Campaigners jubilant but say ‘fight is not over’
Controversial proposals for new homes on Knowle West’s Western Slopes have been scaled down by Bristol City Council to protect “the important wildlife corridor.”
The land which stretches from Novers Hill to Hartcliffe Way was originally earmarked by Goram Homes for 360 houses on the southern part of the site which is council-owned.
But Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees requested a new ecological report – after residents highlighted there was important wildlife on the site.
A group of local people, Friends of the Western Slopes, has been battling to protect the nature haven which consists of meadows, woodland and Pigeonhouse Stream.
Part of the land is already a Site of Nature Conservation Interest – and the group has asked for the whole area to be preserved as a nature reserve.
The Western Slopes were allocated for housing development in 2014 and Mr Rees recently called for further consultation and a fresh look at the proposals.
As a result of the ecological report’s findings and discussions with Avon Wildlife Trust – the council has significantly reduced plans to build homes on the Slopes “to protect the important wildlife corridor and meadow and grassland habitats.”
Goram Homes has now been allocated a much smaller area of brownfield land for new homes on the previously developed site of the old school near Belstone Walk and part of the existing stables – where an estimated 70 homes can be built.
The council says this will enable new homes to be delivered in the area, while protecting the areas of the site with the “highest ecological value.”
It will now look for other options for the additional homes previously earmarked for the land – and explore brownfield sites elsewhere in the city.
Mayor Rees said: “We need to tackle the housing crisis in Bristol, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of our commitments to confronting the climate and ecological emergencies.
“It’s now clear that Western Slopes is a hugely important wildlife corridor and ecologically significant site. We are committed to tackling the ecological emergency head on so it’s only right that we pause the proposals for development of council land on Western Slopes…
“Bristol has limited space, and, if we want to protect green spaces, this means building more densely in brownfield locations, close to sustainable travel, jobs, and public spaces. We now need to find other, more suitable sites for these desperately needed new homes, and to make sure we meet the current and future needs of Bristol’s citizens as we do.”
Avon Wildlife Trust (AWT)- which came out in support of Friends of the Western Slopes in the summer has welcomed the announcement.
The Trust’s CEO, Ian Barrett, said: “This is fantastic news. It is more important than ever that we preserve important wildlife corridors and protect areas of ecological significance. The Western Slopes play a key role in Bristol’s nature networks and I am delighted that we have found a way to protect them.
“I look forward to working with Goram Homes, Bristol City Council and local residents to see how we can further enhance these habitats and bring more wildlife back to the city.”
A spokesperson from Friends of the Western Slopes (FOTWS) said: “We are all crying tears of joy. This past year has been exhausting and at times, demoralising. But our arguments were always sound – the site has always been ecologically precious and loved by the people of South Bristol for generations and this battle has been fought too many times.
“It should never have been in the local plan – not just because of its ecology but because of the numerous constraints of the site – lack of amenities, health care, poor access and one of the steepest hills in the city. It was never about simply “stopping houses”, it was about questioning the decisions taken by the council over many years and how unsuitable some sites are for development.
“We are not activists or campaigners, we are the ordinary people of South Bristol, that care deeply about where we live…
“We thank Marvin Rees for finally listening to the people of South Bristol and we look forward to working with the council and AWT to turn the site into nature reserve it should have always been.”
“We will still continue to fight…”
But the Friends say the fight is not over to protect the green space for future generations. In October, Lovell Partnerships submitted plans for 157 homes on private land to the north of the Western Slopes, which backs on to the industrial estate.
Lovell has promised to include bat and wildlife corridors and retain some of the biodiversity – and says the application includes 1.92 hectares of green space – the size of over two and a half football pitches.
But there has been fierce opposition from local people who fear this development will destroy the wildlife and grassland on an area that provides a ‘green lung’ for the neighbourhood.
Resident Danielle Houghton whose house overlooks the Slopes said: “Personally I could not be happier, having the Slopes so close to home and being able to get out into nature has been a blessing for me, more so during the last two years.
” I am so happy this announcement has been made but there is still the planning proposal by Lovells for 157 houses… .So although the Major’s announcement is brilliant news for FOTWS and the residents of South Bristol we will still continue to fight this and ultimately would love for this area to be once and for all given the protected status it deserves.”
The Western Slopes is part of a range of sites in the Goram Homes Pipeline Review that will go to Bristol City Council’s Cabinet in March.
This week the council also said Knowle West Health Park would be removed from the pipeline of sites allocated to Goram Homes – and it would no longer “pursue the development of this site.'”
On Monday (31 January), the council also announced proposals to add the major development at Hengrove Park to the Goram Homes development pipeline, to allow around 700 new affordable homes to be built in South Bristol.