Page last updated at 17:22 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Bath sweats over Heritage Police visit

By Dave Harvey
BBC Points West Business Correspondent

City of Bath: The Circus
Bath is the only entire city on the UNESCO World Heritage list

Roman legionnaires have billeted here. The war against Napoleon was directed by one of its citizens. Now a United Nations team is to visit Bath for three days. Their mission? To see if the city still deserves its coveted accolade as a World Heritage Site.

The Great Barrier Reef, the Serengeti Desert, the Pyramids of Egypt and Temple of Apollo are all on the list.

To be deemed a heritage site, a place has to be of "outstanding universal value" and the list comprises wonders of nature and the cultural triumphs of mankind.

Bath is unique in the UK. There are some 27 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list, but Bath is the only entire city to be listed.

The citation calls Bath "a city that is harmonious and logical, in concord with its natural environment and extremely beautiful."

But that has not prevented the city worrying the heritage police.

Skyline concerns

The reason is no surprise to any Bathonian: Western Riverside; a harmless sounding name for a development that has split the city.

Council planners have given outline permission to build 2,200 houses, with shops, a school and a park, right next to the river.

New development plans: view of Victoria Bridge
The Western Riverside area has been derelict for years
The area has been derelict for years and is well known for the 118ft (36m) high gasometer which already dominates the Bath skyline.

"We're not against all change, but this will ruin the skyline for ever," said Caroline Kay.

Ms Kay runs the Bath Preservation Trust (BTP), the leading independent heritage group in the city.

Developers and modernisers claim the BPT blocks any change, but Caroline Kay rebuts the "city in aspic" charge vigorously.

"We were supporters of the new Spa project from the start, and we have no problem with contemporary architecture. But this is nine storeys high, far too big for Bath," she said.

It is true the new development includes some nine-storey buildings, almost as high as the current gasometers.

But defenders of the scheme point to the massive Empire Hotel, standing next to Pulteney Bridge in the centre of the city.

'Housing need'

At 108ft (33m) at its pinnacle, it is almost 10ft (3m) higher than anything proposed for Western Riverside. Proof, argue the developers, that tall is not always ugly.

Bath is well-used to rows like this. Locals often complain that it is like living in a museum, with every new business or road scheme peered at by the heritage police.

"It's really important this happens," insisted local businessman Colin Skellett who is Chairman of Wessex Water and speaks for many firms in the area.

"There is not much brownfield land in Bath and this city really needs more housing, really needs more land for business. We can't let it slip now."

Mr Skellett is no fan of the particular design, saying he has had "some concerns".

But developers have so many people to please, they can end up torn in all directions.

The battle over Western Riverside is not a battle the UN wants to get embroiled in. There will be no blue berets in the Pump Rooms any time soon.

But if the UNESCO heritage team signals any concern, however polite, over the new development then the planners may reconsider those tall buildings.

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Biggleswade Chronicle Bath's world heritage site status reviewed - 16 hrs ago
Kings Lynn News Bath's world heritage site status reviewed - 22 hrs ago

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