Chairman's Report for FoBRA Committee 9th May 17
Combined Authority Mayoral Election 4th May
By the time of our meeting, the winner of the West of England Combined Authority Mayoral Election will be known. Although we had discussed a FoBRA Hustings to hear from and quiz the candidates, it proved not possible to arrange this. However, there were significant other opportunities, one of which the Secretary publicised, well run by Transition Bath on 26th April. I saw several of you there.
Consultation on Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)
The Council introduced its HMO policy over 3 years ago and it has been partially helpful in limiting the harmful effects of 'studentification' in the Oldfield Park and Twerton areas of the city. It is now being reviewed to see if it needs change, and whether it could be made even more effective. FoBRA will be submitting comprehensive comments, based on the discussions which we have held in Committee over the years, aiming to circulate those comments in draft by 8th May so that you will have good time to respond to the FoBRA Executive, should you want to, or to draft your own Association's submission, before the deadline on 15th May.
Bath City Forum
Regrettably, the Bath City Forum meeting due to be held on 23rd May has been cancelled due to the electoral 'purdah' period. The next will be on 24th July, and the Bath City Conference will be held on 13th October. I was unable to attend the Forum on 29th March, as I was abroad, the meeting having been deferred from 21st. The minutes have recently been published, and show that:
• Progress on the Council's Refuse Policy was reported (see below).
• A 'Community Empowerment Fund' has been introduced, funded from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).
• Steve Fuller presented on 'A City Identity for Bath'.
• The Working Groups provided feedback (Economic, CIL, Transport, Environment).
Council's Refuse Policy - sitrep
Letters were issued with Council Tax demands in early March, telling householders which type of 'black bag' refuse receptacle they would receive and how often it would be collected. 80 household visits were subsequently made in Bath (137 across the whole of B&NES) to resolve queries about type of receptacle and where they can be stored. The Council has agreed to continue weekly collections from 6000 properties in Bath. The changeover takes place in November.
National Organization of Residents' Associations (NORA)
Student HMOs – Liability for Business Rates
The NORA AGM, on 2nd March, was attended by the Secretary, as I was abroad. A motion was passed, proposing that Student HMOs be made liable for Business Rates, and that all NORA members should write about this to the Chancellor, the Communities Secretary (DCLG), the Chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), their MP and their Local Authority Leader, advocating this approach. This is, of course, very much along the lines of discussions we have held in Committee for some years. I attach, at Annex A, the text which I used. Both Ben Howlett and Tim Warren applauded it and asked to be kept informed of progress. Predictably limp replies have been received from the LGA and from a junior official in DCLG, and I doubt if I shall hear from the Treasury. It is to be hoped that the weight of correspondence from the other NORA members, when taken together, will provide a brighter response (but I am not hopeful). I have brought this to the attention of Ben Howlett, and shall ask him during the current election campaign to recognize that this is not a wise way for constituents to be addressed.
Housing White Paper
Members will remember that, in my last report, I mentioned the Government's (DCLG) consultation on Housing, which proposed far-reaching changes to the planning system and housing funding. NORA has now submitted its comments, which are both thoughtful and astringent, incorporating elements from FoBRA. We shall see if the Department takes notice.
Walking and Cycling
Cycle Bath has discovered an offer of Government funding (up to £100K), with a very short deadline both for application and for completion, to encourage walking and cycling: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/encouraging-cycling-and-walking-apply-for-business-funding
Cycle Bath has suggested the following:
1. Address the accessibility issues throughout the cycle network incorporating inclusive mobility. This means all entrances to support access by 1.2m wide x2.8m long mobility vehicle.
2. Filtered Permeability :- Using mobile bollard units, prevent residential roads being used as rat runs using Experimental Traffic Orders to create 'quiet' corridors for walking and cycling. - Highly Effective
3. Begin NextBike hire upgrade to eBikes.
4. Siding out of the river path.
5. New toucan crossing at Beckford Road giving level access to Sydney Gardens from Towpath and to the upcoming Cleveland Pools
6. Increased bike storage and CCTV at the train station.
7. Bike Hangars scheme similar to Bristol's Scheme to enable people in flats to own and store bikes safely.
8. Using the update to Traffic Regulations, create a network of onstreet advisory and mandatory cycle lanes, floating car parking to protect the cycle lanes.
Councillor Richard Samuel!
Our very own Richard Samuel, Camden Association Chairman, has been elected as one of the Councillors for Walcot Ward, in succession to Lisa Brett. I have congratulated him.
An extra tab has been added to our website where the reports of the Planning Sub Committee are now posted. This will be done only after the Committee meeting at which each one is discussed.
Bath Pattern Book
I hold a copy of the Bath Pattern Book, a marvellous work in two volumes, prepared on behalf of the Council as part of the Public Realm and Movement Strategy in 2015, and now published. If any member would like to borrow this they are welcome. It is also available online (http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/services/planning-and-building-control/major-projects/public-realm-and-movement/preparatory-projects ) but, with this type of book, having extensive pictures and diagrams, a print version is often easier to use. I shall bring it to the meeting.
In my report dated 15th Nov 16, I mentioned that the Bath Preservation Trust was bringing out a new publication called 'Making Changes – Guidance for Owners of Listed Buildings' which they intend to provide free to owners, both existing and prospective. This is being launched on 3rd May and I hope to be able to bring an example to the meeting.
On 27th April I attended a reception at Holburne Park, the housing development on the ex-MoD site in Warminster Road. It will have a 'Georgian' appearance in the middle of a predominantly non-Georgian district of Bath and seems to be aiming for the wealthy sector of the market. During its approval phase it attracted some criticism of height and density.
Facts about FoBRA
In response to enquiries about membership, I wrote some 'Facts about FoBRA' which you can find at Annex B. Most of them you know and can be found on our website, or in my reports for the AGM, but I felt I should share them with you.
Robin Kerr, final, 2nd May 17
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 15th March 2017
2 Marsham Street
Dear Secretary of State,
Student HMOs - Liability for Business Rates
With its two successful universities and relatively small size, the World Heritage City of Bath hosts one of the highest proportions of Higher Education (HE) students per head of population in the UK; indeed, student numbers exceed a quarter of the permanent population during term time. Bath's universities traditionally provide accommodation for only a quarter of their students, leading to a very high demand for private-sector student accommodation. In response, a very significant proportion of the city's total housing stock has been converted to student Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and there is a proliferation of PBSA (Purpose Built Student Accommodation) blocks across the city. This has caused significant problems with 'studentification' (highly unbalanced communities and a severe lack of affordable housing) in large parts of the city. With students being exempt from paying Council Tax and landlords exempt from paying Business Rates, this situation contributes to a highly undesirable 'black hole' in Local Authority finances. HMOs and PBSAs are not domestic properties – they are profit-making businesses and should be brought within the scope of Business Rates, just as self-catering and holiday lets are.
At present, through its Local Authority Annual Grant, government includes a
compensatory sum to cover the service costs to premises providing accommodation for university students. Since the annual grant is to cease in 2020 this subsidy will also cease. Currently the revenue from the Business Rates is shared with the Treasury, but by 2020 Local Authorities will retain the whole revenue from Business Rates. I understand that Government would not agree to impose Council Tax on students since it would just increase their rent, whereas Business Rates are tax allowable and would not present a direct burden to students.
At the AGM of the National Organization of Residents' Associations (NORA), on 2nd March, the following Motion was unanimously adopted:
"That NORA and its members write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the chairman of the Local Government Association and MPs to request that councils should be given powers to bring all Houses of Multiple Occupation including Purpose Built Student Accommodation within the scope of Business Rates in the same way that hotels, self-catering and holiday lets are within the scope of Business Rates in order to compensate for the loss of the relevant grant."
On behalf of both my Federation and NORA, I should be grateful if you would give this matter your urgent attention.
Robin Kerr, Chairman
Facts about FoBRA:
Representation: In addition to what it says in the AGM Reports, FoBRA is a member of the WHS Steering Group, and the Bath Transport Commission.
Priorities: Every two years, FoBRA asks its members what priorities should be set, choosing the top four. This process is being repeated at the moment, so we are working on the priorities agreed two years ago. You can find them on the left side of our home page (www.bathresidents.org.uk ). They are Air Pollution (particularly requested by CARA), Planning & Development Management, Engagement, and Traffic. If you click on any of them, a position paper opens. These have all been revised within the last six months. It is on these subjects that FoBRA particularly concentrates, as requested by its members, but, of course, stuff happens and events occur, so some deviation has to be expected.
Transport (+ Pollution, Parking, Traffic, Congestion.....): These subjects are all linked and have been FoBRA's top priority since I have been associated with it in 2009. Patrick Rotheram is FoBRA's lead on these and is something of an expert. He is FoBRA's representative on the Bath Transport Commission (chaired by Sir Peter Hendy), and I think we can claim to have had some effect in urging Councils of several complexions to take these problems seriously (and apolitically) and to propose, first, a Strategy, and, now, an Implementation Plan. This is what the Bath Alliance for Transport and the Public Realm aims to do, led by Bath Bridge; FoBRA being its founder member.
Planning: As its Constitution requires, FoBRA concentrates on Bath-wide planning and development matters, intervening in local ones only when requested by a member. Thus, FoBRA has worked tirelessly on the Core Strategy and Placemaking Plans, submitting probably more (and better prepared) comments than any other comparable organization, all of which have been approved by the members before submission; and has taken part in lengthy Examinations in Public on both. In many cases, FoBRA has worked in parallel with the Bath Preservation Trust, but, on others, we have found ourselves on opposite sides of the table (eg the Eastern Park and Ride). This is a healthy situation and is as it should be, because we have (some) different aims. Another example of FoBRA's Planning work, where no member could have substituted, is in major developments such as new supermarkets; Tesco at the Bath Press being one. FoBRA took part in writing, and in person, at the Appeal (and was successful). Recent examples where member Associations have requested FoBRA's help are: Upstream flooding risk (Henrietta Park Association); Mulberry Park ridgeline buildings and trees (Widcombe); Curo's proposals for Foxhill Estate (Foxhill Residents' Association); Beechen Cliff playing fields (Greenway and Widcombe); Cable car (Widcombe); Student Housing (Beech Avenue RA); Party Houses (Vineyards); HMOs (St James's Square); and more.
Student Housing: This has become a matter of great (and increasing) import in Bath. FoBRA has been pursuing the Council for some years to develop a student housing policy, and this has been taken up by the National organization (NORA). Our subject lead is Chris Beezley, who, like Patrick, is something of an expert. Like Transport, this is not a subject which could usefully be addressed by an individual member. It encompasses Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSAs), the Universities' development plans, and associated Government policy.
Robin Kerr, Chairman, 28th Apr 17