Football pitch versus town green
Many constituents have written to me in support of Bristol City Football Club as they try to overturn the granting of “Town Green” status to the piece of land in Ashton where they want to build a new 30,000 seat stadium.
The plans have been through the long process of gaining permission from both Bristol City Council and North Somerset Council for the stadium and access road. A shiny new sports facility for Bristol was on the horizon. And if all went well with FIFA and on the new pitch then maybe World Cup and Premiership football could come to the city before the decade’s out.
But now a spanner’s been thrown in the works by an unelected official making, in my view, a questionable interpretation of a piece of land use law. There are many pieces of green space in Bristol that could benefit from the protection of “town green” status. Sat here at home in Kingsdown I can think straight away of Montague Green, Fremantle Square and the green by Carolina House. Small pieces of land that are enjoyed by local residents and would be a great loss to the community if someone managed to build on them.
But the new stadium site is in a different league. It’s 42 acres, on the edge of the city and about half of it is an old landfill site. The stadium would be built on top of this old dumping ground. The planning consent from Bristol City Council would require the club to landscape the other half to provide a wetlands, paths and viewing points. I won’t say anything more about the local factors in Ashton, because that would be trespassing on another MP’s territory. But the area doesn’t look like a town green to me…
The stadium and World Cup bid have cross party support on the Council. I and the other city MPs all stated our support for the bid when it was submitted last year. Bristol desperately needs high quality sports and cultural facilities so we can compete with Cardiff, Birmingham and cities further afield.
The Council now has to decide – on legal grounds only, whether to accept or challenge the inspector’s report. The law clearly needs either a redraft or the issue of clear supporting guidance. I have today written to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I’ve asked him whether he has any intervention powers. And at the very least to consider issuing a statement making it clear that the law is to protect vital pieces of green space and should not be a vehicle for vexatious challenges to democratically agreed local planning applications.
For the record, I am neither a fervent City fan or Rovers fan and have no connection to the owners of BCFC. I just want to see some progress in Bristol. We missed out on a new concert hall for Harbourside in 1997. A few years ago the plug was pulled on a new Arena and conference centre by Temple Meads. Let’s not go backwards again.