Bristol City Council’s house building company, Goram Homes, have binned plans for housing on the council-owned section of Western Slopes. However, corporate developer Lovells still have a planning application outstanding on the privately-owned section of the land. This application includes an ecological report prepared by Bath’s Ethos Environmental Planning.
Ethos describe themselves – in purest word salad -,as a “multi-disciplinary environmental planning consultancy providing specialist advice to inform decision making for planning and development”. So does it come as any surprise that Ethos ecologist, Jim Phillips, who’s produced a helpful ecological assessment for Lovell’s at Western Slopes, was found to have breached CIEEM’s (Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management) Code of Professional Conduct?
This was in relation to an ecological assessment he did for a planning application in Crewkerne, Somerset. Phillips, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a useless partially sighted illiterate, only managed to survey a portion of the Crewkerne site. The bit, coincidentally, that’s not registered as a local wildlife site by Somerset Wildlife Trust. He also forgot to take into account the badger population in the area and didn’t notice a number of ponds and hedgerows on the site.
Now, not dissimilar concerns regarding the quality of Phillips’ efforts for Lovells at Western Slopes are emerging from local campaigners, Bristol Tree Forum and Manor Woods Valley Group.
Of course, any claim that there’s a network of bent ecological consultancies prepared to work for the benefit of corporate property developers with deep pockets would be conspiratorial nonsense wouldn’t it?
Plans for the council to build housing on the Western Slopes on the fringes of Knowle West are causing a bit of a stir at this election.
Here’s a south Bristol resident’s letter to the Mayor and Cabinet on the issue after the Cabinet agreed in March to transfer this land to their housing company, Goram Homes, in preparation for building on this valued open space. There was very little debate or discussion about the transfer, which you can watch on YouTube, and green space/ecological issues weren’t mentioned. There was also an ambiguous comment about the planning process:
Dear Mayor and Cabinet Members
I understand the need for housing in Bristol and appreciate the difficulties involved in how to build enough council or affordable housing. I also recognise the difficulty in addressing this need whilst balancing it against the ecological and climate emergencies.
I’m writing to you about the Cabinet meeting held on 9 March 2021.I was disappointed by the lack of any meaningful debate on item 11, Goram Homes Land Disposal. I note that these meetings are public and agendas published, but most residents of Bristol do not follow these meetings at all and there seems very little effort to engage disadvantaged communities in understanding the implications of the items being discussed and the decisions being made.
The Mayor spoke about sustainability in building. That’s welcome but is really just the standard of building now.Councillor Shah, Cabinet Member with responsibility for climate, ecology and sustainable growth, made no comment about any environmental effects of transferring so much land to your housing company. I don’t know all of the 12 sites in detail and many do seem to be genuinely brownfield. However some of the sites are environmentally rich, semi wild spaces, or sites that are rewilding themselves (Western Slopes/Novers Hill), or perhaps were brownfield but could now commonly be thought of as a green space (New Fosseway), or unambiguously a green space that is in high use (Knowle West Health Park).
There was also no mention of the well being effects of green spaces, especially in poorer neighbourhoods and seemingly no recognition of the value of such spaces in reducing the need for costly use of NHS services.
As all but one of you in the register of interests lists your ‘land in the property of the authority’ as ‘sensitive interest’, it is impossible to see if your decisions are affected by self interest to any property you own that may increase in value if these sites are developed. Your land is classed as ‘sensitive interest’ or ‘confidential for reasons of security’, presumably because these are your home addresses.
I invite you to add more transparency to the decision. What is the mechanism to allow this to be looked at? Can council officers who are allowed to see your registered interests check the locations and review whether conflicts of interest should have been declared for this decision?
“Where we own the land we have greater influence in the planning system. The planning system has some teeth, but where you’re the landowner it can really kind of add value and get the outcomes that we’re looking for, so a combination of that sort of regen thinking and where we also have Goram Homes involved it makes me very positive about the future of some of those locations and so I really look forward to…. I’m so glad Gorham are going to have that certainty and now we can look forward to cracking on with those sites.”
I invite you to clarify what was meant, as there are possible different interpretations. On the one hand it could be a positive statement about the benefit to the council of achieving what it wants to on those sites, on the other it carries a threat of extra power in the planning process to push through whatever you want to build. Given the comment is ambiguous and unclear, I think some clarity is needed.
You seem to have created a tension between your housing aims and your ecological aims. The choice of housing or ecological richness. For some of these sites the ecological loss is just too great. All but one of you have wards in the north of the city, I’m very happy to meet you at the Western Slopes and show you around, so that you can actually experience the site for yourself.
Plans and sales literature have been published of the new 3 bedroom homes at William Jessop Way, Hartcliffe near Bridge Learning Campus that we are now invited to call ‘Jessop Park’. According to the blurb these homes are “ideal for first time buyers and growing families”. And the cost to first time buyers and growing families” in south Bristol? A snip at just £307,950!
The development by Keepmoat Homes is on former council land and the Reverend Rees gushed to the press when his plans for the land were announced: “We are delighted to be involved with a project that addresses one of our city’s most urgent priorities – building more housing, particularly affordable homes in areas that need it the most. We want to make Bristol a city where everyone has a safe roof over their heads, and we cannot do that without developments like this.”
Look out for much more ridiculously expensive “developments like this” on council land when the council’s housing company Goram Homes in partnership with private developers gets building near you.