain water, which is likely to cause more long term damage than uncapped holes where moisture can evaporate.
As a result of this information, we will no longer monitor council owned buildings because Property Services are already protecting them from scaffold damage.  Nor will we concern ourselves with visible existing holes, because these have been left visible for a reason. But we will be watching out for property not owned by the council, to check on any new holes being drilled, and where appropriate feature them on our Scaffolding page.
We have now established that any new hole drilled in a listed building requires listed building consent, and we will work with Property Services to establish an appropriate form of words in the hope that Conservation Officers might in future use them as a standard condition to prevent new holes being drilled.
Planning Services - Last updated 19th September 2010.
On Monday 13 September, one of Watchdog's committee met with the Chief Executive of the Bath Preservation Trust to make a statement to the Chronicle, which went into the 16 September edition and is also available on-line.  Obviously newspapers have edit in order to balance news value against space available, so we have made available our full press release.  After the photocall, Watchdog and BPT discussed the implications of the change and decided that we should find out in practice how the new system operated, so as to properly inform our respective memberships.
We went into Trimbridge House and were obviously recognised, but we asked if we could see for ourselves the new procedures as though an ordinary member of the public had walked in.  Watchdog took the role of customer, BPT observed and kept a note of the time, and we asked the staff member to follow procedures normally.  The Watchdog member than wrote a report.
Nothing altered our view that these are significant changes to existing adopted council policies and we don't think that it is appropriate to impose them without a proper public consultation.  Until such consultation takes place we suggest that everybody who is disadvantaged by the new arrangements (eg documents too large to download, documents with illegible print because of the scanning resolution, documents difficult to assess when not to the original drawn scale, inadequate provision of public terminals etc) reports that problem to their Ward Councillor so that the scale of the public dissatisfaction can be properly represented to the council.
Piccadilly Place - Last updated 19th September 2010.
In May 2010, the Development Control Committee delegated to permit the demolition of the former tyre and exhaust business in Piccadilly Place (opposite the entrance to Morrisons) and the building of 11 apartments, subject to an S106 agreement.

The S106 agreement that the DCC asked for has not been put on-line at the time of writing, almost 4 weeks after planning permission was granted, and from 13 September the paper documents are no longer available for the public to read, so this already demonstrates the shortfalls in the new system.

Planning permission was granted at the end of August, so the required S106 agreement should have been reached.  Two weeks after planning permission was granted, the Environment Agency wrote, expressing concern about the failure to trace the source of contamination on the site, and two weeks after that it was reported to Watchdog that the premises now bears a "For sale with planning permission" sign.
The S106 agreement (if we could read it) would probably be a legal agreement specifically with the applicant rather than one automatically transferable to any later buyer, if other S106 agreements for past applications on other sites remain the current model.  This casts doubts on whether these apartments will ever get built according to the plans submitted.  What a waste of everybody's time!
Another Missing S106 - Last updated 19th September 2010.
In August 2009 the DCC voted to delegate to permit an application by BFI Waste Systems of Windsor Bridge Road for a car showroom, workshop and offices with 7 apartments, subject to a satisfactory S106 agreement.  Just over a year later, planning permission was granted.  This should mean that an S106 agreement was reached.  It is not available on line, and we can no longer refer to the paper files.
We can find other planning applications where the S106 agreement is on-line, so this is a recent failure of the process of making documents available on-line, not a deliberate policy associated with S106 agreements, and this failure is exacerbated by the recent changes to the public access to documents which prevents us from referring to the paper copy.
Bath Press Site - Last updated 15th August 2010.
We put our initial observations from the June exhibition on the Bath Press page, and we note from the description in the recent Chronicle article that some of what we wished for has been incorporated in the latest designs.  Watchdog's remit is the character and appearance of what is proposed, and its impact on Bath's World Heritage Site reputation, and that is what we will focus on when the planning application becomes publicly available.  Whilst we recognise that others will have much wider concerns (as the comments on the news item make clear), we will not be arguing their case for them.
August Development Control Committee - Last updated 8th August 2010.
The Minutes of the 7th July 2010 meeting were accepted by the Committee as a true record.  Except that they are not a true record.
Item 17 says that "The Chairman stated that Members would make their best endeavours that a public consultation area be provided".  No doubt there were some at the meeting who wished that is what the Chairman had said, but in fact the DCC Chairman was briefer and more positive, saying "We shall ensure there is a proper reception." (NB.  We noted down the words spoken exactly, and still have our notes).  The Chairman did not attempt to correct this error in the Minutes when the "true record" motion was put to the vote, even though we had pointed out the error on this website as soon as the draft minutes were available.
Then in Item 21 where the minutes describe the discussion on the Western Riverside applications, there is a summary of the Senior Professional's PowerPoint presentation which includes: "provision of family housing at the rear of Victoria Terrace, Lower Bristol Road".  In fact, at the rear of most of Victoria Terrace is part of Dorset Street, and the residents there will be pleased to know that there are no plans to replace their dwellings with new family housing.  The properties along the Lower Bristol Road are Victoria Buildings.  The Senior Professional got this right, the Minutes reported it wrong.  There are no council procedures available for the public to ask for corrections to the minutes, so we are reporting these errors here.
Western Riverside - Last updated 27th June 2010.
Planning application 07/02879/EFUL for the enabling works on the Western Riverside site was granted planning permission on 22 June 2010, based on the drawings submitted in 2007.  This creates a complete can of worms, which we explore in some detail on the Western Riverside page.
Bath Transport Package - Last updated 20th June 2010.
We spotted that the Alternative Fuels initiative which the council says applies to the Park and Ride buses, is shown on the Civitas list as being trialled on the BRT buses (the objective says " ... on the new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route in Bath" and the measure to be implemented says "To identify hybrid articulated vehicles suitable for use on the Bath BRT system", so there is no room for ambiguity).  In view of the specific legal advice that the Transport Package had to be implemented in its entirety or not at all, we will be keeping an eye on any subsequent trials to ensure that they are based on the existing double-decker buses, and EU money is not used to introduce articulated Park and Ride vehicles under the guise of such trials.
Finally, are we the only ones to spot the gap in the joined-up thinking?  As a result of the cancellation of the previous Government's housing targets, 2000 additional homes will no longer be built at Newton St Loe, according to The Chronicle.  Yet those 2000 homes would have been part of the demand for the expanded capacity of the Park and Ride at Newbridge, and there is no suggestion yet that the Transport Package is to be re-evaluated as a result of this cancellation.
Bank Account - Last updated 13th June 2010.
We have moved our bank account.  The latest details are on our Fund Us page, and we ask that anybody who has their own note of the (now outdated) details updates their records with the new information.
Bath Spa Station - Last updated 6th June 2010.
As expected, planning application 10/01383/LBA for a new lift in Bath Spa station has been given planning permission without any thought being given to the practicality of the scheme for the number of passengers that are likely to use it.
However, this is only the grant of planning permission.  That happened before with the previous design of lift.  But the final arbiter on whether the station can be operated safely rests with the Office of the Rail Regulator.  They rejected the first design of lift as unsafe, and we will not be at all surprised if they do the same with this latest pathetic attempt.
Woolley Valley - Last updated 23rd May 2010.
After the protest on the Guildhall steps on 19th May, reported in The Chronicle, the council has issued a stop notice and asked for the excavations to be reversed, but as reported on the on-line Chronicle, the chicken sheds are regarded as "chattels" and no order for their removal has been made, despite the claim on the website of an active protest group that he council have inspected them and established that they are embedded in the ground and are not therefore moveable as the definition of "chattels" requires.  Finally, in Saturday's Daily Mail, the issue was brought to national attention, including some research by their reporter showing that what is happening in Woolley has happened elsewhere as the same developer takes advantage of "areas with toothless councils", which is hardly a ringing endorsement of the actions B&NES have taken so far, particularly when coupled with the observation "All the odds should have been against the developers".  On the same day, The Times also carried a similar article.
Charlton Buildings - Last updated 25th April 2010.
Planning application 09/04913/REG13 was passed to the Secretary of State with a recommendation to approve, which the Secretary of State did.  Since the article appeared in the Chronicle forecasting a reduction in planning staff because of a reduction in the numbers of applications (a claim which our own statistics do not support), we have been watching for examples of where in-house staff were not used as case officers, and this application is one where a consultant was employed.  We have examined this person's report (see our analysis on the Charlton Buildings page), and we are not impressed.
Consultants always cost more than in-house staff, so from a public perspective whoever authorised this one did not make good use of council cash which we are told is in short supply.
New signs - Last updated 18th April 2010.
At about the same time that an article appeared in The Chronicle announcing a new owner for Bath Rugby, some new signs were noticed on some of Bath's signposts.
One signAnother signThese are of the same type and materials as the existing signs, so we assume that they are not the most expensive case of fly-posting in history, but are officially sanctioned.  Pointers to civic amenities and to attractions listed in guide books (the Magna Carta excepted) are easy to justify, but we have just been reminded in the press that Bath Rugby is in private ownership and is a commercial business (and it is looking for alternatives to the Rec).  Which leaves the question of what criteria are used to decide what commercial advertising goes on these sign-posts?  Can we look forward to other signs pointing to "Sally Lunn's in North Parade Passage" or "Starbucks in Stall Street" or "Sainsbury's in Green Park"?  If not, isn't the council laying itself open to accusations of favouritism?  This is public realm policy, and it should have been open to public consultation.
Festivals Box Office - Last updated 18th April 2010.
While we are on the subject, we noticed a letter in last Monday's Western Daily Press (12 April), when Keith Davis praised the council for rapid repairs to the Box Office building.  We believe in credit where credit is due, so we contacted Mr Davis for more details, and we reproduce his Before and After photographs on our News Summary page.
Enforcements - Last updated 11th April 2010.
We have received a number of responses from Enforcement recently stating that changes in colour of shopfronts, which we had reported to them, would not be pursued because the new colour would be considered acceptable if the applicant had raised a listed building application.  We appreciate that after the cuts in numbers, Enforcement must be struggling to deal with everything reported to them, and in many cases we agree that we would not have objected to the colour if a listed building application had been raised, but we have real concerns about the implications if this is a policy that will be more widely adopted in future.  News spreads, and if shop owners believe that they will get away with it, fewer and fewer will go through the proper procedures of applying for permission.
PPS5 has just come into force, and in the guidance notes it says "painting exposed surfaces ... can be visually and physically damaging and is likely to require listed building consent, as may a change in external paint colour." which is slightly stronger than the equivalent guidance in the superseded PPG15.  Enforcement are unlikely to recognise which surfaces need to breathe through paint and which ones need to be sealed by it.  The advantage of permitting repainting through the planning process is that the methods and finish can be conditioned if considered important, as well as a decision being made on the colour.
There is also a future risk that something completely unacceptable (painting a door in The Circus with lilac and orange stripes, for instance) might be considered permissible in an appeal process because the council has not previously enforced planning legislation on anybody else who repainted with a significant change of colour without permission.  We think that Enforcement should be careful of the precedents it is setting:  A standard form letter instructing the offending premises to raise a listed building application for the change of colour or else return the paintwork to its former colour should not be arduous.
Western Riverside - Last updated 28th March 2010.
In February we reported that a Freedom Of Information dispute had been referred to the Information Commissioner's Office appeals procedure, and that the ICO report and decision was that the council was instructed to answer the question What is the latest financial model and viability assessments relating to the Bath Western Riverside project?.  We understand that instead of answering the question, the council has appealed against the ICO ruling.  Given that such an appeal would have taken about as much effort as answering the question, we are left wondering exactly what the council is so desperate to hide from the public?
We also understand that Bath Rugby is examining the possibility of building a stadium somewhere on the Western Riverside site.  Again, Watchdog's main concern is that the style and appearance should be compatible with the World Heritage Site, and we will reserve judgement until more details become available.  We would be happy to discuss preliminary ideas with Bath Rugby, in confidence if that is their wish, and would welcome an approach by an e-mail.
Scaffolding - Last updated 14th March 2010.
As a result of our report of scaffolding on the Assembly Rooms fixed by bolts into the exterior of the stonework, we were informed that there were sound safety reasons for it.  So we looked up the safety standards - BS5973 which advises on what resistance to twisting pressures from the wind must be withstood, and TG20:08 which provides the mathematics for validating that.  Although these standards refer to "ties", there is no absolute requirement to drill into the stonework for mechanical fixings provided there is adequate bracing and wedging.  Furthermore, the BS specifically warns that if fixings to the facade are proposed "it is also crucial to assess whether the building fabric can support such loadings", and some of the buildings where drilled fixings have been used, this assessment should have ruled out such fixings:  crumbly ashlar held together by 200 year old lime mortar is designed to support the weight of the walls and roof as gravity acts on it, not to withstand gales blowing scaffolding away from a building frontage to which it is bolted.  We believe some of the scaffolding that was bolted to the facades of some of the buildings we photographed, would simply have pulled the ashlar blocks out of the wall if such gales had occurred.
We think that all proposals to bolt scaffolding to listed buildings should have the exact type, number and position of such fixings shown in the listed building application, along with evidence that those positions can withstand the maximum leverages shown in the safety standards, giving the Heritage Environment Team the opportunity to refuse permission for such fixings or to condition alternatives before any scaffolding is erected.
Planning - Last updated 7th March 2010.
We continue to have quoted to us the justification for the reduction in the planning staff numbers being a reduction in the number of planning applications.  But we wonder how old, and how accurate, the statistics being quoted are.
Our own figures show that in the first two months of this year we have considered whether to comment on more planning applications than for the equivalent period last year, and we wrote and submitted comments on 28 more this year, up to the 1st March, so the number affecting Listed Buildings or Conservation Areas has gone up.  And although we raised slightly more Enforcement questions in the first two months of 2009 than we have in 2010, the number accepted as worth pursuing is greater in 2010 than in the equivalent period last year.
So our assessment is that the sections of Planning that we deal with are having more work to do now than a year ago, and yet they are facing cuts.  They are going to be overwhelmed, we think.  Something has got to give, and that will be either the turn-round time on their work, or its quality.
Even worse, if the current staff face the reduction in numbers forecast, then expertise is going to walk out the door; and when later the Cabinet realise they have made a mistake and add the numbers back, it will almost certainly be untrained novices who walk back through it.
So we remind the council of its planning obligations.  PPG15 (with our added underlining) states:
2.13  Local Planning Authorities are urged to ensure that they have appropriately qualified specialist advice on any development which, by its character or location, might be held to have an adverse effect on any sites or structures of the historic environment.
A.5  Authorities should have adequate specialist expertise available to them for the discharge of their responsibilities for listed buildings and conservation policy generally.  The availability of advice from English Heritage, and from the national amenity societies on certain categories of listed building consent application, does not relieve authorities of the need to ensure that they have their own expert advice suitably deployed to enable them to deal both with day-to-day casework and with longer-term policy formulation
Our judgement is that with the apparent level of reductions proposed, the Heritage Environment Team would not have the manpower to discharge the council's obligations for the historic environment.  The above obligations apply equally to planning applications, pre-application consultations and enforcement investigations.
We shall continue examining planning applications closely and will assess whether the "appropriately qualified specialist advice" was available and if "expert advice" was "suitably deployed", to ensure that our national and international heritage is appropriately protected;  and we will keep the appropriate heritage organisations informed of our findings.
Southgate - Last updated 7th March 2010.
Inadequate materialsA different case officer than in the past;  the same outcome.  We commented on the Debenhams shopfront application, pointing out that the materials proposed would not be durable and the style proposed was the minimum necessary to fill the void, and even then some of the glass is to be covered in translucent film to make it even duller.  This cheap and nasty offering is really not suitable for the "flagship" business in a prestige development.
The Case Officer nevertheless describes it as "an uncomplicated shopfront utilising modern materials that is appropriate given the use of the site, and will result in a subtle main entrance" and gave permission.  We simply show on the right what happens to these "modern materials" after a few months exposure to the British weather since installed for Phase 1, and expect to take similar "we told you so" photographs of Debenhams in due course.
Vision for Bath - Last updated 7th March 2010.
The Vision for Bath was never offered for public consultation, and even if a researcher knows what they are looking for tracking down a complete picture is difficult.  But we do know that the Major Projects team are enthusiastic about it, and that there are sketches around of a landscape of steel and glass buildings.  So we wonder what the team will make of the recent BD Online article that effectively forecasts that such buildings will end up as pariah buildings that nobody will want to let.  Perhaps it is time for  a rethink of the "it must be good if it is flashy" attitude.  We look forward to the Busometer officially being regarded as a pariah, as well as being the most hated building in Bath.
Listing Success - Last updated 28th February 2010.
Following hot on the heels of our success in getting two Brunel designed bridges listed (see "Heritage" below), we have now heard from English Heritage that they have accepted our application to list the northern boundary wall of St. James Cemetery on the Lower Bristol Road.  The full story with photographs can be found in the Success Stories section of our News page.
Heritage - Last updated 21st February 2010.
Watchdog has been in discussions with Network Rail to encourage the maintenance of the Brunel assets through Bath to have it at its best  for the occasion, and we have also been researching what parts of Brunel's original constructions are not yet listed.  This has now resulted in a significant success.  Thanks to some detailed research and a well presented case, English Heritage has added two more structures to the listed Brunel heritage in Bath.  Details and photographs appear on our Brunel's GWR page.
Magna Carta - Last updated 21st February 2010.
There has been a considerable amount of protest in the local press recently (both the Western Daily Press and the Chronicle) about the destruction of the Magna Carta extract on the side of the former Bonham's Auction House in John Street.  Unfortunately, this is all too little, too late.  The time for the press to get interested in preserving Bath's heritage under threat is before planning permission is granted, when it might just influence the decision.  The council comment at the end of the Western Daily Press item (unfortunately not on-line) that permission was granted to avoid the expense of an appeal, suggests that what decision is made depends on what is cheap rather than what is right.  If the unnamed spokesman was telling the truth (and it does sound believable) then the council has admitted its failure to evaluate that planning application in accordance with the current legislation.  How many other permissions have been granted for the same dubious reason, we wonder?
It is possible that the building owners are now beginning to appreciate the damage to their potential trade that the removal of the Magna Carta might cause, because they now have a new planning permission, to light up the building's exterior with what we regard as an excessive number of lights.  The applicant claims that such illumination is normal for a city centre location - except that this is actually located in a low luminosity back street!
"To Let" - Last updated 24th January 2010.
A row of signsThe annual forest of "To Let" signs has reappeared.  What the tourists think of the impression given, that a very large number of houses have been abandoned simultaneously by residents, we can only speculate.  The signs are largely unnecessary, because the students they are aimed at can search on-line or use University lists.  This year, a Facebook group has been started, to put pressure on estate agents to take the signs down.  Watchdog doesn't have a Facebook presence, but is happy to provide the link to those who do.
Architectural Style - Last updated 18th October 2009.
A long while ago, we reported on the Congress of New Urbanism movement in America.  They are at the forefront of a growing backlash against "modern" glass and steel buildings scarring old-style urban centres in America, and they campaign to preserve reusable heritage and have new developments that blend into their neighbourhoods.  It seems from a recent survey that their position is gaining support in Britain.
We have also been informed that at the current rate of usage of structural steel in buildings across the world, iron ore will start to be in short supply in about 50 years time.  We have no way of checking this estimate, but if it is true then the New Urbanists will eventually see a return to brick, stone and timber building materials out of necessity due to a shortage of the current alternatives.  They might even see steel framed buildings dismantled before the end of their life if their raw materials become more valuable than the buildings themselves.
University of Notre Dame - Last updated 27th September 2009.
Students from this American University came to Bath in May this year for their Summer School and as a training exercise they put together a masterplan for the Western Riverside and gave a public presentation of it.  This week, the tutors returned for a few days to make arrangements for next year's Summer School, when at the invitation of Frome Parish Council they will be investigating the potential for developments in Frome.
Watchdog met them while they were visiting and were told that the University hopes to formally publish their 2009 proposals for Bath in book form if they can find sponsors, but meanwhile, some of the photographs and drawings have been placed on the University website.  For those with broadband who are interested, this document (17 Mbytes) gives a lot of information.  For those with a dial-up connection, this link leads to a more practically sized subset.
Any person or organisation prepared to help sponsor the 2009 document can use this e-mail to make contact.
Cleveland Pools - Last updated 12th September 2009.
We have not created a Cleveland Pools page for this website, because the Cleveland Pools Trust website carries all the latest news, but for those who could no attend any of the open days, we have put together a collection of photographs with a brief description of each.
The Cornmarket - Last updated 26th April 2009.
The Cornmarket in Walcot Street is a listed building in a fragile state, affected by subsidence and held up by scaffolding.  So it is with some surprise that despite the announcement of plans for the building in The Chronicle, the only planning application lodged is for change of use.  See the News Summary page for more information.
GWR through Bath - Last updated 19th April 2009.
Watchdog has not been provided with a schedule of repairs to the historic fabric of Brunel's GWR, so each piece of work completed is a pleasant surprise when we spot it.  We report our latest discovery on the Brunel's GWR page.
Belushi's, corner of Green Street and Broad Street - Last updated 22nd March 2009.
On 16th March, the planning application for listed building consent for the external illumination plus the repainting of the shopfront (which was done without planning permission), was refused consent.  We have therefore moved the case back to our Enforcements page.  The second, full planning application has not yet been determined, so we have also left the entry on the News Summary page.
Somerset Buildings - Last updated 5th October 2008.
There is a new planning application to demolish the current TR Hayes building in front of Hedgemead Park and to replace it with a larger two storey building  See the News Summary page for more information.
Malthouse, Lower Bristol Road - Last updated 13th July 2008.
We have kept an eye on the " cow shed" that appeared in the curtilage of this listed building.
It looks as though it is almost finished now, but it looks nothing like the drawings that were given planning permission. We have updated the pictures on the Camden Mill page.
Sustainability - Last updated 15th June 2008.
Whilst exploring the complex network of links spreading from the Congress of New Urbanism movement in America's website, we found a speech given by the Prince of Wales at the National Building Museum in Washington DC. In it there is a lot of good old fashioned common sense about the need for sustainability in the built environment, and designing for the benefit of the occupants.  It is quite a long speech, but it is well worth persevering with it.  You can read it here.  It rather puts the mistakes of the Western Riverside design into perspective.
Victoria Park - Last updated 8th June 2008.
Watchdog's Bouquets section seems to have had a wide audience.  BBC Bristol got in touch and asked if they could use some of our pictures for a new item.  We agreed, and you can see the result on the BBC website.