Bath, the favoured retreat of the Romans, is awash with claims of council mismanagement

FOR THE Romans and the Georgians, the hot springs created a decadent playground. And for the thousands who visit each year to admire the glowing, golden stone buildings and historic sites, it is a remarkable cityscape.

But behind the glorious facades, Bath, a World Heritage Site and one of the country's biggest tourist attractions -mainly because its Roman Baths and Georgian Pump Room - is a divided city, with many believing it is failing its visitors and residents.

Its biggest problem is the ill-fated Bath Spa project - a leisure complex based around the hot springs - which has suffered constant delays and design faults and has now cost every person in the district pounds 98; it is at least three years behind schedule with the local authority, Bath and North-East Somerset Council, now unable to say when it will finally open.

Last month, it was announced that new boreholes will have to be dug, adding a further pounds 300,000 to the bill, while there is a continuing dispute between the council and the builders, Mowlem, about the waterproofing of the floors. The final cost could be as high as pounds 35m, almost three times the original budget while the council's share has risen from pounds 11m to pounds 17m; the remainder comes from lottery money.

Yesterday, Mowlem offered a compromise deal in which it would take over complete responsibility for the project in order to end the drain on public money; in return, it said it would guarantee the opening of the centre within six months of a handover. The council was still considering its response.

However, some say the Spa controversy is just part of a bigger picture, in which the city is suffering from poor planning, bad traffic and parking management and problems with litter, graffiti and public drinking, which means it is failing to measure up to competitors such as Edinburgh and Oxford. And even some of the lustre is disappearing from its magnificent Bath stone buildings, after a cut in grants for restoration and repair.

Martin Tracy, a member of the board of the Bath Festivals Trust and chairman of the Walcot Street Traders' Association, a street of independent shops specialising in arts and crafts, said: "The city is suffering from a kind of malaise of which the Spa is the worst example. The idea of the Spa is an excellent one but who is going to be made accountable for the mistakes?" He said that although Walcott Street was relatively safe, independent traders in other parts of the centre had been forced out because the council had imposed rent rises of up to 25 per cent.

"There seems to be an apathy about the way the city is being run, which seems incompatible with its status as a World Heritage Site ... I love this city - there are few places I'd rather live - but it is lacking in leadership. And all of my members would agree with me. We are not moaning, we just don't want the city running downhill.''

Michael Briggs, the chairman of the Bath Preservation Trust, said: "The Spa of course is an unmitigated disaster, which at least in part is due to appalling mismanagement on the part of the council."

Mr Tracey and Mr Briggs said they feared that the mistakes of the Spa would be repeated at the Southgate centre in the city, a 60s complex which, after many delays, received planning permission for redevelopment. "It is very important to get this right" said Mr Briggs.

The trust is concerned that, following the withdrawal of English Heritage grants that helped in the renovation and repair of Bath's 5,000-plus listed buildings, the city council also ended its share; their contribution had been about 40 per cent.

Mr Briggs said: "The main important buildings, such as Royal Crescent, are still in pretty good condition but many of the other, lesser properties in private hands are not ... The stone is deteriorating and not in very good condition because people cannot afford to do the work themselves. In a World Heritage Site, that is a disgrace.''

The criticism comes on top of strongly worded attacks on the city's governance by newspaper columnists. Miles Kington, of The Independent recently wrote: "What you have is a World Heritage Site run by people who could not manage a sweet shop satisfactorily.''

He accused the city of permitting too much late drinking, allowing poor buildings to be built, bad traffic management and discrimination against small shopkeepers by raising rents. Jaci Stephen, the television critic, caused a furore last year after writing in The Mail on Sunday the city was parochial, boring, crime-ridden and overcharged tourists.

Several people said the city was run by a "complacent clique" and was hampered by the fact the council was a Liberal Democrat/Independent/Conservative coalition that hampered dynamic thinking.

The council rejects many of the criticisms and cites consistenently high tourist numbers and the success of the city's Christmas market and ice rink as evidence of Bath's continued vigour. A survey of visitors rated the city's attractions higher than other British historic towns and 74 per cent said they would recommend a visit to the city. The council's leader, Paul Crossley said: "We accept there are problems with litter and parking and we are working to try and address them. So far as the Southgate development is concerned, we are replacing a rather tacky 60s development with a much more sympathetic shopping centre but the process of signing up all the leases is taking a long time.

On the Spa, Mr Crossley said: "The council is as embarrassed as anyone else and is working with the architects and builders to get the project finished."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect