Miles Kington: Council in hot water over farce of the Spa

The flow of water in Bath continues unabated but the flow of great men of vision and energy has dried up
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I wonder if you saw the main headline in the first issue of the year of my local paper, the Bath Chronicle.

Just in case you didn't, here it is.

"2006 - Year Of The Spa".

Yes, finally Bath Spa will be able to call itself Bath Spa without being in danger of offending the Trade Descriptions Act.

Yes, this is going to be the year in which the brilliant new Spa building, designed by Nicholas Grimshaw and built by Mowlem, will finally open.

Unfortunately, it is not the first year that has been the Year of the Spa. 2002 was a very good Year of the Spa, because that was when it was going to open first. 2003 was another good year of the Spa, because that was when the Three Tenors came to Bath to give a concert to celebrate the opening, and although everyone enjoyed the concert, the Spa itself did not open. Nor in 2004 or in 2005, both very good Years of the Spa in their own way, even if the Spa did not actually open.

(Every time the Spa was on the verge of opening, new troubles were found. Water was leaking from the pool ... the paint was peeling ... the council were dissatisfied with Mowlem, the contractors, and expelled them ... Costs spiralled ...)

A year ago, the council, which rejoices under the euphonious name of Bath and North East Somerset, though normally known as BANES, was visited by the then government minister in charge of construction, Nigel Griffiths. He had a look at the Spa. He listened to the story so far. He said that BANES must be "the most incompetent council in the country" and went away again.

Now, I live near Bath, though just across the international border in Wiltshire, and although there is a certain perverse pleasure in watching a great city mismanage itself, you cannot help feeling sorry for the old place.

The one great asset Bath has is the constant flow of natural hot water from underground springs, which is what brought the Romans here in great numbers, and what brought 18th-century society here in even greater numbers. It also brought men of great vision to Bath - Ralph Allen, John Wood and so on - who had the energy and stamina to build a great city on the muddy bend in the river.

The flow of water continues unabated, but the flow of great men of vision and energy has dried up.

This was first noticed in the 1960s, when Bath started knocking down some of its finest streets and replacing them with dreary modern blocks and tawdry shopping centres. It was noticed by Jan Morris when she lived here, and wrote that Bath may have inherited the architecture of a city, but it had the heart of a small market town and was run by people who were best suited to running a small market town.

It is noticeable with the ongoing farce of the Spa.

And it is noticeable again this year as BANES prepares to push ahead with a plan to install a new park 'n' ride scheme in Lambridge.

Lambridge is a suburb of Bath on the A4 as it comes from London.

There is a big field between the road and the river which is presently the Bath rugby club's practice pitch. BANES plans to turn this into a car park. What was not originally taken into account was that the river Avon floods the field from time to time, so they will have to raise the level of the car park by two metres. This, though very expensive, will stop it flooding. Unfortunately, somewhere else has to be found to take the flood water, so, although very expensive, BANES plan to dig a huge hole upstream in Bathampton Meadows ...

Enough. The point is that the estimated cost of all this would be £6m. This would make each car parking space cost thousands of pounds. It would make the Lambridge scheme the most expensive park 'n' ride scheme in the country.

I suppose that is logical, if it is created by "the most incompetent council in the country".

More of this tomorrow, if we both have the strength.