11 July 2023
In 2019, Bath and North East Somerset declared a Climate Emergency and a year later, in 2020, also an Ecological Emergency recognising the severity of the degradation of the natural environment and loss of wildlife, the consequences of this, and the urgent need to take action to restore nature.
Responding to the Climate Emergency is one of Bath and North East Somerset Council’s core policies, alongside giving people a bigger say.
The decision to sell the Entry Hill depot site without an Ecological Impact Assessment and without proper consultation is failing local residents on those two core policies.
Before taking a decision about the future of the currently unused site, we asked that the committee halts this process and asks for an Environmental Impact Assessment and the production of a detailed report on the proposed use as a manufacturing site versus that of building council housing. Here is my statement to the scrutiny panel chair:
Less than a month before the Local Elections, on 13 April 2023, former cabinet member for resources, Cllr Richard Samuel approved a plan to give council officers the authority to sell or lease the Entry Hill Depot site to a local manufacturing company.
The Entry Hill depot site is a council-owned plot of land in a former stone quarry next to the former Entry Hill Golf Course. Two residential streets with around 20 homes sit directly along the site, with further properties neighbouring the site on the other side of the road, opposite the entrance to the depot.
The process of quickly selling the land means that an Environmental Impact Assessment on the site has not taken place, so the detail for this is not in place. All Councillors are supportive of the needs for the area to have good jobs and local businesses, but the rush to sell this land without any environmental processes in place at a time when the Council has declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency does appear to be questionable.
This decision was called in on 20 April 2023 by 16 Councillors. While I wasn’t one of the original signatories, I am here today to discuss this decision, which many at the time believed to be rushed and unfair due to the local elections. I will highlight our concerns and I will discuss why I think the council’s decision to dispose of the land undermines the Council’s Climate and Ecological Emergency declarations, strategic priorities, and policies.
The first reason given for the decision to lease or sell the land is Biodiversity Net Gain and that this can be achieved by the company’s development plans for the land.
Biodiversity Net Gain is a new process designed for the planning system to make sure new development delivers a net positive impact on the natural environment.
While we accept that the plans for a new factory could achieve Biodiversity Net Gain, mostly by only developing part of the land, it is not a good reason for a sale.
No due consideration has been paid to the impact that the disposal of the Entry Hill Depot will have on the local ecology of the area, including species with European legal protection, such as bats.
The felling of mature trees on this site will have serious, adverse, repercussions to wildlife and could result in permanent environmental damage.
The second reason given for the sale is that residential or mixed use development is not achievable on the land, because of contamination and the difficulty of showing Biodiversity Net Gain.
The Lib Dem administration have previously said that the only thing holding them back from building more social housing was the difficulty in acquiring land. The report clearly states that the land is presently contaminated, if this is the case, is it safe for workers to be on this site too?
The Council does already own this piece of land, so why not consider in depth the cost of making this site a place for council owned residential housing as an option before taking a decision?
With the Local Plan taking place at the moment, this seems a good opportunity to revisit the plans for the land.
The former Entry Hill Golf Course, next door to the Entry Hill depot site, has been subject to controversy over the last few years because of the plans for a Bike Park, which were stopped after extensive consultations, including with the local and wider community.
For the decision on the Entry Hill depot, there was insufficient consultation; with only five days allowed for responses.
Councillors have also expressed deep concerns about transparency, as the site was not listed on the market but sold via the Red Book valuation approach.
My main concern is that the Council seems to be keen to welcome a factory into a densely populated residential area of our city, within a World Heritage Site, without any regard for the ecological environment or the community.
In addition, Entry Hill has been selected as one of the 15 Liveable Neighbourhoods areas, a decision made in June 2021, long before the decision on the disposal of the Entry Hill depot site was taken. No consideration seems to have been given to the fact that the entrance to the depot site is within the Liveable Neighbourhood area of Entry Hill.
According to the council’s website, “Liveable Neighbourhoods is a community-led programme that aims to improve residential streets and encourage safe, active and more sustainable forms of travel, such as walking, wheeling and cycling.”
“Typical improvements suggested by communities are:
The decision to dispose of the Entry Hill depot site is the opposite of a community-led decision with minimal consultation within the Council and no community consultation.
One of the reasons for not considering residential development of the Entry Hill depot site is given: “A housing site with more movement by car, pedestrians and cyclists will involve more design input and is more difficult to achieve.”
Yet, the proposed use as a manufacturing site would potentially have far more motorised movements, with 15 staff regularly travelling by car, and further compounded by the introduction of significant HGV traffic into a narrow residential street. This use would force far more significant and involved design input while undermining the Council's flagship Liveable Neighbourhood programme with its beneficial aim: an area where safe, active, and more sustainable forms of travel are supposed to be dominant.
I ask that this committee halts this process in the short term and asks for an Environmental Impact Assessment and the production of a detailed, comparative, costs and benefits analysis of this proposed use versus that of building council housing.
Please note again that all Councillors fully support the need for business in the city, but it does require that due diligence is taken on this matter, especially when the land is owned by the taxpayer and the sale of it would have to take place in a matter of weeks.