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Objection to Zoo parking on the Downs

This is an objection on behalf of Bristol Green Party to the application 13/01140/X to allow use of land off Ladies Mile for controlled overflow car parking by Bristol Zoo Gardens for up to 60 days in each calendar year for a period of 5 years.

We object on the following grounds:

Violation of the Downs act

The Downs are a treasured green retreat in the heart of Bristol, intended for residents to enjoy, all year round. This is an historic site, steeped in Bristolian heritage and culture, and guaranteed under the 1861 Act of Parliament as “a place for the public resort and recreation of the citizens and inhabitants of Bristol.”

It is therefore not acceptable for visitors to come in from all around and park on one of the most beautiful bits of green space Bristol has to offer. Surely it is inconceivable that visitors attracted to the city in 2015 by its status as European Green Capital should arrive to find this unique facility so ill used?

Successive planning committees have listened with sympathy to the concerns of the Zoo management and have bent over backwards to accommodate them. Temporary permission has been granted in order to allow the Zoo time to develop other solutions, but time and time again these extensions have expired without any progress being made. It is clear that the Zoo has no strategy other than to continually make fresh applications and rely on the council always granting further permission. This has been going on for over 40 years. It is clear that no serious attempt will be made to develop an alternative solution until an application is flatly refused.

Bristol Zoo is an iconic institution and as such it should be setting a better example of sustainable practice within the City. It would not be acceptable for any other kind of business to use the Downs as a car park and by allowing one organisation to do so an unfortunate precedent may be set.

Ecological damage

It can be clearly seen in the photos on the Downs for People website that damage is being done to the area used for parking. Whatever efforts the Zoo has made to prevent damage have not been effective. The area used is one of the most beautiful bits of the Downs, rich in flora and fauna, where ecosystems thrive. There is little green space left in Bristol for such ecosystems, so every inch that is left needs to be preserved to maintain Bristol’s diverse ecology.

The outlined area for which the parking has been allowed has been steadily increasing over the years with more and more cars beginning to spread across the grass and hedgerows, doing further damage to habitats, and if allowed to persist will continue to spread.

Traffic and pollution

Bristol’s aspiration to be European Green Capital is incompatible with allowing Bristol Zoo to encourage visitors to arrive by car through the provision of cheap parking. This is adding to congestion in Bristol and contributing to air and noise pollution, particularly in this area dedicated to quiet enjoyment. Visitors to the Zoo should be encouraged to use more sustainable modes of transport, such as the ‘Monkey Trains’ that bought visitors from South Wales in years gone by.

We are not convinced that the Zoo have been fully committed in their attempts to introduce a Park and Ride scheme. They have a strong incentive to ensure such a scheme does not succeed, since that gives them an excuse to pursue the cheaper option of continuing to use the Downs for parking. We believe that if this option was unavailable to them, we would see greater effort made to find an alternative.

Fears have previously been expressed that if visitors were not able to park on the Downs, they would cruise Clifton looking for spaces and adding to congestion. The likelihood of a Residents Parking Zone being introduced in Clifton means this fear will now be allayed. A refusal to grant this application will send a clear message to the Zoo management that they need to invest in a permanent solution to their parking issues, which may increase with the reduction in on street parking. We need to let them know that the cheap option of increasing their use of the Downs is no longer available. We note that although the overflow car park is 'temporary', the path leading down from the site to the Zoo has a rather permanent look about it. This also needs to be removed.

The Downs parking does not provide fair access for all. It cannot provide disabled parking, for example, and people with wheelchairs may be forced to park at any far corner of the overflow car park and travel across unsuitable terrain as shown in the picture above.

In conclusion

Bristol Green Party calls on the Committee to refuse this application. Despite the great affection we all have for the Zoo, it cannot be right to allow them to continue to despoil the unique environment of the Downs. If the Zoo relies for its viability on the use of a facility that would not be available to any other business in Bristol, then it is not as well managed as we have been led to believe. It will not be truly viable until it has found a more sustainable solution, and it is clear this will not be seriously pursued while ‘the cheap option’ remains. They have had the temporary use of our Downs for forty five years. It is time to say No.

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