Ring of Steel: The latest twist
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Conservative leader accuses the council of twisting the words of the police
A new page in the story of Bath's notorious 'Ring of Steel' turned at the Council Cabinet meeting yesterday evening, when the leader of the local Conversatives accused the Liberal Democrat council of twisting the words of the police and deceiving the public.
The Ring of Steel consists of a system of barriers and bollards that prevent vehicles from being driven down Bath city centre streets in the daytime. The protective measure has been controversial from the start. It has support from environmentalists who believe in pedestrianising the city and keeping down air pollution from traffic. But it has also hit Blue Badge drivers hard, putting large swathes of the city out of reach for them and potentially making it more difficult or painful for disabled people to get to certain parts.
The Ring of Steel is officially an anti-terrorism measure designed to prevent terrorists from driving a vehicle into crowds of people. The Liberal Democrat council, under former council leader Dine Romero, had long made reference to consultations with the police, making it seem as though the current measures had arisen largely from police counter-terrorism advice.
During the meeting, which was held via Zoom, Conservative leader Vic Pritchard held in his hand a letter written in 2020 by the then Avon and Somerset Police Chief Constable, Andy Marsh. The letter suggests that local police had not initially recommended the current system of restrictions. Instead, the force had wanted barriers that could be activated at the instruction of the police themselves when considered necessary - rather than a system of perpetual barriers under the council's control.
A key part of the letter recommended an Anti-Terrorism Traffic Order of a "contingency nature" to be operated by the police "to the extent they considered necessary, informed by security assessment or intelligence of a terrorist threat". And it suggested that any emergency restrictions would "not exceed a period of 48 hours" without prior approval from the Chief Officer of Police.
Councillor Pritchard accused the council of "twisting this advice beyond all recognition" and claimed that in so doing the council had "deceived the electorate".
This revelation has already prompted anger from at least one disabled resident, who wrote on Facebook's Bath City Centre Access Group:
They are disregarding their legal and moral obligations to equalities. They exclude us, do not update, don't come back to us when they promise. It's news to me that the barriers were only intended to be deployed in an emergency. Stop lying and discriminating against disabled people.
Members of the Council Cabinet listened politely to Councillor Pritchard's criticisms but did not take the opportunity to respond back to him at the meeting. The normal protocol is that an official response will be made over the next 5 days.