Make room for culture and the creative industries – give them space to grow – or risk Bath losing out on jobs, influence and any chance of becoming the creative industries capital of the South West.
This seemed to be the central plea put forward during a round table discussion with Bath’s new MP Ben Howlett, B&NES councillors and leading members of the cultural and creative sectors in the city.
It was a meeting chaired by the Cultural Forum – an independent membership organisation which champions the role and value of the arts, culture and heritage in the life of our communities.
Ben Howlett said he believed the Arts were not a drain on the economy and that the cultural and creative sectors were the lifeblood of Bath.
Reacting to calls for the Council to make room for the arts – and the difficulties of even getting short-term use of empty local authority-owned properties – he said B&NES should look at opportunities and not prevention.
He went on to talk about the coming closure of the Mineral Water Hospital and the long-empty King Edward’s old school building in Broad Street as examples of situations where Council action now could generate new spaces for things other than restaurant or bar conversions.
He wanted some sort of protection orders to stop these historic buildings being swallowed up by such commercial ventures.
Council leader Tim Warren said B&NES had to save 38 million pounds over four years to make up a reduction in Government funding and resources would decrease. The Council was expected to do more for less.
He thought B&NES was more supportive of the Arts than many other local authorities in the region but stressed that they had to be there for everybody. Bringing Arts to the main body of people and not just a privileged few.
He spoke of how important volunteers were to help ease the financial situation .
Answering criticism of the lack of opportunity to use empty council property for artistic means he said local authorities were told by central government to ‘maximise revenue through rents’ and the council’s property stock was a money earner.
Cllr Patrick Anketell-Jones – who has the culture and heritage brief on B&NES – said the Council was keen to hear from the cultural and creative sector. They wanted to understand its needs, but he said, B&NES could not be a financier for the Arts anymore.
He also spoke of the ‘gentrification’ of Bath in that affluence draws in developers seeking a maximum return on their investment. The transformation of the city centre tended to push out the Arts and he agreed Bath was losing those spaces and that finding room for the Arts was a bit of a challenge .
He hoped the way forward was seeking more collaboration with commercial concerns to include space for the Arts in redevelopments and repairing relations with the Arts Council.