Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Council green spaces policy to classify land not needed - land and property developer has done it for us!!

The controversy concerning the 'cycle houses' development and the council not following its own policy on green spaces has finally been reported, to a limited extent, by the local newspaper even though local bloggers (here, here, here and here for instance!) including me, have been banging on about it for months now!!!

Developer George Ferguson, Chairman of Architects AFM, is quoted as saying this, which is particularly infuriating as well as missing the point:

"This strip of land is a completely pointless bit of scrub land"

As a land and property developer its no surprise that George Ferguson speaks dismissively, contemptupusly even, about the quality of the land he wants to build over. Council officers advised against selling green land for this development due to its wildlife value and contribution to the green character of the area.

What Mr Ferguson needs to understand is that all land covered by the councils policy, the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, should according to that policy, have an Area Green Space Plan drawn up before it is disposed of or has its use changed in any way. This has not happened in this case. Its not for developers to classify land quality for us as if they know best!

It appears that some senior officers at the council have taken some very speedy and rather ad hoc decisions on selling land that do not accord with the principles, procedures and spirit of council policy at all.

I've been so concerned about this that as far back as Sept I submitted a formal complaint to the council via their system (See here for details and to track the lengthy history of the complaint).

They missed deadline after deadline for giving me a full and formal response and still have not answered all my queries satisfactorily. I've recently had it confirmed in writing by the Council's Corporate Complaints Manager that I have exhausted the complaints procedure and am free to take my complaint to the Local Govt Ombudsman for independent investigation. This has become a very serious issue indeed because if straightforward answers to my complaint existed they would have given them to me easily within the 15 working day deadline - but two months has now passed since I first complained !!

I emailed Mr Ferguson and others asking him to scale back the development in one small area, in order to stop the destruction of a mature hedgerow over 100 metres in length and to conserve the green character of this part of the Bristol to Bath Railway Path - he did not even acknowledge let alone respond to my appeal (recorded on my blog and in a letter published in the Post) even though he initiated some limited contact with other people who want his 'cycle houses' development.

Its no surprise at all to me that this issue has escalated to the point where Ashley Fox, a respected Tory Councillor is asking questions of the Labour run Bristol City Cabinet at its 27 Nov meeting, where I also have questions tabled.

We must establish that developers must not drive council policy or have any undue influence over it. We must establish that officers must follow council policy, which should be clear, coherent, consistent and open, so that people can be held to account. We must establish that council officers do not decide what to do on an ad hoc basis. Unfortuneately things look pretty bad at the council currently so the Ombudsman will have some work to do investigating the situation in the coming weeks and months.

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