The Cable speaks to community activists from Saxon Road Green Space group in St Werburghs about their campaign against the proposed power station and the fight for community-focused development.
Words & Photos: Lorna Stephenson
Saxon Road Green Space are a small group of St Werburghs activists campaigning for responsible development of a disused brownfield site on Saxon Road – now earmarked for a controversial natural gas plant by energy company UK Power Reserve (UKPR). The site has lain empty for over 20 years, at the same time as the St Werburghs population is booming.
Established in 2010, the group initially hoped to secure the land for community use – a goal that ran into problems due to its ‘contaminated’ status. Now the aims are more ‘damage control’ – seeking to influence developments to preserve some publicly-accessible green space.
The gas power station plan, which came to light at the beginning of September, was a huge blow to the Saxon Roaders, who had contested a previous planning application for a container self storage park: “We’d come to accept the plans by Dainton’s [Self Storage] – that it would be containers, with a small green strip – and were waiting for work to start. But then this happened. We definitely don’t want this.”
The group launched back into action – reactivating social media accounts, printing and delivering flyers, and calling an urgent meeting at the local community centre which around 70 people attended. Now, over 700 objections have been submitted to the Council about the plans. UKPR are also now subject to an extraordinary scrutiny measure by the Council, a Development Control Committee meeting on the 9th December, along with other controversial power station plans in Bristol.
The Cable spoke to Lucille Smith and Helene Jewell, members of Saxon Road Green Space, about the next steps in their campaign.
Why do you oppose the UKPR plans?
Helene: The pollution is the number one reason… It’s also out of keeping with a residential area – we’re talking about 12 metre high chimney stacks about 50 metres from people’s houses. There’s also concerns about noise, particularly low frequency noise, and that they’re going to set a precedent for this to happen in many more places.
There’s no benefit for the local community, there’s no talk of job increases or anything. It will only be detrimental to us, and to people within a big radius.
Lucille: There’s also an issue that it’s really close to some gas pods, they’re just the other side to the railway line, it’s close to the M32. If there was any risk of an accident bringing gas this side of the railway line, we’re at greater risk. It’s also right next to the scrapyard which has frequent fires.
What was the response of the community to your campaign?
H: We had about 70 people turn up the first meeting – that really amazed us. They weren’t just from St Werburghs, and they wanted to know what they could do. Then Xeena Cooper, a community artist, just produced a poster out of nowhere and said ‘use this’ .We spread it far and wide and it went everywhere. That led to the 700 objections on the Council website. After that the ball was rolling.
We’re quite a cohesive community in St Werburghs and a lot of people know each other… It seemed like everyone was contacting us asking ‘How can we spread the word?’ I remember bumping into two women on the street, and they were handing out the posters. They said, ‘We’re keen to get the word out,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’.
The only reason we’ve reached 700 objections is because the community has completely got on board with everything we’ve tried to get moving. Although we’ve been contacted by councillors and they’ve offered their support, it’s totally community-driven.
L: I agree with that. In fact, I think they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing by supporting us.
H: We have public meeting coming up on Wednesday 3rd December. 6.30pm, St Werburghs community centre.
L: There’s going to be a Development Control Committee to decide what will happen and whether they’ll say yes or no to the planning permission. People can submit a statement for that and come and speak to their statement on the day. At this meeting we’ll be telling people how they can do that and what are the relevant things to bring up. It’s an open, public meeting, so anyone interested can come along.
What advice would you give other communities facing unpopular plans?
H: Part of it is due to the type of community we are: already we’re a very active community. Having said that, we’ve used social media, we’ve gone out on the streets, printed flyers… I think any of those kinds of things. It can be hard at first, but you have to keep going. Keep using all the different methods, because different methods will apply to different people. Keep going, and try and use it all.