Green Park News
|Information Sections||Planning Documents|
|The first public exhibition [12/10/08]||09/01955/CA (Demolish) Consent 17/12/2009|
|Exhibition feedback [17/5/09]||09/01951/FUL (Hotel) Refused 23/12/2009|
|First Applications [5/7/09]||09/01956/FUL (Offices) Refused 23/12/2009|
|DCC Decides First Applications [20/12/09]|
|Second Applications [22/5/10]||10/01830/FUL|
|DCC Discusses Second Applications [8/8/10]||10/01831/FUL|
|DCC Agrees Second Applications [17/10/10]|
[17/10/10] The DCC Agenda for the 29th September showed the applications for the Green Park Hotel and Offices were the third and fourth items on the agenda of items for discussion.
The case officer reminded the committee that the August DCC deferred the application. Since then the applicant had revised the plans, extending the coach drop-off point so that it could now accommodate two coaches or five cars, and the change to the service vehicle access, which would now be via Kingsmead North. The building itself had the same floor plans but the ground floor windows were now composed of smaller panes to better relate to the building above There was a committee update report amplifying these points (but unfortunately it was not made available to the Public Gallery nor to the Watchdog Chairman who was to speak).
The case officer then read out a statement supplied by Major Projects, which said that Budget Hotel rooms were in plentiful supply, and Major Projects wanted to see a masterplan covering more than this site. Having read the note verbatim, the case officer then clarified for the committee that the site is on the edge of the city centre and so a hotel use is compatible with that location. Also whether a hotel qualifies for the description "budget" depends on the operator, and is not a planning issue; the decision is on whether a hotel should be given permission. The relevant background is that there is a predicted shortage of hotel beds.
Two public speakers, both members of the Bath Independent Guest House Association, spoke against. The first reminded the committee that the Visitor Accommodation Study showed no need for a budget hotel; that Bath's MP and local residents have objected; that there were other hotel applications to come; that there is no local plan for the area; and that there is a lack of coach parking. The second said that the predicted traffic figures were too low; that tourists coming any distance tended to arrive in cars; and that for a hotel of this size 18,880 parking places per annum would be needed.
Two public speakers spoke in support: the Applicant's Agent and Watchdog's Chairman. The Agent pointed out that since the decision to defer, all the points raised had been dealt with in consultation with officers and everything possible had been done to meet the concerns previously expressed: deliveries had been reorganised; style changes had been made; and the Applicants undertook to ensure that all conditions imposed will be passed on to the hotel operator when one takes up that role. Watchdog pointed out that the style changes were an improvement on the August design; that the height, scale massing and detailing had the support of English Heritage and were appropriate for the location; and that the only reason the original application was refused was on design grounds
Cllr Carol Paradise spoke first, saying that she was really glad to see something happening on this site. She thought that there was now less dependence on cars now that bus passes give pensioners free travel. She thought that the design now being considered was successful, and her short survey of local residents indicated that they support the application. She therefore moved that the committee should support the case officer's recommendation that the committee should delegate to officers to permit. [The full text of the recommendation is in the planning documents, at the end of the Committee Report].
Cllr John Bull seconded the motion. He pointed out that there was conflicting evidence on whether cheaper accommodation was required but even so, the committee had to decide on "a hotel". He reminded Members that the original application had been refused on design grounds, and all the architectural experts say that this design is acceptable. The committee should not now come up with other reasons, because they would not be supported in the event of an appeal.
Cllr Gerry Curran said that there had been problems with the original design, then concerns with the access arrangements; and these issues have been dealt with. He reminded Members that planning is about land use, not cost; and that it is against council policy to provide parking. It is five minutes walk from Charlotte Street Car Park, so parking is not a major concern. He liked the proposal for river bank improvements, and although he preferred the previous windows, those now proposed were acceptable. He thought the hotel would be suitable for hosting conferences.
Cllr Stephen Willcox thought this was a better design. He was concerned that tourists often treat Bath as a whistle stop destination and there were claims that Bath had the dearest B&Bs in the country so a hotel would help. He said that Bath has a lot of coaches coming in and somewhere to park them could be found if there was the will.
Cllr Colin Darracott said that this site needs a planning context and the council was to blame for a lack of coherence. He would like to see Green Park Road closed. He wondered what would happen when Avon Street Coach Park closes.
Cllr Brian Webber said he had concerns about the access arrangements, but he recognised that Highways were the experts and they were happy with them.
At the vote, the motion was passed by 10 votes to nil with one abstention.
The case officer introduced the Office application, pointing out that there were no changes from the one considered at the August meeting. He brought Members attention to the Update Report (again unfortunately not made available to the Public Gallery nor to the Watchdog Chairman who was to speak) in which he dealt with a suggestion that there should be a condition on the Office permission that it couldn't be turned into an extension for the hotel, but he pointed out that such a change of use would require planning permission so a condition was not necessary.
A member of the Bath Independent Guest House Association, spoke against, reiterating the concern that the office space might be used for an extension to the hotel. The Applicant's Agent and Watchdog's Chairman spoke in favour. The Agent recognised that there were concerns that the Office might not be built, but pointed out that the agreement to include monitoring of progress in the S106 agreement plus the economic need to get some return on the investment of buying the site would ensure that they did build it. Watchdog pointed out that this was a contemporary design building that nevertheless sat comfortably in a sensitive location, and it could serve as a model for other sensitive areas.
Cllr Carol Paradise moved to accept the officer's recommendation that the committee should delegate to officers to permit. [The full text of the recommendation is in the planning documents, at the end of the Committee Report]. Cllr John Bull seconded the motion. At the vote it was passed by 11 votes to nil.
[8/8/10] The DCC Agenda for the 4th August showed the applications for the Green Park Hotel and Offices were the first two items for discussion.
Preparations (or lack of)
The first thing Watchdog noticed was that our comments appeared not to have been correctly shown in the Committee Brief. Although we reservations about both applications, we decided to offer a general comment on each, explaining in that comment "In the hope of obtaining some revisions it was decided not to object outright". The Committee Brief for the Hotel application covered only objections and support, and made no mention of general comments. The brief for the Offices similarly covered only objections and support, but one of the reservations we expressed was shown among the objections. We decided that we should clarify our position to the Committee, and because we had already been misquoted as objecting, we could only do this by speaking in support.
The normal procedure for committee meetings is that those wishing to speak register their interest, the Chairman then decides on the procedure to be followed, and the Secretary informs the speakers on how long they would get to make their presentation, allowing scripts to be timed accordingly.
That did not happen. When Watchdog's Chairman asked, the Secretary did not have that information. Speeches were written on guesswork about the time allowed - three quarters of a minute for the Office, covered everything we wanted to say; a few seconds over a minute and a half for the Hotel. All we could do after that was attend the meeting and see what the Chairman said regarding time allocated to speakers and hope that it would be sufficient.
The meeting started and the Chairman announced that 4 speakers against the applications would share 6 minutes and 3 speakers in support of the applications would also share 6 minutes.
Then the Case Officer gave his presentation, which covered both Hotel and Office designs.
In the absence of any specific information on how the meeting was to be conducted, it was reasonable to assume that the two applications were to be discussed jointly with two separate votes at the end, as the Western Riverside ones had been a month earlier. A quick discussion on tactics concluded that if Watchdog presented the Hotel comment followed by the Office one, the 2 minutes of time would run out before anything meaningful could be said about the Office. So the Office would be presented first, then as much of the Hotel commentary as time allowed, which would convey most of the key points. Thus prepared, we watched and took notes of what happened next.
After the Case Officer's presentation is the opportunity for Committee Members to seek clarifications on anything in the presentation or the briefing papers. Only one person, Cllr Jackson, took advantage of this, asking why the conditions allowed the bar lounge and restaurant to be opened from 6:30am. The explanation that the Hotel would want to use these areas for serving breakfasts was accepted.
The speakers against were reminded that they were limited to 6 minutes in total, and they opted to be timed individually at a minute and a half each. The four speakers each had a speech lasting a minute and a half. (We wondered how they knew in advance how long they had, when we had been unable to find out that information, but we said nothing.)
Mr Redwood said he represented the Guest Houses Association. He pointed out that what was proposed would be the biggest hotel in Bath and the biggest budget hotel in the area. He said that there was not a need for this many rooms and that the Bath Preservation Trust, Bath's MP, Don Foster, and BURP opposed it. He reminded the Committee that the impact on the townscape was a material consideration, and that in October a planning application for another hotel on the site of Kingsmead House would be lodged.
Mr Greenwood spoke as Chairman of the Guest Houses Association. He said that the Association supported hotels but in a measured way, and he was concerned that this hotel scheme was alongside the public consultation on Kingsmead. He pointed out that neither had parking which would put pressure on already stressed parking provision. He said that the emphasis should be on value not volume. He objected to the ground floor with its single panes of glass, pointing out that this was not a retail shopping area, but it would look like a mini Southgate.
Mr Bailey said that he vigorously opposed this application. It was not supported by the Accommodation Study and it had serious design flaws. He thought that something smaller, perhaps 100 rooms with guest parking would be more appropriate. He thought the shopfront style was not in keeping. He thought the lay-by was insufficient and any overflow of demand for the lay-by would block the road. He thought the absence of parking was unacceptable.
Ms Robinson spoke on behalf of the Bath Preservation Trust. She thought this was a missed opportunity to restore the original Green Park street pattern. As far as the application was concerned, the character of Bath required accurate detailing and the correct use of materials, and these plans fell short in these respects.
The speakers in favour were allocated two minutes each.
Mr Stutchbury, representing Scott Brownrigg reminded the Committee that the previous proposal was refused because of the design of the facades. Since then, Scott Brownrigg had worked closely with council officers to produce a better scheme. He believed that the car parking plans were considered acceptable by the council, and there would be no problem if restrictions on times were imposed on any service access. He said that the Accommodation Survey showed that compared with Chester, York etc Bath had insufficient hotel beds and the Green Park was specifically shown as a location for hotels.
Watchdog's Chairman then spoke. Rather than summarise it, you can read the full text prepared. All but the last paragraph was read out.
Mr Redgewell of Transport 2000 said that there was a need for cheaper Hotels in Bath, and reminded the Committee that the site had been derelict for 5 years. He said that there were buses from the Bath bus station every 5 minutes, and for those arriving by road there was the Avon Street car park and also the Avon Street coach park for coach parties. He thought that this scheme was an opportunity to tell developers that Bath was open for business.
The Chairman then invited Mr Stutchbury to address the Committee regarding the Office application. This was the first (and only) indication to Watchdog that representations from the public were able to comment separately on the hotel and office applications.
Mr Stutchbury reminded the Committee that the previous proposal was refused because of the design of the elevations and that was the single reason for refusal. He said there was a draft S.106 agreement in preparation and it was ready to be agreed.
Winston Churchill is reported to have said "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but three times is enemy action". Watchdog's presentation on the Western Riverside was interrupted by the Committee Chairman, as was this one on Green Park. We are in the realms of coincidence, and watching.
Watchdog's Chairman was then invited to speak. He explained to the Committee that he had already said all that was necessary about the Office application, so he would carry on from where he stopped last time and finish it off. He got as far as just starting the last sentence when he was interrupted by the Committee Chairman pointing out that he should be speaking on the Office application and he appeared to be still on the Hotel. So the Watchdog comment on the Office was read out again.
Both Ward Councillors then addressed the Committee. Cllr Furze emphasised the concerns of the local residents. He also raised the issue of the management of the Urban Garden and asked for sight of the development plan. He thought the impact on the residential amenity had been understated, and was concerned about an additional seven vehicle movements in a narrow residential street where children play. Cllr Paradise was similarly concerned that Kingsmead North would not handle the additional traffic.
Cllr Bull is right about it being "A Hotel". The difference in quality is largely one of furnishings, facilities and staffing, none of which are controlled by planning. Likewise the reminder to the Committee of the reason for refusal is timely, since the applications before the Committee are labelled "Resubmission". Unfortunately the subsequent discussion suggests that Members didn't heed Cllr Bull's advice.
Cllr Webber cannot logically accept the principle of no parking for guests and also complain that there is nowhere else for them to park. If a principle cannot work in practice then how can it be accepted?
Cllr Daracott cannot use unadopted visions to influence his views. Only adopted policies are planning issues, so his concerns about the coach park are a red herring. Also, has he remembered what the Cullinan report proposed for this area? In the picture below, Kingsmead flats are in the foreground and Green Park Buildings are in the background.
We can understand Cllr Darracott's concerns about the appearance of the blank north elevation pending the construction of the Office building to cover it up. We think this can be addressed by condition: either cover the blank faces with vegetation like the Virginia Creeper on the north side of Queen Square, or, better still, some trompe l'oeuil painted decoration, adding fake windows, like the one in Grove Street (pictured below).
Cllr Coombes seems to have missed the significance of the word "Resubmission" in these applications. The applicant has attempted to address only the reasons for refusal last time, and has a valid expectation that only the reasons stated last time exist as problems to be addressed. (In fact it was confirmed much later in the session that all the reasons put forward last time were reflected in the refusal notice, and Members were warned against inventing new ones.)
For the same reason, Cllr Jackson is not on safe ground when she suggests that the building footprint is unacceptable and should be changed.
Cllr Curran was entitled to express his reservations over the draft S.106 agreement, but the planning legislation is clear that such agreements are an opportunity and not a material consideration when reaching a planning decision. It is certainly not supposed to be a trough to gorge from, but merely reasonable compensation for any inconvenience introduced by a development (the legislation refers to "incidental and consequential provisions"). There is scope for a larger lay-by if the one in the drawings is considered inadequate, because it is likely to be constructed by the council but funded by S.106 money.
It is unfortunate therefore that Cllr Wilcox confused a negotiation in progress with the planning decisions on the table. The recommendation from the Case Officer is to "Delegate to Approve", and the normal procedure is for officers to negotiate to a final agreement on the S.106 contributions and then issue the planning consent linked to the agreement expressed as a legal commitment. Cllr Wilcox appeared to mistakenly think that a vote for the motion would give planning permission and set the S.106 contributions under discussion in concrete (and from the later dialogue, he was not alone in this).
We checked on the possibility of the Office being built without the Hotel because that was a concern for Cllr Jackson, and a condition on the demolition permission seems to cover it. "No works for the demolition of part or all of the building shall commence until a valid contract(s) for the redevelopment of the entire site, or a substantial part of the site consisting of at least 75% of the frontage to Green Park Road, in accordance with a valid planning permission, has been let, and notified in writing to the Local Planning Authority". The Office alone does not account for 75% of the frontage.
Cllr Bull proposed a motion to approve. He reminded the Committee that the previous refusal was on design grounds, and if the application is not now approved, the council would be in a weak position. He reminded Members that planning permission would be for "A Hotel", not "a budget hotel" or any other particular type of hotel. He said that it would attract those people finding the booking of accommodation in Bath difficult, and the increase in visitors staying could only be a good thing for Bath.
He was seconded by Cllr Wilcox, who agreed that what was now before the Committee was a better design. He said there was a real need for low cost accommodation. Bath got 900,000 visitors a year and most look around and disappear, and this hotel might encourage more of them to stay. He accepted that delivery vehicles tended to be large, but thought that they could be controlled by a management plan for deliveries.
Cllr Webber spoke next. He said that last time the refusal was because the design was inadequate, but there were many comments that were made on other things, not just aesthetics, and the grounds for refusal last time should have been wider. He agreed that there were too many dead sites in Bath, and that the principle of a hotel was OK. This time, the design is better, architecturally it was acceptable and it would meet a 21st Century need. But it doesn't solve the basic problems of traffic and servicing. He accepted the principle of no parking provision for guests, but thought that such a large number of guests would bring too many cars to be accommodated in the parking nearby. He wanted to see the three storey block at the rear removed, with the space used for access and parking.
Cllr Darracott reminded the Committee that 8 years ago there were visions for regeneration, but an overall document was never produced so separate applications will come along. He wondered if the Cullinan plans were a waste of money. He was concerned that the two applications have not been made dependent on each other. The north elevation of the hotel is blank, so it would only be acceptable if the Office is also built. He claimed to be neutral on the need, since the Visitor Study recommends more budget accommodation than this provides. He considered this proposal to be much more pastiche, and he wants to see either good pastiche or good contemporary. Southgate works with pastiche shops alongside a contemporary bus station, and he likes this hotel design. He was concerned that in the [Cullinan] masterplan the Avon Street Coach Park would go, yet its presence has been used as justification for the absence of parking.
Cllr Coombes said that the previous application was refused on design grounds but because of that it hadn't been necessary to write all possible reasons down. Previously it was a half-hearted pastiche which was no good, and he didn't think this version was better than the last. He thought that it was a pity that there was no masterplan and that the council has let the city down by not having one. He thought the absence made life difficult for developers too. He recognised the difficulties with the site, the fact that it has a difficult slope, the fact that big windows are necessary because the ground floor area is massive and there is a need to get light inside. But he thought that the proposed Hotel and Office join weakly, and then again there is an uncomfortable join with the existing offices next door. The Office was not entirely pastiche, given its zinc roof. He thought it would need ventilation facilities inside and could see no sustainability features. Effectively it was the same design with a stone front.
Cllr Jackson thought the design issues had been addressed and that this version is good enough. But the plan for deliveries at the back were a concern, and the rear access looked like a hazard to pedestrians. She recognised that the location of the hotel was unusual being on the edge of the city shopping area, and also on the edge of a residential area. So it needed to be a transitional building, and on the whole it succeeds as that. But she agreed with Cllr Webber that the ground occupied by the three storey block at the back could be put to better use, and she thought it should provide parking for hotel staff who would almost certainly be commuting to work. On that basis she would vote against.
Cllr Curran reminded the Committee that the city needs a coach park, so the Avon Street facility is unlikely to be removed. But he did have concerns about the unloading of coaches outside, and thought this element needs strict management. Similarly he shared the concerns expressed about service vehicles. He thought the principle of a hotel was acceptable and the city needs more hotel rooms. He advised Members to ignore Kingsmead because it is not a planning application and it might never be. He thought the S.106 agreement was not well thought out because there was nothing of benefit to local residents. He wanted to see money going to green spaces and riverbank improvements.
Cllr Wilcox took up the subject of the S.106 figures, calling the sum under discussion "a pittance", but what we will get if we approve.
At this point the Legal Advisor explained that the Parks Department did not recommend a S.106 contribution which explains why there is no mention of a contribution towards green spaces. He also reminded the Members that reasons for refusal have to be on planning grounds and they can't be altered after the event, so what is said on a Decision Notice is always complete.
Cllr Darracott appeared to challenge this, stating that each planning application is supposed to be judged on its own merits, so it is possible to produce new reasons not mentioned before. He then expressed concern about what would happen if the Office never got built. The Urban Garden was supposed to be temporary, not permanent.
Cllr Jackson said there was an acute shortage of affordable office space, and wondered if it would be possible to build the Office without the Hotel. She was advised that to build the Office, the entire Green Park House would have to be demolished, and the Office building can't start until the Hotel is underway.
It was then put to the vote. The Hotel application vote was 4 in favour, 6 against and 2 abstained.
The Chairman then asked for a motion to refuse. Cllr Coombes suggested that the inappropriate design does not respond to the context, adding that he wanted to see more information on the S.106 agreement because he believed the contribution was too small, and he was unhappy about there being two applications because of the consequences of one or the other not being built.
Confusion then reigned. Some Members said that they couldn't support such a motion because it didn't reflect their reasons for voting against. One said that if officers could negotiate changes they would have voted for rather than against. The legal advice was that the Applicants had addressed the issues raised previously and caution should be exercised if any new reasons for refusal were introduced because these would be grounds for appeal. In the absence of any immediate way forward, a motion to defer a decision was raised and passed unanimously. No vote was taken on the motion to approve for the Office; instead, that was deferred too. Effectively the Committee had run out of ideas and hoped the Case Officer could rescue them from the hole that they had dug for themselves.
We were surprised and disappointed at how poorly prepared some of the Committee Members were. The Committee papers clearly said that the Officer's recommendation was to delegate to permit, yet a surprising number of Members seemed to think they were voting to grant permission, and this was despite the Watchdog presentation specifically saying that we supported the recommendation to delegate to permit. (We have often suspected that some Members don't actually listen to what the public say, and at this meeting we had proof of that.) A number seemed unable to grasp that because the applications were resubmissions, it was not possible to treat them as brand new applications: they had a planning history and that carried associated constraints. Likewise it was clear that some round the table had come prepared to say that they did not support the applications, yet when the Chairman asked for reasons to refuse, they seemed unprepared to create a properly articulated motion saying why. Finally, too much emphasis was placed on a S.106 agreement, when it is not supposed to be a material planning consideration affecting the decision that is taken.
The motion to defer seemed to be the only way out of the chaos. So at a future date the DCC will have to consider these applications again. And we wonder if they might have shot themselves in the foot! In response to an enquiry about the Park and Ride applications a year earlier, the council's Monitoring Officer issued a statement: "As a general principle of law, it is not possible for a decision-making body such as a Development Control Committee that had made its decision, to reconsider the same decision". Interpreted literally, this suggests that having voted on a motion to approve and not passed it, the Committee is not now in a position to approve it. They are going to need some very carefully researched legal advice before taking another vote.
Meanwhile, the applicants sat through the entire debate, and are aware that there is some pressure to introduce new reasons for refusal, over and above the ones they dealt with in order to make their resubmission. It is very likely that if the Committee eventually refuses permission by introducing new reasons, the Applicants will go straight to appeal, and an Appeal Inspector will almost certainly find in their favour.
There is a saying: "When you find you are in a hole, stop digging". Sound advice. We only hope the DCC heed it.
[30/04/2010] The planning applications are lodged. There is 10/01830/FUL which seeks permission to build a 190 bed hotel incorporating a coffee shop, restaurant and associated facilities and works, together with a temporary urban garden following demolition of Green Park House; and 10/01831/FUL which is to build an office block with basement parking to replace the temporary urban garden. The planning permission previously granted to demolish the existing building is still extant and does not need to be resubmitted.
We were surprised (and pleased) to see that the drawings submitted included the proportional diagram, pictured left. It probably means little to the average reader, but we recognise it as a demonstration that the elevation is arranged as a set of "Divine Proportions", so called after the description of such characteristics by a mathematician Luca Pacioli in his book De Divina Proportione published in 1509. He noted that it always gave pleasing, harmonious proportions.
Artists from Leonardo da Vinci (who illustrated Luca Pacioli's book) onwards have used similar proportions to produce works of art that are aesthetically pleasing.
Indeed, most of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings in Bath are built to similar proportions, which is one of the reasons why Bath has a homogeneous feel, and this diagram is a clear indication that the proposed building was designed to fit into the local context.
We note, however, that this "town house" format is illustrative and not an exact extract from any of the proposed elevations.
The picture on the right is the rear elevation, as would be seen by the residents of Kingsmead North. This view shows the hotel (starting from the left extending for two ground floor windows to the right of the vehicle loading bays) and the rear of the office block (to the right of the hotel). This would always be the "Tradesmen's Entrance" elevation and Kingsmead North would always have to accept an element of functional appearance, but this is a considerable improvement over the refused 2009 design.
The front elevation, pictured right) faces Green Park Road. Our first impression (before we have had time to study designs and materials in detail) is of the similarity with Southgate in that the ground floor seems to have little relationship or regard for the floors above. The original October 2008 ground floor with its similarities with Bath Street would be more appropriate for this latest design for the building above it.
The good news though is that the rounded end has been redesigned (see picture left), and instead of a structure reminiscent of the Busometer, we now see something more akin to the rounded end of Seven Dials. The drawings call the whole end "The Cupola" although strictly speaking that term normally means a domed roof.
The proposed office block (pictured right) has also been redesigned to fit into the local context. The proportional lines are much fainter on this drawing, but they do show that a similar amount of thought has gone into the office facade as the hotel.
We have not had time to examine the office block footprint yet, but clearly these dimensions will define the size and shape of the temporary public garden. There is a drawing for the planting scheme for the garden, but that is considered to be outside the Watchdog remit.
Bath heritage Watchdog has made an initial appraisal of the new proposals for an Hotel and Office to replace Green Park House. Initial impressions are that both proposals are by far the most worthy yet put forward for this site. Unfortunately this initial look also shows some design elements in the hotel frontage which seem to have weakened the overall design. This is a great shame as otherwise this was a fine effort by the architects; one that modified slightly could have received our full support.
The office, though more contemporary, is well proportioned and would not look out of place in this context. There are concerns: the way it connects with the hotel and the large scale use of render being amongst these.
The proposals will be discussed in detail at our next meeting and our comments should be ready in time for the next update. We would be happy to discuss our reservations with the applicants and their architects.
Go back to top index
[20/12/09] Watchdog went along to the DCC to hear the planning applications discussed. There was a different case officer for the application for demolition (09/01955/CA) than there was for the new construction (Hotel: 09/01951/FUL; Offices 09/01956/FUL) so there were two separate Case Officer presentations, followed by discussion round the table on all three.
The on-line documents now include an update report, but there was no copy of this document in the public gallery, nor any indication in the presentations that suggested that the updates were brought to the committee's attention. If the Committee had seen it, its content would mislead because it was incomplete. Among the late comments that were important was one from the Georgian Group, a statutory consultee, strongly criticising the design, massing and configuration (which the Case Officer described to the Committee as "The Georgian Group had submitted a late comment stating they too would support the restoration of the original terrace.", an over-simplification which falls far short of the comment submitted), and one from Malcolm Fraser, a leading architect in the Edinburgh World Heritage Site whose brief description "obtrusive by its unworthy mediocrity" is particularly damning because of its origin.
The Applicant's Agent spoke in favour of demolition, quoting a council report from 2004 saying it was not suitable as a care home (which Watchdog members recall as exaggerated because of press coverage at the time of public calls to keep it open), and claims that it was not suitable for anything else.
Seven people then spoke out against the proposals. The main thrust of the objections appeared to be largely on design grounds. Most supported the opinions of CABE and BURP on the design. Some questioned the proven need for a budget hotel in Bath; some suggested that what was required was a smaller, better quality design. One objector pointed out that top of the list of reasons for people visiting Bath was the architecture and that this was a bland building and that we should be looking for a striking building of the future. Others said that there was scope for the realignment of the road and that this was a pastiche, neo-classical approach and they would not object to a contemporary design in this location. One person with connections to the hospitality trade pointed out that you cannot dictate to people that they cannot arrive by car and that over 50% of guests to his establishment did.
The Applicant's Agent then spoke in support of the new buildings. He justified the design approach and stated that the architects had listened to everyone who had voiced an opinion (though he didn't explain why the later plans were worse than the originals the public saw in October 2008). He stated there was no intention of a true pastiche nor for an ultra-modern design. The lack of parking had been a deliberate decision in line with the Council's own policy. He admitted that there was currently no operator allocated to run the hotel. He then spoke for the office proposal to which, so far, there had been no opinion voiced from the public speakers. He stated that the distinction between the two buildings had been achieved. He stated that no demolition would take place until there was an agreed operator.
The Ward Councillor, Andy Furse, was concerned about the impact of the construction of the building and operation of the hotel on neighbouring residents, and recommended that serious constraints should be imposed and a strong working relationship with the local residents sought. Problems with service deliveries were also pointed out.
Ten of the Committee Members commented.
• Councillor Carole Paradise thought the design was not good enough, and wondered if the existing buildings could have a face-lift.
• Councillor Martin Veal went further, describing the designs as a missed opportunity and quoted large chunks from council and Government policies that guided towards refusal.
• Councillor Colin Darracott also objected to the design and wondered where this design featured in the master plan for this area, adding that we need "a contemporary, holistic approach". Whilst he agreed there is a shortage of visitor accommodation, he pointed out there was no market for what was proposed.
• Councillor David Spiers supported the views of CABE and BURP that the design was not good enough. He could not support the application as it was no substantial improvement on the existing building.
• Councillor Eleanor Jackson felt quite a bit of care had gone into design but it was "indeterminate architecture and lacked the wow factor". It reminded her of the Connexions office and that "this was not inspiring". She said there was inadequate parking and disabled facilities.
• Councillor Nicholas Coombes agreed with CABE and BURP that it was just not good enough. He also thought that this was a lost opportunity and any proposals should form part of a greater master plan. He could see that this was, in some respects, a clever design that had been guided by the curve of the road. He felt all effort had gone in to designing the inside and the details are just pasted on.
• Councillor Gerry Curran, while agreeing that this was a missed opportunity to reinstate something more in line with original terrace, he reminded the members that they were faced with the application on the table and not what might be or could be. He said he had doubts about the design, in particular the roofscape.
• Councillor Willcox recognised that he was in the minority in thinking that the design was good enough for the location. He thought that this type of accommodation was desperately needed.
• Councillor Brian Webber had no difficulty with the concept, felt the design was respectful to the location but that rear elevation was "poor and of no merit but it was away from the grand heritage streets". He too had concerns over the parking situation.
• Councillor Richard Maybury had no objection to the hotel as such, but thought that the "design is dull with no zing". With regard to pastiche, he noted "Georgian Bath is, in fact, a pastiche of a pastiche". This he pointed out in itself is not a bad thing but it is the end result that counts. This, he felt, lacked that extra edge.
During the discussion round the table, at least two of the councillors criticised Churchill House (perhaps because we were seen in the public gallery). But as Churchill House was modelled on a listed Georgian building in Cleveland Place East we conclude that these critics do not really know Bath nor understand the heritage that councillors are elected to protect.
Cllr Maybury was correct in describing Georgian Bath as pastiche, and one dictionary definition of pastiche is "imitating the best of another's work", so it is difficult to understand why some councillors regard it as a derogatory term.
The Committee was then guided by the Development Manager. They were (wrongly) advised that "Parking restrictions were in line with local and national planning policies" when the proposals are clearly contrary to the Disability Discrimination Act.
They were (wrongly) advised that they would have to consider and demonstrate the harm these proposals would cause to the Conservation Area, when the requirement in the Government guidance is to be certain that the proposals do no harm to it, which is a different emphasis entirely. And until corrected by one of the Case Officers, the Committee was being advised that PPS1 was only a draft policy, when in fact it has been stated policy since February 2005. We couldn't decide whether this misleading and erroneous advice was deliberate or simple incompetence. The Committee has a right to sound and impartial advice, and they did not get it.
At the vote, the Committee unanimously supported the demolition of the existing building. Despite all the quotes from policy guidance during the discussion, key advice from PPG 15 was ignored:
4.26 ... In the case of conservation area controls, however, account should clearly be taken of the part played in the architectural or historic interest of the area by the building for which demolition is proposed. This was acclaimed architecture from the 1950s and is part of the evolution of Bath building designs. Unless 4.27 applies, the application should have been refused.
4.27 The general presumption should be in favour of retaining buildings which make a positive contribution to the character or appearance of a conservation area. The Secretary of State expects that proposals to demolish such buildings should be assessed against the same broad criteria as proposals to demolish listed buildings. In less clear-cut cases - for instance, where a building makes little or no such contribution - the local planning authority will need to have full information about what is proposed for the site after demolition. Consent for demolition should not be given unless there are acceptable and detailed plans for any redevelopment. It has been held that the decision-maker is entitled to consider the merits of any proposed development in determining whether consent should be given for the demolition of an unlisted building in a conservation area. Given that the applications for replacement were about to be refused following a number of Members saying the design was not good enough, this piece of guidance should have left no alternative but to refuse permission until an acceptable design for replacement was on the table. Again we wonder whether the Committee was not informed of this as a deliberate act or through incompetence.
The votes for the Hotel and Office Block were both a distinct majority to refuse: 10 votes to 1. It is now left to the Case Officer to establish the exact wording of the reasons for refusal, and inform the applicants.
What happens next remains to be seen. The Georgian Group and some public objectors argued strongly for a road re-alignment to restore the character of Green Park to what it was before the "Sack of Bath". We would support such a proposal, but worry that what may be proposed along the original building line might clash with the historic Green Park Buildings. A realigned design must maintain the classical proportions of the original demolished block, even if it differs in design. There does seem scope though for the road realignment to be at least partially funded through an S106 agreement.
Otherwise, we have to wait for the applicant to decide whether to appeal (which we think should fail on Conservation Area grounds), or to lodge revised plans. Such plans should include a reduction in overall height: compared with its neighbours, the current design is far too tall for the number of floors proposed in that location.
Go back to top index
[5/7/09] The planning applications are lodged. There is 09/01955/CA which seeks permission to demolish Green Park House, 09/01951/FUL which seeks permission to build a 200 bed hotel and temporary public garden, and 09/01956/FUL which is to build an office block with basement parking on that temporary public garden. This is consistent with the information we were given at the public exhibition where we were told that the hotel would be built first, and the office block later, once a company that wanted the office space had been identified. Whether the hotel business would suffer when it has a building site next door is not stated.
Looking at each planning application in turn, a quick look through the documentation for the demolition of the existing building hasn't revealed any specific justification for demolishing the existing building.
The most sustainable option for any development is to reuse what is already in existence. What is there at the moment is a solidly built 1950s development, and probably the best example of that era in Bath. In common with most 1950s structures, the internal timber and external windows were probably insufficiently seasoned due to the post-war shortages, and the building probably contains asbestos, so these problems would have to be addressed. But it is traditionally built of durable materials held together by cement and gravity, and if kept weather-tight and in reasonable repair would be usable for another century at least. By contrast the "modern" steel framed and clad replacement has a typical life of 50 years (or less - Southgate lasted 35 years, and this short life is so common that there is now a website dedicated to the memory of buildings that failed to outlive their architects!), and when you add the carbon footprint of two demolitions and two new constructions per century, the sustainability argument is firmly in favour of reusing the current building. Admittedly the reused building might not accommodate 200 beds, but then there is no demolition and rebuild cost to be offset either, so a smaller hotel would easily repay the upgrade investment. The addition of an attic storey to match Kingsmead North is an option if it is essential to extend the existing building. The hotel might expect the number of customers to be higher too: visitors to Bath generally prefer hotels that offer modern furnishings in older buildings.
However, we can't think of a single occasion when council planners have refused permission for the demolition of an unlisted 20th Century structure, regardless of the inadequacy of the argument for doing so. So we predict that application 09/01955/CA will be nodded through, untouched by any real evaluation of sustainability beyond the popular "green" gimmicks, or any doubts about whether it is justified. We maintain that the case for demolition is inadequate, but expect to be ignored.
If permission to demolish is given, we hope it is with a condition that a complete photographic record of the premises, inside and out is taken first.
The full documentation set for 09/01951/FUL will take some time to read and digest sufficiently to give a full evaluation, but Watchdog mourns the demise of the earlier design that we saw at the public exhibition last November. In the replacement as advised by consultations with council officers, what started life as an elegant horse has now been redesigned by too many people and it has turned into a camel.
Gone is the sloping roof sloping at the ideal angle for solar panels to generate hot water, replaced by a huge expanse of flat roof, with one part to be planted with sedum, which is completely alien to Bath and needs a lot of maintenance if it is not to become a breeding ground for dandelions to infest gardens for miles around. Gone is the colonnaded arcade which would have provided outdoor rain-proof space for outdoor dining or smoking, replaced by a hard frontage, and we predict that once the hotel is built the restaurant will want to place tables and chairs on the pavement outside which is now going to be too narrow for the purpose. Gone is the continuous terrace effect that typifies Bath and echoes Green Park Buildings, to be replaced by a hotch-potch of design cues, one of which, according to the documentation, is the Dyson Academy which UNESCO have just expressed their "satisfaction" will not be built (and that in the oh-so-polite vocabulary that UNESCO use means that it would have been a disaster in the World Heritage Site). Gone is the neat end of terrace to be replaced with a mini-busometer, which will give the hotel the headache that First are currently grappling with, that furniture that suits a round building is unobtainable.
Even worse, gone are the parking spaces that would have served the disabled. What is stated in the documentation is that the hotel will have no parking spaces at all, just a coach lay-by off the road outside. Customers are expected to park elsewhere: in the Statement of Community Involvement in response to the public's concern about where guests would park we are told that guests are likely to park in the nearby Trinity Close multi-storey car park.
This car park isn't mentioned on the council's map, so we took our camera along to Trinity Close. The picture we took, on the right, doesn't look much like a multi-storey car park to us. So we looked at the Travel Plan which simply reproduces the council's map and says there are plenty of car parks nearby.
But it is the disabled parking that particularly concerned us. The Travel Plan says that the disabled can park in the street outside for 3 hours which will suffice for booking in and booking out (though in our view they will cause an obstruction unless they use the coach lay-by), and for longer periods they can park in the spaces outside the Odeon cinema or in Kingsmead car park. Effectively, hotel guests are expected to prevent the disabled going to the cinema by occupying the spaces outside on a long term basis, or are expected to be capable of managing the distance between the hotel entrance and Kingsmead square. Some might, but many would find the distance too great. We think the plans for the disabled are completely unacceptable.
According to the documentation these disastrous changes were based on advice from the council and English Heritage. What English Heritage are doing getting involved in design decisions for new construction is not explained: they have no remit to do that under the legislation defining how they operate (The National Heritage Acts 1983 and 2002) so their advice carries no weight. The exact involvement of the council is not spelled out either, just a general indication "Further discussions also took place with Design and Planning Officers at Bath and North East Somerset Council and English Heritage. As a result of all those comments, a design review was undertaken", but the scale of the changes from the public consultation to the planning application and the reference to redesign objectives suggests that the council have also exceeded their remit. PPS1 is very specific "Local planning authorities should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes". Whatever the true facts are, all that this meddling has achieved is to turn what had the potential to be a silk purse, into a sows ear. The pictures below show why we are disappointed: the top one is the 2008 version we mostly liked but had some reservations; the bottom one is the current scheme, which we oppose.
[6/12/09] Some replacement drawings were provided at the end of November. Compared to the plans above, the Green Park frontage below is an improvement (though we still think the restoration of the colonnade is particularly desirable).
However, look at the muddled rear elevation below, which the poor souls in Kingsmead West would see just outside their windows. It doesn't even attempt to show any of the local context.
The full documentation set for 09/01956/FUL will take some time to read and digest sufficiently to give a full evaluation, but whilst we recognise the desirability of providing underground parking, we question the wisdom of changing the appearance so that (in their words) it looks more like an office. This end of the site is not sheltered by the trees in Green Park, and the large areas of glass now proposed will make little difference to the heating requirement in winter, but add a lot to the cooling requirement in summer. Watchdog has members who have worked is buildings cursed with vast areas of glass that will not open, and they report far too many occasions when the air conditioning failed in the height of summer rendering the building almost uninhabitable while repairs take place. This is now a fashionable rather than practical design which is likely to be difficult to let when there are far better designed office buildings in Bath currently empty.
Indeed, the sustainability claims for this building are relatively poor, even ignoring the relatively short life it will have compared to the building that currently occupies that land. Most of the sustainability description is devoted to savings on lighting, most of which can be adopted regardless of the design of the building. Great pains are taken to explain why the more common means of water heating (such as a biomass heater) are not used (and we have no argument with those) but the option of using a solar panel is not even considered. With the amount of roof available, it is certainly a viable option, but instead the design now features a flat roof rather than a sloping one effectively ruling out the possibility. Instead the design is for combined heating and refrigerating facilities (called "variable refrigerant flow"), dumping excess heat from inside the building into hot water facilities and/or the outside air, or in reverse circumstances, taking heat out of the outside air to heat the building and hot water. No thought seems to have gone into exporting excess heat from the offices into the higher hot water demands of the hotel, despite plans for both hotel and office being in the hands of the same developer.
Go back to top index
[17/5/09] This week, the Watchdog members who went along to the October 2008 public exhibition and left contact details received an update in the post, explaining that discussions have been held with council officers and English Heritage which have resulted in a number of design changes. Planning applications will be submitted soon. Why English Heritage were involved in the replacement for an unlisted 1950s building was not explained.
On the back of the letter were some sketches. We will wait for the full scale drawings in the planning applications to make a complete assessment of the plans, but our first reaction is that the advice the developer has followed has turned an initial concept that only needed a few tweaks to produce a building that would sit comfortably between the nearby listed buildings and the post-war developments in the area, into something that deliberately sets out to stick out like a sore thumb. As the October update below explains, we were appreciative of the first attempt so this latest update is a dreadful disappointment.
It seems that we wasted our time offering advice in October, and the quote on new the Notre Dame page: "Rejecting tradition or launching a radical transformation at its expense as occurs in most other schools of architecture ill equips a person to use his or her God-given gifts to make the built world a better place for everyone." seems very timely.
Go back to top index
[12/10/08] Watchdog went along to the public exhibition to see what was being planned for the site. And as you can see from this picture of the current buildings, it sits between Carillion and Kingsmead West, and is a larger site than it might appear to be as you walk along the road.
We discovered that the plans were for a hotel (with the expectation that it will be a 2-star or 3-star hotel rather than a top of the range luxury one) plus an office building, with provision for a temporary public garden on the ground that would be occupied by the offices if the hotel is built before the offices. This was a sensible precaution because until a company is found that wants to occupy the offices, it would be unwise to build it and leave it empty to be vandalised. There are already operators interested in the hotel. Nevertheless, the hotel and offices are designed to complement each other, so it makes sense to submit them together in the planning process.
The design chosen is a very interesting hybrid, taking design cues from the existing buildings, Kingsmead West, Green Park Buildings, the new Southgate shops and classical Bath. It can best be described as a modern style in classical proportions. It is a mix of modern and traditional materials, but in the local limited range of colours so that it appears to belong in the area.
Watchdog discussed design ideas with the architect, from a point of view that these were minor improvements in style not a criticism of the overall appearance. Yet it is these little things that make the difference in how the building is perceived, and the treatment that it might get through the planning process.
The architects have asked us not to put any of the pictures we saw on this website, because after the public exhibition they will be looking at the public feedback and design changes might follow. So they didn't want any earlier versions around that might cause confusion about what was submitted for planning permission. We are respecting that request.
Watchdog has offered to discuss the final draft before the planning applications are lodged, and we hope the architects take up that offer.
Go back to top index