By Ian Onions, Political Editor
A DECISION which will clear the way for land at Ashton Vale to become the site of Bristol City‘s proposed new stadium or lead to a ban on all development there looks set to be taken within weeks.
The crunch council meeting to decide whether to register Ashton Vale as a town green is expected to be held on Thursday, June 16. The meeting, which will be held in the Council House on College Green, will start at 4pm.
The eight members of the council’s Public Rights of Way committee have been advised it will be a long meeting and could last up to five hours. Due to the high level of interest, it will be held in the council chamber and will be webcast on the Evening Post’s website www.thisisbristol.co.uk which is linked to the council’s webcam at www.bristol.gov.uk.
The 42-acre site has been given planning permission by Bristol City and North Somerset councils for a new 30,000-seat stadium.
But residents in Ashton Vale applied for the land to be registered as a town green which would rule out any development.
The committee members will have three options:
■ decide whether or not to register the site as a town green,
■ pass the decision-making to a special meeting of the full council,
■ pass the matter back to the independent inspector to review the case.
Both sides – the landowners, including majority shareholder and former chairman Steve Lansdown and the Ashton Vale residents – have called on the council to hurry up and make a decision after the breakdown of mediation talks.
Committee chairman Tory Councillor Peter Abraham said: “If there is sufficient information available to the committee, then I see no reason why it should not make a decision.”
The committee is made up of four Liberal Democrat councillors, two Labour and two Tories. Apart from the chairman, they are Trevor Blythe (Lib Dem, Clifton); Christopher Davies (Lib Dem, Knowle); Neil Harrison (Lib Dem, Cotham); Chris Jackson (Lab, Filwood); Peter Main (Lib Dem, Brislington West); Derek Pickup (Lab, Hartcliffe); and Kevin Quartley (Con, Bishopsworth).
If any of these councillors are not available due to prior commitments, prejudicial interest or illness, then they could be substituted with another councillor. If the committee passes the issue to full council for a decision, then the council could find itself breaking new legal ground. If it is given back to the inspector for review, then this could delay a decision for months. The inspector – which would not necessarily have to be the same one who recommended that the whole site be given town green status – might feel a need to hold another inquiry to test the new evidence which was submitted by the club during the autumn.
If the committee agrees to make a decision, then it could:
■ register or refuse to register the whole site
■ only register those parts of the site which are not needed for a new stadium. In other words, register the area which would be a wetlands site and the area which was formerly earmarked for a new housing development but leave unregistered the 19 acres of former landfill tip where the stadium would be built.
Whatever decision is taken, the losing side will almost certainly take the issue to court. Even if the site is part-registered, the residents would most likely continue with legal action as they have made clear from the outset they are against any development.
After the independent inspector made her recommendation last September, the council’s party leaders unanimously asked both sides to take part in mediation talks in the hope of resolving the issue. These talks broke down in March.
Council leader Barbara Janke promised a council meeting to discuss the issue within a month of taking office as one of the conditions for the Liberal Democrats taking minority control of the council after the local elections.