Explained: How Bath’s ring of steel has taken shape
Bath’s controversial “ring of steel” to protect the city from terror attacks has been years in the making. Here is how the plans have taken shape. Bath and North East Somerset Council has worked with Avon and Somerset Police and counter terrorism security advisors (CTSAs) on work to protect areas of high footfall since 2016.
Read more: ‘Beloved’ former North East Somerset Labour parliamentary candidate die s A report from that year has been withheld from the public because it contains information on the prevention, investigation or prosecution of crime. Subsequent council documents have revealed that it raised the issue of a potential terrorist threat to Bath’s crowded streets near the Abbey Churchyard and recommended increased security in the area.
The police have offered reassurance that there is no specific threat against the city, but in a risk assessment published in July judged that a vehicle attack was likely and the severity would be significant. The documents say the focus was on harm caused by vehicles rather than other types of attacks – which have residents had said was a hole in the defences – because training and improved CCTV training had reduced the risk of a terrorist using a bomb or gun. However, it said most deaths from such attacks occur within the first few minutes, before the police are able to respond and “therefore one death or 100 deaths will have a high severity outcome and is hard to mitigate.”
Conversations between the council and CTSAs began in 2017 with a look at security arrangements for the Christmas market.
A view from behind the security measures that protect the sheds. (Image: Paul Gillis)
“Following this initial work, further work was undertaken in 2018 including improvements to bollards in the city centre, and officers undertaking training at the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI),” a report to the cabinet meeting in July when the ring of steel was approved said. “Work was carried out in 2019 by a specialist HVM (hostile vehicle mitigation) consultant. “Following the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, temporary access restrictions were installed in the city centre, in accordance with advice from CPNI.
The secure zone proposals for the centre of Bath. B&NES Council.
“Consultation on the council’s permanent proposals for HVM in the city centre was undertaken between November 2020 and January 2021. Close liaison with the police and CTSAs continued during 2020 and 2021.”
Inspector Martin Rowland, of Avon and Somerset Police (Image: PA)
Inspector Martin Rowland from the counter-terrorism team told a November 2020 webinar on the proposals: “Our role really is to identify vulnerabilities and then to signpost to people to those solutions.
We’re very much in support of the solutions that they [the council] have suggested with this scheme.” More information on how the ring of steel has developed can be gleaned from correspondence the council has made public. On February 21, 2020, then chief constable Andy Marsh wrote to council chief executive Will Godfrey and then council leader Dine Romero recommending that they introduce an anti-terrorism traffic regulation order (ATTRO) on key roads in the centre of Bath.
He said the order would be “permanent but of a contingency nature”, allowing top officers to restrict access “to the extent they considered necessary, informed by security assessment or intelligence of a terrorist threat”. He added: “The ATTRO would be one of a package of measures designed to improve overall public safety and as such we ask B&NES Council to look at ways to further strengthen their protection in areas of high footfall/crowd density.” The council refused a Freedom of Information request for its correspondence with the police on the proposals amid fears for national security.
However, following a separate FoI request, Avon and Somerset Police released Mr Godfrey and Cllr Romero’s response to the chief constable, dated February 26 last year. In it they said the council was “proposing to install a series of physical hostile vehicle mitigation barriers, in the inner core of the city, blended into the street scene”. “These barriers will enhance our public realm and the environment, along with improving the safety and protection of both residents and visitors, and strengthen the protection of the inner core during the hours of high footfall, which is paramount to the vibrancy and economy of the city,” they said, and asked for the chief constable’s support for an ATTRO.
Critics branded the original proposals “draconian” for including a 24/7 ban on food and parcel deliveries into the secure zone, with residents required to apply for permits for larger deliveries or scaffolding, and tradespeople forced to park outside and bring their kit in on trolleys. The plans were revised in response to consultation feedback, most vocally from disability groups. Accessibility consultants Atkins warned that removing all parking would mean some disabled people would have to experience “pain for longer and at higher levels” than some would be unable to endure.
The approved measures will not result in any loss of parking for residents or blue badge holders, with the latter granted controlled access into Cheap Street, Westgate Street, Saw Close and Upper Borough Walls between 10am and 6pm by CCTV operators. The streets will be open to traffic outside of those hours. Tradespeople will be able to make one-off access requests to bring in their kit, and likewise for bulky deliveries or house moves, but most small deliveries will have to be made on foot.
One objector said it would create an “inefficient Soviet style bureaucracy”. Conservative group leader Vic Pritchard warned in September that the proposals would give authorities the power to stop blue badge holders accessing the secure zone if the national threat level increases to “severe” – as it did today – or “critical”. Noting that the threat level at the time was “substantial”, he appealed to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to stop the “senseless and destructive policy from being implemented”.
But in an email to Mr Godfrey on May 25 this year, the outgoing chief constable said the measures were supported by the police. “The counter terrorism security advisors agree the proposed controlled restricted access of vehicles into the designated area helps balance the needs of the community and businesses with the security requirements and as such would support the implementation of Option 4 as a proportionate solution,” CC Marsh said. “This option will rely heavily on effective control of any access into the designated area and the associated arrangements to maintain security and limit the relative residual risk.
“As such it will be important for the council to ensure that all the necessary mitigation protocols are in place.” The risk assessment indicates that “option 4” is the proposal to grant controlled access to blue badge holders and open the roads between 6pm and 10am. No other correspondence has been published.
Supporting the “proportionate” proposals in July, Councillor Manda Rigby, the cabinet member for transport, said access would be granted to blue badge holders, emergency vehicles and residents who need a tradesperson in a hurry, while preventing “unfettered access by unknown vehicles”. The council has since consulted on the traffic regulation orders and ATTRO. The project timeline says a final decision is on target for next month, adding: “If the decision is made to approve the TROs, we intend to bring these into effect as soon as possible, under a temporary managed arrangement.
“We also intend to engage further with user groups on the access operation and management of the permanent arrangements, to ensure it is safe but simple to access. “If we decide to go ahead with the scheme, the TROs would be in effect any time from December 2021. However, for operational reasons, work to install barriers wouldn’t start until summer 2022, and would then continue for several months.”
The “ring of steel” moniker has itself proved controversial. Hitting back at comments made by Cllr Pritchard in September, council leader Kevin Guy said: “There is no such thing as a ring of steel around Bath. It’s a stupid statement made up by yourself.”
The phrase was popularised after Cllr Romero read out a residents’ question on the proposals during a webinar.