Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bristol to Bath Railway Path land sell-off: council response to my objection letter

I've today received a reply from Bristol City Council (below) to my letter objecting to the sell-off of Brstol to Bath Railway Path land owned by the public. My response, point by point, is in italics.

Dear Mr Vowles,

Further to your e-mail dated the 4th September, I respond to your concerns with regard to the potential sale of the land as follows:

The potential loss of the green corridor along side the Railway Path was raised as a concern by Bristol City Council's Nature Conservation officer. As such, if this sale proceeds it will be on the condition that Squarepeg engage in dialogue with this officer to ensure that proposals provide the necessary compensatory measures for any loss of habitat and vegetation.

*Attempting to compensate for loss of habitat and vegetation is highly problematic and sometimes controversial. ‘Nature knows best’ is a great guideline for conservation. The council’s Nature Conservation Officer will know that a potentially big compromise has been made. We may be getting better at compensation but measuring the full value of the land before development is in itself an issue. Then you cant simply and easily ‘put back’ mature, fully functioning ecosystems and so there is likely to be a loss of quality for some time and quality may never return to its best. When land is back to an ‘equivalent value’, if at all, is often very hard to say.

Some say that habitat compensation is based on an economists view of nature not an ecologists. It thus serves to accommodate development interests not those of sustainability, attempting to legitimize damaging economic growth.

With regard to the lack of consultation over the potential sale of the land adjacent to the railway path. Bristol City Council has stringent procedures which it must follow when disposing of land, these procedures do not require the council to carry out public consultation prior to disposing of this land.

*I had the opportunity to object to the land sale only because of what I read online in various blogs (here and here). This means that very many members of the public locally, who own the land via the council, have not had the same chance. This is unjust and undemocratic. Please could you reply outlining the ‘stringent procedures’ you refer to as I’d like to see exactly why they mean public consultation is not required. Even if technically not required under current procedures I am dismayed that the council does not take the view that consultation is desirable on grounds that openness and public participation is to be valued (I note that developers Squarepeg are keen to stress that they value an open approach in the report on this issue in the Bristol Evening Post).

I can confirm this sale is not a 'done deal' and that whilst discussions have taken place with Squarepeg over the potential sale. No terms have been agreed, when seeking authority to proceed with this sale your objection will be presented along with the proposed terms.

*Not a ‘done deal’??? But today’s Bristol Evening Post story refers to a spokesman for the council saying: "The developer of the chocolate factory is negotiating with the council, which is finalising an in-principle agreement to sell a small strip of land…’ Sounds to me like a deal is virtually done - what else does 'finalising an in-principle agreement' mean!?!?

If you wish to discuss this matter any further please do not hesitate to contact me on 0117 9224028.

*Please pass on my further objections along with my first letter. I'd appreciate a response to my points about the highly problematic nature of habitat compensation, what council 'stringent procedures' are, the lack of opting in to full and open participation of the public on the land sale and when exactly a deal is or is not done.

Yours sincerely

Peter Webb

Peter Webb
Portfolio Management Officer
Valuation Practice
Floor 6, B Bond
Smeaton Road
Tel: 0117 922 4028
Fax: 0117 922 4676

Photo of land near the area concerned, by Martyn Whitelock. Lots of great photos of the path on his site well illustrating its green quality.


  1. I'm still not clear why the land is not covered by the new Parks and Open Spaces Strategy, which says it is.

  2. I agree BB. I've asked for a reply explaining why consultation is not required, which may help (I live in hope!!).

    I may email Cllr Rosalie Walker asking for clarification.


Genuine, open, reasonable debate is most welcome. Comments that meet this test will always be published.