Last week I joined a celebration on the incomparable Bristol downs. Clifton and Durdham Downs have been saved from the abuse of car parking, thanks to the efforts of Downs for People (DfP) backed by the Open Spaces Society (OSS). It was a fine example of local and national bodies working together to achieve victory.
For decades, Bristol City Council and the downs committee (an undemocratic body comprising the Lord Mayor, six councillors and seven Merchant Venturers) have allowed Bristol Zoo to use the adjoining downs for car parking for many days of the year, including weekends and bank holidays when the downs are most popular for recreation. The permission was granted for three years and repeatedly renewed, but then the council and committee, in secret, granted a 20-year licence.
DfP sought judicial review of the decision and the OSS gave financial support. But the members of DfP also risked their own money on the case, such was their strength of feeling about it. The argument was that this activity transgressed the Clifton and Durdham Downs (Bristol) Act 1861 which protects the downs as a place for the people of Bristol to enjoy. The Open Spaces Society, through our case officer Nicola Hodgson, and adviser, the late Bernard Selwyn, had argued this repeatedly, whenever the licence came up for renewal.
Fortunately, in the face of high-profile court action, the city council and downs committee crumbled. In a settlement out of court, approved by a judge on 12 May, the defendants gave a legally-binding undertaking never again to set aside land on the downs for parking for activities taking place elsewhere. DfP has agreed that the zoo might continue to use the downs until 2023 when the zoo is to close. The defendants have also agreed to pay up to £72,000 towards DfP’s legal costs.
Susan Carter, a tireless, determined, leading light of DfP, organised a celebration on 15 July. DfP members, and barristers Philip Petchey and Jeremy Phillips of Francis Taylor Building Chambers (who gave massive assistance), as well as Hugh Craddock and me for OSS, met at her house in Redland for a convivial lunch.
Then we walked across to the downs. They were glorious, bathed in golden summer sunshine. We gathered at a small gazebo for speeches, photos, cake and rounders.
It was lovely to see my old friend Julie Boston, sister of the late Richard Boston who was responsible for my front-page letter to Prince Charles in Vole magazine in 1980.
It was a grand celebration, and fabulous to know that the downs are saved, for now and for ever, for all to enjoy.