Significance of the Meadows
Bathampton Meadows are a wide expanse of grassland, part flood plain, part low terrace, mostly grazing, but also containing a nature reserve, set in the bottom of the Avon Valley. They are popular for recreation and flank the River Avon as it runs into the City of Bath from the east, forming an important finger of countryside leading into the heart of the city.
The first reference in written documents to the Meadows is in a charter giving land to King Edgar’s ‘faithful servant’ (Hehelm) in AD 956, but we can be sure the name is from at least two centuries earlier. Settlers in the centuries after the Roman withdrawal called it ‘hamm’, a Saxon word meaning ‘the meadow in the bend of the river’. A farm, a ‘tun’ was set up, or renamed, and its estate and later parish became known as Hammtun, the ‘river-bend-meadow farm’. Finds of Saxon type have been found on the meadows, near the later Meadow Farm (now New Leaf Farm), dating from the 6th to the 8th centuries.
Today Bathampton Meadows lie within the Green Belt and the Setting of the Bath World Heritage Site. They contribute significantly to one of the six main reasons (Values) that define why Bath has been given World Heritage status. As such they are protected from development, as set out in the Site Supplementary Planning Document.
They are also surrounded by the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Bath Conservation Area, the National Trust Protected Bath Skyline and form a natural and highly visible bowl between the villages of Batheaston, Bathampton and Bathford.
As such they should be beyond reach in terms of significant or harmful development. Indeed planning applications for small dwellings on these Meadows have been turned down on more than one occasion and as recently as 2016 because they would cause irreparable harm to the location. And yet BANES seems determined to develop them with large scale transport projects.
Previous attempts to develop a park and ride on the Meadows
Bath and North East Somerset Council has 3 existing P&R sites to the north, south and west of the city. Having a fourth site to the east has been attempted before, but this has historically been prevented by a lack of funding, changing political administrations and public opposition.
Planning permission was given for a site on Bathampton meadows (known as site F) in 2009 by the then Conservative administration. This was part of a wider scheme known as The Bath Package. The decision to have an eastern P&R was extremely unpopular and was abandoned, along with other elements of The Bath Package, by the incoming Liberal Democrat administration in July 2011, when they faced the withdrawal of funding by central government for capital projects. The incoming administration resolved to focus on alternatives to a park and ride and the 2014 Transport Strategy was focused on a park and rail solution as its ultimate goal.
Current attempt to develop the Meadows
The change of political administration in 2015 led to the Conservatives fulfilling their manifesto pledge to consult on a proposed site for a park and ride. As a campaign we are at pains to point out that the current Administration only committed to consulting on an East P&R site, not delivering one.
The public consultation in Autumn 2015 was so poorly evidenced and run (it was possible to fill in multiple times online and with only partial postcodes) that 80 people turned out to the Full Council meeting on 12th November to speak against the plans – an unprecedented reaction. From this, a group of local residents has come together to fight what they believe is an ill-conceived and badly evidenced plan, which is politically motivated. The consultation result was that 51% of people were against a P&R on the Meadows.
A key focus for our campaign is to research and put into the decision-making process the evidence that is so badly missing from the Council’s arguments and case for change. We are very fortunate to have input from Andrew Lea, a Customer Insight Professional with many years’ experience in his field. Andrew has analysed the Council’s own P&R parking data to conclude that existing sites are severely underused. Another campaign member, Fiona Powell, has a similar background and has focused on the broader lack of data setting out why people travel by car and therefore might need a new P&R. The lack of insight into the school run/commute is a particular concern and we have commissioned our own research as a result. Here is the research.
Our work has been put forward in written reports, letters, presentations and videos. In particular we:
- February 2016: Held a public meeting with senior council leaders
- March 2016: Took part in the Council’s scrutiny day covering an integrated transport solution to the East of Bath
- July 2016: Shot a video with Amy Williams MBE, setting out our campaign and asking for financial pledges of support that has had 12,000 views
- October 2016:
- Met with the new council Chief Executive Ashley Ayre
- Supported the Bath Preservation Trust speaking at Planning Inspector hearings on the Council’s Placemaking plan
- Released a video showing severe under-usage at Odd Down P&R
We have spoken at many Full Council and Cabinet meetings since November 2015, following our work up with letters to Councillors. We have also joined with our wider community to take part in events such as:
- A 200-strong choir singing a brilliantly-adapted version of Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell on New Leaf Farm with Amy Williams
- A carol service on the Meadows led by local church leaders, as well as an Easter Cross walk
- A mass ramble on the Meadows and beyond to Solsbury Hill
- Presenting a 12,000-signature petition to Downing Street
- Protests at key council meetings
- Leaflet deliveries across the City setting out our key messages
The most worrying thing for us as a campaign is that the Council have said that they are listening, have heard our evidence in person, have asked to work with us as a result, but never called. Their private consultants have listened properly however and have altered their recommendations as a result. They have now suggested that the council wait and see if uptake at existing sites can be approved and have heavily revised downwards the benefit that could be expected at any East P&R to being 100 cars off the London Road at peak time by 2029. Over 18,000 cars travel the London Road daily so 100 at peak times is virtually nothing, especially at a cost of up to £21m in current austere times. It is politics that stops the council altering their plans to do something that will actually improve congestion and pollution for residents and this is unacceptable.