Leading Article: A small price to end the battle for Bath

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The Independent Online
THERE cannot be many points of agreement between the inhabitants of Bath's 18th-century Royal Crescent, and the operators whose double-decker tourist buses rumble past their drawing-room windows every six minutes. But both sides would probably agree that many of our towns and cities have become battlegrounds where locals and tourists go to war.

The problems caused by tourism are not confined to Britain. The Louvre in Paris and the Vatican in Rome have become a little too popular for their own good. But nothing in Europe can compare with Ryoan-ji, the medieval Zen garden in Kyoto, Japan. Visitors who go there to admire the serene minimalism of its raked gravel and moss-covered rocks find themselves blinded by the flashes of a million cameras, and deafened by a pre-recorded history of the garden blasted over loudspeakers for the benefit of visiting tour groups.

In Bath, the wealthy inhabitants of the Crescent argue rightly that their case is different because it involves the invasion of their privacy. They feel they are on show. But they cannot claim to be surprised by the visitors' interest in their houses. The Crescent's inhabitants should have known what to expect when they moved in, and the congestion they face is at least partly offset by the present value of their homes.

The dispute between the residents and the bus operators puts the city and county councils in a difficult position. It would be irresponsible of them to turn the tourists away from Bath, since they bring prosperity to the city and indirectly provide its residents with better shops and theatres than they would otherwise have. Yet local politicians may still conclude that further limits on the traffic are needed.

Rather than simply ban the tourist buses outright, the city might consider imposing a toll - perhaps of pounds 1 per passenger - to cover the high cost of maintaining the Crescent's 18th-century roadway. Tourists who then take the lazy route - seeing the houses from inside the bus and irritating the city's inhabitants - would then be forced to pay for the privilege. Or they could save the price of a cup of tea, take a breath of fresh air, and enjoy a stroll around the Crescent instead. The choice would be theirs - but a surprising number might opt to walk.