Conservatives fight ‘unfair’ proposal to tax people living near Bristol Downs £20 a year

-Credit: (Image: James Beck/Freelance)
-Credit: (Image: James Beck/Freelance)

Conservatives are fighting an “unfair” proposal to tax people living near the Downs in Bristol £20 a year. The levy would help pay to maintain Clifton Down and Durdham Down, and was suggested by a Liberal Democrat councillor last month.

Early discussions are already taking place among Bristol City Council staff about the new charge, which would be applied to anybody living in an area around the Downs. The proposal has sparked a row which Conservative councillors in Stoke Bishop have now escalated.

They claim the idea has “many fundamental flaws and inconsistencies”, as well as being “unfair and arbitrary”. They added that most visitors to the Downs don’t live nearby, and they will table a motion opposing a new levy at a full council meeting today (July 9).

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Read more: New tax proposed on people living near Bristol Downs to help pay for maintenance

Councillor John Goulandris said: “There are many objections which can be raised against this quite extraordinarily bad idea, not least of which is that it is highly discriminatory. Durdham Downs has been bequeathed for the benefit of all Bristolians and it remains one of the most important green spaces in our city.

“We would be going down a very slippery slope indeed if the local authority was allowed to smuggle in extra taxes on people just because of where they happen to live. Consequently, I shall be seeking assurances from the leader of council that his administration will never introduce this measure.”

Cllr Henry Michallat added: “The principle behind such a levy is a very dangerous one and the implications of which have clearly not been thought through. I suspect many of Cllr Gooch’s residents will be surprised to learn that she seems keen to dream up new and novel ways for the council to extract even more money out of them.”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Caroline Gooch raised the idea of a levy during a meeting of the Downs committee on June 10. The Downs has long suffered from a shortage of cash to pay for staff and upkeep, not least after an expensive legal battle about using some of the area for parking.

Cllr Gooch, who was newly-elected in May to represent Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze, said: “The Conservative government’s terrible record and appalling underfunding of local government has left many councils looking for innovative ways to protect our budgets. Local levies are in use by several councils to fund the care of Commons, hence I floated the idea of a local levy for discussion only.

“Clearly raising money by other means would be preferable, several ideas have been proposed and no decision has been made. Were the committee to conclude that there was no option but to ask for more public funding, the best way to do this would need to be explored. This discussion has drawn much interest and engagement, showing the level of affection for the Downs held by local people.”