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Issues and challenges facing communities

2.1    The Local Plan will set out a strategy and planning policy framework to help guide and shape future development and change, whilst also enabling greater climate and environmental resilience and protecting and enhancing our high quality natural and built environment and key assets. In guiding change the plan will be seeking to address key issues and challenges facing Bath and North East Somerset and its communities.

2.2    New development can provide an opportunity to shape and improve places, for example by providing infrastructure needed by existing communities and creating environments that promote health and well-being. The place we live in can fundamentally influence our health and well-being, and shaping our communities in this way provides an opportunity to influence and establish positive behaviour, healthier lifestyle habits and inclusive communities. Planning for climate and environmentally resilient places will also help to reduce health risks.

2.3    The key issues and challenges facing Bath and North East Somerset and its communities are summarised below and alongside the Council’s corporate priorities they have shaped the spatial priorities for the Local Plan – that is the outcomes we are seeking to achieve. In the Local Plan Launch Document, published autumn 2022, the proposed central policy aims of the Local Plan were outlined. These have been incorporated into the spatial priorities outlined at the end of this chapter. These spatial priorities will drive the site allocations, policy framework and therefore, what the Local Plan will achieve.

2.4    We have undertaken research and consulted with community representatives and stakeholders to identify the key issues and challenges facing the District and places within it. Some of the key issues, many of which are closely interrelated, are identified below. Select any section to read more detail.

Housing affordability and the economy

2.5    Across Bath and North East Somerset we know that housing affordability is a key issue. Many residents are finding it difficult to access decent housing, either to buy or rent, because prices are so high. Evidence shows that the impact of high house prices is exacerbated by average median workplace wages in Bath and North East Somerset being lower than those nationally. As a result across Bath and North East Somerset the average house price is eleven times average workplace earnings and in Bath it is nineteen. The lack of housing that is affordable for residents and workers affects not only people’s quality of life, but also has a direct impact on our economy.
2.6    In addition to the lack of affordable housing communities also raise the requirement for smaller dwellings, both for smaller households wanting to access their first home, as well as for older people that are seeking to downsize.

2.7    Work underpinning the Economic Strategy shows that Bath and North East Somerset has a resident workforce that is highly skilled, unemployment levels are low and we are home to some nationally leading and significant businesses and economic sectors. However, evidence also shows that our economy is under performing (with growth being below that of the West of England and the UK for longer than the last ten years) and median wage levels are low. The causes of economic underperformance are complex, but in terms of the issues the Local Plan can seek to address these will include a lack of housing that is affordable and an insufficient supply of employment land. These are challenges that need to be addressed to create a prosperous and sustainable economy for the benefit of our residents.

Climate and ecological emergencies

2.8    Bath and North East Somerset declared a climate emergency in 2019 and is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. Four strategic priorities guide action to reduce emissions:

  • Decarbonising homes
  • Decarbonising buildings
  • Increasing renewable energy generation
  • Decarbonising the council’s own operations

Achieving this goal will be challenging, but there are many opportunities for planning to support this journey. It is important that action is taken at all spatial scales, both individually and at a neighbourhood or more strategic scale. From a planning perspective this includes energy use and carbon emissions arising from travel, existing buildings (changes such as retrofitting of energy efficiency measures) and new buildings (operational energy and embodied carbon in its construction). Additionally, planning can help facilitate increased regeneration of renewable energy, through free standing installations, as well as on buildings.

2.9    Action on climate change must also consider planning for climate resilience. The changing climate will bring an increased likelihood of flooding, overheating, and extreme weather events that are likely to become more frequent. Reducing the impact of these changes on our communities and businesses will be critical, and there are opportunities to achieve this alongside reducing emissions, improving people’s health and wellbeing, and supporting nature recovery.

2.10    Bath and North East Somerset declared an ecological emergency in 2020 in recognition of the significant declines in species and habitats recorded globally, nationally, and regionally. The council is aiming to be nature positive by 2030 and has set 3 priorities:

  • Increase the extent of land and waterways managed positively for nature across Bath and North East Somerset
  • Increase the abundance and distribution of key species across Bath and North East Somerset
  • Enable more people to access and engage with nature

2.11    Further information is set out in the council’s Ecological Emergency Action Plan. The Nature Positive ambition requires innovation in planning, including use of new decision making tools, new more joined up and integrated planning policy that delivers for people and nature. There are increasing opportunities for local people and business to engage with and benefit from a more robust and resilient natural environment, where natural processes and features are protected, created and enhanced to benefit communities and sustain nature.

2.12    The district has outstanding landscape character, including the Cotswolds National Landscape and Mendip Hills National Landscape. The district also supports nationally and internationally important heritage assets including the City of Bath, which is a double inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Site, and many areas of wildlife significance, including internationally important bat sites in and around Bath and at Compton Martin, and the internationally important bird site at Chew Valley Lake. Access to the countryside and the natural environment which can sometimes be challenging is highlighted by residents as being important for quality of life and physical and mental health and well- being.

Health and well-being

2.13    Bath and North East Somerset remains one of the least deprived local authorities in the country, ranking 269 out of 317 for overall deprivation. However, there are inequalities within the district, communities that experience deprivation (both Twerton West and Whiteway fall within the most deprived 10% nationally), and patterns of rural poverty are growing. Life expectancy is 9 years lower for men and 5 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Bath and North East Somerset than in the least deprived areas. An estimated 19% of children and young people (equating to 7,167 residents aged 0-15) in Bath and North East Somerset live in relative poverty. With the cost of living set to continue to rise, it’s estimated 4,000 people will fall into absolute poverty in 2022-23. This will exacerbate existing needs, including fuel poverty (11% of households live in fuel poverty in the district) and food insecurity. Inequality is a concern that has been raised by communities, including in relation to an ageing population, and people living longer with multiple health and social care needs.
2.14    Whilst the health of people in Bath and North East Somerset is generally better than the England average, residents still have important health and wellbeing needs that the built and natural environment can play a role in addressing. There are significant levels of obesity amongst both children and adults in Bath and North East Somerset, meaning that whilst obesity is below the national average more adults in the district are overweight than not. Large numbers of both children and adults are not physically active. In relation to cardiovascular and respiratory health, Bath and North East Somerset has high numbers of residents with hypertension and asthma. Residents also self-report higher rates of anxiety and loneliness compared to the England average. In addition, the rate of hospital admissions in those under 18 years for mental health conditions is significantly higher in Bath and North East Somerset than nationally.

Transport and connectivity

2.15    Communities have made it clear that traffic congestion and being able to access attractive walking and cycling opportunities and infrastructure, as well as frequent and reliable public transport are key challenges across much of the District. This is particularly true in the rural areas where improvements are needed to the connectivity of villages to the cities and towns in Bath and North East Somerset and the surrounding area. Further investment across the district is needed in public transport and active travel infrastructure including improvements to existing active travel networks to make them safer and more attractive, thereby encouraging greater use.

Culture and community identity

2.16    Cultural activity plays an important role in people’s health and well-being, as well as contributing to community identity and vibrant, attractive places in which to live. Across Bath and North East Somerset the cultural offer is varied and this is an issue highlighted by stakeholders that needs to be addressed, for example through protecting existing cultural and community facilities, seeking to provide new and enhanced facilities where needed and considering the important role of public spaces of different types. Cultural and creative industries also play an important role in our economy and an increased contribution from this sector should be encouraged.

2.17    Communities have identified that they value a sense of community identity and belonging, which is important in reducing social isolation and loneliness and creating healthy, vibrant and inclusive communities. The availability of high quality, accessible public spaces and community infrastructure are important in achieving this and are influenced by the planning system. Maintaining community identify and local distinctiveness are challenges that the planning system has an important role in addressing by protecting landscape character, respecting local building styles and materials and setting a framework for the design of public spaces.