We welcome the broad ambition to protect the city’s environmental assets, including the emphasis on new buildings protecting the environment. And it’s extremely positive to see that existing policies to develop the city’s green infrastructure and to support pollinating insects to thrive, have been included in this Local Plan. The continued emphasis on these will help maintain a healthy ecosystem and link the city’s wildlife networks with the wider landscapes surrounding Bristol.
We are also very pleased that the value of our work at Feed Bristol in Stapleton – now a wildlife-rich hub protecting and enhancing urban nature, and connecting Bristol people with the natural world – has been recognised. Land surrounding this special site was previously destined for transport infrastructure development, but the Local Plan re-designates it as specially protected Local Green Space, making particular mention of its ‘special importance for food growing and community use’ and describing it as ‘amongst the best and most versatile land in the city’. This is a very positive decision which in effect prioritises this land for people, wildlife and nature together.
But in several areas the Local Plan doesn’t go far enough and we are concerned that the city’s wildlife and ecosystems will be left without strong enough protection as homes, roads and infrastructure are built. We are calling for:
• Much stronger polices to protect wildlife and habitats in Bristol, with mechanisms for ensuring that development enhances rather than damages ecosystems. Urban wildlife is already flourishing in neighbourhoods across our city and we need to do more to support it to thrive not see it struggle to survive as habitats are destroyed.
• Clear policies in the Local Plan on the protection of Bristol’s Local Wildlife Sites – areas of open space across the city which are currently designated as protected from development as wildlife-rich havens. The plan is unclear about whether some of the more than 90 existing sites in neighbourhoods across Bristol, may lose this designation and no longer be protected. We know these spaces are the best areas for wildlife in the city, providing habitat, food and shelter for mammals like foxes, hedgehogs and badgers, birds, insects and rare species like Lesser Horseshoe Bats. We need reassurance that they will continue being protected.
• A clear link to a Green Infrastructure Plan for the West of England – a document identifying the key natural assets across the region and how councils, planners and developers should protect and enhance nature and wildlife. This Green Infrastructure Plan was promised in the Joint Spatial Plan for the West of England Combined Authorities in January but has not yet been published. We want to see this happen as soon as possible with its key principles reflected in the Local Plan.
• Specific information showing how wildlife and ecosystems will be protected and enhanced in local plan sites – which show mapped areas earmarked for development within each of the city’s neighbourhoods. Some of these including Brislington, Lawrence Weston and Hengrove are important urban habitats and also act as wildlife corridors – allowing birds, mammals and insects to move in and out of the city to find food and shelter.
• Clear mechanisms in the Local Plan for ensuring that development delivers a net gain for biodiversity in line with the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework – a key national framework which sets out best practise for enhancing the natural environment when building development happens.
Our vision for Bristol is one that enables wildlife to be part of our everyday lives. To achieve this, new housing developments need to be built in the right way and in the right location, so they can make a positive contribution to nature and the health and wellbeing of residents. The Wildlife Trusts have recently published guidelines that show how new housing developments can be built to provide people with greener, inspirational homes which help to reverse decades of wildlife and habitat decline. This Local Plan is an opportunity to achieve this balance for Bristol.