Council green spaces policy to classify land not needed

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon Nov 24 12:00:50 GMT 2008

Council green spaces policy to classify land not needed - senior council
officers on the council have done it for us!

The latest on my complaint to Bristol City Council about them not following
their own policy on green spaces. My response to each point from Council
Complaints Manager Tim Sheppard is in yellow:

Dear Mr Vowles

David and I have now discussed this matter and for information, I have
described below the Council's position.

Tim, the word you used in your email to me was that you would ‘investigate’
the matter (ie David Bishop's decisions in this instance). ‘Investigate’
means to search and examine – have you done any searching and examining
outside of the discussion with senior officer David Bishop you refer to??

You will be aware that this development offers an opportunity for an
innovative exercise in linking cycle houses with the Bristol to Bath cycle
path. Difficulties initially emerged as the strip of land in question has
some ecological merit. This prompted George Ferguson to contact David
Bishop to discuss the merits of the scheme and ask him to examine the
council's initial position on the sale of this stretch of land.

With respect, the merits or not of the proposed cycle houses is not the
issue since the development that features them could easily go ahead
without destroying the hedgerow and being built up close to the cycle path.
It just needs shifting a short distance back from the path and a little
redesign and/or scaling back as appropriate.

Interesting that officers within the council advised that the land has
ecological merit, which is my view, whereas in a recent Bristol Evening
Post story George Ferguson called it ‘pointless scrubland’. Interesting
that George Ferguson a) gets to know of the view formed and advice then
given within the council on land he has a significant interest in and b)
easily and promptly has access to a senior council officer who has
significant powers to make key decisions c) obviously has had considerable
influence on decisions made given that ‘difficulties that initially
emerged’ before contact are not difficulties after. How much did the public
know, especially in the local area, and how much access to senior council
officers could they easily get? How much influence on David Bishop would
they have had? Council policy, the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy says
about land value, on page 36,

"...value will, therefore, be assessed at the stage when Area Green Space
Plans are being drawn up and sites are being identified as possible
candidates for change of use/type of green space or disposal". 

Clearly in this case this has not happened. The complex issue of total land
value has been decided by senior officer David Bishop and a few other
officers, following an intervention by the highly influential George

Given that the Council was on the cusp of becoming the first Cycle City, a
proposition that used a small piece of the Council's land to enable such an
innovative idea - almost a cycling service station on a flagship cycle
route (notwithstanding the fact that planning permission still needed to be
obtained and no-one could make any presumptions about that) - was very
attractive. If such an idea came to fruition, Bristol would enhance its
cycling/green capital reputation still further, and more people would be
attracted to cycle and walk along the path in future. Bristol's residents
would get healthier as a result and any traffic modal shift would make a
contribution to reduced congestion and enhanced air quality, all aims the
Council is vigorously pursuing.

Please see my previous comments about the merits or not of the proposed
cycle houses not being the issue. There are many ifs in this third pragraph
that I’d like to point out though: if Bristol became the first Cycle City
(the decision had not then been made in Bristol’s favour); if any
development successfully went through the planning process (official plans
were not submitted at this time and so there was no public consultation on
official plans); if the cycle houses enhance city cycling/green capital
reputation significantly; if traffic modal shift is significant

Promises are not a firm basis for a major decision that goes against advice
and does not involve consultation with the public, stakeholder groups nor,
so far as I know, elected councillors. The paragraph sounds to me more like
someone’s sales pitch, based on imagery and inflated potential impacts,
rather than solid ideas based on evidence.

There is more to a piece of land than its size, though we are talking about
well over 100 metres of mature hawthorn hedgerow which officers judged to
have ecological merit. Quality, value and significance of land are not a
matter that can finally be decided completely objectively or should be
decided by a small number of people – the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy
acknowledges this and outlines a procedure (the drawing up, by agreement in
localities, of Area Green Space Plans). My complaint also raised the issue
of plans not being accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment -
responses from you have not explained the council decision that an EIA was
not needed. Is it the case that an EIA was deemed unnecessary just on the
basis of the size of the land involved??

Bristol City Councils green capital reputation depends in part on the
quality of and implementation of its policy on green spaces. No doubt the
city’s application to become the European Green Capital includes outlining
the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy. However, the procedures it outlines
clearly have not been applied.

A discussion about the proposed land sale and the questions that it raised,
was had with Transport, Property and senior Culture & Leisure Services
staff, which included the relative merits of cycle houses versus negative
localised ecological impact. It was felt that because the eventual
development control process could ensure that ecological mitigation
measures were secured, on balance we should support the principle of the
land sale, subject of course to the development progressing.

The fourth paragraph raises more questions than it answers. Just one
discussion? Seems a cursory treatment to me. What laid down, publicly
available criteria were used to judge the relative merits, so that
accountability for decisions is built in? How does one objectively weigh up
very different types of benefits/costs? Cycle house benefits are only
promised whereas ecological loss due to habitat destruction is relatively
easily established – was this accounted for? Were any elected
representatives involved at any point? Were any stakeholders involved? Were
the public involved? What reference was made to the letter and spirit of
council green spaces policy and the principles and procedures it outlines?
Was the option of promptly getting an Area Green Space Plan put in place
for this land ever discussed? How/where does accountability come into play??


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