Bristol City Council hits back over 'witch hunt' against committee that refused plans
BRISTOL City Council's leader has expressed anger at a "witch hunt" against the committee that refused Sainsbury's planning permission.
Councillor Barbara Janke has written an open letter to the Evening Post following the shock decision to reject proposals for a new supermarket at Ashton Gate last Wednesday.
Mrs Janke claims members of the south and east development control committee have been subjected to "intense, sustained and deliberate bullying" following the meeting.
The Liberal Democrat member for Clifton also says committee members have been "targeted personally in vicious emails and threatening phone calls".
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There have been angry responses from many Bristol City supporters since the refusal, as the supermarket proposal is seen as an essential part of the football club's plans to build a new £92 million ground at Ashton Vale.
The club says without the supermarket there is no stadium, and without the stadium there would be no chance of Bristol hosting World Cup games in 2018 should England win its bid to host the tournament.
The Post has received hundreds of letters, emails and comments from readers since the decision, the majority of which condemn the council for not seeing the bigger picture.
But Mrs Janke has described some aspects of the reaction as "an extremely disturbing attack on the democratic process" and a "wholly unacceptable threat to proper and considered decision making".
She said: "A wild hysteria has been whipped up against these councillors and it has been done in an attempt to browbeat them into submitting to the will of the football club and its wealthy chairman.
"It has been a naked attempt to frighten individuals into doing the bidding of certain interests."
The council's own planning officers had recommended approval for the Sainsbury's application, which is why the decision to refuse was unexpected.
On the night, of the eight councillors making the decision, four voted for refusal – Fi Hance (Lib Dem, Redland); Peter Levy (Lib Dem, Horfield); Cheryl Ann (Lib Dem, Horfield) and chairman Simon Rayner (Lib Dem, Kingsweston).
They were concerned about increasing traffic levels from the supermarket and the effect on traders in the Bedminster and Southville areas.
The two Conservatives – Lesley Alexander (Frome Vale); Kevin Quartley (Bishopsworth) voted against refusal.
The remaining two members – Jos Clark (Lib Dem, Hengrove) and Derek Pickup (Lab, Hartcliffe) – abstained.
In her letter, Mrs Janke argued the councillors made their decisions in good faith and not according to their political party. She also repeatedly stressed the Lib Dem-run authority is backing the stadium plan, despite the Sainsbury's decision.
One example Mrs Janke used is the council's decision to hand over £4.6 million of land to the club, which was made by the ruling Lib Dem cabinet last week on the day after the Sainsbury's scheme was refused permission.
This has been criticised for different reasons, from residents who say the authority should not be handing valuable plots to private organisations in the middle of a recession.