Lib Dems reach ‘climax of incompetency’ as repeated failures are laid bare

The Liberal Democrats in charge of Bath and North East Somerset Council have reached a “climax of incompetency” following a deluge of poor decision making.

The claim, made by B&NES Council’s opposition Conservative Group, comes after a number of controversial decisions have recently been made by the Lib Dem administration.

Despite declaring a Climate Emergency in March 2019, and an Ecological Emergency in July 2020, the administration has recently announced its intention to allow development on the ecologically sensitive Tufa Field site off Englishcombe Lane, despite initially promising to save the field.

The administration is also progressing with plans to build on green spaces such as Entry Hill and continuing with the roll-out of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, despite concerns from residents that they will increase congestion on main roads.

The administration recently decided to ban members of the public from speaking at public meetings if they failed to provide the full text of their speech beforehand. The consequences of this policy became clear when one local resident was barred from speaking because he had been providing humanitarian aid to the victims of war in Ukraine and, as a result, had been unable to write a speech beforehand.

This was called “the murder of democracy” by opponents and last month, after a cross-party campaign to oppose the measures, the administration ditched the policy.

This follows other U-turns the Lib Dems have performed in recent months, such as the decision to introduce car parking charges in Midsomer Norton and the attempt to charge people to recycle certain materials at the tip – dubbed the ‘Tip Tax’.

Other recent examples of the administration’s incompetency include being too slow to fix the safety issues on Keynsham High Street which have landed some residents in hospital, tabling proposals to increase car parking charges in Keynsham and their support for a proposed development in the ecologically protected Cotswold AONB.

And this week, with the Cleveland Bridge repair works still ongoing, the administration’s poor handling of the project could see it overrun by almost a full year, with one Lib Dem cabinet member saying it could be October before the bridge is able to open to two-way traffic.

Earlier this week Cllr Kevin Guy, the Lib Dem Leader of B&NES Council, said Bath needs its own tourist information centre. But it was the Lib Dems who took the controversial decision to close down Visit Bath, the city’s designated tourist management company.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “Recent decisions made by the administration add up to a climax of incompetency.

“The Lib Dems lurch from one bad decision to another, all the time completely oblivious to the harm they are doing to the council’s reputation and to Bath and North East Somerset.

“By banning residents from speaking at public meetings, allowing development on the Tufa Field, progressing with controversial Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods, failing to get a handle on the Cleveland Bridge repair works and being slow to respond to safety issues on Keynsham High Street the administration has badly let down residents, businesses and tourists.

“You would struggle to find an administration from any council across the country with a catalogue of failure as extensive as this.”

Former Lib Dem councillor joins Tories to campaign for a better Bath

A former Liberal Democrat councillor on Bath and North East Somerset Council has officially joined the Conservative Group.

Cllr Dr Yukteshwar Kumar left the ruling B&NES Liberal Democrats in December and has since then sat as an Independent councillor. He was the second councillor to leave the Lib Dems this term amid allegations of bullying.

And tonight, at a meeting of the B&NES Full Council, Dr Kumar crossed the floor to sit with the opposition Conservative Group, increasing the Group’s numbers on the council to 11 members.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “I am delighted to welcome Dr Kumar to the Conservative Group.

“He is an extremely hard-working councillor who is well respected in his ward and who holds himself to the high ethical standards we expect to see from those elected to public office. Sadly, over the course of the last few years those standards have not been upheld by the Liberal Democrats.

“With consistently poor decision making, the mismanagement of key public projects, the failure to follow through with previous manifesto pledges and constant public infighting among group members, the Lib Dems have completely lost their way.

“Clearly Dr Kumar recognises this and, like us, believes that B&NES would be much better served under a Conservative-run council, one that better understands the needs of local people and that has the ideas, the skills and the determination to fulfil its local election promises.”

At last month’s Full Council meeting, Dr Kumar supported the Conservatives in condemning attempts by the Liberal Democrats to ban people from speaking at public meetings if they fail to provide the full text of their speech beforehand. He described it as “the murder of democracy” and is delighted that, due to the pressure applied by the opposition, the proposal has been reversed.

In recent months he has also supported the Conservatives in highlighting Lib Dem mismanagement in relation to the disposal of land at Bathampton Meadows, the ongoing failure of the Cleveland Bridge repair works, the cancellation of the world-famous Bath Christmas Markets, the Ring of Steel city centre barriers and the administration’s poor record on tackling the climate emergency – among many other things.

Cllr Dr Yukteshwar Kumar, now B&NES Conservative ward councillor for Bathwick, said: “I’m thrilled to be welcomed into the Conservative Group and I look forward to working closely with my new colleagues as I continue to do my very best to serve residents in Bathwick.

“Being a member of the Lib Dems was a traumatic experience for me, and over the past three years it has become increasingly clear that their administration has been an abject failure.

“The vast majority of their 2019 manifesto pledges have not been met, they have consistently made decisions that run contrary to the interests of residents and businesses and they are now completely out of ideas.

“There is a saying in Hindi: Akela Chana Bhand Nahi Todta. It means ‘one fan can’t dispel the fog’, or ‘a sole effort can’t change things’. Unfortunately, B&NES has been under the dark fog of the Liberal Democrats for a few years now. As an Independent, I would’ve been unable to dispel the fog on my own at the next local elections. Therefore, to continue my good work in my ward, I have decided to join hands with the Conservatives. “I’m hugely excited to be part of this ambitious team and to being helping secure a Conservative majority on the council next May.”

Keynsham High Street: parties agree on action to fix dangerous road

Councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council have set out what needs to be done to improve safety on Keynsham High Street.

It follows numerous reports of people tripping and falling over the uneven road surface.

The £1.5m High Street improvement project, which was completed in March, has seen the footpaths widened and resurfaced, cycle lanes added and new street furniture installed. But locals have reported problems with the differing heights of the kerbs, which have caused vulnerable people to trip and fall.

B&NES Council has so far made small attempts to improve safety on the High Street, mainly by installing signs.

But Keynsham’s six B&NES councillors met this week to find a more permanent, cross-party solution.

In order to improve safety for pedestrians, Keynsham’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors have called for:

  • The cycle lane to be raised to make it level with the pavement
  • The cycle lane to be painted green so it stands out more clearly
  • The white line that separates the cycle lane to be made thinner so it doesn’t resemble a dropped kerb

While, due to the poor design of the High Street, these measures may not fix the problems completely, the councillors believe they will make an enormous difference to the safety of pedestrians.

Cllr Alan Hale, B&NES Conservative councillor for Keynsham South, said: “The redesign of Keynsham High Street has been a disappointing failure. It has resulted in the road being made dangerous for pedestrians, with some residents sustaining serious injuries.

“Today’s meeting with the Lib Dem councillors was productive and I look forward to working with them to get these problems sorted out as quickly as possible.”

Cllr Andy Wait, B&NES Liberal Democrat councillor for Keynsham East, said: “Both Cllr Hal MacFie and I were pleased with the outcome of the joint meeting. Despite our different political views, our main concern is for the welfare of the town as a whole, and these sensible solutions should make a positive difference to peoples’ lives.”

Cllr Vic Clarke, B&NES Conservative councillor for Keynsham North, said:

“I moved to Sidmouth in Devon in April last year for personal reasons. In that time, I have continued to work hard for the people of Keynsham.

“I attend public meetings at the Guildhall and deal with residents’ queries whenever I am required to, and I claim no travel costs for doing so.

“I will be standing down next May but I see no reason to expect local taxpayers to fork out more than £5,000 for a by-election while I am able to continue to perform my role as a councillor perfectly well.”

B&NES Conservatives declare death of free speech following “draconian” council vote

Free speech is dead in Bath and North East Somerset after the council voted to impose “draconian” rules on members of the public, Conservative councillors say.

At tonight’s B&NES Council meeting, Liberal Democrat councillors voted to bar members of the public from attending council meetings if they fail to send the full text of their speech to council officers beforehand.

Opposition Conservative councillors furiously opposed the proposals, along with members of the Labour Group and other minority political groups, on the grounds that they will severely erode the democratic rights of B&NES residents.

Under the current rules, all residents are entitled to speak at council meetings on any topic they wish. In order to do so, they are asked to alert council officers at least 48 hours before the day of the meeting, and provide a short description of what they wish to talk about.

But under the new proposals, residents must send the full text of their speech to the council in advance or be completely barred from speaking.

This unnecessary rule, which is contrary to the council’s own constitution, has already resulted in members of the public being alienated from the democratic process.

At a recent Cabinet meeting, for example, one resident was barred from speaking because he was unable to send in his full speech beforehand. In the days before the meeting, he had been in Ukraine helping victims of the current war and was shocked to discover that he was still expected to write a speech while in a warzone.

When he was unable to find time to do it, he was refused permission to speak.

The Conservatives also fear that people who are unable to write very well or who prefer to speak from the heart rather than rigidly follow a pre-agreed script will be completely cut off from participating in local democracy.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “The Conservative Group has persistently opposed this new rule ever since it was first tabled by the Liberal Democrats.

“It’s a draconian imposition that will disadvantage residents who have every right to hold their elected officials to account.

“There is no provision in the council’s own constitution to justify this move and if the Conservative Group wins power at next year’s local elections, we will commit to reversing it and ensuring every resident has fair access to democracy.”

In recent months, the Liberal Democrat administration has faced a number of tough questions from the public over a questionable transfer of land at Bathampton Meadows, the massively overrun Cleveland Bridge works, attempts to restrict access to the city centre and the cancellation of the world-famous Bath Christmas Markets.

The Conservative Group believes this new move to restrict access to local democracy is an attempt by the administration to evade criticism and hide from scrutiny.

Conservatives welcome action to improve safety on Keynsham High Street

Conservative councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council have welcomed moves to improve safety on Keynsham High Street following recent reports of trips and falls.

It comes after numerous people have lodged complaints after tripping and falling over the uneven road surface.

The £1.5m High Street improvement project, which was completed last week, has seen the footpaths widened and resurfaced, cycle lanes added and new street furniture installed. But locals have reported problems with the differing heights of the kerbs, which have caused vulnerable people to trip and fall.

On Saturday 26 March, one person was even taken to hospital after suffering a serious head injury as a result of tripping over the newly-laid pavement.

He was one of four people who have reported needing to go to hospital over the past week, while others managed to retain their footing after tripping.

Following these complaints, Keynsham’s Conservative councillors today met members of the Liberal Democrat administration and council officers on site to understand how the High Street could be made safer for pedestrians.

Some of the solutions suggested include adding additional white lines to make it clear where the kerbs are located, installing signage on site and launching an advertising campaign to encourage locals to take care.

Cllr Alan Hale, B&NES Conservative councillor for Keynsham South, said: “Throughout the first week of the street being open I have received numerous reports of people sustaining injuries after tripping and falling over the pavement. This is simply unacceptable.

“I have appealed to the administration and senior officers within the council and I’m pleased that these concerns are now being taken seriously.

“I welcome the potential actions that can be taken to improve safety on the High Street and if they are found to be insufficient, I hope further work can be done to correct these problems before more people are hurt.”

Cllr Brian Simmons, B&NES Conservative councillor for Keynsham North, said: “These works are simply not up to the standard we expect. There is a high risk of serious injury or worse unless these problems can be sorted out quickly.

“We need a resolution and I’m pleased to see the council taking our concerns seriously. Hopefully these problems can be corrected as quickly as possible.”

Entry Hill bike park plan is ‘nice idea, wrong location’, say B&NES Conservatives

Plans to build a bike park on land at Entry Hill have been criticised by councillors, who insist the site should remain a public green space.

In February last year, Bristol-based cycling company Pedal Progression were appointed by Bath and North East Somerset Council to take over the running of the former golf course, and to turn it into a family cycling centre and mountain bike park.

But Pedal Progression’s designs for the site have been widely criticised by local residents, who fear the facility will have a detrimental effect on the surrounding area.

The Conservative Group on B&NES Council has today declared its support for the residents and called for the site to stay as it is – a popular public green space.

The proposed cycling facility needs to attract between 500 and 700 paying visitors every week to be financially viable. This will mean that around 200 people could visit the site every day over the summer and at weekends. Yet the proposed car park capacity on site is a mere 54 spaces.

Concerns have also been raised about noise levels when special events are held at the facility, the lack of free-to-use space available for walkers and the fact that the designs don’t appear to be family-friendly.

Instead of a bike park that will only cater people with a keen interest in cycling, local Conservatives say the site should be a public open space for people to walk their dogs and get close to nature.

Rather than creating an attraction that people would have to drive to get to, this option would also be better for the environment and would better address the climate emergency.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “The proposal for Entry Hill is a nice idea in the wrong location. Quite simply, the site should remain as it is – a lovely green space where you can let children and dogs roam free while feeling confident they will not go too far.

“Spaces such as this are so important for peoples’ quality of life, and they should be protected. The designs we have before us could create enormous traffic problems in and around Entry Hill, which will make life extremely difficult for people who live nearby.

“The current proposals fly in the face of the climate emergency and do not reflect the council’s initial aspirations for a family-orientated facility.”

A formal planning application is yet to be submitted.

Conservatives delighted to see Keynsham food waste plant firmly rejected

Conservative councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council have praised the decision to dismiss plans to build a food waste processing plant on green belt land near Keynsham.

The plans involved building an anaerobic digester facility at the former Queen Charlton Quarry on Charlton Field Lane.

The plant would process organic materials or ‘feedstocks’ (crops and food waste) to produce biogas to create renewable energy, using 92,000 tonnes of crops and food waste a year.

But the proposals were today unanimously refused by B&NES Council’s Planning Committee, with Conservative councillors describing the decision as “a victory for local people”.

Reacting to the news, Cllr Paul May, B&NES Conservative ward member for Publow and Whitchurch, said: “I congratulate members of the Planning Committee for making the right decision today. Although I support the move towards generating more renewable energy, this site simply is not appropriate for a development of this nature.

“The impact on the local environment would have been severe, with the costs of the facility far outweighing its benefits.

“Local people have done a fantastic job opposing these plans and I have been proud to support them – this is a victory for them.”

Cllr Alan Hale, B&NES Conservative ward member for Keynsham South, said: “These proposals would have been extremely damaging to the local area, and I’m pleased to see them refused.

“This is a green belt site that should be protected. The facility would have seen increased levels of HGV traffic on roads not built to accommodate it, as well as a big increase in noise and smell pollution.

“The applicant, of course, has a right to appeal the decision, but I am confident that the case against this proposal is strong. Well done to everybody who has stood firm and spoken out against this controversial planning application.”

The Conservatives have been opposed to the plans when they were first tabled by Resourceful Energy Anaerobic Ltd (REAL).

Last July, the Conservatives teamed up with local activist group Protect Our Keynsham Environment (POKE) to help oppose the plans.

Kerry Morgan, Chair of POKE, said: “POKE would like to thank councillors on the Planning Committee, the planning case officer, all our supporters and everyone who has contributed to the campaign over the past two years.

“We hope the applicant will choose not to appeal but if they do, we will be ready to give our best case to the Planning Inspector.”

‘Keynsham deserves better’ – councillors say Lib Dems have failed the town

The people of Keynsham have been badly let down by the B&NES Liberal Democrats, opposition councillors say.

The Conservative councillors who represent Keynsham on Bath and North East Somerset Council have spoken out against the recent poor performance of the Lib Dem administration, and have demanded better for residents and businesses in Keynsham.

The Keynsham High Street renovation works are still ongoing. Work began last June and was expected to take nine months, but locals have complained that the work doesn’t appear to be anywhere near finished.

Conservative councillors have also accused the administration of doing a poor job of keeping residents up to date with how the work is progressing.

Among the 2022/23 Budget proposals, the Lib Dems have planned to make big cuts to the library service in Keynsham.

A review of service delivery options for Keynsham and Midsomer Norton libraries, and the relocation of some information services into Bath Central Library, will save the administration £126,000.

The Conservatives have also questioned the administration’s financial priorities, with £1.6m of taxpayers money being used to make improvements to the Keynsham Civic Centre, a building that is less than 10 years old.

Also, the Lib Dems recently announced that they would be reopening the Ashton Way toilets, but failed to mention that it was they who closed them in the first place back in January 2015.

The Conservative councillors have welcomed the £750,000 to be spent on rebuilding the Keynsham Memorial Bridge as it’s a vital connection for people on foot.

Cllr Alan Hale, Conservative ward member for Keynsham South, said: “This is a catalogue of failure from the administration in relation to Keynsham. Our town has been badly let down by poor decision making and upside down priorities.

“Spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on closing roads to discourage driving while cutting the local library budget shows that this administration is completely out of touch. Keynsham deserves much better and we will continue to stand up for local people.”

Cllr Brian Simmons, Conservative ward member for Keynsham North, said: “The B&NES Lib Dems seem to have forgotten about residents and businesses in Keynsham. Locals have not been properly kept up to date with progress on the High Street and now the administration wants to raid Keynsham Library.

“We deserve better than this, so today we are calling on the administration to rethink its priorities by safeguarding the library service and ensuring the Civic Centre improvements and Memorial Bridge rebuild are both completed on time and within budget.”

Final plea for council to ditch Midsomer Norton parking charges plan

Conservative councillors have issued a final plea to the Liberal Democrat Cabinet to ditch plans to introduce car parking charges in Midsomer Norton and Radstock.

The Liberal Democrats who control Bath and North East Somerset Council want to introduce parking charges at car parks in Midsomer Norton and Radstock.

The plans are set to be rubber stamped by Cabinet members at a meeting on Thursday (10 Feb), and local Conservative councillors are urging the administration to see sense and scrap them once and for all.

Cllr Michael Evans, B&NES Conservative ward member for Midsomer Norton North, said: “This Thursday, Cabinet will decide whether or not to proceed with plans that, ultimately, will have a catastrophic effect on Midsomer Norton’s high street.

“Today we are urging them to recognise the strength of feeling among local people and ditch the proposed parking charges. As a council we should be supporting local businesses not hurting them by forcing people to shop elsewhere.”

Cllr Chris Watt, B&NES Conservative councillor for Midsomer Norton Redfield, said: “The Liberal Democrats need to understand the damage these proposed parking charges could have on the local economy.

“As Conservatives, we recognise the needs of local businesses and are perplexed that such plans were even considered in the first place.

“I sincerely hope Cabinet does the right thing on Thursday night and scraps the plans with immediate effect.”

The Lib Dem administration says the proposals will save the council £75,000 over two years.

In order to bridge the funding gap created by scrapping the parking charges, the Conservative Group has proposed ditching the unnecessary plans to limit vehicular access into Bath city centre, which are due to cost the council an eyewatering £128,000 this year.

The Cabinet meeting will take place at 6.30pm on Thursday 10 February. It can be viewed live on the council’s YouTube channel.

Conservatives urge Lib Dems to ditch Midsomer Norton parking charges plans

Midsomer Norton’s Conservative councillors have spoken out against plans to introduce car parking charges at town centre car parks.

As part of their draft budget proposals for 2022/23, the Liberal Democrats who control Bath and North East Somerset Council have proposed introducing parking charges at car parks in Midsomer Norton and Radstock.

The Lib Dem administration says the proposals will save the council £75,000 over two years.

But local Conservative councillors Michael Evans and Chris Watt have spoken out against the charges, saying they will have a negative impact on high street businesses and will put people off coming into town.

Cllr Michael Evans, B&NES Conservative ward member for Midsomer Norton North, said: “Today we are calling on the Lib Dem administration to scrap plans to introduce car parking charges in Midsomer Norton and Radstock.

“High streets around the country have suffered as a result of parking charges being imposed, with shoppers forced to head to out-of-town locations and to rely more heavily on online trade. If shopping dies in Midsomer Norton, the food outlets will follow and the town will lose its community life.

“I urge the administration to observe the strength of feeling locally over this issue and do the right thing and bin these damaging proposals once and for all.”

Cllr Chris Watt, B&NES Conservative councillor for Midsomer Norton Redfield, said: “This latest cynical ploy by the B&NES Lib Dem administration to impose parking charges makes no attempt to hide their primary motivation – to raise money for their schemes in Bath.

“As the shopper survey carried out in 2016 clearly showed, free parking in the town is a key factor maintaining footfall. There is no consideration for what these proposed charges will mean for an already struggling Midsomer Norton high street and hospitality sector, nor the impact on those who work there.

“Throughout the pandemic, Midsomer Norton has not had the same support as Bath, with our leisure centre being denied the same financial support as those in Bath. This budget proposal now attempts to get our community to pay more and pick up the bill.”

Cllrs Evans and Watt argue that the proposals have not been subject to consultation by locals and have not been properly communicated by the council.

‘Sham’ Liveable Neighbourhoods consultation should be scrapped and restarted

The Liveable Neighbourhoods consultation is a sham and it must be scrapped and started again, Conservative councillors say.

The Liberal Democrat administration in control of Bath and North East Somerset Council recently held a public consultation on their plans for Liveable Neighbourhoods.

The plans involve introducing Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) to restrict vehicle movements at various locations across the district, and the five-week public consultation to seek the views of residents ended on 3 January 2022.

But numerous complaints have been made about the way the administration has conducted the consultation, with respondents accusing the council of asking leading questions and ignoring the majority of residents.

In an email sent to members of the Lib Dem Cabinet, one resident complained: “From the information presented with this consultation, I learned little that was new from the previous consultation of a year ago.”

He added: “Included were questions and pull down answers which could only be described as leading and I suspect meant to support an agenda already decided.”

Another resident said: “I have tried to participate in the so-called consultation but it is highly selective and complicated and does not allow generalised comment. It would seem that this is a sham consultation and I wonder what legal standing it has.”

And another said: “As with previous surveys of this nature produced by the council, your questions (tick boxes) seem designed to ensure that the output can be used to claim support for your approach.

“In addition to leading questions, I am also very concerned that it’s possible for suggestions to be ‘liked’ but not for them to be disagreed with. This absolutely skews the results of the survey and must call into doubt its conclusions from the outset.”

The Lib Dem administration has also been criticised for only alerting certain residents – those who live close to proposed LTN schemes – to the consultation, rather than the city as a whole.

Reflecting this concern, one resident wrote to the Lib Dem leadership to say: “I suggest that this is an oversight that risks undermining the results of the survey and your claim to be a ‘listening council’.” 

Following the complaints, Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, is urging the administration to scrap the consultation and go back to the drawing board.

Cllr Pritchard said: “This consultation has no legitimacy whatsoever and should be scrapped and started again.

“The Liveable Neighbourhoods policy will be hugely disruptive for residents and businesses right across our district, and it cannot be introduced on the back of such poor levels of public engagement.

“It’s clear that this survey was designed to produce an outcome already decided by the administration. Quite simply, this is consultation in name only.

“I urge the administration to take these complaints seriously, scrap the consultation and go back to the drawing board.”

‘Hapless and embarrassing’ – councillors rate B&NES Lib Dems’ 2021 performance

The performance of the Liberal Democrats in charge of Bath and North East Somerset Council over the past 12 months has been hapless and embarrassing, opposition councillors say.

And the administration desperately needs to get its house in order if it is to win back the trust of residents in 2022.

The past year has seen the Lib Dem administration make a number of poor policy decisions and avoidable mistakes. We have also seen unnecessary public squabbling among current and former members of Cabinet.

This year congestion has dramatically increased across Bath, especially at weekends, with one driver reporting an eight-minute journey taking three hours. Alarmingly, the chaos on Bath’s roads has been welcomed by the Lib Dems, with the administration arguing that traffic disruption is needed to force people to change their driving habits.

The repair work to Cleveland Bridge, which began in May and was initially meant to take four months to complete, still isn’t finished and relationships have soured between the council and neighbouring authorities, which means finding a long-term traffic solution has been made more difficult.

The administration has pressed ahead with the Ring of Steel, despite repeated pleas for a rethink from residents. And it was revealed at December’s Cabinet meeting that plans for the ring’s ‘inner zone’ were not, as the administration has always claimed, initiated by Avon and Somerset Police.

Cabinet infighting over the Ring of Steel has been played out in full public view, with Cllr Kevin Guy and Cllr Dine Romero exchanging petty blows in the local press.

Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are still being pursued, despite other local authorities removing them after finding they created more problems than they solved. In some areas they have been successful, but the B&NES administration has dismissed concerns that Bath’s unique topography will result in LTNs having an overall negative effect on the city.

This year’s Christmas Markets were extended and then completely cancelled by the Leader of the Council, creating great uncertainly for businesses at what should be a highly profitable time of year.

The Green Park car park was only reopened after a campaign by local residents and Conservative councillors.

To top it all off, barely a month has gone by this year without the administration appearing in the ‘Rotten Boroughs’ section of Private Eye magazine, causing further embarrassment to the council.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “I hope members of the current administration look back at their performance over the past 12 months and find the courage to be honest in their evaluations.

“They have done very little to make us feel proud of where we live but plenty to embarrass us. They have antagonised residents, ignored legitimate concerns about controversial policies, called each other names in the local press and sought to hide from scrutiny whenever possible.

“Even as the leader of the opposition, I want this administration to succeed. Because if they succeed, Bath and North East Somerset succeeds. But their record over the past year tells us only one thing – they are failing, and it’s residents who will suffer.

“As we head into 2022, one thing is crystal clear – B&NES deserves better.”

B&NES Conservatives pledge support to local disability campaigners on UNESCO awareness day

The Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council has declared its unwavering support for local people who have disabilities.

Opposition councillors today met with local campaigners, including Access BANES, to highlight access issues in Bath city centre.

The meeting took place on this year’s UNESCO International Day of Persons with Disabilities, an annual awareness day which aims to raise awareness about disability issues and drum up support for greater equality.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group, and Deputy Leader Cllr Karen Warrington heard how the Liberal Democrat administration’s current plans for the Ring of Steel would leave some of the most vulnerable members of society barred from entering their own city.

Under the current proposals, the Ring of Steel will also see a 24/7 ban on food and parcel deliveries into the secure zone, with residents required to apply for permits for larger deliveries. This, Conservatives say, is an unnecessary and impractical imposition on peoples’ lives.

Cllr Pritchard said: “The Conservative Group has today offered its full support to local people who have disabilities and who are trying to get a fair deal for themselves and others.

“With the Liberal Democrat administration’s current plans to impose a Ring of Steel around the city centre, residents with mobility challenges and other disabilities are simply being forgotten.

“The meagre compromises the administration has made on the Ring of Steel do not go far enough and risk alienating a large section of our community.

“That’s why we’re using this international day of awareness to remind the administration of the responsibilities it has under the Equality Act to ensure people with protected characteristics are not excluded from society.”

Cllr Pritchard and Cllr Warrington also met with Cllr Charles Fifield, member of Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council, and Cllr Dom Morris, member of Gloucestershire County Council. Both these councillors highlighted their own successes in improving access for disabled people in their areas, and provided valuable advice based on their own experiences.

Cllr Kevin Guy, the Liberal Democrat Leader of B&NES Council, this week admitted that the original draconian plans for the Ring of Steel – which involved complete exclusion of access to the city centre for all residents – was “appalling”.

Cllr Pritchard added: “I am delighted to see Cllr Guy finally admit how damaging the initial proposals were. I implore him to cast a similarly critical eye over the revised plans and realise, as so many others have already, that they are still unfit for purpose.”

Conservatives call on Council to ditch Ring of Steel plans ahead of UNESCO disability day

The Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council has called on the Lib Dem administration to rethink its controversial Ring of Steel plans ahead of an important day of global awareness.

The UNESCO International Day of Persons with Disabilities will take place on Friday 3 December, and the Conservatives have suggested it would be the perfect time to announce a review of the policy.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities aims to raise awareness about disability issues and drum up support for greater equality.

And the B&NES Conservatives say it will be embarrassing and damaging for Bath, as a UNESCO World Heritage City, to reach this important global day with the administration still planning to permanently exclude visitors and residents with disabilities from the city centre.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on B&NES Council, said: “These plans are causing huge upset to residents across our district who have mobility problems. People who cannot walk more than a few metres and who need to be able to access services by car feel they are being excluded from their own city.

“We recognise the need for enhanced security and improved air quality, but this must be achieved without ruining the lives of fellow citizens who already face significant challenges.

“We hope councillors of all parties will support us in trying to stop these divisive plans. The administration should pause, consult properly, and think again about the harm they are causing. Bath’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage City places responsibility on those with power, and I call on them to use that power fairly, for the good of all – particularly those with disabilities.”

The Council has announced plans to extend the closure of Milsom Street in the city centre for a further six months, with a view to closing it permanently to traffic during the hours of 10am-6pm. This plan is currently out for formal consultation.

Response from Conservative Group to Cllr Rigby’s Ring of Steel ‘fake news’ jibe

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “Throughout this process, the Conservative Group has sought only to highlight the damaging effects the Ring of Steel could have on residents and businesses in Bath.

“The administration has taken an unnecessarily hostile approach to pursuing this policy. They have repeatedly dismissed the concerns of residents, failed to answer direct questions at public meetings and only released information after being subject to demands under the Freedom of Information Act.   

“I remind the administration that it was only after the findings of an independent accessibility study were published that some concessions were finally made for blue badge holders. That these concerns were not properly addressed at the start of this process has created unimaginable stress for people, and shows how little members of this Cabinet care about some of our most vulnerable residents.

“The Ring of Steel received Cabinet approval in July. At no point in the text of the accompanying report is it made clear that two separate ATTROs are being proposed, nor has it been made clear in any of the Council’s recent communications.

“In fact, there does not appear to be any documentary record of the Ring of Steel being formed of two separate ATTROs. This could give residents the impression that the second ATTRO referred to by Cllr Rigby is a recent addition.

“Furthermore, it has been implied from early 2020 that the policy was in response to a direct, written request from the police. The letter sent by the police to the council in 2020 does not reflect what was implied. Our criticism highlighted that disparity.

“It is disappointing to see the administration use the terrible events in Liverpool, which are still coming to light, to make a party political attack. It does a disservice to residents to indulge in this kind of behaviour.

“We urge the administration to listen more carefully to the very real concerns of residents, and we would be happy to work in a cross-party manner to find solutions which strike a better balance between security and equality for all residents.”

Conservatives outline plans to ease Bath’s traffic problems

The B&NES Conservative Group has today outlined plans to solve the congestion problems that blight Bath.

It follows successive weekends of complete gridlock in the city centre, with some motorists stuck in traffic for hours on end.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, has teamed up with local residents and colleagues in the Bath Conservative Association to draw up plans to get traffic moving again.

The plans have been split into short term, medium term and long term aspirations.

In the short term, the Conservative Group is calling for:

  • Negotiations to open with utility companies to seek a temporary halt to all roadworks during busy periods at least until Cleveland Bridge has fully reopened
  • Park and ride services to be made free at weekends and, during the week, to charge by the vehicle rather than the number of passengers
  • The easing of temporary road restrictions until Cleveland Bridge has fully reopened

In the medium term:

  • Intensive discussions to start with the city’s major employers and generators of traffic to investigate alternative transport arrangements for staff and visitors, including dedicates shuttle buses from park and ride sites
  • Plans to introduce Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods to be put on hold to avoid displacing traffic to roads that are already at full capacity

In the long term:

  • Negotiations to begin with neighbouring authorities, WECA and central government to impress the urgent need to redesign the strategic road network to divert through-traffic away from Bath

A major contributor to the current congestion problems is the ongoing work by Wessex Water to divert a sewer near Avon Street car park to allow work to start on the Bath Quays North development. After the B&NES Liberal Democrat administration initially said this was nothing to do with them, it was revealed last week that Wessex Water was acting on the express instruction of the council.

The Conservative Group is calling for this work to be temporarily put on hold until Cleveland Bridge had reopened in order to reduce pressure on the road network.

Alarmingly, members of the Lib Dem administration have previously indicated that traffic chaos in Bath is desirable, claiming that increased levels of congestion “will allow new travel habits to evolve”.

This, the Conservatives say, is completely the wrong approach, and will result in Bath being permanently gridlocked.     

Cllr Pritchard said: “For a number of weeks now, Bath has been at a complete standstill at weekends. Last weekend, one resident said that an eight-minute journey ended up taking three hours.

“This level of disruption on the roads is extremely damaging, with residents left feeling like prisoners in their own city, completely unable to move around.

“To be clear – such traffic chaos is exactly what the current Liberal Democrat administration appears to want for Bath. Cllr Sarah Warren recently gave a frank admission that congestion on this scale is desirable because it will force people to abandon their cars and take up walking and cycling instead.

“But people will not change their behaviour in the way that Cllr Warren thinks because they need to be able to get about. Although we encourage the use of active travel, it’s not practical to expect everybody to cycle or walk around hilly Bath.

“We believe these proposed measures will go some way towards reducing pressure on the road network and we call on the administration to begin taking them forward at the earliest opportunity.”

Conservatives call for free parking in B&NES over Christmas

B&NES Council should offer free parking across the whole district in the run up to Christmas to help boost the local economy, Conservative councillors say.

It comes just a few weeks after the council announced that free parking at council-owned car parks would be available in Keynsham on every Saturday in December.

The Conservative opposition on Bath and North East Somerset Council welcomes this decision and is today calling on the Liberal Democrat to extend the offer of free parking on every Saturday in December to all council-owned car parks in B&NES.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on B&NES Council, said: “We are today calling on the administration to extend the offer of free parking to all council-owned car parks in B&NES to give local businesses a much-needed economic boost in the run up to Christmas.

“In 2019, our world-famous Bath Christmas Market brought more than £30m to the local economy. With the Liberal Democrat administration taking the decision to cancel this year’s Christmas market, there is an even greater need to do all we can to ensure businesses are given the space to thrive.

“We welcome the decision to bring free parking to Keynsham and believe that residents and businesses across the whole of B&NES should receive this early Christmas present as well.”

Lib Dems must learn from Ealing Council’s LTN blunder

The Liberal Democrat administration must learn from the mistakes of others if they are to bring Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods to B&NES, opposition councillors say.

It follows Ealing Council’s decision last month to remove seven of the Low-Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) schemes it had previously put in place.

LTNs are designed to block access to residential streets in order to improve air quality and reduce congestion. 

The Lib Dems who run Bath and North East Somerset Council are planning to rollout Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods across the district over the course of the next couple of years, and the Conservative opposition on the council is urging them to learn from Ealing’s mistakes and think again.

The LTNs in Ealing were erected during the lockdown last year. But recent a consultation found the majority of people living in them were against the schemes.

In Ealing, the LTNs were found to have increased levels of congestion on nearby streets, made no improvement to air quality and soured community relations.

A report considered by Ealing Council’s Cabinet reads: “There is evidence that (as would be expected) traffic flows have reduced within each of the LTN areas themselves. 

“Apart from that, broadly speaking, the overall benefits for some residents are somewhat offset by disbenefits to others.

“In addition, there are no schemes where the overall impact in terms of traffic/congestion and air quality are significant either positively or negatively.”

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on B&NES Council, said: “Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods are nice in theory but don’t always work in practice. As we now know from what has happened in Ealing, they can create more problems than they solve.

“By pushing traffic onto other roads and damaging relations between communities, LTNs will serve only to create ‘poor air zones’ and ‘rich air zones’.

“We are therefore urging the Lib Dem ‘listening’ council to put its money where its mouth is and actually listen to residents in Ealing who objected so forcefully to LTNs.

“And with a budget of £2.2m already earmarked for LTNs in B&NES, we must ask ourselves – is this money well spent?”

Conservatives demand answers over cancellation of Bath Christmas Market 2021

The Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council must give a full and frank explanation as to why this year’s Bath Christmas Market has been cancelled, Conservatives say.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on B&NES Council, has written an open letter to Cllr Kevin Guy, the Liberal Democrat Leader of the Council, on behalf of residents and businesses in Bath demanding to know why the 2021 Bath Christmas Market has been cancelled.

On Friday 17 September, the administration announced that the Christmas Market was to be “reshaped” due to supply problems caused by Brexit and COVID-19. This reshaping involved, among other things, moving the market online.

But the explanations given by the administration for the cancellation – Brexit and COVID-19 – have been challenged by councillors, residents and businesses who have pointed out their numerous flaws.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on B&NES Council, said: “I am shocked and saddened, though not entirely surprised, that the incompetence of this administration has resulted in the loss of our Christmas Market.

“The decision to cancel the event is a devastating blow to the local economy at a time when this Council should be doing all it can to support local businesses.

“I have written to Cllr Guy to demand a full explanation because the excuses given so far simply do not add up. Time after time we are seeing a catalogue of failure from this administration, and the Leader of the Council ought to recognise that he has a duty to be transparent when making crucial decisions.”

The news came just a few months after Cllr Guy announced that the 2021 event was to be extended for an extra week, meaning it would run for an unprecedented 25 days. The decision to cancel the event so soon after announcing its extension, Cllr Pritchard claims, shows a catastrophic lack of forethought and planning.

In his letter to Cllr Guy, Cllr Pritchard says: “According to Visit England, there are almost 20 locations in the UK that are hosting Christmas markets this year. This even includes small towns such as Skipton and Rochester. Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its Christmas market is famed across Europe. It seems highly unlikely, therefore, that Bath is uniquely susceptible to problems with logistics, while other towns and cities are able to continue as planned with their festive markets.”

The Bath Christmas Market attracts around 400,000 visitors every year and is consistently named one of the best festive markets in Europe.