You will already be aware that Roots Allotments, which is the trading name for the company Allota Futureland, propose to lease around 24 acres of land at Abbots Leigh to create 700 plots which would be sold on a commercial basis. This is a huge development which will have a widespread and profound range of implications which, I believe, would be best examined as part of a full planning application. Apparently, two applications for Certificates of Lawful Use or Development are currently under consideration, which would circumvent full scrutiny of an issue that is of considerable public interest.
This is not a scheme which has been generated by local need or demand and, indeed, the scale of the development and the potential lack of scrutiny in the planning process has produced considerable anxiety and anger amongst local residents.
I have met with representatives of the company and having access to a natural open space could certainly have positive impacts on both physical and mental well-being. I do not doubt the benefit of allotment schemes, particularly for those who have no outside space in their own homes, a condition which will be particularly prevalent in parts of cities such as Bristol. These conditions do not apply to this part of North Somerset, however, and there is a strong feeling that the scheme is largely being planned to cater for those who will travel out of the city and into Abbots Leigh.
There are a number of specific objections which I feel warrant the consideration of a full planning application.
- Ecology: the site is a wildflower meadow with wide biodiversity. At a time when there is great national and international interest in preserving biodiversity, destruction of this environment would be a hugely retrograde step. The meadow is home to over 20 species of grasses, wildflowers and herbs. Bordering the Leigh Woods National Nature Reserve and SSSI, it is an important feeding site for birds and several species of endangered bats. It is well known as a spectacular sight for a wide range of butterflies and attracts visitors on that basis. It is unlikely that these would be able to survive on a huge allotment site such as that proposed.
- Social and visual amenity: the site will straddle the Monarchs Way footpath which is hugely popular with ramblers, walkers and runners, including a number who currently come out of Bristol to enjoy this wonderful environment. The unique mix of wildflower meadow and ancient woodland is part of the essential nature of Abbots Leigh and losing it would not only be a break with the natural heritage of the area but would see a huge loss of the views and aesthetics of the green and open nature of the landscape.
- Road safety and traffic implications: it is likely that the vast majority of those who might use such a facility would drive for access. The A369 is, as you know, an extremely busy road which has been made even busier by the introduction of Bristol’s clean air scheme which has seen traffic diverted between the city and junction 19 of the M5. North Somerset has already inherited much of Bristol’s traffic pollution as a consequence. The proposed scheme would result in even more traffic. Added to this, there is already a narrow entrance to Forestry England Leigh Woods which is unlikely to be able to cope with vehicles entering and leaving this proposed site simultaneously. This is likely to have profound implications on safety at the junction with the main road. The last thing that we need is for a dangerous traffic system to be created where one does not exist at present.
- Future development and activities: there is a widespread fear, which I share, that if this development is allowed to proceed without a full planning application then it would be difficult to limit either further expansion or, worse, to stop events taking place on the leased land which would be utterly out of keeping with the local community and environment. To see loss of control over part of the green belt in this way would be entirely unacceptable.
While the benefits of such allotment schemes are clear, particularly when the scale and access are suitable and do not create widespread disruption to local communities or the environment, the proposed scale, site, access and natural disturbance of the proposals for Abbots Leigh surely merits the scrutiny which full planning application would bring. In light of that, I hope that you will be able to urge the planning officers of North Somerset Council to ensure that the most rigorous processes will be carried out in this instance, for the benefit not only of current local residents but the generations who would enjoy this wonderful natural amenity in the future.