More than pleasant land: the fight for Bristol’s green spaces heats up

Image showing a view over Bristol. There are houses, trees and the tops of stadium lights.

Anyone looking to advance the argument for providing the homes that Bristol needs is in for a tough discussion in 2023.

The question over where homes go, who they are for and how they’re delivered can be vexed at the best of times. Now, groups claiming to represent Bristol residents are demanding protection of green spaces as part of the city’s promised Climate Action. The debate points to a shift in the narrative about why green space is important.

These groups are increasing pressure on Bristol City Council to tighten planning controls and protect the city’s green spaces. Pleas to protect green spaces, including the city’s parks and mature trees, were made by members of the public at the Council’s Full Meeting on 10 January. 

The focus of the meeting was a debate about a petition – signed by more than 7,600 residents at the time of writing – calling on the council to stop granting permission for new developments on Bristol’s green spaces. 

This is happening as the council leads a review of its Local Plan, which sets out where homes will go over the next 20 years. 

The petition

Initiated by Martyn Cordey, the petition states that there is ‘an alarming increase in developments on valuable green spaces and yet more green spaces are under threat’. It concludes that this trend ‘flies in the face of the Ecological Emergency declaration’ which was made at a city council cabinet meeting in February 2020 by Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol and Ian Barrett, CEO of Avon and Wildlife Trust.

Green spaces highlighted by the petition as lost to development include Ashton Vale, while those at risk of development include the Western Slopes, and Brislington Meadows.

Councillors debated the petition at the meeting with Cllr Nicola Beech (Lab), Cabinet Member for Planning, City Resilience and Flooding, declaring her support for the petition as did Cllr. Tessa Fitzjohn (Green), Cllr. Andrew Varney (Lib Dem), and Cllr Gary Hopkins (Knowle Community). 

Cllr Richard Eddy (Con) expressed sympathy with the petition’s main principle though suggested that green spaces were not all of equal ecological value. He highlighted the competing demands of addressing the city’s housing crisis. 

Cllr. Beech joined with other councillors in asking local residents to share their views on development in Bristol by taking part in a consultation on the draft Bristol Local Plan which sets a framework for housebuilding through to 2040. The consultation runs until 20 January 2023.  

Parks and trees

Councillors also heard public statements on the need to enhance and protect the city’s green spaces and infrastructure. 

Lesley Powell argued the case for better funding for the city’s parks, while Jill Tarlton and Suzan Hackett both stated there was a need to protect the city’s mature tree population from new developments. Both suggested there was a ‘loophole’ in planning regulations whereby a developer is required to plant new trees in a nearby area if trees have been removed to make way for their development. 

The pair argued that in many cases, there is not suitable space nearby for new trees to be planted. Where new trees could be planted, saplings supported lower levels of biodiversity, and produced less oxygen than mature specimens.

What does this mean for developers?

Bristol’s Full Council Meeting shone a spotlight on the strength of community support for protecting green spaces in their local areas. 

The pandemic, combined with a growing sense of urgency about the climate crisis, have no doubt contributed to greater public awareness of the value of green spaces, particularly those in cities, to community health and wellbeing. 

Whereas green space was once more usually perceived as a pleasant ‘nice to have’ feature, these spaces are now seen as a potentially proactive force for community sustainability, cohesion and engagement, and wider social inclusion.

In the place-making sector, we need to move away from conventional ideas about green ‘space’ to the more nuanced idea of green ‘hubs’ as a means of enhancing communities’ wellbeing. 

By understanding the existing, and potential, role of green spaces in communities – through genuine stakeholder engagement and inclusion – we can create better, and more resilient places.

In responding to concerns aired about this issue, we can also dial down the temperature surrounding the debate and have a grown-up discussion around where and how Bristol’s housing need can be met. 

We look forward to working with those who want to make this happen. 

You can catch up with the discussion that took place at the full council meeting here

Header photo by Mikey Harris on Unsplash.


Written by

Tori Madine


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