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This week in Bristol: Demonstrators say council is “refusing to correct” conservation mistake

After accidentally giving a landowner permission to cut down an ancient Bristol hedgerow with protected status as a biodiversity haven, the council say there’s nothing they can do.

The ancient hedgerow at Yew Tree Farm on a sunny day
This Week in Bristol

In the news this week, demonstrators have been planning to make their voices heard at Bristol’s last working farm. They are attempting to save an ancient hedgerow with protected biodiversity status at Yew Tree Farm, that Bristol City Council has admitted they accidentally permitted to be partially destroyed.

Just south of the city centre, the hedgerow at Yew Tree Farm is a sanctuary for wildlife and an important biodiversity haven. At the time the mistake was made, the hedgerow was going through the process of being registered as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI) after scientists discovered what they believed to be a previously unknown insect species there.

Despite this, council administrators told the landlord that no special permissions were needed to cut part of it down as part of development on neighbouring land.

This was incorrect, but by the time anyone realised, the time limit for reversing the mistake had passed. The council have apologised, but say there is now “nothing they can do”.

Catherine Withers, the third-generation farmer who grew up at Yew Tree Farm, was joined by local residents in April in a standoff with the landlord, when the first attempt was made to cut down 12 metres of the hedge. Withers and other locals blocked the road with cars to prevent access to the hedge cutting tractor, resulting in the police being called. By the end of the day, the hedge remained intact.

Withers has said that since then she has felt unable to leave the premises, missing out on crucial income from farmers markets, for example, for fear that the landlord will take their chances while she is off site.

She has invited councillors to join the demo at the farm on Bridgewater Road at 12.30pm, Saturday 3 June, to “correct their mistakes”. Green Councillors Tony Dyer and Emma Edwards have already announced they will attend the demonstration in support.

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The Bristol round-up

Outgoing Mayor Marvin Rees has confirmed he plans to “put his hat in the ring” to stand as an MP for Bristol North East, even before the new constituency has been created. The Kingswood constituency, currently held by Tory MP Chris Skidmore, is planned to be cut in two, with traditionally Tory Hanham and Warmley brought into Jacob Rees-Mogg’s North East Somerset constituency, and Labour strongholds Fishponds and Eastville becoming part of Bristol North East.

The West of England metro mayor has said the £8 million earmarked for the ‘birthday bus scheme’ can’t be spent on restoring subsidised bus routes. Dan Norris’ plan has been criticised as a ‘gimmick’, but says that the money, which came from the government, is earmarked for “new and innovative ideas” only. However, these guidelines could be relaxed later in the year, according to Richard Holden, the minister for roads and transport.

A rogue landlord convicted of eight offences has failed to overturn her five-year ban at an appeal against Bristol City Council. The appeal by Naomi Knapp, who had a portfolio of 29 tenancies and was banned due to several safety and conditions offences, was the first to be heard at The Upper Tribunal’s Lands Chamber against a banning order under the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

Staff at the University of Bristol took another day of strike again this week over a pay offer they called “insulting”. UNISON, which represents the cleaners, IT technicians, library staff and other higher education workers striking this week, said they wouldn’t accept the current offer – 5-8% depending on salary – as it falls a long way short of inflation.

St Paul’s residents have protested this week over the closure of their local dentist. Councillor Amirah Cole said “Decision makers must be held accountable… It’s devastating for those of us being left in limbo with no dental care, another classic example of profits before people.”

Developers pulled their planning application for luxury retirement apartments on the old St Christopher’s school site last minute, after the council were set to refuse them. St Christopher’s Action Network (SCAN) have released a statement calling the move “totally unacceptable” as “it wastes council resources… costing us all time and money.”

Plans to bulldoze the Vassall Centre in Fishponds and replace it with a new community hub and homes for elderly and disabled people have been approved. Though 91 objections were received, the development control committee said the positives “far outweighed” the negatives, and that the centre, originally a World War Two base for US soldiers, would be greatly improved.

Controversial plans to demolish Broadwalk Shopping Centre in Knowle and build up to 850 homes have been refused unanimously by Bristol city councillors. Concerns included a lack of affordable housing, the height of the 12 storey buildings and the ‘cramming’ of too many flats into the site.

Bristol streets named after slave trader Edward Colston are unlikely to be changed, say Bristol City Council. Moves to change street names would need to be approved, and the administrative costs paid, by all property owners on the road. A council spokesperson said the council has “no intention of changing this position” on the process.

Solutions and Successes

Bristol Refugee Rights are launching a graphic novel called “Escape To Safelandia”. The launch on June 13th at 7pm at St Pauls Learning Centre will be entry by donation, and will include a free copy of the comic, aimed at people aged 13+ to give an introduction to the process of asylum and refugees. 

Bristol-based charity Avon Needs Trees are appealing for help to find their next piece of land around Bristol. They aim to plant a new woodland and are calling for landowners who would like to sell land or partner with them to get in touch with, or attend their Landowners Drop In event on Sunday 2nd July at Pensford Village Hall, 2-4pm.

BBC Radio 4 has released ‘Bristol: Wild Bunch’, a radio documentary about Bristol’s music scene. The latest episode of its ‘Sound Towns’ series, the half hour doc, which can be heard via the BBC Sounds app or webpage, tracks the rise of the ‘Wild Bunch’ music collective, whose soundsystem parties and collaborations led to the emergence of the Bristol Sound, via artists such as Tricky, Portishead and Massive Attack.

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