Public statement re proposed Metrobus scheme and linked Park and Ride

Thursday 29th May 2014

Avon Wildlife Trust (AWT) runs the community food growing hub Feed Bristol on land leased from Bristol City Council (BCC), known as Stapleton Smallholdings. Over the past three years, Avon Wildlife Trust has worked in partnership with Bristol City Council, supported by the Big Lottery Fund's Local Food Grant, to create an award-winning, cutting-edge community project. The Council has supported the project to date by waiving the rent on the land during the start-up period and through providing staff input via its Allotments Team.

Background

Trust staff and a committed group of volunteers have developed the site from a derelict, overgrown, former smallholding into an internationally recognised exemplar site for local, community food growing with the emphasis on wildlife-friendly production methods. The project has provided over 23,000 people engagements to date, benefiting thousands of people through training, education, and therapeutic care - with a significant number going on to find employment through the skills and experience gained on the site.

Originally, Feed Bristol was destined for another location, but shifted to Stapleton smallholdings when that initial site became unavailable at short-notice. AWT took on the lease in 2011, even though we were aware of the risk of a potential Metrobus scheme (formerly known as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme) impacting on the site.

Avon Wildlife Trust's objection

We made public our opposition to the proposed scheme from the outset, given its potential negative impacts upon the wider area, as well as the Feed Bristol project specifically - setting out our objections and proposals for less-damaging alternatives in a letter of 11 July 2012 to BCC:
“While AWT is in favour of infrastructure that would enable more sustainable modes of transport to be used, we consider that it should not be at the expense of the biodiversity and natural environment or result in reduced opportunities for people to gain health and well-being benefits through contact with nature and the natural world.”

We concluded that, as proposed, the Metrobus/BRT, in addition to its significant impacts upon the Feed Bristol site's value for wildlife and for people's well-being, would:
• impact negatively on the Green Belt, Stapleton and Frome Valley Conservation Area
• undermine Bristol’s reputation in the run-up to Bristol Green Capital 2015
• contradict guidance set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
• lead to the loss of areas of Grade 2 agricultural land (Grades, 1, 2 and 3 are classified as 'best and most versatile' (BMV) for food growing)

These remain our conclusions. Therefore, Avon Wildlife Trust has submitted a detailed objection to the planning application BCC has put in for the Metrobus scheme.

Whilst, first and foremost a nature conservation organisation, AWT delivers its mission through engagement with people in urban and rural communities across the West of England. Feed Bristol is a key site for demonstrating society's dependency on good quality food producing land that is in turn dependent on sustaining a diversity of wildlife and functioning ecosystems.

Therefore, as well as objecting to the Metrobus proposals as they stand, AWT is also opposed to the siting of any future proposed Park and Ride associated with the Metrobus scheme on the Grade 1 agricultural land (of which less than 3% remains in the whole of the UK) adjacent to the Feed Bristol site. Any such development, causing the loss of primary food producing land in close proximity to Bristol's burgeoning population, as well as blocking the existing wildlife connecting corridor between the Feed Bristol site and the wider countryside, contradicts everything we are seeking to communicate and demonstrate at Feed Bristol and more widely. It also appears to contradict policies and principles that Bristol City Council has committed itself to.

Feed Bristol's future


Avon Wildlife Trust is very concerned that, as proposed, the Metrobus scheme will seriously affect the Feed Bristol project by:
 reducing the existing nature conservation value of the site;
 compromising the many proven benefits AWT is able to provide the local and wider community,
 and undermining the economic viability of the project at a crucial period in its development.

We will continue to seek to work in partnership with Bristol City Council in exploring a sustainable future for Feed Bristol beyond its start-up period and following the ending of the Big Lottery Fund grant. However, the uncertainty around the Metrobus scheme and its potential negative impacts on the Feed Bristol site are a significant hindrance to securing the project's sustainable future.

Should the Metrobus scheme be granted planning permission, despite our objections and those from the local community and the wider public, then AWT will consider fully any measures BCC might propose that could reduce the impacts upon the Feed Bristol project and enable us to continue to deliver maximum community and nature conservation value from the project.

However, in our view, it will be challenging to compensate fully for the loss of one-third of the site as is - and the consequent impacts upon the character and nature of the site as a haven for wildlife and a special place providing purposeful activity, learning and well-being for people.
Nevertheless, Avon Wildlife Trust is committed to seeking to sustain Feed Bristol if it is viable to do so, and thus to maximise its value to the community and for nature conservation.

For further information please contact:
Robin Maynard, Director of Community Programmes, Avon Wildlife Trust
0117 917 7272; 07932 040452.