News drifts in about the land assembly process for the new Bristol City FC stadium at Ashton Vale. Predictably it features a lot of familiar faces on that small but influential local developer scene.
At the beginning of December 2007, a London based property company, Longmoor Land Ltd, sold a plot of land just inside the Bristol City Council boundary at Ashton Vale to a limited liability partnership, Vence LLP, which had been incorporated the week before.
Vence LLP has two directors; Steve Lansdown, the chairman of Bristol City FC, and his son John Lansdown. The cost of the purchase is recorded as £4.5 million.
When the land was purchased it lay within the city’s green belt and was identified in Bristol City Council’s local plan as being both a ‘Wildlife Network Site’ and a ‘High Risk Flood Zone’.
The South West Regional Spatial Strategy proposes, however, that an urban extension of 10,500 homes is developed to the south-west of Bristol and has included this site within the scope of any potential development.
A separate but similarly sized plot of land immediately to the south of this plot, was then transferred from Ashton Vale Land Ltd of 70 Prince Street to another limited liability partnership called Ashton Vale Project LLP, also of 70 Prince Street, for the sum of £990,000.
This second plot of land – also in the Green Belt, also in a High Risk Flood Zone – was identified in the local plan as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest with city-wide importance and is an identified ‘Open Space’. It was, however, also included within the scope of the urban extension.
Pontin, a Merchant Venturer, likes to be linked with various environmentally and socially aware projects such as the Watershed, Arnolfini, Bordeaux Quay and Spike Island.
Although the recent destruction of some natural habitat at Ashton Vale, reported in the Evening Cancer, and, apparently, pinned on Steve Lansdown, actually took place on land owned by Ashton Vale Project Ltd – proprietor: Mr sustainability himself, John Pontin.
So here we have an individual who makes a great deal of fuss about being environmentally aware and keen on “sustainable development” involved in damage to an SNCI site and openly seeking to breach the city’s greenbelt and kick-off the highly profitable and environmentally dubious process of creating urban sprawl out across North Somerset.
Ashton Vale Project LLP and Vence LLP have now appointed a planning consultancy – very, very big players Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP) – to represent them in a joint venture to build the new Bristol City football stadium on this 17 hectare (42 acre) site on Green Belt land in the Bedminster ward of Bristol City Council.
So far, so predictable. You almost have to admire the diabolical PR brilliance of using such a slam dunk populist issue as a new football stadium for the local team to get stuck into our greenbelt with don’t you? Let’s face it, opposing this one is tough.
So look out Bedminster here come the Merchant Venturers with, predictably, their very own local Venturer, George Ferguson, as cheerleader-in-chief for the whole affair.
Already we’ve had one of his Cancer column’s on the obvious benefits of building a stadium on a “useless bit of scrubby land” before he shamelessly touts for some business developing the existing Ashton Gate stadium. It “represents a great opportunity for an exemplar mixed-use development” would you believe?
Surely discussion around ripping up the city’s valuable greenbelt deserves a better level of debate than this kind of self-serving tripe? Probably. But we’re unlikely to get it. Rest assured consultants NLP are already hard at work down at the Counts Louse on this.
Representations and lobbying to Bristol City Council to secure the early release of the Green Belt land for the development and also to reduce the amount of housing required within the Bristol City Council boundary as part of the south west urban extension will undoubtedly have taken place.
Bristol’s planning boss, the shifty Bishop, would, of course be involved. And as he probably gets a little wet patch in his pants at the very mention of characters such as Lansdown, Pontin and Ferguson we can expect little resistance from the city’s planning department.
That just leaves the city’s politicians to look after our greenbelt for us then.
I think it’s probably safe to assume that Eddy’s gormless Tories will do nothing. It’s also unlikely that the Holland-Hammond-Bradshaw Bristol New Labour leadership will suddenly turn tail and take on their local business friends to fight for the city’s greenbelt.
It might be one of the understated glories of the Attlee government, which still manages, sixty years on, to attract envious glances from the North America and Europe, but you suspect Bristol Labour took John Prescott at his miscued words when he said, “The Green Belt is a Labour policy and we intend to build on it“.
That just leaves the Lib Dems then. We’ve certainly had a lot of very greenish-sounding talk from the Lib Dems’ pre-June election PR outriders Jon Rogers and Gary Hopkins. But are they really about to put principles first and take on the city’s most powerful vested interests over a genuine green issue?
Don’t hold your breath. The Lib Dems home counties Tory-style leadership cabal of Janke, “Biggles” Popham and Simon “the business plan looks robust to me” Cook don’t really strike you as greens do they?