Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Monday, 13 June 2011

AVTG - The Biggest Fix Yet?

Over the last couple of years, we've got used to the council insisting on getting its own way, whatever the evidence or the legal niceties might do to get in the way. As Harry commented on this blog, "The council doesn't care anymore. They can break any law. Break any convention. Do anything they want. "

How far can they go with it? Back in March of last year, building a ring road on the shallow pretence that it's really to get jobseekers in Hartcliffe a bendy bus to find work in Ashton Vale seemed to me to be pushing the limits.

But that was easily capped by the long drawn out saga of the Green Space sell-off, which for sheer consistency of denial in the face of reality broke new ground, only to be halted (perhaps - but that's another matter!) on May 5th when the electorate made it impossible to continue with the charade.

Now they're set to go one better even than that, with the Ashton Vale Town Green decision, to be considered by the PROWG Committee on Thursday.

I and others have already commented on the self-evident 'predetermination' of the decision by key Committee members. But now we can also see the advice those members will be getting. It's carefully honed to give them an excuse to reach the decision the Administration (not to mention the landowners) want, while simultaneously rejecting the independent opinion of the expert assessor brought in by the council. In fact that expensively gathered opinion doesn't even seem to be among the meeting papers.

This new report to PROWG members relies instead on the council's own 'in-house' expertise to analyse the case for and against a Town Green. Expertise? Well, not quite. Instead of getting the report written by its most senior expert in planning matters and law, the council's commissioned it from a colleague on the Strategic Directorate; Will Godfrey, the Strategic Director of Corporate Resources. Planning isn't part of his brief; his corporate task is 'overseeing the Finance, Human Resources, Shared Transactional Services, ICT, Integrated Customer Services (including Benefits and Council Tax), Legal and Procurement functions. He also leads on work relating to Value for Money and Commissioning across the council'.

Handed this (for him) novel task, the Strategic Director has obligingly delivered just what the Administration wants. He recommends 'partial registration' of the site. This would fully meet the wishes of the Objectors (being, in effect, Steve Lansdown and the football club); they can build the stadium exactly as planned, while the remaining land would be a managed soakaway (or wetland) to cope with the drainage from the main site. This is, as ever, presented as a social benefit for residents.

But that's not what the original professional assessment, by Ross Crail, decided after ten days close examination of all the evidence. How does the Director square the two conflicting views? Simple. He rejects 'on the balance of probability' the original determination that the northern part of the site, at one time used as a landfill, meets the criteria for Town Green Registration.

Then he goes on to conveniently redefine the northern part of the site - not just as the one-time landfill, but as exactly the area required for the new developments and the linked infrastructure. It becomes bounded by the outer line of the proposed BRT route from Long Ashton Park and Ride.

Should any committee member be tempted to ask for the evidence of the public's failure to use this redefined area 'as of right' in the last twenty years, the report tells them that "There is no statutory requirement that a Committee reads this documentation". Trust me, I'm a lawyer. Trust me, I'm a finance expert. Trust me - but I'll not trust you.

Committee members are, however, offered a summary of the 'new' evidence, at Appendix B. The objectors side comes in some detail; the applicants side is so curtailed (and so misrepresented in the Evening Post) that they've since released the detail (linked from the Bristol Blogger's Indymedia post)

If there's a hole in the Strategic Director's report caused by the absence of any examination of this alleged evidence of non-use, it's been filled instead by an enthusiastic claim of what new development will do for the club and the city; 1,000 new jobs, £150 million investment.... you know, you've heard it before. Not of course that Members should let that promise sway their decision! These wonderful developments, the Director adds cautiously, are 'not a material consideration'. He just thought it was worth mentioning.

So on Thursday we'll have a prejudiced committee, and a prejudiced and inadequate report, a sidelined recommendation from a qualified inspector, along with huge pressure on the councillors involved to reach the decision that the landowners and the current administration and the Evening Post want.

You'd think, if there was a real case against Town Green registration, it would be easier than that.

NB. The meeting's at 4pm on Thursday at the Council House. A webcast is promised.


Anonymous said...

seems every time a member of the public puts this information on the evening post's new flashy forum, the admin remove it.

what are they scared of the public knowing, Ah yes The Truth

sacredspring said...

That scurrilous rag is in the pocket of someone. Otherwise they would publish this stuff in full.
Never mind-you can trust Pete to fill in the facts. Fix up of the year this Thursday don't miss it.

Stockwood Pete said...

I just tried posting this message on your BEP Forum thread, Still Waters.

The Applicant's new evidence (and refutation of the Objectors' new claims) is now online at It's the redacted version

It's not been included in the papers for the councillors to consider, though - they just have to rely on the opinion of the 'responsible officer'

It appeared for a few seconds (though without paragraphs and after the html code had been refused) - then, when I tried to refresh it, it disappeared.

Censorship or sheer ineptness? My guess is both.

Stockwood Pete said...

It came back - and is still there three hours later!

And someone has somehow posted the blogpost on the BEP news website itself - where it's up with the top news! I don't know how that happened, but I bet it wasn't intended!

woodsy said...

Expertise? Well, not quite. Instead of getting the report written by its most senior expert in planning matters and law, the council's commissioned it from a colleague on the Strategic Directorate; Will Godfrey, the Strategic Director of Corporate Resources. Planning isn't part of his brief.

Incredible. Would Bristol City Council get a plumber in to do some carpentry?

I think we should be told

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear I am a BCFC fan and I do think a new stadium would be a good thing.

I also think this is another case of the TVG law being abused. I am a keen walker and have been through these fields and never seen any sign of recreational use.

Overall I believe the proposed split decision is the sensible and fair option.

However, it would appear that democracy is going to be the clear loser here. I don't honestly see that the councillors will be making the decision based the merits of the application alone. Whether the TVG applicants will be able to successfully prove that will be interesting to watch.

Anonymous said...

"I am a keen walker and have been through these fields and never seen any sign of recreational use."

You were it. Thank you for further evidence.

Pete, the comments on that site are behaving strangely. They'll vanish, but re-appear after a few minutes.

Anonymous said...

The lobby for TVG is a cover up for what is an anti stadium protest. So regardless of what you say is a report based on prejudice there is a lack of honesty from every party.

The handful of people against the stadium need to sit back and take a look at themselves, I'm neither a fan of the football club or football at all but I know regardless of my feelings it's right for the City.

I'm one person, thousands will benefit for years to come. That is more important than me or anyone one else.

The selfish and single minded approach of this group of people sums up why our city is nothing but a forgotten back water.

Stockwood Pete said...

"The lobby for TVG is a cover up for what is an anti stadium protest."

That makes it sound as if they're not really interested in keeping access to the site, they're just trying to get at BCFC. I don't believe that for a moment. Sure, the application wouldn't have happened if there hadn't been a threat of development and all that goes with it, but I bet it would have happened just the same if, say, they'd wanted to put an incinerator on the same site.

I'm not directly involved, but I think if I lived in Ashton Vale I'd have joined the applicants to try to stop my patch being dominated by a plug-ugly stadium, where I could previously enjoy the open space.

Probably the attitude of the club and its supporters hasn't helped - instead of really trying to find common ground (so to speak!), the whole argument turned into insults and bullying, and everyone dug their heels in.

Seems to me that Bristol could have a really classy stadium hosting both teams, somewhere with much better transport links, economies of scale (through dual use), and no reliance on unwanted supermarkets (or rather their customers) to provide the subsidies. That won't happen if today's decision stands, because BCFC have invested too much time and personal pride in the 'easy' Ashton Vale option. All we'll get is a stadium that's nothing special, a clutch of 'edge-of-town' businesses monopolising trade that could be spread around the centre, a loss of Green Belt, a giant supermarket. It's not going to put Bristol on the map, is it?

I hope the applicants go for a judicial review - having sat through the farce of a meeting (the question of whether the whole site met registration criteria wasn't actually discussed), I'm sure they have good grounds.

Anonymous said...

And I guess you approve of the animal-like behaviour of many people in the chamber today?

You and your allies should be ashamed.

Stockwood Pete said...

Well I've seen much worse on the terraces and in the council chamber. But I agree, some of the interruptions didn't help at all. It worked both ways - the public were provoked by some of the obvious failures of the committee. I still can scarcely believe that they didn't discuss the evidence.

A pity, though, that you haven't commented on what I actually wrote. Do you really believe it's all about the stadium, not about the loss of access, amenity and green space?

The Bristol Blogger said...

I thought the whole event was rather sedate by council chamber standards.

I was there at the budget meeting of 2005 when the elderly and disabled barracked the whole of the council body out of the chamber.

Peter Abraham was told, personally, to "fuck off" on at least three occasions I recall.

Shame he didn't.

Anonymous said...

Pete. Your comments echo my views and to put on record, my first game at AG had John Atyeo for the City and Jonny Haynes (England Capt.) for Fulham so supporting the City goes back along way! A bit a diplomacy instead of the "we are doing this so tough if you don't like it" attitude could have saved much time, money, stress, and may have ended in a reasonable compromise. Now we shall never know.

david said...

So there will be a TVG of around 20 acres on the AV fields - where's the problem ? Isn't that what people wanted ? Or is that not enough space ? Seems to me that these AV people are using legislation to stop future development - that is not what the legislation is for, it is for looking back at previous recreational use, not looking forward to something they don't like. For what it's worth, they have no chance whatsoever of getting a JR let alone winning it. The landowners have more chance of that - and I sincerely hope they apply for it.

Anonymous said...

"You were it. Thank you for further evidence."

No I wasn't. Walking along a public right of way does not constitute recreational activity for the purposes of this legislation otherwise we'd be able to apply for half of the British countryside as a TVG!

I dread to think what recreational activity one could attempt across the former landfill site without risking ankle injury. My preference was to use other rights of way when possible across some of the neighbouring and flat fields.

Although last time I tried to use one of those it was basically impassible because of being so overgrown. I do wonder how many locals have actually wandered around the public footpaths even, not many.

Trying to preserve the greenbelt is all well and good, no problem with that. But Town Green?! I think not, this is just abuse of legislation.

Paul Bemmy Down said...

"Trying to protect the Greenbelt is all well and good, have no problem with that." Don't you realise the connection with this development? One of the partners in this project, years ago wanted to build houses on this very same Greenbelt land. And don't you remember Southlands, the development that was so essential to the funding of the stadium. More houses on the Greenbelt. Now I've never been in the camp of those who have claimed that Lansdown was in it for the money, but he is not involved alone and fortunes have been spent buying options on that very same Greenbelt land that you have "no problems" with protecting.