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.