Campaigners have won a legal battle to protect Clifton Downs from becoming a car park.
Downs for People, set up in 2013 to monitor and launch action against zoo parking on the Downs, has settled out of court with Bristol City Council and the Downs Committee, to obtain a binding agreement that the latter will not license land on the Downs for parking after 2023.
In a statement for DfP, Susan Carter said ‘we are delighted with this outcome but dismayed that we have had to go to court to achieve it. The Downs Committee has a duty under the 1861 Downs Act to keep the Downs ‘open and unenclosed’ for the people of Bristol to enjoy.
‘This expensive legal action would have been avoided if the Committee had listened to our warnings that zoo parking on the Downs off Ladies Mile was unlawful
‘It was obvious to us that land roped off for use by more than six hundred zoo visitors’ cars was not “open and unenclosed”’.
The Downs Committee – a group comprising councillors and Merchant Venturers – is responsible for managing the Downs and making decisions about the space. It was established under the Clifton and Durdham Downs (Bristol) Act 1861.
By the terms of that Act, it is the responsibility of the Committee to maintain the Downs as “open and unenclosed, and as a place for the public resort and recreation of the citizens and inhabitants of Bristol”.
However, in June last year, DfP learned from Freedom of Information requests that at a meeting behind closed doors in July 2019, the Merchant Venturers had granted a license to Bristol City Council who in turn granted a sub-licence to the zoo to use areas of the Downs, near Ladies Mile, for parking for up to 600 zoo visitors, for 28 days a year, fo 20 years.
It was not just the content of this deal, but the secretive manner in which it was struck that DfP took issue with.
Susan Carter said ‘we have attended the Downs Committee’s meetings for many years and offered to discuss the issues. We have been ignored…They treat with disdain those who act through proper channels. Merchant Venturer members have even declared that the Committee is not subject to the rules governing public bodies, despite being set up by Act of Parliament.’
In August 2020, DfP lodged their case with the High Court, which was accepted on March 22nd 2021 and listed for May 13th. The settlement was reached out of court on May 12th.
Feature image credit: Downs for People