High court puts a stop to zoo parking on Bristol downs

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We have welcomed a high court order which, by 2022, will bring to an end decades of parking on Clifton and Durdham Downs to accommodate visitors to Bristol zoo.

Downs for People celebrate their victory

Downs for People celebrate their victory

We celebrate the successful outcome of a High Court challenge to zoo parking on the Downs in Bristol.  The group Downs for People, a member of the society, had sought judicial review of a decision—taken in secret—to grant a twenty-year licence.

In an out-of-court settlement, Bristol City Council and the Downs Committee[1] have given a legally-binding undertaking that they will never again set aside land on the Downs for parking in relation to activities taking place elsewhere than on the Downs.  They also have agreed to pay up to £72,000 towards Downs for People’s legal costs.

Hugh Craddock, one of our case officers, said: ‘This is great news for Bristol.  The Downs are a magnificent open space, intended to be fully protected by their own 1861 Act of Parliament as a place for the people of Bristol to enjoy.  For over fifty years, the Downs have instead been blighted by the presence of hundreds of zoo visitors’ cars on one of the best parts of the grassland on the best days of the year.’

The society has supported objectors to zoo parking since the first organised protests in 1996, when Bristol Zoo sought a licence for 102 days a year.  Objections had some effect, with the last planning permission expiring in 2019 and the Zoo promising not to apply again.  The last licence from the Downs Committee apparently expired in 2017.

Downs for People was astonished to be told in May last year that a 20-year licence running from January had been granted in secret.  A challenge in the high court was brought by the group to resist the grant.

Hugh added: ‘The society is delighted that it has been able to help Downs for People with advice and money to bring this challenge to a successful conclusion. We hope that Bristol’s Downs Committee will now review how it operates.

It has a clear and simple statutory remit: to ensure that the Downs “…shall for ever hereafter remain open and unenclosed and as a place for the public resort and recreation of the citizens and inhabitants of Bristol”.  To provide a car park for visitors from outside the city to go to an attraction not on the Downs is clearly contrary to that remit—as objectors have been saying for 25 years.  Expensive court action should not have been needed to prove this point.’

Downs for People was represented by Philip Petchey of Francis Taylor Building Chambers, instructed by Richard Buxton, Solicitors.

[1]Clifton and Durdham Downs are owned by Bristol City Council and the Society of Merchant Venturers, and regulated under the Clifton and Durdham Downs (Bristol) Act 1861. The 1861 Act established the Downs Committee, comprising an equal number of representatives of both bodies chaired by the Lord Mayor, to manage the downs in accordance with the Act.

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