The Podium, Northgate Street, City Centre
The Podium is an unlisted late 20th century building and car park situated within the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site, overlooking the River Avon to the east. The application proposes alterations to the roof level of the Podium building as well as both car park access stairs from Walcot Street and the courtyard to the immediate east of the Hilton Hotel.
In principle, BPT is supportive of sensitive sustainability retrofits, where deemed appropriate, within the historic environment. Our position in a relation to the appropriateness of a range of measures is set out in our publication Warmer Bath: A Guide to Improving the Energy Efficiency of Traditional Homes in the City of Bath. In light of the current Climate Emergency, we appreciate the urgency of reducing energy consumption and carbon production, as well as upgrading our existing historic housing stock to meet modern standards of living and thermal performance. This application therefore provides a significant opportunity for the large-scale, concealed installation of PV panels in the city centre with a negligible impact on the historic environment on Bath. We feel this constitutes a valuable example of the much-needed retrofitting of commercial buildings within the city centre that would hopefully serve as a sensitive and non-invasive precedent for works.
Therefore, we feel that if proposal such as this could be got right, and before and after data collected to evidence improvements in efficiency, it could be used as a best practice example that would help further future retrofits to buildings of historic significance within Bath.
The suitability of energy-efficient retrofits in relation to heritage significance, effectiveness, and the risk of unintended consequences must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In principle, the Trust maintains the use of timber cladding within an ‘inner city’ context is inappropriate. Bath’s urban core has a distinctive local vernacular in which the use of timber would be an incoherent insertion that would not relate visually or architecturally within its historic context. The Trust maintains that the use of timber cladding is better suited within rural or green settings due to its soft, natural finish, colouring, and weathering. This application in its current form would therefore pose an unwelcome precedent for the introduction of timber cladding into the core of the Bath conservation area and WHS with resulting harm to the established material, architectural, and aesthetic character of the city. We would strongly recommend that this application considers other possible material palettes that would better incorporate and complement the character of its setting.
We therefore strongly recommend that both stair enclosures utilise the same design to exclude the unwelcome timber aspect from this application. The principle of the metal railing design seems appropriate and retains a desirable level of visual permeability, although the suitability of the design is dependent on the provision of further construction and material details, such as the type of metal to be used and the type of stone to form the railing base. We additionally recommend that 1:1 scale joinery details are provided to the LPA to ensure a high quality approach to new insertions within the streetscape, to preserve and enhance the appearance and character of the conservation area.