Wednesday, 1 April 2009
Salami Tactics Triumph
With yesterday's decision to grant Planning Permission to the redevelopment of the Chocolate Factory in Greenbank the long-running "Red Trousergate" saga appears to be drawing to a close, much to the relief of George Ferguson. All that remains is the decision by the Council to sell the "completely pointless" strip of Railway Path land to the developer, Squarepeg. Despite the expensive public consultation exercise which demonstrated popular opposition to the sale that decision to sell must now be a mere formality.
Geoge Ferguson - red trousered egotist?
So it is perhaps timely to recap and ask what lessons are to be learnt from this saga. The Railway Path through East Bristol occupies some prime development land, not only because the land is a linear strip suitable for transport uses. Even relatively small slices can be added to other adjacent land holdings to make sufficient space for a terrace of houses, as George Ferguson has so ably demonstrated.
Being George, he likes to make out that these narrow terraces are some new concept, but all he's done is copied what was done a few years earlier just up the road on the narrow strip between the Path and Greenbank Road. Only he took it a stage further by dispensing with the need to provide land for even the modest gardens of the Greenbank Road houses, using the Railway Path itself as a kind of communal garden instead.
So what was conceived by the desire to squeeze as much housing and car parking as possible into the margins of the site was subsequently born as "cycle houses", narrow and tall terraces with integral garages but without gardens, space for cars taking priority over space for people as ever. Even the the supposedly innovative idea of the houses facing two ways (a natural for George?) was borrowed from the 1960s Radburn housing of nearby Yate.
Insensitive development has already been allowed at other locations including Clay Bottom and Fishponds. More will be in the pipeline as pressure to urbanise every scrap of green space in our city increases. But the "cycle houses" up the ante since they give developers the pretext to encroach on the Railway Path in way that wouldn't otherwise have been feasible. Anywhere with road access on one side and the Path on the other is now vulnerable, even if the land in between is an embankment slope. There are many such locations in east Bristol.
Green space or development potential?
The lesson seems to be that the ever present threat to the integrity of the Railway Path can manifest itself as lots of small cuts, salami tactics, gradually urbanising the Path, subtly changing it from the linear country park that it is today. These threats need to be challenged just as energetically as the more obvious threats from grandiose rapid transit schemes. The present saga has shown very clearly that we cannot rely on the City Council or even quangos like Sustrans to protect the Path from such threats.