Public approves sale of just two green spaces in Bristol
BRISTOL City Council's parks sell-off plan is in tatters after the public agreed to just two sites being sold off.
After nearly two years of rows, the public were finally allowed their say on whether up to 64 sites should be sold off at a series of meetings this month.
Their response was as clear as it was two years ago during the original public consultation – the overwhelming majority don't want their green spaces sold for development.
If the two sites are the only ones to be sold, even council estimates believe they would raise no more than £1.6 million between them.
That is woefully short of the £41 million the Liberal Democrat-run authority had wanted to raise from land sales to fund the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy's £107 million original cost.
It even falls short of the revised cost of £42 million, and the more conservative land sale estimate of £10 million that came out last year.
The long-running saga began in the summer of 2010, when the authority asked the public if they wanted to sell off parts of 64 open spaces to help fund improvements for hundreds more.
The council said it was the best way of raising money to address decades of lack of investment in the city's parks.
It was the largest consultation exercise the council had ever carried out, and the response was quite clear – the public fundamentally disagreed with the idea of "selling off the family silver". More than 16,000 people signed petitions against land sales and every survey of sites under threat showed the majority opposed the land being sold.
If the council had listened at the time, the whole process could have ended nearly 18 months ago. Instead it pushed on, there were rows, protests, endless meetings, petitions and angry letters from residents who felt their views were not being listened to.
Last year the Lib Dems were forced to compromise after losing their overall majority on the council, following an election campaign in which the sell-off was a major issue.
After months of secret talks it was agreed the final say would be given to the city's Neighbourhood Partnerships.
Those meetings have taken place throughout March in the nine areas that still had land under threat of sale. The overwhelming majority have decided to save the sites from development.
Of the 64 sites, 46 have been confirmed as saved while 14 more have been deferred for further consultation with locals. Two sites were previously identified as being suitable for schools to expand into.
That leaves just two that have been earmarked for sale, both of which are within the Neighbourhood Partnership where the councillor in charge of the scheme, Gary Hopkins, is a committee member. Part of Salcombe Road and land at Bath Road by the Three Lamps junction were approved for sale after residents failed to attend the partnership meeting two weeks ago. Where more members of the public did turn up to the other eight meetings, all the sites were either saved or saw decisions deferred.
The council has estimated how much it might be able to raise from each site. For the two confirmed for sale, they are valued between £850,000 and £1.6 million.
The council identified potential funding for the revised £42 million scheme as follows: £17 million grant money; £10 million land sales; £10 million from a new levy on housebuilding; £2.7 million from legal agreements with developers; £1.7m from the parks budget.
Assuming all 14 deferred sites are saved, it means the council is more than £8 million short of even the revised plan. Even if none of them are saved, the deferred sites are not of high enough value to fund the scheme, being likely to raise between £2.3 million and £4.5 million between them.
Councillor Mark Weston (Conservative, Henbury) has been a long-time opponent of the sell-off scheme and believes the council could have saved a lot of trouble if it had just listened to the consultation results.
He said: "The best people to decide the future of the city's green spaces have always been the local communities that use them. The decisions by Neighbourhood Partnerships couldn't be more clear – they have voted to save their local parks."
Councillor Ron Stone (Labour, St George) has also been a critic of the plan, and said questions needed to be answered.
He said: "After two years of attempted bullying of local people to get them to sell off their green heritage, the process has failed to produce any significant money to re-invest in Bristol's parks and open spaces.
"Even the cabinet's own Liberal Democrat councillors in Lockleaze have rejected their leadership's sell-off plans. Clearly somebody at senior Cabinet level needs to answer for this waste of money and effort spent in producing nothing."
The Evening Post asked Mr Hopkins whether he thought the amount of time and effort put in to this plan had been worth it, whether the plan would still move forward even with the shortfall of funding from parks sales and why the council pushed ahead with the scheme when the public consultation results from 2010 made it clear people opposed the land sales.
He said: "The purpose of the PGSS was to address the long-term decline in the standards in Bristol's parks under previous administrations.
"That is why the parks forum, which represents all the parks groups in Bristol, supported it when Labour brought it in in 2008 and continue to support it now, although they of course argued for as high an amount going to parks as possible.
"The work has identified what we have and what we do not and local groups have been involved in drawing up priorities for investment.
"One neighbourhood committee has provided secure funding for its parks but many did not have the choice as they were already underprovided for.
"All four parties through the working group reaffirmed their commitment to the strategy and we have put in an unprecedented £3.5 million capital injection for parks, which will get things moving, but there is a severe danger of future shortfalls and a threat to recent progress unless further funding is found in the future."