The Scala, Shaftesbury Road, Oldfield Park, Bath
The Scala is an early 20th century cinema, now retail space and vacant dance studio, situated within the Bath World Heritage Site and the indicative townscape setting of the Bath conservation area. Whilst unlisted, it remains a building of local historic and architectural significance, and is recognised as a Non-Designated Heritage Asset (NDHA). The Scala is situated just off Moorland Road, a popular local retail high street, but its setting remains primarily residential with a high concentration of 19th century two-storey terraces to both the north and south. In views along Third Avenue, its classical-style frontage forms a striking end point and it features as a notable landmark in local views to the south and east.
BPT previously lodged an objection to refused application 20/00552/FUL on grounds of the proposed height, scale, and massing of the proposed courtyard building. We felt that the scale of development would be out of character with the established grain and roof profile of its localised townscape and would consequently fail to reinforce local distinctiveness and would harm the visual amenity value of the townscape and the setting of a NDHA.
We are, therefore, pleased to see that this application seeks to address our concerns and recognise more appropriately the development’s contribution within its low-rise townscape setting.
We continue to maintain the following points:
• We support the principle of development in this location, and we remain strongly in favour of a balanced mix of uses across the site. The improved permeability of the site and access from both Shaftesbury Road, Livingstone Road, and Arlington Road would ensure the development remains connected with its wider residential context.
• We have no objections to the proposed demolition of the 1960s extension, which is felt to be of negligible historic or aesthetic value. We continue to be supportive of the retained design for the proposed extension to the Scala. The new extension would sit more comfortably to the Scala rear without challenging the prominent, ‘standalone’ height of the historic building envelope. We maintain a preference for a connection with the historic building which would minimise the loss of historic fabric and retain the historic barrel roof structure in its entirety.
• The scheme offers a positive opportunity to break up the unwelcome expanse of hardstanding looking onto Arlington Road, and we welcome the integration of landscaping, planting, and public realm improvement measures for future residents and the creation of a new pedestrian link.
We are supportive of the reduced height of the proposed courtyard building from four to three storeys. Whilst still of considerable scale, the three storey height is considered to sit more comfortably within its 2 - 2½ storey context, and the addition of a third pitched roof and gabled end (rather than a flat roof) more strongly reflects the surrounding roofscape in wider, elevated views along Shaftesbury Road.
We appreciate that the reduction in height has reduced the overall residential capacity of the site, with a total reduction of 11 residential and student ‘units’. We welcome a more balanced approach to the viable development of the site, whilst ensuring it sustains and reflects local distinctiveness and the appearance and character of its townscape context.
We note that the dance studios are now vacant due to the relocation of ‘Freedom through Dance’ to alternative premises. However, we maintain that the community use of the first floor, whether as a dance studio or for other community activities and events, should be safeguarded as a critical element of this scheme. The current vacancy of the premises should not be considered adequate evidence of lack of demand for community space, or of adequate provision of community services off-site.
We have strong concerns regarding the speculative nature of PBSA provision on this site. Previous application 20/00552/FUL indicated that the development of student accommodation would be intended for the intake of first year students at Norland College; we were supportive of the provision of student accommodation linked to or managed by a particular university or college body which would appropriately meet evidenced local demand. However, reference to a potential partnership with Norland College has since been omitted from this application. Claims that “there is a generalised demand for more student accommodation in Bath” in the D&A Statement further indicate that this proposed PBSA is speculative, and delivered independently from a third party education provider. Further if, as is asserted, there is “generalised demand for more student accommodation in Bath”, then the applicant should be asked to produce some evidence to support the assertion.
Consequently we repeat our objection in principle to PBSA development in Bath without credible evidence of need. The repercussions of the pandemic on student numbers and the recovery of university numbers and in-person teaching models remain unclear. We question the need for the provision of further student accommodation when other PBSA providers within the city are now looking for alternative uses of their accommodation, such as short term holiday lets.
If permitted, this development would constitute the speculative development of PSBA, without demonstrated demand or justification, in an area in which there is already a high concentration of HMOs well over the designated 25% threshold. Within a predominantly residential context made up of family housing, this site remains better suited to the provision of further housing for families, young couples, or key workers, rather than contributing to the oversaturation of student numbers in this area.