Defenders of Bath 'jewel' aim to stop tour buses: Residents say Royal Crescent should close. Martin Whitfield reports

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The Independent Online
BATH'S Royal Crescent, an architectural gem, is a must for any tourist. So much so that up to 10 open-top double-decker busloads pass every hour.

At peak times there can be two or three buses in front of the 30 houses overlooking the city and hills on the opposite side of the river Avon. Queues of passengers often await their turn for the city tours.

But the residents have had enough. A ban on ordinary tourist coaches, voluntary restrictions on the number of open-top buses and the outlawing of loudspeaker commentaries have not been sufficient. The target is now to get the crescent closed.

Conflict between bus companies and residents is common in Bath, a city dedicated to attracting tourists. Home owners have been known to pelt tourists with rotten apples and there have been allegations that chemicals have been used to destroy bushes and hedges obscuring bus passengers' vantage points.

The crescent's original roadway, built between 1767-75 and laid out in stone setts, each cut to fit the curvature of the road, is the latest battleground. Residents say the buses are causing it to disintegrate. Avon County Council says repairs will cost more than pounds 200,000, more than Bath's annual road maintenance budget.

But bus operators claim to represent the needs of everyday people against the vested interests of the rich occupants of pounds 1m houses.

'It's not what you are in Bath, it's who you are,' said Christopher Ryan, owner of Ryans Coaches and operator of open-top tours to the crescent.

'These people have lots of money and are well connected. If you go half a mile away, there are Georgian houses on bus routes where passengers can look through the windows. Why should those people in Royal Crescent be able to dictate to the city because of who they are?'

The allegation that the Royal Crescent Society - president Air Chief Marshall, Sir John Barraclough, vice-president the Earl of Stockton - speaks only for the rich and powerful touches a raw nerve with Michael Daw, its chairman, a retired Admiralty civil servant.

'Most of the houses are in flats, there are a couple of millionaires, but there are lots of everyday people and one house is a council house.

'It's a common myth that we are all rich and influential people and a myth that needs to be dispelled. We welcome tourists, but not in buses. They are inappropriate in the setting,' he said.

'We are the only people who defend this crescent against creeping commercialisation. We take the view that Royal Crescent is the jewel in the crown in Bath,' said Mr Daw. Martin Curtis, regional director of Badgerline, which runs up to five buses an hour through the crescent, says his company will fight any attempt to close the route to through traffic.

'We have so many restrictions. Our buses aren't allowed to pause for people to take photographs. We can't give a commentary. They say our buses are visually intrusive but lines of their parked cars seem to be acceptable,' he said.

The issue has been before Bath City Council and Avon County Council and is due to be the subject of a joint meeting to try to find a solution before the tourist season begins in earnest at Easter.

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