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Bath: Area overview

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View the Bath Topic Paper for in-depth focus about this topic, and the evidence which informs our policy. Visit our library of Local Plan Options supporting documents to learn more. 

Strategy overview and key issues

5.1 The Local Plan is an important statutory document that sets out the key spatial issues, priorities and objectives for Bath and the planning framework for how this should be delivered. There are a number of complex and critical issues and challenges facing Bath, and a range of priorities that have emerged in discussions throughout the Council and through a period of stakeholder engagement.

5.2  This place based section of the Local Plan Options document sets out what
the strategic issues and options are for Bath, and specifically, the spatial locations in which these can be addressed. It is a key role of the Local Plan to allocate new sites and protect existing sites for particular types of development and in this respect it is informed by robust evidence of objectively assessed needs. The Local Plan will also set out the specific requirements that each site needs to fulfil. This is complementary to content elsewhere in the Local Plan, particularly the Development Management sections that cover specific subject areas.

Place profile

5.3 Bath is a relatively small city that has an international reputation. The city has a population of around 94,000 people and a larger catchment population who travel into the city for work and leisure. It is an expensive place to rent or buy property and many people live in surrounding towns and villages that better meet their housing needs. As well as high house prices Bath has a relatively low-wage economy (dominated by tourism/health/public sector jobs). There is limited land available in the city, resulting in it being unable to meet all of its objectively-assessed needs. Therefore, the Council has to prioritise which land uses it considers are the most important to deliver its objectives.

5.4 Economic growth in the last ten years has been sluggish and our lower-thanaverage wages cannot keep up with escalating costs of local housing. The council’s Economic Strategy signals a new approach to local economic development, which prioritises meeting the needs of all our residents and places, whilst reducing impacts on our natural resources and environment.

5.5 The city has a vibrant cultural offer which supports its important role as an international visitor destination that attracts over 6 million visitors annually. It is a successful regional shopping destination, with below average vacancies.

5.6 Bath is a rare doubly inscribed World Heritage Site. This means that it is of international importance and of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). It is within this context that the Local Plan manages how the city needs to evolve whilst avoiding harm to the OUV. Some examples would be protecting sensitive landscapes such as green hillsides from development or by guiding the height of new buildings. On the other hand, there are other attributes of the OUV that provide the inspiration for innovative and bold responses, and it is these that need to embraced if we are to address some of the key issues that the city faces.

5.7 There is a comprehensive network of Liveable Neighbourhoods that support the local needs of the resident population and provide day-to-day facilities within close proximity of where people live.

5.8 Bath has two universities that together represent approximately 25% of the residential population. The University of Bath is the second biggest employer in the city. Whilst the universities bring many benefits that support a vibrant city, including a thriving student population, the expansion of both the universities creates tensions in other areas of city life. Significant pressures include the effect of this expansion on the existing housing stock and on development sites that need to be prioritised for housing that is affordable, and for meeting the employment needs through new office and industrial development.

5.9 Traffic congestion in the city is a major challenge, which has affected air quality. There is significant in- and out-commuting. Bath benefits from a mainline railway station with a half-hourly service to London and frequent connections to Bristol, Keynsham and towns in Wiltshire. It is a very walkable city and the city benefits from a number of strategic cycle routes (view interactive map): the Bristol to Bath Railway Path, the Kennet and Avon Canal to Bradford on Avon and the Two Tunnels Greenway

5.10 In formulating the spatial strategy for the city, a sound starting point is to review the existing spatial strategy for Bath and to identify where there are policy gaps, where it needs to be re-written and other areas where it’s robust but might need evolving.

5.11 As with other places across the district there is a broad range of evidence that informs policy choices including the following:

Some other strategies are in the process of being commissioned including the Sustainable Tourism and Visitor Accommodation Strategy

Key issues 

Bath is of global importance, recognised by its double inscription as a World Heritage Site, which transcends national boundaries.  In addition, the city has over 5,000 listed buildings, and an extensive conservation area that covers two thirds of the city.  It is surrounded by the Cotswold National Landscape around three sides, and the Green Belt.   A consequence of this is that there are limited opportunities for outward expansion and there is not enough land available to meet all of the city’s objectively assessed needs and so priorities need to be made.  One of the key roles of the Local Plan is to prioritise and set out the spatial distribution of different uses within the city.

  • House prices in the city are very expensive and many people who work in the city choose to live elsewhere to better meet their housing needs.  The Local Housing Needs Assessment (LHNA) identifies that the total need for affordable housing, comprised of social rent and low cost ownership, is very significant and represents 77% of total housing need in Bath.
  • The Economic Strategy sets out ambitious proposals to address Bath’s specific economic challenges and create a fairer, more prosperous and sustainable economy focussing on innovation and creativity. There is an identified need for more high quality office space in central locations, and industrial/hybrid business floorspace at a broad range of scales for established, growing and emerging sectors, to meet the city’s economic ambitions.
  • The city suffers from significant traffic congestion. 75% of people driving to work in Bath do so from outside of the city resulting in heavy congestion on those key corridors into Bath such as Bathwick Street, London Road, Lower Bristol Road, and the Wellsway. A clean air zone was introduced in 2021 due to exceeding legal limits of Nitrogen Dioxide in some locations.
  • Flood risk and surface water run off will need to be managed to respond to increasing frequency of extreme weather events, using nature-based solutions wherever possible.
  • The role of green space and nature recovery in supporting, invigorating and enhancing the city is critical to address the ecological emergency and providing access for people.
  • Parts of some Wards in Bath experience inequalities in health and wellbeing outcomes, including Twerton, Whiteway and Foxhill, and the built and natural environment can play an important role in addressing inequalities
  • There are existing residents within and outside of Bath who feel disconnected with or do not utilise all that Bath has to offer. The role of the built and natural environment in promoting places that are inclusive to people of all ages and abilities, as well as being health promoting more generally, will be important.

Priorities and objectives

5.12 The following list sets out the key priorities and objectives for Bath. Many of the priorities can be addressed by new development, and site or policy approach options have been selected in response to the key issues, priorities and objectives. However, there are some priorities that won’t be addressed through new development but will be addressed through other policies in the Local Plan, or by strategies or initiatives undertaken by the Council or by other stakeholders.

  • Provide the space to help create a fairer, more prosperous, innovative and sustainable economy within ecological and environmental limits. This will need to reflect our wide variety of needs from city centre offices and workspaces to larger industrial premises, advanced engineering, R&D and lab spaces.
  • Deliver the right homes in the right places ensuring a greater diversity and choice of high quality, low carbon housing that is more affordable to meet the needs of residents and workers. As is the case across the district it is important that we build homes that are efficient to heat and that use clean energy, and which are fit for the whole life-course (young people, families, and into older age)
  • Create opportunities to become carbon neutral and nature positive by 2030 and to become more climate resilient by enabling greater levels of building retrofit and integration of renewable energy solutions, low or zero carbon development, and the delivery of strategic Green Infrastructure and nature recovery projects such as Bath River Line and Bathscape.
  • To set out a positive strategy for the conservation, enjoyment and understanding of the historic environment, and sustain and enhance the significance of the city’s heritage assets including:
    • The OUV of the doubly inscribed World Heritage Site and its landscape setting
    • its listed buildings
    • the Bath Conservation Area and its setting
    • archaeology, scheduled ancient monuments
    • historic parks and gardens
    • non-designated assets of local interest and value.
  • Support the Bathscape vision with policies and supporting guidance to protect, promote and deliver the ambitions for a ‘Landscape City’. This requires a transformational approach which will deliver nature recovery and climate resilience. By increasing the extent of land and waterways managed positively for nature and by protecting natural assets through investment in nature based solutions and wildlife friendly interventions that improve ecological network connectivity, the city will address the need to increase the abundance and distribution of biodiversity.
  • Provide an ecosystem framework for Bath that will inform the design of development and its integration with ecosystem functions, networks and nature based services.
  • Provide policy that supports delivery of the GI Strategy and other projects and initiatives that help deliver the framework. This will require a prioritising of a revised GI policy, and investment in green infrastructure on a par with grey infrastructure.
  • Ensure policy that supports the delivery of the Health and Wellbeing Strategy, and as a ‘Well-Being City’, ensure that Bath’s built and natural environments facilitate better health and well being for all, with
  • beautifully designed and well-connected streets and spaces that reinforces its aspiration to be Europe’s most walkable city, with cycling and wheeling infrastructure for all users. It will provide a diverse range of high quality leisure, play and community spaces for all ages, cleaner air, and improved access to green spaces and the surrounding landscape.
  • Increase provision and quality of green infrastructure, delivering improved access to green and blue spaces and placing nature at the heart of any development opportunities.
  • Support the diversification and long term sustainability of the University of Bath and Bath Spa University in their transition towards the provision of enterprise and innovation space, and the Locksbrook Creative Quarter.
  • Enhance the role of the city as a place of vibrant, diverse and world class culture, building on its global reputation as a place of leisure and resort and as a wonderful place to live, to work and to visit. Ensure it iswelcoming, safe, engaging, inclusive and enriching for all ages and abilities.
  • Provide for a network of local centres and neighbourhoods that support day to day living and foster a strong sense of community engagement and involvement in local projects, and ensure the provision of community infrastructure.
  • Bath’s Journey to Net Zero Transport Plan (JTNZ) was adopted in 2022 and a key priority of the Local Plan is to help, where possible, with its delivery. The JTNZ sets out a plan to tackle some of the biggest challenges our society faces: combating climate change, improving air quality, improving health and well-being and tackling congestion. The plan identifies the changes needed to our transport system to create places we want to live and work; with better connected, healthier and genuinely sustainable communities, and alongside the new transport strategies, helps to underpin and support the Local Plan. 
  • Making it easier to travel sustainably within Bath, as well as from neighbouring cities, towns and villages, by walking, wheeling, cycling and by public transport, as well as improving air quality in the city and reducing congestion. 

Discussion question

Question 1: Overview, priorities, key issues and objectives

Do you agree with the approach on this page? Is there something else you think we should include? Please give reasons for your answer.

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