By Sam Rkaina, Local Government Reporter
LETTERS sent to the thousands of petitioners who opposed Bristol City Council‘s green spaces sell-off plan have been branded a “waste of time”.
More than 7,000 people signed a petition calling for the council to abandon the plan to sell more than 40 open spaces across the city to improve others.
It was debated at a heated full council meeting in March but the Liberal Democrats used their majority to reject the petitioners’ bid.
Instead they said they would write a letter “explaining the issues” and would offer to meet with lead petitioners to discuss any outstanding concerns.
The Evening Post understands that the proposed meetings have not happened yet for the same reason.
Attributed to interim strategic director for neighbourhoods Alison Comely, the letter was sent to 3,040 people who provided legible addresses, and to 478 by e-mail.
A number of other people who signed the petition had asked not to be contacted.
The letter sets out the council’s arguments for supporting the plan.
It said: “After consultations which involved over 5,000 public responses, the council decided in early 2008 that it was time to tackle the long slow decline in our parks and facilities and that it was necessary to sell some parcels of land to help support this investment.
“Therefore the council has decided to proceed with plans to protect and preserve 97 per cent or more of the parks and green space land covered by this strategy, and to consider selling off up to just three per cent of the land at various times over the coming 20 years.
“If you take into account the recent acquisition by the council of the land at Stoke Park, the volume of parks within the council’s ownership is actually increasing.
“It is very clear that many people do not want even small amounts of their local green spaces sold off, and many heart felt pleas were heard.
“As a result of representations made, some of the earlier proposals to sell some pieces of land have been dropped.”
What the letter does not mention is that more than 15,000 people signed petitions against either some or all of the land sales.
It also does not mention that some sites are still set to be sold despite petitions against the move.
One of the petition organisers, Labour’s Mark Bradshaw (Bedminster), said: “Our view is that the letter was an expensive waste of time. Far better would have been to halt the sell-off and engage with the community partnerships.
“There is also a major contradiction in the cabinet’s handling of this communication with residents. Both Councillors Janke and Hopkins have claimed, publicly on air, that many of the 7,000 petitioners don’t exist. Quite incredible – then they spent council tax payers’ money writing to them.”
Conservative Mark Weston (Henbury) said: “The Lib Dems‘ explanatory letter was a piece of complete nonsense and a waste of time.
“All those who received it understood perfectly well what was at stake and the arguments used to justify the unwanted sell-off. This attempt to justify policy was both condescending and simplistic.”
Green Party councillor Tess Green (Southville) described the letter as a “reasonable update”.
She said: “It appears as a minor problem as expressed in the letter on-line but the reality is that people are prepared to safeguard their open spaces fiercely and did not feel that the council took their views into consideration sufficiently when making the decision about which spaces to sell.”
Ms Green said Neighbourhood Partnerships would be best placed to make final decisions on the plans.
The green space sell-off is one of a number of issues that hang in the balance while negotiations continue following the Lib Dems’ loss of control at last week’s local elections.
As previously reported, the plan could be scrapped as a condition of allowing the Lib Dems to continue running a minority administration.
Council leader Barbara Janke said: “Matters at issue between the political groups on the council are currently under discussion and it would be wrong to comment at this stage.”
To see the full letter from the council, click here