Great place to live - unless you live there

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The Independent Online

There is a journalist called Jaci Stephen who lived in Bath till recently, and then, when she moved out, wrote a piece saying that Bath was a bit of a dump. The local rag, the Bath Chronicle, printed shoals of letters from readers, saying what a great place Bath was to live in. The Chronicle contacted the usual dependable mouthpieces like Don Foster MP to say what a great place Bath was. The Chronicle itself gave the impression that they thought Bath might be a great place to live in. Jaci Stephen was duly consigned to the dustbin and life moved on.

There is a journalist called Jaci Stephen who lived in Bath till recently, and then, when she moved out, wrote a piece saying that Bath was a bit of a dump. The local rag, the Bath Chronicle, printed shoals of letters from readers, saying what a great place Bath was to live in. The Chronicle contacted the usual dependable mouthpieces like Don Foster MP to say what a great place Bath was. The Chronicle itself gave the impression that they thought Bath might be a great place to live in. Jaci Stephen was duly consigned to the dustbin and life moved on.

What was funny about this is that when the Chronicle readers are not springing to the defence of Bath against uppity outsiders, they too are in a perpetual fury about the place. Gosh, how they hate the way it is run. They hate the lack of parking, the way the traffic is organised, the lorries roaring through, the scandalous haemorrhaging of money in the Bath Spa scheme, the incredible way the council has closed down almost all the public lavatories, the prevalence of late-night drunkenness, the absence of police on the streets, the invasion by seagulls, the shoddiness of almost every structure erected in Bath in 50 years, the mushrooming of binge drinking bars ...

It's not Bath itself they hate, you understand. It's what has happened to it. Especially at the hands of the council. Whichever party is in control - it doesn't seem to make much difference. What you have is a World Heritage Site, being run by people who could not manage a sweet shop satisfactorily. Bath is a genuinely important place being run by merely self-important people ... That is the feeling you get from the correspondence columns of the Bath Chronicle.

Like most people who live near Bath (10 miles away) I go shop there as little as possible. Yes, Bath does have the best local bacon, bike repairs, tea and jazz records. That's it. For anything else I go elsewhere. If I do go to Bath I chuck my bike in the back of the car, park on the outskirts and pedal round the place. If I hadn't got the park'n'pedal option, I might not go there at all. People who do park in Bath need lots of time and cash. And a witness, apparently. Several Chronicle correspondents have recently complained that they were given parking fines even though they had returned to the car in time. They had then sent their tickets to the council to prove it. And the council office had written back, claiming there was no ticket in the envelope.

When I was in Bath earlier this week, I had to go to the pet shop in Westgate Street, one of those lovely old-fashioned shops like the inside of a Christmas tree, hung high with clusters of dog leads and collars, where you make your way past overflowing bags of stuff , fearful that if you make too reckless a gesture you will dislodge generations of bird seed and dog toys.

There was a sign in the widow: CLOSING DOWN SALE.

Aghast, I asked the pet lady why.

Same old story. The council, who control her property, had announced a rent rise of 50 per cent. There was no way she could pay that. In the last few months of the shop's life she had been subsidising it out of her life savings. She couldn't go on. She would close down, and the shop would be empty. Like many another shop in Westgate Street it would become a sandwich shop, or souvenir shop, or the small outlet of a large national. Or, of course, stay empty. Bath would lose a bit more character, and gain a bit more rent to help defray the Spa fiasco...

So don't forget. If you are visiting lovely Bath, there are certain precautions you should take. Come quickly while there are still a few nice shops left. Leave your car behind. Bring your own dogfood. Take a photograph of any correspondence you have with the council. And for heaven's sake, go to the lavatory before you leave home.

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