We question Bristol’s green credentials

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We have today questioned Bristol’s claims to be a ‘green capital’.

Objecting to an application by Bristol Zoo to continue to use one of the best parts of the city’s famous Downs as a large car park on the finest days of the year, Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary said:

‘This is the fifth time the Zoo has applied for a “temporary” permission to park on the Downs and the fifth time that the Open Spaces Society has objected. Again and again the Zoo has promised to find alternatives, and again and again Planning Committees have allowed them time to do so. It is now very clear that the Zoo will not make appropriate arrangements for its visitors until permission is refused.

‘The Downs are a magnificent open space, of inestimable value to the people of Bristol for recreation and much enjoyed by visitors too. They are, in theory, fully protected by national and local planning policies: all four Planning Committees have been in no doubt that Zoo parking is fundamentally unacceptable.

‘Bristol is proud of having been the only city in the UK to be shortlisted for the European Green Capital Award in 2008. It aspires to be “a regional and green capital which is a great place to live” And yet it will not safeguard its most famous open space for people to enjoy, as the city’s nineteenth century benefactors intended.

‘In 1861, legislation designated the Downs “as a place for public resort and recreation for the people of Bristol and surrounding areas”. That is what they should be—a park, not a car park,’ Kate concludes.

Bristol Zoo has been using one of the finest parts of the Downs in Bristol as a car park at busy times since 1969. This is contrary to the planning policies meant to protect the Downs as a place for the people of Bristol and surrounding areas to enjoy. Successive planning committees have made it clear that permanent use as a car park would be unacceptable but have granted a series of temporary permissions. These have allowed the Zoo to park up to 660 cars on the grass for 60 days in recent years. In October 2008 the Planning Committee decided unanimously that this use must end. It gave the Zoo a year to ‘sort itself out’ (as the Committee chair put it) and make alternative arrangements for its visitors.  The Zoo has not done so and has instead applied for permission for a further five years.

The Zoo’s use of the Downs grassland for parking has long been opposed by the Open Spaces Society and by major amenity organisations in the city.  They drew attention to the need for planning permission in 1997 and have objected to all subsequent planning applications.

As well as the national and local planning policies which should protect the Downs, they should be managed for recreational use by the people of Bristol and surrounding areas under the Clifton and Durdham Downs( Bristol) Act 1861. The recently published Bristol Development Framework Core Strategy contains the aspiration to be a green capital.

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