Francis Hotel, 6 – 11 Queen Square, City Centre, Bath
5-11 Queen Square, now the Francis Hotel, is a Grade I series of terraced townhouses later amalgamated into a single hotel situated within the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site. It forms part of a monumental ensemble of Grade I buildings on Queen Square by John Wood the Elder and as such forms part of a significant example of Georgian town planning and innovations in dramatic urban topography. It therefore strongly contributes to the OUV of the World Heritage Site. The proposed focus of works is the area of public seating located along the eastern elevation of the building, forming part of the public realm of Barton Street. The area of existing seating is located on private land and indicated to not form part of the public highway.
Application 15/04046/FUL retrospectively secured the principle of outdoor seating on this site, with a total of 6x tables, 12x benches, and 2x freestanding parasols. This superseded earlier application 14/03970/FUL. The current seating arrangement is subject to enforcement action and varies significantly from the proposed seating layout as granted permission in 2015, as follows:
- Addition of integrated planters/seating to create compartmentalised areas of outdoor seating.
- An increased provision of freestanding parasols (6x in total).
- The stepped elevation of seating up from pavement level.
- Creation of areas of covered and raised seating further south in front of the 2016 rear extension.
- Additional features including A-boards, planting, and signage fixed to the seating planters.
BPT maintains ongoing concerns with the increasing build-up and visual permanence of seating in this area, and the resulting cumulative harm to the setting of a listed building and the character and appearance of the conservation area.
Earlier forms of outdoor seating in this area were relatively simple in scale and design, enabling increased outdoor seating provision for the use of the hotel whilst being legible as a more temporary addition to the streetscape. In comparison, the current seating arrangement is far more substantial in its scale and built form, having been raised up from pavement level and enclosed with solid planter/benches, handrails, and freestanding gazebo-style structures up against the 2016 extension. The cumulative result is of excessive visual clutter which detracts from the appearance of a Grade I listed building, and its contribution to the visual amenities of the streetscape.
Whilst BPT is not averse to the sensitive implementation of outdoor seating schemes and recognises the attributed benefits such as the increased activation of the streetscape and cited economic benefits for local businesses, we maintain that seating proposals should be proportionate to the sensitive aesthetic and historic qualities of the site’s context. We do not consider that this existing seating arrangement responds sensitively to the positive qualities of the historic environment. Furthermore, the proposed seating is of a considerable scale and appearance which could not be removed outside of opening hours, and therefore features as a more permanent fixture within the streetscape to the detriment of its visual amenity.
It is further unclear as to how the proposed seating can be justified through increased public benefit, when the benefits of offering quality outdoor seating and the ability to increase customer capacity could be met with a much simpler seating design.
In considering B&NES Council’s adopted guidance ‘Commercial signage and tables and chairs on the highway’, it is specified that “High backed benches and planters used to demarcate space are unlikely to be acceptable. Similarly accompanying planters which further privatise public space will not be considered acceptable.” The perceived build-up and enclosure of this space would therefore fail to preserve or enhance the open character of Bath’s commercial streetscape, or the character and appearance of the conservation area.
Proposals would not preserve or enhance the special character and appearance of the Bath Conservation Area or World Heritage Site, and would have an adverse impact on the setting of a Grade I heritage asset. The application is therefore contrary to the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, section 16 of the NPPF, and Policies B1, BD1, B4, CP6, D1, D2, D4, D6, D9, and HE1 of the Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan, and should be refused.