Council say public opposition alone is not enough reason to save Bristol's green spaces
PUBLIC opposition alone is not enough reason to save Bristol's green spaces from being sold off – according to council officers.
The handling of Bristol City Council's plan to sell off green spaces came in for criticism at a scrutiny meeting held just 24 hours before the final decision.
A cross party group of councillors claimed residents had not been listened to and that consultation on the area green space plan had been confusing for the public.
Members argued a number of sites should never have been put forward for proposed sale, due to access issues, at a five-hour joint meeting of the quality of life and sustainable development & transport commissions yesterday.
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Cabinet has indicated it will defer decisions or save 16 sites, but that still leaves 48 under threat.
Although the commissions could only make recommendations they urged cabinet to defer the decision on the remaining sites under threat until the new year.
Of 163 public statements submitted to the meeting, just one supported the strategy and that was from the Bristol Parks Forum.
Around 100 more supported cabinet recommendations to save the threatened Wellington field in Horfield from developers, while others criticised various aspects of the proposals.
Councillors raised concerns that the public's views on many of the sites were not being given enough consideration.
An officers' report on the consultation carried out this year counters every single criticism or objection to the scheme made by the public in thousands of letters, e-mails and surveys.
Councillor Fabian Breckels (Lab, St George East) said: "There is a real concern about how the comments residents have put in have been handled. When there is an objection, there is a rebuttal.
"It's like saying 'you're stupid, you don't know what you're talking about, we're going ahead anyway'.
The commission looked in close detail at seven sites threatened with sale, with officers arguing the case for disposal in each.
They found that in some cases, surveys returned by the public showed support for land sales was as low as two or four per cent.
But at one point, service director for environment and leisure Tracey Morgan said officers had "judged that a high negative response to a site disposal was a not reason on its own" to save it from sale.
When it was pointed out that 434 people had signed a petition against the sale of Salcombe Road recreation ground in Knowle, Ms Morgan said of the 54 additional survey responses, 24 per cent of people were for the disposal, compared to 13 per cent against.
Executive member Gary Hopkins represents Knowle and attended the meeting to hear the comments.
He alleged that a local football team was chased away by a petitioner who didn't want anything on the site, and said he had been contacted by residents who said they had been "misled" when asked to sign the petition.
He argued development was needed to fund improvements to the ground, which would allow school children to use it.
Siobhan Kennedy-Hall (Con, Avonmouth) said: "We need to pay attention to what the people have been saying. We have had two per cent for or four per cent for, but what about the other 98 per cent, the other 96 per cent?
"We shouldn't be giving generic responses back, as if we're just trying to stamp down on what people are saying."
Green spaces project manager Richard Fletcher countered claims the consultation had not been extensive by listing all the efforts the council had made to engage with the public.
This included the 20-week consultation between June and October; a spread in the 180,000 Our City council newspapers; 29,900 leaflets, 1,240 posters in libraries, GP surgeries, schools and elsewhere; 10,165 unique website hits; 19 drop-in sessions and meetings with various stakeholder groups.
Councillor Trevor Blythe (Lib Dem, Clifton) said: "I think we've included bits of land no one in their right minds would want to develop.
"I'm particularly concerned about strips of land along streams – like Valley Walk – there are arteries that should be kept in pristine condition."
Concerns were also raised that today's decision was being rushed through.
Chairman Mark Weston (Con, Henbury) said: "We're truncating everything drastically into a 24-hour period. We have artificially created a rod for our own backs.
"More time should have been given for this – we're talking about a 20-year plan."
Mr Hopkins said the plan was about funding improvements in Bristol's parks and stressed sites would not be sold off immediately.
He said: "We have a very big job to do. We need to provide more children's play areas, more parks that are more welcoming and more nature reserves. Nothing could be more irresponsible than to scrap the plan."
Councillors also heard although around three per cent of the city's green spaces would be lost under the plan, it would gain around five per cent more. This is largely due to the council securing access to the 79-acre Stoke Park in Lockleaze.