The public inquiry has started into the claimed 'Town Green' status of Castle Park, a claim made to defend the green space from development such as that proposed by Deeley Freed for the western end of the park (pictured below) around St Mary le Port and St Peter's churches, along with the old Bank of England, Lloyds Bank and Norwich Union buildings. Although the public inquiry will be dealing with legal technicalities (does Castle Park qualify as a Town Green which cannot be developed), the underlying issues are very important and apply to a wide range of potential developments around the city.
The case for the developers is very ably put, as is usual these days, by professional PR consultants. They argue that including some of the park in the development will allow a better quality development overall with more benefits to the public, in much the same way as Squarepeg argue for the inclusion of green space from the Railway Path in their Chocolate Factory development. There can be little doubt that in principle at least including areas of green space in developments allows for the more profitable elements to cross-subsidise less profitable or unprofitable elements that otherwise couldn't be included.
But that leaves some fundamental questions. Firstly should we trust the developers and Bristol City Council when they claim that they are incorporating the green space in question for the greater public good? Well the developers would say that, wouldn't they. But can we trust the Council not to 'go native' and increasingly see things from the developers' perspective? Once I would have been inclined to give the the Council the benefit of the doubt on that. But now, after the Council pushed so hard for turning the Railway Path into a bus route?
The second question is 'if developing green space is potentially to the greater public good, what is to stop every single piece of green space in the city being developed on the same basis? What's true for one acre of green space is equally true for 10 acres or 100 acres. Although we all feel that green space has some value, it is very hard to quantify it and therefore give it sufficient weight to protect it from development.
At the Chocolate Factory in Greenbank George Ferguson, acting for the developers, famously called the green space of the Railway Path embankment, including 150 metres of mature hedgerow, "completely pointless", but others have taken a different view. Likewise at Castle Park we find that the same ploy of proposing 'cycle house' on green space (the green bank shown above) alongside the cycle route may be used, following developer 'consultations' with Sustrans, who appear to be happy to accept the wholesale urbanisation of cycle paths.
In the end the only protection for green space in the city will be ordinary citizens acting individually or collectively to assert the value of each piece of green space as it is threatened, as happened so spectacularly this year in relation to the Railway Path in east Bristol (above). Until such time as we can trust our own City Council to act in the interests of the public (which they manifestly failed to do with the bus route plan for the Railway Path) what other option is there but popular opposition to each and every proposal to develop green space?