The soils in this area are known as Bristol's Blue Finger, a finger shaped piece of Best and Most Versatile soil that stretches out of Bristol along either side of the M32, out into South Gloucestershire. These soils are special not just because they are incredibly fertile, but they also withstand the vagaries of both flood and drought, which heading into a future where we are not sure of the effects of climate change, will be vital to ensure we can produce local food for local people. Historically this land was Bristol's Market Garden, supplying fruit and vegetables to the city seasonally.
The planning committee meeting was what can only be described as disappointing. It became obvious as the process began that no matter how many people stood up and spoke passionately about saving this land, the allotments, Feed Bristol and Stoke Park, complaining that consultation had been minimal and hadn't engaged with groups who are on the statutory list of consultees, let alone the allotment holders themselves, that this was not about communities or saving local food production, but was about money and corporate greed. It was about moving the population from their homes to a few large areas of trading and business in South Gloucestershire, and then back again at the end of the day, something that puts well used bus routes that run now, at risk. The chair of the committee at one point even laughed at how he had been on the planning committee that passed permission for the M32, which not only covered acres of BMV soils in the 1960's but also split the city in two, in a way that can never be changed. The councillors on the committee were bullied and harangued, told funding would be gone if the consent wasn't passed and to say the chair was patronising and rude would be kind.
I was appalled, and I know I was not alone.
Of course what is needed is for BMV land to be given policies that surround it to stop this kind of development. What is vital to remember is that less than 3% of the UK's soils are BMV so a policy stopping development on it would leave 97%+ of soils left. There is a strategy document written by Defra that states that by 2030 BMV soils will be immensely challenging to develop but that is still just strategy. This needs changing at local and national levels.
But what also must be looked at is why we have to move people around the city to work in often low paid jobs, when we should be working on local jobs for local people, as well as how the decisions made by the city's councillors should show the concerns of the people of the city. There has been much discussion of the facts that this route doesn't serve any hospitals, or any of East Bristol, which is desperate for decent, affordable bus services.
So what next? There are 19+ groups, including The Blue Finger Alliance, Alliance Against Metrobus and the Civic Society, continuing the fight against this dreadful decision. There is also a letter from the National Allotment Holders Assoc stating that the land set aside the replace the allotments is of poorer quality than the plots are on now, a fact that breaks the Allotment Act of 1925 which says if allotments are to be moved it must be to equivalent or better soils. There is talk of direct action and protest. But whatever happens it is a sad day when a committee decides that whilst being European Green Capital in 2015 it is a good idea to concrete over BMV soils to serve big business.
It seems independent Bristol has a long way to go.