A row broke out as Bath & North East Somerset Council’s top officer revealed the city’s so-called ring of steel is the result of security advice dating back five or six years.
Conservative group leader Cllr Vic Pritchard was criticising the Lib Dem administration’s controversial £2.7million anti-terrorism measures approved in July which he said treated disabled people with “contempt” and would do little to thwart an attack.
Cllr Pritchard told a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Thursday, 9th September, there was no need for the proposals, which include timed restrictions on food and parcel deliveries into a secure zone.
He said: “You are intent on introducing a ring of steel. You don’t have to put the ring of steel in.
“You are doing it under the pretence that there is going to be a terrorist attack.
“If a terrorist is intent on attacking this city, there are a number of ways they can do it without the encumbrance of a ring of steel.”
He said the decision made disabled people feel “invisible and forgotten”.
“We recognise that changes have been incorporated into the plans to allow a degree of access for blue badge holders but it is not good enough that our disabled residents are still being treated with contempt.”
B&NES Council deputy leader Cllr Richard Samuel asked if chief executive Will Godfrey could share the advice the authority received from the police and security services which “Cllr Pritchard seems determined to ignore and denigrate down to cheap words – ‘ring of steel’ – something I don’t recognise”.
Mr Godfrey told members: “It’s not for me to get into any political debate, I will simply state some of the information we have received and some of the context for this.
“The trigger for the original conversations was a nationwide review of city centres in terms of counter-terrorism. Bath was one of the places to review city centre security.
“That intelligence was not shared as I understand it with council officers because that gets shared with the chief constable and then there were conversations with the police about the most appropriate and proportionate response to that examination of the anti-terrorism issue that had been raised through that evaluation.
“From memory this goes back to 2016 or 2015 and obviously we have now got to the point where, based on that evidence and based on conversations with the police, proposals have been brought forward.
“It is not for me to make any comment as to the politics of it, I am simply stating the process that has been gone through for the authority to get to this point.”
Cllr Pritchard told cabinet members: “What I’m interested in is the statement I’ve just heard from the chief executive that five or six years ago there was a directive that you have chosen – it wasn’t in your manifesto but you have chosen to implement these measures.
“Are similar schemes being introduced in Manchester, Birmingham, London that have been subject to terrorist atrocities?
“Are there rings of steel that deny access in those cities?”
Council leader Cllr Kevin Guy replied: “The short answer is yes, of course those cities have implemented security measures.
“There is no such thing as a ring of steel around Bath. It’s a stupid statement made up by yourself.”
Earlier this month Cllr Pritchard appealed to Transport Secretary Grant Schapps to stop the “senseless and destructive policy” that he said would lock disabled people out of the city centre and further the administration’s “anti-motoring agenda”.
Cabinet members insisted the measures were necessary and proportionate to keep people safe and criticised the Tory group leader at last week’s meeting for trying to undermine their democratically made decision.
The measures will require residents to apply for permits for larger deliveries or scaffolding, and tradespeople will be forced to park outside the secure zone and wheel their kit in on trolleys.
Accessibility consultants Atkins warned that removing all parking would mean some disabled people “having to endure pain for longer and at higher levels” than some could endure.
Following changes backed by Avon & Somerset Police, core streets around the Abbey will be open to traffic between 6pm and 10am daily, with York Street not reopening until 10pm to allow for the heavier anticipated footfall going to the Clore Centre when it opens.
Residents will be able to comment when the traffic regulation orders are published this month.
Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter