“Asked by Mrs Janke if he could explain how the sale of the park affected the Area Green Space plan, Mr Bees’ answer was: “The area is well served by green space.”
Bristol Evening Post, October 15 2008
Bristol’s new Parks and Green Space Strategy, fresh off the press in February, seems to be taking centre stage at present.
In the case above, we find Labour Councillor Bees entirely misunderstanding the point of it as he tries to explain away why he’s sold off 11 acres of Knowle West park land to housing developers without telling anyone.
The strategy is also at the centre of the row over the proposed development on the Railway Path at Greenbank, as the city council struggles to explain the sale of public land, specifically included in the new strategy, to developers.
At the heart of the strategy lies the idea of ‘Area Green Space Plans’. What’s supposed to happen is that each Neighbourhood Management Area – a whole new layer of bureaucracy for the city, invented by Bristol City Council – will draw up a detailed plan of parks, green space and public land in an area in consultation with the public.
Then on the basis of this it will be decided what land is surplus or “low value” and can be sold and what land will be improved with the £100m of proposed revenue generated.
Not a bad idea as it has the potential to create some consensus on the controversial subject of public land sell-offs.
However the problem is that eight months into the strategy no ‘Area Green Space Plans’ actually exist and the council has 14 of them to do. Although a rumour exists that one may emerge in South Bristol somewhere soon.
Even if we give the council the benefit of the doubt and assume they’ll have this first plan in place by the end of this month, that means – with one plan being produced every eight months – the process will be complete in about 9 years!
So what happens to our public space in the meantime?
Bristol City Council officers’ view seems to be that they can sell-off whatever land they please and seem to be currently trying to do so. Richard Mond, one of the many Heads in the Parks Department says, “[the absence of an ‘Area Green Space Plan’] doesn’t prohibit an earlier disposal of land if this can be justified.”
But is it as simple as all that? Possibly not.
Rather than the £100m public land free-for-all that the council’s senior management and the local building industry perhaps hoped would occur in the vacuum created by this deliberately under resourced and over ambitious strategy, what may actually occur are long, bitter wars of attrition between the city council and local residents and campaigners over every single piece of land the council tries to sell.
Already, at Greenbank, we’re seeing the council slowly tied in knots of its own making as campaigners exploit the glaring loopholes in a policy that simply doesn’t work and is open to challenge at every turn.
The city council, meanwhile, appears to be in chaos and can’t even seem to form a single, corporate view on what their own policy means and how it should be implemented.
In one corner we find the Head of Planning, David Bishop, treating our park land as his personal property and arranging to sell it on a whim to red-trousered Merchant Venturers without reference to anyone or anything.
Then there’s the Property Services Department, responsible for administrating the council’s land sales, that doesn’t even seem to have heard of the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, arranging to sell off the land possibly unconstitutionally if not illegally. So much for them applying checks and balances then.
Over at the intellectually challenged Parks Department, responsible for managing the strategy, meanwhile, they don’t even seem to know what land is or isn’t included in the strategy and can’t seem to get their heads around the basic detail of any particular case. Instead they just spout politically expedient tripe tailored to whichever audience they happen to be addressing at the time and hope the problem goes away.
All-in-all, it’s beginning to look like the new Parks and Green Space Strategy is an unworkable dog’s dinner open to serious legal challenge and of no use to anyone, least of all Bristol City Council and their plans to raise £100m out of it. On current form they’ll be lucky to generate a tenth of that while half of that revenue will be used up battling any residents and campaigners who take umbrage at their plans.
Well done to all involved.