Friday, 29 August 2008

Cycling City Secret Sell-Off?

It seems that Bristol City Council have let the excitement of being declared the UK's first Cycling City rather go to their heads. Barely months after massive public opposition forced them to backtrack on plans to convert the Bristol & Bath Railway Path to a high speed bus route, they now appear to be selling off strips of that same precious green corridor to property developers for speculative housing developments.

The case that has emerged concerns the Chocolate Factory development at Greenbank. As reported here way back in May a property developer, Squarepeg, plan to build terraced housing along what we first assumed to be the boundary of the Railway Path, but closer inspection of the plans suggested that the planned housing might intrude onto the Railway Path land. We now discover that the City Council are going ahead with the sale of a substantial strip of the former railway land to Squarepeg to accommodate this housing.

Such hubris on the part of the City Council is not so surprising. If the reward for planning to virtually destroy the nation's preeminent cycle path was to be awarded over £11 million of Cycling City funding, what should they fear from a clandestine sell-off of the green margins? Of course the usual suspects are in on the deal - Bradshaw*, Sustrans, George Ferguson and other latterday luminaries who now promote themselves as patrons of green transport.

But what of the thousands of ordinary Path users who campaigned so heroically to save the Path from the Council's misguided transport plans this spring? Have they been consulted? Did they even know anything of the planned sell-off? It seems not, at least not until after the event, when a small print announcement appeared in Squarepeg's newsletter tucked away under the attention grabbing heading "coherent approach creates combined application" (zzzzz) reporting that "negotiations to purchase ... have been successful and the application now includes.....a strip of land that runs along the cycle path".

There are mixed views on this high profile development, as might be expected, and many people are expressing concern at the loss of the green corridor which is as vital a component of the Railway Path as the tarmac path. For all we know, it may even be that the tarmac path itself may be moved over from its existing alignment to maximise the land available for the housing, so the green margins may be degraded on both sides.

There are also concerns about conflict between Path users and residents of the houses, particularly small children and pets, who might emerge suddenly from the concealment of the access ramps into the path of a cyclist. The last thing Path users want is to be put into a position where they are endangering others, especially children. Yet it's clear enough (except apparently to Sustrans) from the sketches supplied that that is exactly what will happen.

But fear not, the City Council always know best and will in due course give their approval to the Planning Application, expected to be submitted next week. They have, according to Squarepeg, already preempted the decision by selling off the land.

(*Later edit - it seems that Bradshaw might not have been involved after all, nor any other elected Councillor! See later posts for details.)

For the follow-up post click here.


Anonymous said...

So let's get this straight ...

Council officers have quietly sold off a small section of the city's parkland to a private developer whose architect, despite his red-trousered green philanthropist schtick, happens to be a multi-millionaire Merchant Venturer?

Is this legal?

You've uncovered a good story here Mr Green Bristol Blogger.

Spectator said...

Chris, you‘ve hit the nail on the head; my only regret is that you aren‘t banging that nail into the head of the council toe rag who approved the deal!

I especially like the way in which Acanthus Ferguson Mann have succeeded in projecting themselves as some kind of local small firm, with an interest in local projects… just take a look at their track record. They’ve been involved in such monstrous carbuncles as the @Bristol Square, the Centre Promenade, the Canon’s Marsh development, etc. The list goes on. If this bunch have a track record in anything, then it is in designing soulless, ultra modernist corporate ugliness. It’s appalling that they have been allowed to pull this stunt.

Keep on exposing.

Glenn Vowles said...

Great post Chris. I've also commented on this over at the Bristol Blogger site with some detail on Area Green Space Plans that may be of interest.