Inspector rejects case for Downs bridge

January 29 2020

Inspector rejects case for Downs bridge

by Keri Beckingham

PLANS for a new pedestrian bridge on Clifton Downs have been dealt another blow after they were rejected by a government planning inspector, despite being given approval by Bristol City Council.
As previously reported, plans for the 80m-long bridge across Bridge Valley Road were submitted to Bristol City Council in 2016, in the hope that it would make the crossing safer for walkers and cyclists. 14 objections were lodged against the scheme, which is in a conservation area and would require 38 trees to be removed, although it received the support of 148 people overall.
At the time the bridge was initially recommended for refusal, however in July 2016 it was permitted by a planning committee with the condition that £85,000 was needed to pay for compensatory tree planting. Following this, the decision was changed and the committee refused the scheme, before this was overturned in October 2017 by a planning inspector.  
Dr Adrienn Tomor, who is based at the University of the West of England and worked on the design of the bridge with the Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge, asked Environment Secretary Michael Gove to get involved as part of The Commons Act 2016, which requires the post holder to give permission before a structure is built on common land.
The plans for the bridge were passed to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for approval last summer. Before Christmas the plans were rejected by inspector Helen Slade, who stated that they were not justified on “common land”, that the benefits of the bridge for the public did not outweigh the “permanent adverse impact that it would have on the open landscape of the common" and that an “adequate crossing point was available a short distance away”.
Commenting on the latest development, chair of the Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge Robert Westlake said: “The Friends of the Downs, as co-sponsors of the project, were of course disappointed with the inspector’s decision. Whilst we respect the inspector’s comments we felt that not enough weight was given to the benefits that the bridge would have brought.
“We supported the bridge project for five principal reasons, the main one being that the bridge would have made crossing a complex and dangerous junction safer for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s currently very difficult to cross, particularly for older citizens, the less mobile and parents with pushchairs. Secondly it would join up the two halves of the Downs that are currently bisected by the main road, and thirdly it would have been built at no cost to the city.
“It would also have been an opportunity to train apprentice stone masons and create jobs, and finally the materials proposed for the design were sustainable and would have needed minimal maintenance for the rest of the century.”
Robert also told Henleaze and Westbury Voice that the group are currently looking at other possible options for the bridge, and updates will be published on this in due course.
In addition, an inspector for Defra has also rejected plans for a steel and glass café at Sea Walls, which would replace the old dilapidated public toilets. It was proposed that the cafe profits would be used to maintain the toilets and allow the public to use them free of charge. However, despite receiving approval by Bristol City Council in 2019, a Defra inspector has now rejected them, stating that the alleged benefits of the cafe had not been “adequately demonstrated” and that there would be potential harm to the local neighbourhood and the landscape.
The Downs Committee was due to meet at the end of January to discuss their next steps in regards to the café, and an update on this will be published in a future edition.
To find out more about Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge, visit their website: www.friendsofthedowns.org