Community farm’s dismay at being favoured site for £33m Park & Ride

A farming cooperative are urging people to help them block a plan to pave over their prime agricultural land with a £33m Park & Ride to serve the M32 corridor.

Sims Hill Shared Harvest at Frenchay, who say the land has been feeding the people of Bristol and South Gloucestershire for hundreds of years, have for the past seven years been providing their members with quality vegetables grown using natural farming methods.

They were dismayed to learn shortly before Christmas that a list of 17 location options, including Bromley Heath, that were drawn up for a Park & Ride has excluded all but Site 13 – Sims Hill. Two smaller neighbouring fields are also part of the earmarked site.

The site is west of the M32 and east of Stoke Lane, to the north of the new metrobus bridge. It is also in the Green Belt and partially within a conservation area.

The community supported agriculture scheme rent the land from Bristol City Council which borders South Gloucestershire.

The plan to take forward just the Sims Hill option to provide up to 1,800 parking spaces is revealed in the West of England Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) Emerging Findings Transport Report on which people are invited to have their say by Monday 7th January.

In the section about a Park & Ride to serve the M32 corridor, the report says: “The analysis indicates that the scheme will be successful in attracting car-based trips into Bristol onto the Park & Ride service, reducing congestion further south on the M32 and in the Bristol urban area. This results in High Value for Money.”

A “high-level environmental assessment” carried out for Site 13 says Sims Hill is located within Green Belt land which would have implications on the landscape due to the impact of the introduction of lighting and gantry signage. “There would also be loss to a Bristol City Council recognised green corridor. However, due to the existing influence of the M32 in this rural location and potential mitigation, it has been identified as a moderate significant adverse impact.”

It says the site is partially located within the Frenchay Conservation Area. There are no major biodiversity sites of significance within Site 13 but the mature woodland within the site is very likely to have ecological value. And there is the possibility of surface flooding in the eastern corner of the site.

Analysis indicates “that the scheme will be successful in attracting car-based trips into Bristol onto the Park & Ride service, reducing congestion further south on the M32 and in the Bristol urban area. This results in High Value for Money.”

The  report adds that further work beyond the JSP process to develop a wider strategy for the M32 could result in other potentially viable sites for consideration.

Sims Hill Shared Harvest grow on two sites – their ‘Big Field’, which is the one under threat, and a large greenhouse and small field which they rent on the ‘Feed Bristol’ site at Frenchay Park Road.

This week Corra Boushel, chair of Sims Hill Shared Harvest’s board of directors, said they had not been officially notified that their site was earmarked for a Park & Ride scheme and only found out 10 days before Christmas via the Blue Finger Alliance, a partnership dedicated to the preservation of the food growing land, much of which is Grade 1 agricultural soil, that stretches from South Glos into Bristol and is Bristol’s historic market gardening quarter. Sims Hill is in the top 3% of agricultural land in the whole of the UK.

Corra says the cooperative are “very unhappy” and need to fight the threat posed by the initial scoping. They have posted information on their website to help people respond to the consultation.

It includes reference to Bristol City Council saying in its own documents that it wants to prioritise “space for local food production within the city”. And the cooperative add: “There are other sites available. Even though we don’t want to become a car park, we also support attempts to reduce the traffic and congestion in Bristol – we are affected by the traffic, noise and pollution as much as anyone. But we believe there are more suitable sites outside the Blue Finger Alliance area, nearer the M4, that have not been shortlisted or considered in this plan and that should have been.”

Bristol Food Network is supporting the farm and has highlighted the “inconsistency” in assessing potential Park & Ride sites and that report has not acknowledged Bristol’s emerging Local Plan and the special protection which is intended for the Blue Finger land.

It is also critical of the assessment carried out for the transport report: “This survey has not been thorough in identifying sitting tenants and potential problems around existing tenancies. There is no mention in the document that the Sims Hill site is currently occupied by Sims Hill Shared Harvest CSA, which has a lease on the land till 2021. Nor is there any mention that the surrounding fields are farmed under a three-generation hereditary tenancy arrangement.”

Corra Boushel said that the group have yet to think about the prospect of having to find an alternative site: “Land like this is scarce.”

As well as running their veg box scheme that feeds more than 80 households in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, Sims Hill Shared Harvest say on their website: We run a highly valued weekly community group at the Sims Hill Community Food Centre for people experiencing food poverty and social isolation.

“We employ local people in valued jobs. We work with our nearest primary school and other community groups to give young people access to outdoor space and understand where their food comes from.

“We provide volunteering experience in long-term and short-term roles, giving a wide range of people access food, land and wellbeing.”