Conservatives slam “reckless” Cabinet decision to restrict access to Bath city centre

Motorists will be permanently excluded from Bath city centre following a “reckless” decision by B&NES Cabinet members.

At tonight’s Cabinet meeting members agreed to go ahead with proposals to completely restrict access to Bath city centre through the controversial ‘Ring of Steel’ proposals.

With approval from Cabinet, the process can now start whereby access to the city centre will be restricted 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week for 365 days-a-year. New reinforced bollards and anti-terror street furniture will also be erected at numerous places in the city centre.

These unnecessary measures will leave city centre residents unable to park their cars outside their properties, receive deliveries to their doors or be dropped off at their doorsteps by taxis late at night.

Some of the more controversial proposals have been tweaked to allow a degree of access for Blue Badge holders. But these changes, the B&NES Conservative Group says, do not go far enough and will severely restrict the freedoms of residents.

Cllr Karen Warrington, Conservative councillor for the Chew Valley on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “The people of Bath will wake up tomorrow morning in a city they no longer recognise. When these regulations come into force, this administration will have turned a once welcoming and vibrant city centre into a no-go zone for residents.

“The concessions the administration has made to Blue Badge holders do not go far enough and they have given themselves the power to remove these concessions whenever they see fit.

“Let me be clear – the Liberal Democrats are using the threat of terrorism to further their anti-motoring agenda. This is reckless, cynical and underhand in the extreme.”

Midsomer Norton councillor welcomes decision to refuse controversial mast application

The decision to refuse a planning application for an 18m-high mast in Midsomer Norton has been welcomed by a local councillor.

Cllr Chris Watt, Conservative ward member for Midsomer Norton Redfield on B&NES Council, objected to the planning application when it was submitted to planning officers.

The application would have seen the telecommunications mast sited near the grade 11* listed St John’s Church, a prominent location in the Midsomer Norton Conservation Area.  

Although Cllr Watt supported the aspiration of improving telecommunications services in the ward, he did not think the conservation area was an appropriate location for the mast. The installation would have included the mast itself and equipment cabinets on a raised pavement highly visible to motorists and pedestrians.

In a welcome move, Bath and North East Somerset Council earlier this month announced that the application had been refused by planning officers.

The proposal, they said, would be “highly incongruous, harmful to visual amenity and entirely at odds with the historic character of the street scene”.

They added that it would undermine the character of the conservation area and the setting of the nearby listed buildings, especially as the proposed equipment had not been sympathetically designed or camouflaged.

Responding to the decision, Cllr Watt said: “I’m delighted that the Council’s planning officers have refused this application. The mast would undoubtedly have been at odds with the character of the surrounding area and local people would have found it an unnecessary imposition.

“I’m pleased that my objections, and those of other Midsomer Norton residents, have been listened to. The public benefits of the proposal are acknowledged but so too are the public benefits of the conservation area, and as a ward councillor I will continue to stand up for the things that matter most to residents in Midsomer Norton.”

Cllr Watt’s objections to the application were shared by independent Midsomer Norton councillor Paul Myers, who also welcomed the decision.

Cllr Myers said: “Given that the Midsomer Norton and Welton Conservation Area is only one of two at risk in B&NES, it’s great to see that concerns about the impact of this particular proposed mast on the street scene have been listened to by planners.

“This development would never have been allowed in a street in Bath, so I see this as a watershed moment where at last Midsomer Norton’s heritage counts too.” 

Conservatives call for memorial to honour COVID victims in B&NES

Conservative councillors have called for a memorial to be constructed in honour of those in Bath and North East Somerset who have lost their lives due to COVID-19.

The B&NES Conservative Group has tabled a motion for debate at next week’s Council meeting.

The motion seeks to recognise those people who have lost their lives due to COVID and pays tribute to all the key workers and health staff who have done so much for the community during the pandemic.

Other authorities across the country have been using blossom trees as a way to pay tribute to victims of COVID.

If the motion is agreed by Council next week, the Leader of the Council, Cllr Kevin Guy, will be required to create a cross-party working group to find a way for a blossom tree memorial, or other suitable memorial, to be created at an appropriate location in B&NES.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the B&NES Conservative Group, said: “We are tabling this motion because we wish to honour those people in our local area who have lost their lives as a result of COVID-19.

“The pandemic has been a challenging time for all of us but for some people, it has been devastating. We wish to extend a hand to those who have lost loved ones and to find a way for our community to heal.

“We think a memorial at a suitable location in B&NES would be a fitting way to honour the victims of COVID and to thank all they key workers and health staff who have looked after us over the past year.”

At the time of writing, 293 people in Bath and North East Somerset have died of COVID-19.

Councillors team up with activists to oppose waste processor plans

Councillors and activists have come together to oppose plans to build a new food waste processing plant on green belt land near Keynsham.

Cllr Alan Hale and Cllr Lisa O’Brien, Bath and North East Somerset Council’s Conservative ward councillors for Keynsham South, have teamed up with local activist group POKE (Protect our Keynsham Environment) to help see off the controversial proposals.

The plans involve building an Anaerobic Digester Plant at the former Queen Charlton Quarry, Charlton Field Lane.

The Anaerobic Digestion facility processes organic materials or ‘feedstocks’ (crops and food waste) to produce biogas to create renewable energy. If approved, the plant will process 92,000 tonnes of crops and food waste a year.

Objections to the proposals include the detrimental effects the plant will have on the local community through an increase in HGV traffic, noise and odour pollution. The application also poses a threat the green belt.

Cllr Alan Hale said: “I applaud the desire to create more renewable energy but I do not believe it should come at the expense of the local community in Keynsham and in nearby wards. This is green belt land that should be protected from this sort of development.

“I’m delighted to team up with POKE on this issue as it shows that ward councillors and residents are united in their objections to these plans.”

Cllr Lisa O’Brien said: “POKE have done excellent work to raise awareness of these potentially damaging proposals locally, and it’s a pleasure to work with them going forward.

“This is not the right location for a building of this nature and I implore the Council to think of local residents and make the right decision when, eventually, a decision is to be made.”

Kerry Morgan, Chair of Protect Our Keynsham Environment (POKE), said: “We’ve looked in detail at the plans for where the waste to feed this giant digester will travel from and we do not believe this will reduce our carbon footprint. Instead, we will be blighted by more lorries on our roads and higher levels of noise and odour pollution.

“We all want sustainable and renewable energy, but this controversial plan isn’t the answer. These plans will change our area forever and we need to stand firm against them.”

The application will be brought before the Council’s Planning Committee in due course.

Lib Dems’ failings on waste issues show ‘staggering ineptitude’

Failures with waste services across Bath and North East Somerset show the Liberal Democrats are ‘staggeringly inept’, opposition councillors say.

The Conservative Group on B&NES Council is urging the ruling Lib Dems to get their act together and address the problems currently blighting waste services.

It comes after recent revelations that over the past 12 months the administration has not had a single successful prosecution for fly-tipping, despite recording more than 3,000 separate incidents.

Other local authorities across the country have had recent successes with prosecuting fly-tippers. In April this year, East Herts Council prosecuted four people for fly-tipping, Hull City Council prosecuted nine and Durham County Council prosecuted two.

The Conservative Group insists that it is not good enough that B&NES has not managed to get a single prosecution in the past 12 months, and is concerned that not enough is being done to tackle fly-tipping.

It also follows weeks of severe delays to the kerbside collection service. On Wednesday (30 June), the Council failed to collect waste from more than 180 individual locations and from more than 150 on Thursday (1 July).

Although the administration has blamed the delays on a nationwide shortage of drivers, other authorities in the South West are coping just fine. This, the Conservative Group says, points towards mismanagement of the service by the Liberal Democrats as being the main cause of the delays.

It was also revealed last month that the amount of waste – from kerbside collections, HWRC deposits and trade waste – the Council sends for incineration has increased by 28% since 2018/19. Incineration is a controversial method of disposing of waste due to its negative effects on the environment.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “This catalogue of failure when it comes to issues around waste and the environment is simply not good enough. It shows a staggering degree of ineptitude on behalf of the Lib Dem administration, and I am hereby serving them with a notice that they must make improvements as quickly as possible.

“These services are extremely important to residents and the Council needs to recognise that it has a vital role to play in discouraging behaviours that damage the environment.

“From today, the Conservative Group wants to see the administration make more of an effort to prosecute fly-tippers, incinerate less waste and ensure the kerbside collection service is able to return to full capacity as soon as possible.”

Traffic plans show Lib Dems are asleep at the wheel

The B&NES Liberal Democrats’ inept traffic policies show they are asleep at the wheel, Conservative councillors say.

It follows last night’s (23 June) Cabinet meeting in which the Lib Dem administration approved the roll-out of a number of Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) across Bath and North East Somerset.

LTNs are a key part of the Lib Dem administration’s Liveable Neighbourhoods policy, the aim of which, they say, is to reduce overall traffic levels and to discourage what they call “unnecessary car ownership”.

But the B&NES Conservative councillors say the measures will lead to higher levels of congestion and pollution and will result in residents with mobility problems being disproportionately affected.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “We are disappointed, though not surprised, to see Cabinet give the green light for 28 Low-Traffic Neighbourhood schemes to be rolled out across the district.

“We sympathise with the principle of LTNs, and with the administration’s desire to reduce overall traffic levels in the area. But we know from the introduction of LTN schemes in other parts of the country that, due to the displacement of traffic, they can lead to higher levels of pollution and congestion and can hamper emergency service vehicles.

“We have urged the administration to keep in mind all the people who could be adversely affected by these schemes and to rethink their approach. Sadly, they haven’t listened, proving that when it comes to their transport policies, they are well and truly asleep at the wheel.”

At a recent meeting of the Council’s Climate Emergency Scrutiny Panel, it was revealed that LTNs in Bath will not be scrapped even if they are initially disastrous.

As well as the approval of 28 LTN schemes by Cabinet last night, the administration is also seeking to base residents’ parking permit charges on vehicle emissions, increase the cost of on-street parking and implement on-street charges on Sundays.

The Conservative Group is concerned that proposals to introduce residents’ permit charges based solely on vehicle emissions will see those unable to afford to upgrade their cars to more environmentally-friendly models hit hardest.

The Conservatives are also concerned that proposals to start charging people to park on Sundays will hamper Bath’s economic recovery post-COVID.

And with the closure of Cleveland Bridge scheduled to take place for three months from Monday 28 June, there is a very real prospect of traffic chaos in Bath.

Council must ensure waste and recycling backlog is cleared quickly

The current backlog in waste and recycling collections across Bath and North East Somerset must be dealt with swiftly, Conservative councillors say.

It follows news released today (23 June) that the service is currently hampered by delays due to a shortage of staff.

In response, the Conservative Group on B&NES Council has called on the Liberal Democrat administration to ensure the backlog in kerbside collections is dealt with quickly and that proper procedures are put in place to mitigate the effects of staff shortages.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on B&NES Council, said: “I am disappointed to hear of the long delays to the waste and recycling collection service across Bath and North East Somerset.

“This service is an extremely important one to residents and the Council should be making every effort to ensure the backlog of collections is cleared as soon as possible.

“While it’s true that waste services across the country have been hit by a national shortage of drivers, neighbouring Councils seem to be coping much better. It’s vital that the Lib Dem administration urgently puts procedures in place to mitigate the effects of staff shortages, and to ensure the service is able to resume at full capacity as soon as possible.”

Although the administration has blamed the delays on a nationwide shortage of drivers, B&NES Council is, at the time of writing, the only authority in the South West currently advertising for drivers for the waste and recycling services – suggesting other authorities are coping just fine.

This, the Conservative Group says, points towards mismanagement of the service by the Liberal Democrats as being the predominant cause of the delays.

Cabinet urged to rethink ‘harmful’ traffic schemes

The B&NES Liberal Democrats must rethink their plans for Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods, Conservative councillors say.

It comes ahead of a crunch Cabinet meeting next week (23 June) in which proposals to introduce Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) will be taken forward.

LTNs are a key part of the Lib Dem administration’s Liveable Neighbourhoods policy. The aim, they say, is to reduce overall traffic on the roads of Bath and North East Somerset.

But Conservative councillors say the measures will lead to higher levels of congestion and pollution and will result in residents with mobility problems being disproportionally affected.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “Next week’s Cabinet meeting will be crucial as we will finally learn which schemes the administration intends to take forward as Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods.

“Although we sympathise with the principle of LTNs, we are concerned that problems that have been reported with them in other parts of the country will also emerge here. These include higher levels of pollution and congestion caused by displaced traffic, unfair restrictions on peoples’ freedom of movement and delays to emergency service vehicles.

“Residents and businesses across the district have serious concerns about the consequences of these schemes, and the Conservative Group is calling on the Lib Dem Cabinet to heed these concerns and rethink what could be extremely harmful policies.”

At a meeting of the Council’s Climate Emergency Scrutiny Panel last week, it was revealed that LTNs in Bath will not be scrapped even if they are initially disastrous.

In September 2020 in the London borough of Ealing, a protest against LTNs was attended by around 2,500 people, with more than 10,000 people having signed a petition objecting to them.

In October, Harrow Council introduced four LTNs. Six months later, they were all removed on account of causing higher levels of congestion and pollution and delaying emergency service vehicles.

Following calls by the B&NES Conservatives for a rethink, the administration last month agreed to pause their plans to restrict access to Bath city centre.

The Conservative Group hopes the administration will heed its warning over Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods and once again puts the brake on the policy.

Cabinet will meet to discuss the proposals at 6.30pm on Wednesday 23 June.

New leader elected for B&NES Conservative Group

Cllr Vic Pritchard was last night unanimously elected Leader of the B&NES Conservative Group.

It follows the resignation last month of Cllr Paul Myers, who held the position for the past two years.

At last night’s extraordinary meeting, Cllr Pritchard received the Group’s full support, with members unanimously voting in favour of his nomination for Leader.

Cllr Pritchard is ward member for the Chew Valley and has been a councillor for the past 34 years.

When the Conservative Group was last in control of B&NES Council, Cllr Pritchard served as Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, and he currently chairs the Council’s Children, Adults, Health and Wellbeing Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel.

Cllr Pritchard said: “It’s a great honour to be named Leader of the B&NES Conservative Group and I thank my colleagues for giving me their full support.

“So far this year we have successfully forced the Liberal Democrat Administration to rethink a number of their policies – namely, to charge people to recycle rubbish at the tip, to completely restrict access to Bath city centre, and to introduce controversial Active Travel schemes on which proper public consultation had not taken place.

“Under my leadership we will continue to be a strong Opposition, holding the Administration to account and ensuring the pursuit of their policies does not come at the expense of residents and businesses in Bath and North East Somerset.”

As well as naming the new Leader, the Conservative Group last night elected a new Deputy Leader, with Cllr Karen Warrington, also ward member for the Chew Valley, receiving the full support of the Group.

She said: “I am delighted to have been entrusted with supporting the Leader in the deputy leadership role.

“Residents and businesses in B&NES need a strong Opposition on the Council, and we will continue to speak up for people who stand to be hit hard by Liberal Democrat policies that have not properly been thought through.”

Cllr Warrington has served on the Council for the past six years and has previously held the post of Cabinet Member for Transformation. She currently sits on the Council’s Corporate Policy Development Scrutiny Panel and Employee Committee Panel.

Local councillors welcome Keynsham & Midsomer Norton High Streets funding

Extra cash to allow cultural programmes to take place in Keynsham and Midsomer Norton will boost the local economy and raise community spirits, councillors say.

It was announced last week that Keynsham and Midsomer Norton are among 60 high streets in England to receive a share of £6 million from Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zones’ Cultural Programme.

Keynsham and Midsomer Norton have been awarded £165,000 to allow them to host new community programmes centred around the high streets that are focused on the arts, history and culture.

Local Conservative ward councillors have expressed their delight at the news and have spoken about how the funding will benefit their communities.

Cllr Brian Simmons, B&NES Conservative councillor for Keynsham North, said: “I’m thrilled to see this funding coming to Keynsham and I’m hugely excited about what it can do for the local community. Keynsham has a rich and fascinating history, of which local residents and businesses alike are extremely proud.

“This funding will give us the chance to showcase everything we have to offer and will bring a much-needed boost to the local economy after an extremely challenging 12 months. It will also help to foster a sense of community spirit and bring people together again after months of isolation.”

Cllr Chris Watt, B&NES Conservative councillor for Midsomer Norton Redfield, said: “This funding is extremely welcome and will go a long way towards improving the local cultural offer for everybody who lives and works here.

“Midsomer Norton is home to numerous cultural traditions such as Wassailing and other historic market activities, and it’s hugely important that we keep these traditions alive for as long as possible.

“I’m sure I can speak for everybody in Midsomer Norton when I say a big ‘thank you’ to Historic England for including us in this pot of funding.”

Keynsham has been awarded £80,000 to fund activities including mini festivals, markets, cultural community days and the installation of an illustrative timeline of Keynsham’s history. In Midsomer Norton, the ‘Merriment in Midsomer Norton’ Cultural Programme was awarded £85,000 to relaunch historic street markets, enhance existing festivals like Wassailing and delivering interactive heritage and cultural events.

Taking place over the next three years, these Local Cultural Programmes will be led by a ‘Cultural Consortia’ formed of local stakeholder groups and representatives, with support from Bath & North East Somerset Council and Historic England.

Conservatives call on Council to scrap Bath ‘ring of steel’

Draconian plans to build a ‘ring of steel’ around Bath city centre must be scrapped immediately, Conservative councillors have said.

It follows the publication last week of an independent access report and the findings of a public consultation, both of which clearly show how damaging the proposed measures will be to residents and businesses in Bath.

The proposals involve restricting access to the city centre 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week for 365 days-a-year. They also involve erecting new reinforced bollards and anti-terror street furniture at numerous places in the city centre.

These unnecessary measures will leave city centre residents unable to park their cars outside their properties, receive deliveries to their doors or be dropped off at their doorsteps by taxis late at night.

The restrictions will also result in Blue Badge holders having to park in Council car parks rather than outside their homes.

The independent access report, published this week, questions the “reasonableness of excluding vehicles used for the purposes of enabling access” and states that the increased distance from points of arrival to destinations would result in some people “having to endure pain for longer and at higher levels”.

The report also makes it clear that using barriers and hurdles to prevent people from gaining access to city centre locations can significantly affect peoples’ wellbeing, and that increasing the distances between points of arrival to destinations will lead to people with toilet access-related needs not risking a journey.

Of the 522 people who responded to the consultation, around 60% were against the proposals.

One respondent, who is currently shielding, explained the negative psychological implications of not being able to access the city centre after having had to live in isolation for so long due to COVID-19.

Another said: “The purpose of a Blue Badge is that it allows 2.5 million people to maintain their independence. The proposals do not promote independent living. These proposals remove independence from disabled people.”

As a result of these findings, the Conservatives on Bath and North East Somerset Council are urging the Liberal Democrat Administration to scrap the plans immediately and apologise to residents and businesses for the anxiety they have caused.

Cllr Karen Warrington, Conservative councillor on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “We’ve been warning the Liberal Democrat Administration of the problems with these draconian plans for Bath city centre since they were first tabled.

“It’s now crystal clear just how much people will suffer if these measures go ahead, simply to appease the Lib Dems’ anti-motoring impulses. “We are therefore calling on the Administration to withdraw these plans immediately and apologise to the people of Bath for tabling, at great cost to the taxpayer, such ill-thought out proposals in the first place.”

Cllr Paul Myers stands down as Leader of the B&NES Conservative Group

Cllr Paul Myers has today stood down as Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, having led the Group for the past two years.

During that time, Cllr Myers has worked tirelessly to ensure the Conservatives have been able to act as a strong Opposition, holding the Liberal Democrat Administration to account on key decisions and scrutinising policy in forensic detail.

As well as standing down from the leadership, the Midsomer Norton ward councillor has also resigned the Conservative whip and will sit as an independent councillor (though not part of the Independent Group) until the next elections in 2023, when he plans to stand down as a councillor.

Cllr Myers has taken the decision to step back from frontline politics in order to be able to spend more time with his family after what has been a challenging couple of years for him personally.

In a statement, Cllr Myers said: “I came into local politics in 2011 not just to represent the residents of Midsomer Norton Redfield but to get things done to make a real difference.

“I’ve given it my all since 2011 and will now, by standing aside from B&NES wider politics, focus on working on a few remaining projects in Midsomer Norton such as the Town Hall with fellow ward councillor Chis Watt. Above all I look forward to having more of a personal home life”.

Cllr Vic Pritchard has become the Group’s Acting Leader until members can vote for Cllr Myers’ replacement in the next few weeks.

Cllr Pritchard said: “On behalf of all members of the Conservative Group, I would like to say an enormous thank you to Paul for everything he has done for us over the past two years.

“He has demonstrated exemplary leadership, successfully managed a consistently high workload and conducted himself throughout with an erudite political wit. For these reasons, and many more, he will be greatly missed.

“We wish him every success in his future endeavours, and I have every faith that he will continue to be an outstanding ward councillor for Midsomer Norton.”

Conservative Group withholds support for new council leader

Support for the new Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council has been withheld by Opposition councillors.

At Tuesday’s Council AGM, members elected Cllr Kevin Guy as the new leader following the surprise resignation last month of Cllr Dine Romero, who had held the position since May 2019.

The Conservative Group voted to abstain on Cllr Guy’s nomination, feeling they could not support it due to the controversial nature of a number of the Administration’s policies.

The Conservative Group on the Council fears the change in leadership will not signal a change of approach from the Administration, with policies potentially disastrous to residents and businesses in the region still likely to be pursued.

Speaking after the vote, Cllr Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “We could not, in all consciousness, vote to approve the nomination of the new leader because we fundamentally disagree with this Administration’s plans for B&NES.

“Their decision to prioritise dealing with environmental issues in glorious isolation even to post-pandemic economic recovery; to pursue the policy of restricting access to Bath City Centre; to continue to roll-out Low Traffic Neighbourhoods; and to fail to consult properly on Active Travel Schemes are serious misjudgements which show how hopelessly out of touch they are with the needs of residents.

“Given this Administration’s clear disregard for residents and businesses, there is every reason to believe that Cllr Kevin Guy and his Cabinet will continue to sacrifice the local economy and jobs in order to win the badge as the country’s premier Climate Emergency zealots.”

Councillors stand up for residents over Keynsham waste processor plans

Plans to build a new food waste processing plant on green belt land near Keynsham will severely harm the local community, Conservative councillors say.

Two Conservative councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council have voiced their opposition to plans to build an Anaerobic Digester Plant at the former Queen Charlton Quarry, Charlton Field Lane.

The Anaerobic Digestion facility processes organic materials or ‘feedstocks’ (crops and food waste) to produce biogas to create renewable energy. If approved, the plant will process 92,000 tonnes of crops and food waste a year.

But two members of the B&NES Conservative Group – Cllr Alan Hale, ward member for Keynsham South and Cllr Paul May, ward member for Publow and Whitchurch, have objected to the plans, citing the detrimental effects the plant will have on the local community.

The objections centre around an increase in HGV traffic, noise and smell pollution and the fact that the application threatens the green belt.

Cllr Alan Hale said: “While we welcome the drive towards producing renewable energy, we do not believe it should come at the detriment of the local community in Keynsham and in nearby wards.

“If the Anaerobic Digestor is built, HGV traffic going to and from the plant would have to come along Woollard Lane and into Charlton Road. Anyone who is familiar with Woollard Lane will know that it’s in no way suitable for a constant flow of HGVs, especially if they are meeting each other at narrow sections of the road.

“In so doing, they could seriously damage the quality of life, and physical and mental health, of people who live nearby. Road safety would also become a major issue, with increased levels of HGV traffic in an area where people regularly walk and ride horses.”

Cllr Paul May said: “This green belt development will mean that residents who live nearby will be directly affected by noise and smell pollution, and an increase in HGV traffic.

“Hundreds of new homes have been built less than a mile from the proposed development site and it’s deeply unfair that the occupants should have to live with this plant on their doorsteps.

“There are more appropriate locations for a development of this nature, ones that will not impact the green belt and local communities in the same way. As local Conservative councillors, we are standing up for our residents and calling for this application to be refused.”

The current application will be brought before the Council’s Planning Committee in due course.

New Council leader must rethink priorities for B&NES

The new Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council needs to urgently rethink the Administration’s priorities for the area, say opposition councillors.

B&NES Council will next month formally elect a new leader following the surprise resignation last week of Cllr Dine Romero, who has held the position since May 2019.

As a result of the shock resignation, the Council’s opposition Conservative Group is urging the Liberal Democrat Administration, and whoever is elected leader, to urgently reassess their skewed priorities for B&NES.

Their draconian plans to completely restrict access to Bath city centre will leave residents unable to park their cars outside their properties, receive deliveries to their doors or be dropped off at their doorsteps by taxis late at night. They will also result in Blue Badge holders having to park in Council car parks rather than outside their homes.

Although the Conservative Group supports the principle of Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), and recognises the need to reduce pollution levels in Bath, the introduction of LTNs may result in the displacement of traffic to areas already congested, restrictions on movement for those with mobility problems and unnecessary obstacles for local businesses trying to return to normal as we begin to recover from the pandemic.

A lack of consultation over proposed Active Travel schemes and the decision to charge residents to recycle material at the Household Waste Recycling Centre could also have seriously detrimental effects of residents.

Environmental issues are important, and the Conservative Group welcomed the introduction last month of the Bath Clean Air Zone, which began its life under a Conservative Administration.

But the current Liberal Democrat Administration’s decision to prioritise dealing with environmental issues above post-pandemic economic recovery is, the Conservative Group says, a serious misjudgement which shows how hopelessly out of touch they are with the needs of residents.

Cllr Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “We were surprised to hear of the resignation of Cllr Romero after just two years as Leader of the Council, and we wish her well in future endeavours.

“However, far from offering an opportunity to Green Party elements in the Lib Dem camp to demand ever more extreme measures, this offers a perfect opportunity for the Administration to take stock and reflect upon the damage some of their policies are having on the people of Bath and North East Somerset.

“The misguided and dogmatic pursuit of their anti-motoring agenda along with policies that will see parking charges increase and new charges apply at the recycling centre will only be detrimental to residents and businesses.

“This at a time when the Council should be doing all it possibly can to support people as we begin to recover from the pandemic, while of course recognising the importance of the climate emergency.

“We are therefore calling on the Administration to rethink their policies for B&NES and the serious long-term consequences for residents and businesses of sacrificing the local economy and jobs in order to win the badge as the country’s premier Climate Emergency zealots.”

Council urged to act to help improve children’s wellbeing post-COVID

Improving children’s wellbeing should be a top priority following the unprecedented challenges of the past year, say the Conservative councillors on Bath and North East Somerset Council.

The Conservative Group has tabled a motion calling on the authority to act to ensure children across the district are given the help they need to begin to get back to normal over the next few months.

The motion, which will be debated and voted on at a meeting of the Full Council on Thursday 25 March, calls for the Council to organise a special online symposium to discuss strategies to help parents and children in B&NES overcome the challenges of the pandemic.

Local groups, charities, schools, parents, cultural organisations and educational experts would all be invited to attend in a bid to bring the best ideas to the fore.

In putting the motion together, the Conservative Group has recognised Bath BID’s (Business Improvement District) plans to run a ‘Summer Sundays’ programme from June to August to improve children’s wellbeing.

The BID programme will see various family activities take place in local parks and the city centre, and the B&NES Conservatives are calling on the Council to encourage similar efforts to support children and parents across Bath and North East Somerset this summer.

Cllr Vic Pritchard, the B&NES Conservative councillor who will table the motion, and ward member for the Chew Valley, said: “The past twelve months have posed numerous challenges for people of all ages right across B&NES. It is particularly important, however, that we understand the impacts of the pandemic, and the closure of schools, on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.

“Children have been isolated from their friends and have had to adapt to home learning at what is a formative time for their development. As we slowly begin to emerge from lockdown restrictions, we must seek to understand children’s experiences and how we can best support them to return to normality.

“Events such as those organised by Bath BID could have hugely positive impacts on children, young people and their parents, and we think there is scope for the Council to organise something similar with input from various stakeholders.

“We hope the Liberal Democrat Administration will see the merits of this proposal and will vote with us at Council next week.”

Local mother-of-three Kari Erickson has backed the Conservative Group’s call for an online symposium.

Kari said: “As a mum myself, I have seen first-hand how difficult the past 12 months have been for children. Parents who have been working from home while trying to ensure their children do not fall behind in their education have, for sure, done a marvellous job.

“It is, however, vital that the Council does all it possibly can to help parents and children get back to normality. Public activities, indoors and outside, over the summer would go a long way to improving the mental and physical wellbeing of the whole family.

“The online symposium, as called for by the Conservative Group, is a great way to gather the best ideas and ensure they are put into action.”

Council urged to resist including private cars in clean air zone charges

The owners of private cars in Bath and North East Somerset must not be charged to enter Bath’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ), Conservative councillors say.

The Bath CAZ, the first charged clean air zone in the UK outside of London, officially launched today (15 Mar). Polluting vehicles will now be charged £9 or £100 a day to drive in the centre of Bath.

Under the current rules, private cars and motorbikes are exempt from charges. But the Conservative Group on B&NES Council fears that the Liberal Democrats could in future change the rules and extend charges to private cars.

The Conservative Group is therefore urging the Liberal Democrat Administration to commit publicly to ensuring that owners of private cars and motorbikes are not charge to enter the CAZ.

In 2017, when the Conservative Group was in power, the Council was directed by the Government to improve air quality in Bath. The Clean Air Zone was identified as a means of achieving this.

From the beginning, the Conservatives exempted private cars from the charges to ensure the less well-off would not be priced out of the city.

Cllr Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on B&NES Council, said: “The Conservative Group welcomes the official launch of Bath’s Clean Air Zone, a significant milestone in the pursuit of cleaner air.

“Poor air quality is one of the largest environmental risks to public health in the UK, and investing in cleaner air must be a top priority for all of us.

“It’s vitally important, however, that private cars remain exempt from CAZ charges. Although we fully support such measures to improve air quality in Bath, they must not come at the expense of people who live and work in the city and the health of the local economy.

“We are therefore urging the Liberal Democrats to honour the exemption for private cars for as long as the Clean Air Zone is in place.”

Proposed changes to parking rules will hit motorists hard

Motorists in Bath and North East Somerset will be asked to pay more to park their cars under new plans drawn up by B&NES Council.

The Liberal Democrat Administration is looking at introducing a number of measures to discourage what they call “unnecessary car ownership”.

The proposals include basing residents’ parking permit charges on vehicle emissions, increasing the cost of on-street parking and implementing on-street charges on Sundays. Prices for long-stay parking in Bath will also be increased to discourage commuter trips.

The plans are still subject to consultation. But the Council’s Conservative opposition has already outlined a number of objections.

The Conservative Group is concerned that proposals to introduce residents’ permit charges based solely on vehicle emissions will see those unable to afford to upgrade their cars to more environmentally-friendly models hit hardest.

The Conservatives are also concerned that proposals to start charging people to park on Sundays will hamper Bath’s economic recovery post-COVID and that a wider increase in parking charges will affect those in the lowest income brackets, effectively pricing them out of some areas of the district.

One example of the proposed rise in on-street parking charges will see prices at Victoria Park increase over the next three years from £8.60 to £9.80 for a four hour stay, an increase of 14%.

Cllr Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “Once again the Liberal Democrats are seeking to impose policies that demonise and punish those who rely on cars to get around.

“Electric vehicles are currently more expensive than equivalent internal combustion engine vehicles and are not projected to reach price parity until the mid-2020s. People in B&NES unable to afford to switch to more environmentally-friendly vehicles will therefore be unfairly penalised.

“As we begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the local economy would surely benefit from allowing people to continue to park for free on Sundays. For the same reason, an increase in parking charges across the board will only serve to keep people out of Bath rather than encourage them in, which is what we should be doing.

“We support the Council’s ambition of achieving cleaner air in Bath, but motorists are being asked to fork out even more money just to park their cars. Car owners should not have to pay more simply to appease the Administration’s anti-motoring agenda.”

A public consultation on the proposals is due to take place later this year, and the Conservative Group is urging the Administration to ensure the public’s concerns are taken into account.

Budget proposals reveal Lib Dems’ ‘skewed priorities’ for B&NES

The Liberal Democrats’ ‘skewed priorities’ will see some of the most vulnerable communities hit hard by the Budget proposals for the coming financial year.

At tonight’s (23 Feb) full Council meeting, the Lib Dem Administration voted in favour of the Budget proposals for 2021/22, while the Conservative Group voted against.

The Conservative Group’s main objections to the Budget are listed here:

  • Lack of support for vulnerable communities, residents and businesses
  • The inclusion of proposals that run contrary to the Council’s professed Green agenda
  • Absence of proposals to support economic recovery post-pandemic
  • Irresponsible financial management through use of cash reserves and absence of revenue-raising proposals
  • Skewed priorities by putting vanity projects above the interests of the local economy

The specific budget proposals to which the Conservatives objected, along with the reasons for their objection, are outlined here:

  • Absence of revenue-raising proposals: The current Administration has used more than £13m of reserves to plug the funding gap caused by the pandemic. But we object to plans not to pay the reserves back until 2024/25 at the earliest, leaving future Administrations to foot the bill. Also, the Budget doesn’t acknowledge the need for the Council to increase revenue post-pandemic to avoid using more reserves in future
  • Dissolution of Visit Bath: Tourism company Visit Bath is to be dissolved and a new, multi-authority company created called Visit West. At a time of unprecedented economic challenges, we should not be getting rid of the company responsible for managing and promoting tourism in Bath
  • £3.4m saving in Adults’ Services: We understand the need for efficiency savings. But during the middle of a public health crisis that has hit vulnerable people the hardest, the Administration has not been able to demonstrate to our satisfaction that people in need of social care services will not be negatively affected by the savings
  • Removal of a post within Children’s Centres: Again, the Administration has not been able to demonstrate to our satisfaction that this £43,000 saving will not negatively affect those who rely on Children’s Centres – some of whom are among our most vulnerable residents
  • Charges at recycling centres: Proposals, for the first time, to charge people to recycle hardcore materials such as rubble, tyres and plasterboard will lead to an increase in fly-tipping and, again, impact poorer communities
  • Removal of Pay & Display machines in car parks: The proposal is to remove P&D machines in car parks by 50%. The Administration has acknowledged that complaints could rise as a result of this policy, which suggests they are aware of the difficulty it could cause to residents, businesses and tourists. We believe the plan to remove the facility to pay by credit card at the remaining P&D machines and push all payments to MiPermit will disenfranchise people and cause a headache for residents and tourists
  • Restructure of senior management team: We have serious doubts around the proposal to save £300,000 by reorganising the Council’s senior management structure. We believe this may hamper the Council’s ability to continue to deliver for residents

In the coming financial year, Council Tax for B&NES residents will increase by 4.99%. For the average Band D property, this is an increase of £72 for the year. The Conservative opposition has reminded the Council that is a large sum of money, one that will hit poor households the hardest.

Another concern for the Conservative councillors was around the Administration’s priorities for B&NES. Number one on their Areas of Strategic Priority over the next two years is the creation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, while supporting the economy to recover from the pandemic is fourth out of five.

Cllr Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “This Budget provides further evidence, if any were needed, that the Liberal Democrats in charge of the Council are completely out of touch with the community they serve.

“The only conclusion we can draw from this irresponsible Budget is that they are completely unaware that we are in the middle of one of the biggest public health and economic crises of our lifetimes, as there is not a single proposal that will help residents and businesses recover from the pandemic. Indeed, their proposals will only hamper our recovery.

“The Council Tax increase will hit the poorest the hardest and the savings in Adult’s Services and Children’s Services could come at the cost of affecting the services users themselves, some of whom are among the most vulnerable in our community.

“It is eminently clear – B&NES deserves better.”

Council should rethink ‘draconian’ anti-motoring plans following reduction in terror threat level

The Council should rethink its plans to ban vehicles from Bath city centre following the reduction in the UK’s terror threat level, councillors have said.

The Liberal Democrat administration on Bath and North East Somerset Council is proposing to restrict access to the city centre 24 hours a day, seven days-a-week for 365 days a year. They also want to erect new reinforced bollards and anti-terror street furniture at numerous places in the city centre.

These unprecedented and draconian steps will leave city centre residents unable to park their cars outside their properties, receive deliveries to their doors or be dropped off at their doorsteps by taxis late at night. The restrictions will also result in Blue Badge holders having to park in Council car parks rather than outside their homes.

The reason for these proposals, according to the administration, is to protect residents against terrorism.

At the time the proposals were drawn up, the UK’s terror threat level was rated ‘Severe’. But earlier this month, the UK Government downgraded the country’s terror threat level from ‘Severe’ to ‘Substantial’, meaning an attack is less likely.

Councillor Paul Myers, Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “The Lib Dem administration’s plans to completely restrict traffic from the city centre were bad enough when they were first proposed. But now the UK’s terror threat level has been reduced, the Council should rethink its plans to ensure residents and businesses are not negatively impacted.

“With the UK economy facing a double-dip recession and the mammoth task of recovering from the COVID pandemic approaching, we should not be implementing measures that could seriously hamper businesses and the Bath economy.

“The Conservative Group is calling on the Liberal Democrats to stop using the threat of terrorism to further their anti-motoring agenda, and to respond to the reduction of the national terror threat level by rethinking their draconian proposals.”