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Director’s bulletin July 2013

Monday, 01 July 2013 15:58

Event: The Battle for Bath

7.30pm, Wednesday July 24th
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution

16-18 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN
01225 312084
Tickets £4 non-members, £2 members/students


Forty years since first publication of The Sack of Bath, its author Adam Fergusson is revisiting the city to appeal again for its future. Caroline Kay, Chief Executive of Bath Preservation Trust and Joe Evans, Director of CPRE Avonside will also be speaking at the event to give their perspectives on the issues facing Bath and its setting today.

Adam Fergusson’s renowned 1973 book The Sack of Bath managed to halt the headlong destruction of those times, and saved some much-loved corners of the city, such as Walcot St, from the bulldozers.

On July 24th, Adam Fergusson will be in Bath to give a talk to mark the 40th anniversary of the first publication of the book, which drew world attention to the widespread demolition programme of the 60s and 70s. A new edition includes a new preface on current planning issues and reasons for concern. Adam Fergusson writes: ”We would be foolish to suppose that the battle for Bath itself is over.”

Although he now lives in London, Adam Fergusson remains passionate about our beautiful city. He is not against change as such, and praises “the wonderful open pool, crowning the new spa over one of the ancient springs”. But he warns that there are new threats to Bath’s unique character, in particular the loss of the surrounding green spaces which are a vital part of Bath’s heritage, and its charm.

Still fiercely outspoken in his eighties, Adam Fergusson writes “New threats to Bath’s historic and topographic integrity continue to alarm anyone who remembers how close it came to losing its unique character at the hands of the philistines forty years ago.”

This is an unmissable event for anyone who is interested in the recent history of our city and who cares about what is happening here today. A discussion at the end of the evening will give everyone the chance to air their views.

The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution is on the west side of Queen Square. All are welcome.

The talk will run from 7.30 until 8.15, with the discussion afterwards continuing until about 9pm. The new edition of The Sack of Bath will be on sale, and Adam Fergusson will sign copies bought at the meeting.

Contact for further details: Linda Gamlin Tel: 01225 315569 or BRLSI Tel: 01225 312084 or see the website www.brlsi.org

Southstoke makes national headlines

South Stoke ValleyIn May of this year, CPRE Avonside held a series of meetings in Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) to discuss how CPRE should respond to a consultation being run by B&NES council on proposed changes to their Core Strategy. Our final response included a strong objection to the proposed developments at Southstoke. Now the story has reached the national news, with Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s honest and thoughtful article in the Guardian this Saturday.

Read the story »

This is the latest in a long-running saga. A Core Strategy is the master planning document that sets the agenda for development over fifteen years or more. B&NES began work on a new Core Strategy to replace its old Local Plan way back in 2007. However, the council ran into difficulty in 2012 when the Inspector halted the process, citing – among other things – “a lack of an NPPF compliant assessment of the housing requirement”. The gist of the Inspector’s complaints was that the council was not proposing to allow enough houses to be built.

The council was therefore forced to identify more sites for new housing, one of which was the area between Bath’s boundary and Southstoke, which is, to quote Geoffrey Wheatcroft, a “pleasant, authentic country village”. The land is also about as well-protected in planning terms as is possible under UK law. It is Green Belt, green field, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and includes a scheduled national monument in the form of the Wansdyke. It is also an essential part of the setting of the Bath World Heritage Site. Now the proposal is to build some 500 new houses on these fields.

If you scroll down from Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s article on the Guardian website, you will find page after page of comments berating the author for being a selfish NIMBY. But this entirely misses the point. Good planning seeks to balance the need for housing and other development against the need to preserve what is of value. Our planning system does this by identifying important aspects of the landscape through various designations. When a development is proposed for an area that is protected by so many different designations, this should set alarm bells ringing: this is land which is important for many different reasons.

Secondly, good planning creates vibrant cities as well as protecting the countryside. Low-density, sprawling suburbs destroy cities, producing a car-dependent environment in which public transport and services are expensive to provide. Healthy cities need higher densities of development, to put people closer to work, schools and shops. The Georgian city of Bath was built a what would today be described as a very high density, with tall, narrow townhouses home to large extended families and servants. Instead of allowing the city to spread into the countryside, we should revitalise Bath as a living city. I recently learned that B&NES Council owns a large portfolio of commercial property in Bath, including many of the city-centre shops. But many of the buildings above the shops stand empty, because of minor access issues. Let’s find ways to rent out these beautiful buildings, and let’s build new homes within Bath that match the local vernacular of high-quality, high-density and highly-desirable urban residences. That way, we will have a better city surrounded by unspoilt countryside.

Food, planning and the Blue Finger

Bluefinger Alliance MapThe Blue Finger is a stretch of land running north of Bristol alongside the M32, then over the M4 into South Gloucestershire. It was christened by Richard Spalding of the University of the West of England, who noticed this strip Grade 1 agricultural land on an older land classification map; Grade 1 land is coloured blue on these maps, hence the Blue Finger…

The area was Bristol’s historic market gardening quarter, a patchwork of smallholdings and horticultural businesses growing fresh food for the city.

There have been many changes since then. We now rely heavily on cheap imported food, at the expense of small farm businesses. But many feel that this situation might not last. With rising world populations, rising oil prices and the growth of the far eastern economies, imported food might not be cheap for ever, and might become less available at any price.

CPRE Avonside is part of the Blue Finger Alliance, a partnership of organisations and individuals working to protect this precious stretch of food-growing land for the future, and to support the emergence of new food-growing projects in the area. We’re working with Avon Wildlife Trust, the Soil Association, Shift Bristol, Sims Hill Shared Harvest and others.

But we don’t just want to protect this piece of land. The Blue Finger Alliance is campaigning for a common approach to food and planning across the region. We want to see better protection for good agricultural land; new policies to make life easier for farmers and food producers who want to reach local markets; and better protection for the essential food infrastructure that smaller farmers and food businesses need – wholesale markets, abattoirs, small shops and so on.

You can find out more from the Blue Finger website and there will be news of specific campaigns here.

Anger grows towards the National Planning Policy Framework

dark cloudsIn 2012 the coalition government introduced the National Planning Policy Framework. This replaced around a thousand pages of national planning policy with just 60 pages, centred around a new and controversial ‘assumption in favour of sustainable development’. CPRE had lobbied the government hard through the process of developing the legislation, and we had felt that we had won some victories – continued protection for Green Belt and AONBs as well as good consideration of urban design, biodiversity and flood risk.

However, as time has passed, one aspect of the NPPF that didn’t receive as much attention at the time has sprung to prominence – locally as well as nationally.

Paragraph 49 of the NPPF states:

“Housing applications should be considered in the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up-to-date if the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.”

In plain words, unless a local authority has a plan in place that delivers a ‘five-year supply of housing’, all its policies on housing supply are thrown out of the window, and applications for new houses are considered purely on the basis of the NPPF.

We’re now seeing the result of this in B&NES. Because the Core Strategy process has been delayed, the council does not have a valid plan in place that delivers the required supply of housing land. This in turn means that decisions are being taken purely on the basis of national policy with no local control in place. As an example, B&NES Council recently refused planning permission for a proposed development at Maynard Terrace in Clutton. The site is outside the housing development boundary; the village lacks facilities; road access is awkward. The application was therefore duly refused. However, the developers appealed on the grounds that the council cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of housing sites, and that they should therefore have been granted planning permission under the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.

I attended the appeal and spoke briefly, a slightly nerve-wracking business in the face of a team of highly-qualified planning lawyers! I wasn’t able to add anything very substantial by way of evidence, but I did try to make this point: the NPPF contains a distinct tension. On the one hand it seeks to promote ‘sustainable development’; on the other hand, it contains policies that are ushering through developments that are anything but sustainable.

We now feel strongly that the NPPF needs reform, and I was pleased to see that a petition is now gathering attention nationally. If you feel that local democracy is being undermined by this top-down national policy, then please do sign and share the petition, which you can find here:


Get involved!

CPRE is a volunteer-led organisation. The bulk of our campaigning work is carried out by district groups, volunteer committees for each local authority area that campaign on the issues that they know to be important locally. If you are passionate about the future of the countryside, you can join your local district group and get involved. Please do get in touch if you are interested.

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