This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of ‘The Sack of Bath‘ – a fierce and angry polemic – written by Times journalist Adam Ferguson and following on from an article he had written for the newspaper. It hi-lighted the severe threat, he considered the historic city was then under, from the policies of its council and other developers.
It was a time – 1973 – when there was talk of constructing a tunnel to take through traffic under the city.While on the surface a large swathe of small Georgian-built houses was being demolished – all in the name of modernisation and redevelopment.
The book – and Adam Ferguson’s plea for a change in attitudes – had a profound effect in applying the brakes on such wholesale clearance and the development of a different way of thinking. Conservation and heritage were new and important ‘buzz’ words and the rot was stopped.
Though not before ‘brutalist’ buildings like the Hilton Hotel (originally the Beaufort when constructed) had been plonked – like Dr Who’s Tardis – in the middle of a Georgian landscape.
At least buildings like Britain’s only 18th century royal tennis court was saved from redevelopment to become home to the Building of Bath at Work!
The book’s anniversary was mentioned at this week’s annual general meeting of Bath Preservation Trust – very happily celebrating the re-opening of No 1 Royal Crescent after a multi-million pound make-over that has doubled the number of period rooms on display and re-connected the main house with the servant’s wing next door.
The Trust’s Chief Executive, Caroline Kay said forty years on there was a new danger on Bath’s doorstep. ‘ It’s not urban this time – its green belt. There is a real threat to its landscape setting,’ she warned.
She was talking about what Chairman Edward Bayntun-Coward has already described as Bath’s ‘building boom possibly unprecedented since the 18th century.’ The Council has been told to find room for 7000 new houses as well as redeveloping several city centre and edge-of-centre areas.
Ms Kay – in her Chief Executive’s report – talked about the possibility of ‘extensive raiding of the Green Belt for housing’ and though aware of the Council’s dilemma, considered that national planning policies were not ‘particularly sensitive to the possibility that Bath, as the UK’s only whole city which is a World Heritage site, has a natural environmental capacity, going beyond which will completely alter the qualities of the city which are recognised in that status.’
There was much to be clarified but the Trust was ready to engage in all the debates about how much, how big and what all this new development should look like.
During the time for questions members voiced concerns about the number of city centre properties with empty rooms above commercial premises that could be used for housing.
There was concern also in getting some development movement going on the old and now unused King Edward’s School building in Broad Street – built by Thomas Jelly in 1752 – and now on English Heritage‘s ‘at risk’ list.
Another anxiety amongst members was the fate of ‘The Min’ – the Royal Mineral Water Hospital founded as The General Hospital in 1716 ‘for the deserving poor’ and now considered under threat from services being withdrawn from the city-centre building.