The Bath Spa Project

Councillor Nicole O’Flaherty

Bath & North East Somerset Council

13 December 2005

The talk covered the following areas:

The hot springs
Birth of the Spa Project
The period up to summer 2003
The ‘nightmare’
Where we are now, & the future for Bath
The speaker discussed the history behind the Bath Springs since Roman times and highlighted that the original Bath Spas were built at a cost of twelve times over the original budget. The 1970s saw a decline in the Spa as water became un-bathable and the buildings were deteriorating.

In the 1990s there became a campaign to ‘Bring back our Spa’ and to create funding via the Millennium Commission. The Spas are an important tourist attraction to the City which in 2003 generated around circa 8,000 tourism related jobs, and brought into the City around £300m in revenue. ourism is therefore an important contributor to the local economy. However, tourism in the city has been gradually declining (there were 12,000 tourism related jobs in Bath in 2001) and it seemed important to re-unite Bath with its Spa culture.

When the new development was commissioned an architect, builder (Mowlem) and other services were appointed. There were delays experienced due to archaeological excavations as more historic remains were uncovered. In summer 2003, it was believed that the Project was nearing completion until the architect spotted paint peeling within the water. There then became a dispute between the architect and builder over responsibility. The City Council then had to ‘step in’ and in April 2005 the builder was thrown off the project and replaced by Capita Symonds.

Local residents were allowed to view the development of the Spa and the responses were very positive.

The budget for the Project was £23.9m in 2003 but due to the additional works, this figure escalated to £35.5m, its main funding coming from £21.6m of Bath & North East Somerset funds and £7.8m from the millennium commission. The Project is now due to open in April 2006. It was pointed out that although there is a perception by Bath residents that council tax charges have escalated to pay for the Project, in reality if you analyse charges with neighbouring councils, Bath & North East Somerset (giving Band D as an example) had the cheapest rates.

In recent years Bath, although experiencing its privilege as a ‘World Heritage Site’, has been lagging behind other cities in terms of tourism. For example, Bristol currently has more visitors than Bath, whereas a decade ago, Bath had twice the number of visitors, compared to Bristol. There were 1.82 million visitors to Bath in 2000, which reduced to 1.64 million in 2004. In addition, economic growth in the City for the five year total between 1996-2001 rose by 4% which compares unfavourably with an 18% growth for the whole of the West of England and 13% in the UK as a whole. The Bath Spa should help put Bath back on the map and increase tourism expenditure in the City by around £20m per annum.

In terms of pricing for visits to the Spa, it is estimated that a two hourly visit will cost around £19, which compares favourably to other activities. There will be discounts for Bath residents and the disabled.

However, this will not be the end of Bath’s renaissance, there is work to be done on other projects including the Bath Western Riverside development. Currently along this corridor, which occupies an amenable position alongside the river (as its name suggests) sees occupancy of a car park and coach park which do not make the best use of this attractive space.