Bath is an unusual place for many reasons, but surely one of the strangest is the fact that the local authority is the owner of a very large proportion of commercial property in the City, worth many millions.
In good times the estate provides Bath and North East Somerset Council with much needed income to spend on the likes of social care and other essential services. But it’s a different story when we face a more difficult trading scene.
So, it’s welcome news that the Council is proposing to embark on a complete review of its commercial estate and work out a new strategy. It’s a particularly good time to do this because there seems to be change in the offing across the board, affecting retail, office and residential property.
The way we shop may have been permanently changed so that when people go to the High Street, they are looking for the experience of a day out, only part of which involves seeking out items to buy. Similarly, we are not sure whether businesses will need smaller premises in future with more staff working from home for at least part of the week. And of course, there continues to be high demand for housing, especially from those who would prefer to be able to walk or cycle to their place of work. That means finding ways of delivering homes close to the City centre.
All of these factors will have a bearing on how the Council’s property estate should develop, and a lot of careful thought will be needed to ensure the assets are used in the most appropriate way, producing the much needed income but also helping to shape the future of the district.
Among the membership of the Chamber and Initiative we have a wealth of knowledge and experience in this area and I know those people will be eager to contribute to the review to produce the best outcome. They not only know how the local property market operates but have a wide experience of other places from whom we could learn. For instance, there are examples where independent bodies have been set up to administer property portfolios and that may be something worth considering in Bath.
That wouldn’t mean handing over public property to people who would simply sell it off. Far from it. This is not about selling the family silver, but rather re-arranging the way it’s displayed and giving it a good polish so it continues to look its best for years to come.