On Monday 3.10, we attended this protest on College Green in the centre of Bristol: Against the attack on nature 4.10.22. It took place on the United Nation’s World Habitat Day and was called in protest against the government’s proposed ‘investment’ zones where regulations are to be ‘relaxed’ and business taxes lowered to “tackle barriers to growth”. Needless to say, this poses a threat to valuable habitats as essential environmental protections are stripped away.

Just two days later at a meeting of Bristol City Council, plans for the Ashton Gate Sporting Quarter and a nearby development delivering up to 510 homes branded as Longmoor Village were given the go ahead: Plans approved for new basketball arena at Ashton Gate and 510 homes on green belt 5.10.22. In and of themselves, the plans for the Ashton Gate Sporting Quarter would not have been that controversial were it not for the source of a fair chunk of it’s funding. Namely, the billionaire owner of Bristol Sport who own Ashton Gate, one Steve Lansdown, owns the land the Longmoor Village will be on and hopes to sell the site with planning permission to a developer.

The site of Longmoor Village in Ashton Vale is currently protected as green belt. Developers at the meeting argued that this protection should be lifted. Over 6,000 residents have signed a petition in a bid to protect Ashton Vale. While the site may have once been a landfill, it has been restored to a meadow which is popular with local dog walkers. Also, it’s a haven for local wildlife such as bats.

By the way, is building on a former landfill site even wise? Has something changed that means developers can bend the rules so they can disturb a landfill site in order to build on it? Would you want to buy a property on a former landfill site? We sure as heck wouldn’t!

Rightly, people are urged to get closer to nature for the benefit of their health, both physical and mental. During the lockdown in the spring and early summer of 2020, being able to get out and enjoy what nature had to offer on people’s doorsteps really did help with mental health in what was a uniquely weird and disturbing situation. It’s pretty much always the case that accessing nature in or close to your neighbourhood comes free of charge.

The problem is that we live in an economic system that does not like people walking or lounging around in open spaces, formal and informal and not spending money. The system’s definition of leisure is something you have to jump in a car and travel miles to, pay an entrance fee and let someone else do the entertaining. What gets us is the way the system values the kind of leisure you have to shell out a lot of dosh for and has it in for the free kind you can have in your local open space. What really gets us is the way the system pushes us towards the kind of leisure you have to fork out for by flogging off our open spaces to housing developers! Which is why we think those elements in local government who have succumbed to the neo-liberal mindset that every public asset has to have a capacity to generate revenue, hate open spaces and want them to flog them off to housing developers.

Money talks though, doesn’t it? It talks louder than the signatures of 6,000 local residents who want the environment of Ashton Vale protected. It talks a lot louder than those of us who value being able to walk just a short distance to reconnect with nature and escape, albeit temporarily, from the stress of the modern world. Money doesn’t give a shit about the habitat it destroys or our mental health.

Well, it looks as though those of us who attended the protest on Monday 3.10 against the attack on nature really have got a fight on our hands. What the muppets who just two days later gave permission for the Longmoor Village development may not have realised, is that their crass decision will have galvanised everyone on that protest and a lot more people besides.