So many of the issues that interest the business community are interconnected. It can be difficult to separate a single subject and tackle it in isolation explains Ian Bell, Executive Director of Bath Chamber of Commerce.
For example, the other day I was involved in a discussion about the Council’s proposal to force owners who want to use their properties for multiple occupancy into applying for planning permission.
The logic behind it is that there are some streets in the city where the residents are unhappy that too many houses are used as student accommodation and democratically elected councillors are reacting to that, which is fair enough.
However, the downside is that investors could be put off from buying houses for this purpose, the supply will be limited and the prices could rise. The effect of this is that it will make it even more likely that the young people we need to help our local economy grow will be tempted to go elsewhere to live and work, not necessarily students, but people just starting out in the world of employment who can’t rent a whole house, let alone buy one.
Another solution to the problem would be to limit the number of these houses in any one street and encourage owners to look elsewhere in the city for an investment opportunity. But they tend not to do that because of a seemingly completely unconnected issue – the “T” word – Transport.
Lower Bristol Road is well served by transport links so that students can get easily to both Universities and those working in the city centre can do likewise, so that is where investors naturally congregate. However, if there were better bus services elsewhere in the city then that would open up other parts and attract the people who want to create houses where young people could rent rooms they could afford.
It’s amazing how many subjects find a connection back to transport. The Chamber and the Initiative were very supportive of the original Bath Transportation Package proposal to create a park and ride to the east of the city. That wasn’t just about providing additional spaces, which would be welcome, and it wasn’t just about reducing congestion on the London Road, which would be delightful. It was about reducing the need for city centre car parking and allowing a site such as Avon Street to be much more effectively used as a wonderful modern office building with an attractive outlook onto the river which would draw new business into our city and allow existing businesses to expand and prosper.
Without a decent transport system our economy will be held back on so many fronts. But it would be a mistake to try to solve the various problems in a piecemeal fashion. If you do that you will simply sort out an issue in one place and potentially cause a worse situation somewhere else – the law of unintended consequences.
What we really need is a broad and strategic transport plan which starts with first principles – who needs to travel, where and for what reasons. It is not an impossible task but one in which the whole community needs to be involved. The business community is ready to play its part in the debate – it’s one which matters to us all.
PUBLICATION: Bath Chronicle - March 2012