Main image by Danica Priest
A Knowle West campaign group is battling to save a much-loved wildlife haven from development – fearing the loss of valuable green space could destroy wildlife and affect people’s health.
Friends of the Western Slopes was created to fight plans which could see over 500 homes on the land stretching from Novers Hill to Hartcliffe Way – that consists of picturesque meadows where horses graze and has far-reaching views to the Suspension Bridge.
But Bristol City Council and Lovell Homes – which are both looking to develop parts of the site – say it was earmarked as part of the Knowle West Regeneration Framework in 2012, to deliver urgently needed, affordable homes to the area.
The campaign group is questioning the Framework’s relevancy “given recent climate and ecological emergencies” – as the Slopes, which includes Pigeonhouse Stream, is also a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI).
It is also of “city wide importance” because of the rare wildlife there which includes numerous birds of prey such as buzzards, kestrels and sparrow hawks as well as bats and badgers.
They say it was also identified in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as having priority species and habitat and the Avon Wildlife Trust has also believed it should be protected.
Local residents have fought off developments four times in the last twenty years and the campaign group feels that “now needs to be the end of attempts’ to build on the site, which is between two other nature reserves.
Members of the Friends group believe the Western Slopes should remain as a green space asset for the local area – improving access through “better signage and footpaths and re-wilding certain parts with more tree coverage”.
They say they want to “formalise its SNCI status and protect it once and for all, bringing the space back into the community.”
Novers resident, Danielle Ardilla, only found out about the development plans through seeing the campaign banners along the Hartcliffe Way.
She says: “I cannot believe that they are even considering building over this beautiful green space, especially since the council declared an Ecological Emergency, the first UK city to do so.
“In their statement they say that priorities include looking at ways to stop wildlife habitats from being destroyed, managing land in a sustainable way that is sympathetic to wildlife and creating and caring for wildlife-rich spaces in every part of the city and across the region.”
Danielle questions how building some 500 homes on this site will reflect the declarations made by the council and feels the Western Slopes have been lifesaver for her during the pandemic.
She adds: “Just to see the abundance of wildlife gives me such a wonderful connection to the natural world and personally I feel this beautiful green space needs to be afforded the status of a Nature Reserve, in line with other surrounding green areas. Once it has gone it will take decades to even remotely recover, if at all…”
‘The Slopes provide green lungs between Hartcliffe Way and the recycling depot…’
Group member Kat Hegarty agrees: “The Slopes provide the ‘green lungs’ between Hartcliffe Way and the recycling depot which are incredibly important given some of the health complaints locals suffer physically – and mentally. Removing them is a false economy: ecologically, medically and economically.”
A Bristol City Council spokesperson said they were still in the early stages of considering “the detailed approach to the development of this site”.
Local people and interest groups, including Avon Wildlife Trust, would be able to contribute their views as part of any consultation about plans the council, Goram Homes or private sector developers brought forward.
“We acknowledge that the prospect of new development at Western Slopes, including the potential impacts on wildlife, can cause concerns for many residents. Reflecting the principles of the Knowle West Regeneration Framework, the development at Western Slopes as set out in the Bristol Local Plan strikes a balance between delivering regeneration and protecting and enhancing the ecology of the city.
“As well as being allocated for housing, parts of the site also include wildlife corridor and site of nature conservation interest. We will work closely with ecologists and arboriculturists to ensure that ecology, flora and fauna is integral to the overall design proposals.
‘Development of the site will be informed by an ecological survey…’
“Development of the site will be informed by an ecological survey which will provide mitigation measures to compensate for the impact on meadow and grassland habitats. It will also be required to maintain the integrity and connectivity of the wildlife network.
“Alongside the area earmarked for much needed new homes, the Local Plan also designates a swathe of land to be protected as open space and as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance.”
The spokesperson said the council had “an urgent need to deliver more homes across the city”. They currently had over 12,000 people on their waiting list, with Bristol’s population expected to grow by up to 70,000 people over the next 25 years.
“We also need to tackle the affordability crisis in the city – our ratio of average earnings to average house prices is significantly higher than that of other core cities in England. This is why we are prioritising the delivery of new homes across the city both to accommodate this demand, and to prevent future generations being priced out of their local area and community.
“To this end, we have allocated sites across the city to make sufficient land available to meet Bristol’s housing needs. This includes parts of Novers Hill, which was allocated for housing in our local plan in 2014. This site was allocated following extensive consultation with local communities as part of the Knowle West Regeneration Framework, which puts forward a 20 year plan to meet community aspirations for the area.’’
Lovell has earmarked two areas of the land, the southern half shared with the council and the northern half on private land at Novers Hill, next to the industrial units. They have plans for 157 homes, of which 47 will be affordable.
Regional Technical Director for Lovell South Wales and South West, Shane Jay, said: “We understand how important the Western Slopes are to local people and how deep the strength of feeling is towards this important site. As a leading developer we are wholly committed to working in partnership with the local community to devise the most fitting and sympathetic scheme possible that will bring real benefits to all…
“As at all our developments, we are conscious of our responsibilities to the environment and have spent the last 12 months undertaking detailed ecological surveys in order to fully understand the needs of the site and we are very much looking forward to consulting with local people directly on our vision in the near future.”