Environmental protections are unlikely to come into force soon enough to stop Bath Rugby Club building a 550-space car park under its new stadium at the Rec.
Opponents have questioned how the proposed development could be allowed – inside the city’s looming clean air zone – when Bath and North East Somerset Council has declared a climate emergency.
Responding to calls for urgent action, deputy leader Richard Samuel said changing planning policies to reduce carbon emissions is “not a quick fix” and it will take time to make them legally watertight.
The club has argued the short-stay car park is a fundamental part of its redevelopment plans that will not increase journeys into the city.
Speaking a public meeting on the council’s priorities for the next year and beyond on December 18, Councillor Samuel said: “Next year we’re changing the council’s planning policies to make it more difficult for people to do things that aren’t climate friendly.
“There will be policies that encourage carbon neutral development.
“Our flagship policy will be low traffic neighbourhoods, which we intend to introduce through the city.
“We see those as a major opportunity to design traffic use to prevent rat running and degradation of residential areas by traffic. We’re putting money into that, as well as walking and cycling measures.”
Bath Rugby Club is set to submit plans early in 2020 to build an 18,000-seater stadium with a 550-space car park underneath.
Concerns have already been raised for the Bath’s World Heritage Status, and about the impact on carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions when the council has declared a climate emergency and a clean air zone is about to be introduced.
Cllr Samuel revealed the charges for high-polluting vehicles coming into the city will come into force ahead of schedule on 4th November 2020.
The rugby club says the car park would replace spaces that are set to be lost elsewhere in the city and feature charging points for electric vehicles.
It claims there will be no additional journeys into the city and sustainability is at the heart of the development.
Resident Cate Mack said: “There’s great concern about the use of road space within the city and the air quality, and the inability to resist something that will make things much worse.
“Surely there’s nothing to stop you adopting very rapidly a policy that says we will make sure that no development challenges our commitment to addressing the climate emergency.
“Just get on with it, or you’re going to lose a lot of people.”
Another member of the public said: “A car park for 550 cars would be against your environmental policy. I imagine if the club came forward with an application you would refuse it.”
Cllr Samuel said: “Everybody knows there’s been a long-running debate about what should happen at the Rec.
“We expect a planning application in the new year. We don’t know what those proposals are yet, but we know their flavour.
“When the council does receive the application it will have to consider it against its current policies, not ones we might adopt in the future.
“If we refuse applications without a sound basis, those applicants will appeal, and those decisions will be overturned.
“The council doesn’t want to be in that position. We want robust policies that have public support, are legally watertight and will work.
“You will have the ability to comment when those proposals come forward next year.
“Changing planning policies isn’t a quick fix. It takes time. You will have to bear with us.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter