Last Wednesday (20/04/16) saw a substantial crowd descend upon the GCCC for the public meeting. Tim Malnick, the outgoing Green Party Councillor for Bishopston and Ashley Down, facilitated the meeting and reminded us that the meeting was a regular twice yearly event and not called in response to local concerns about the new floodlights. Tim asked the attendee’s to be realistic about possibilities, stating that it would be an opportunity to clarify concerns and questions, but not to reach a consensus. Lots of great questions were asked and concerns raised, as well as statements both in support and against the lights.
A resident from Lancashire Rd highlighted the lack of attendance of anyone from the planning department & that of the city director. A representative of HowZat? responded that the planners had been invited but that they had replied by email to say they wouldn’t be coming. This was incredibly disappointing, as quite a few questions just couldn’t be answered by those present. Residents wanted to know how and why did planning approval happen? How was planning permitted for lights that have spillage so far above the guidelines? And how can those that allowed it to happen be held responsible? That residents had wanted to comment, but that they don’t know who to complain to. To express concern that what they expected from the planning description is totally different to what has been constructed. To know about enforcing conditions and what sanctions there are if rules broken.
The question of how often and for long could the lights be used led to a rather tense exchange about practice matches. Will Brown, GCCC CEO stated that practice matches had always been part of the discussion and the planning document, to which a local resident responded that actually she had a copy of the planning with her and that there was no mention of practice matches. HowZat? reinforced this position by stating that practice matches had not been discussed and were not part of the planning approval. Will Brown was not happy with being made to defend his position on practice matches saying “We’re being judged before we’ve done anything”.
The impact of the lights – and the GCCC generally – upon the community, raised many other questions too.
A resident of Lancashire Road asked if the lights shining directly into her bedroom could be refocused and others asked about the glare from the masts. No clear answer was given about refocusing, and the response to glare was less than satisfactory. There is, apparently, the possibility of vinyl wrap-rounds or paint, but the Club is “waiting and seeing”. For what we are not sure…
Frustration was expressed about the fact that retractable lights were dismissed as too expensive, that Lux Guillotines (such as those produced by Thorn Lighting who provided the lighting for Wembley Stadium) were not being investigated and that the consultation had been so small. Will Brown responded that the consultation had been city-wide, publicised by Radio Bristol, HowZat? and our local Councillors. Tim Malnick stated that there had been no possibility of the council having the funds to help to pay for retractable lights although this response met with some derision from some of the attendees. Despite the assertions regarding a ‘city-wide’ consultation, it is apparent that most people had no idea they were being installed or that they would be so visible from most of Bristol and all the way to Bath. The system and its representatives failed.
The last thing to be covered were the other impacts that the Club has on its neighbourhood. One resident had received an email from Will Brown stating that they had “no authority over spectators leaving the matches”. Whilst this may be true it doesn’t mean that the club has no responsibility to its neighbours. Likewise, when asked about the Parking and Traffic Management Plan, Will Brown responded that the club needed more parking! All local residents are well aware of the issues with parking, we would all like to have ‘more parking’ available, however, this is a densely populated area and if parking is such an issue for the club they should not have been given permission to become an International Club.
Will Brown was keen to reassure people that they had acquired 30-40 additional spaces at the college after 18:30 and would be promoting the Ashley Down entrance. This is farcical; the matches are supposed to be starting by 18:30, 30-40 spaces is nothing in comparison to 8-15,000 spectators and promoting the other entrance merely shifts the problem to another part of the ward.
Residents also stated that the general tone of the Club was less welcoming than it had been 5 years ago, which was exemplified by Will Brown’s response to a question about road safety at the Nevil Road entrance. Residents complained that cars shoot out of the club without regard for the fact that they are crossing a pavement, endangering residents especially young children. Will Brown stated that they had done what they could (signs and a speedbump) but they were investigating ways of blocking the pavement to stop the pedestrians from walking out. He also stated that it was important for children to be parented effectively. I think that this demonstrates how out of touch Will Brown is with local residents. The pavement should not be blocked for the Clubs ease and children should be safe to scoot or run along a pavement. The Club should be promoting responsible behaviour from its guests. A resident of Theresa Ave ended the session highlighting that the balance between the Club being a benefit to the city and a nuisance to the area was now tipping out of the Clubs favour. It is essential that we ensure the Club pays heed to that message.