Security patrols called for to stop Downs getting ‘overwhelmed by lawlessness’

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

Security patrols could be introduced on the Downs in Bristol to prevent the parkland from becoming “overwhelmed by lawlessness”. A private company would be hired to issue fines to anybody caught breaking rules such as parking on the grass or having a barbecue.

The Clifton Down and Durdham Down in the north of the city are subject to a series of old byelaws, which in theory ban people from a range of activities. However, these are rarely enforced, with some residents complaining about damage to the grass from fires or vehicles.

The Downs committee was urged to take action and clamp down on people flouting the byelaws, during a meeting on Monday, June 10. The committee is made up of councillors from Bristol City Council and members of the Society of Merchant Venturers, a business group.

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Robert Westlake, chair of the Downs Advisory Panel, said: “Many byelaws are ignored daily, including driving and parking on the grass, damage to verges from vehicle dwellers and careless contractors, pitching tents, cycling on footpaths, depositing excrement on the highway and in shrubbery, fires, unauthorised games, barbecues, and even flying drones.”

He called on the Downs committee to reinstate out-of-hours security patrols, to enforce these rules. He also said there should be a “one-month blitz” with a zero-tolerance approach taken to anybody caught flouting the park rules to “stop the Downs being overwhelmed by lawlessness”.

He added: “The impression of course is that those responsible for good governance are either uninterested or impotent in tackling this situation.”

But the problem is the council’s parks department has had its budget repeatedly cut over recent years, meaning there aren’t enough staff to enforce the byelaws, at the Downs or elsewhere. Although another occasional issue is drivers racing cars or motorcycles, as well as car meets.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Caroline Gooch said: “Some of these guys racing bikes or cars are really quite intimidating. I’ve been out for a run, and have had to run several times actually between the cars, and these guys are standing there with masks on. It’s not very pleasant. A lot of women have come to me and said the same thing.

“Later in the summer there’s an issue with barbecues. We could have a forest fire up there. As it gets drier, we could have a disastrous situation. We don’t want people in July and August having barbecues.”

However, it’s unclear how much it would cost to enforce the byelaws, nor who would do so. Work is taking place to estimate how much a private security company would need to be paid, and the police have struggled to tackle similar issues with motorbikes in parks elsewhere.

Green Cllr David Wilcox said: “It’s very difficult to try and identify people on motorcycles and in high-performance cars, because they’re deliberately trying to hide their identity. The police are simply not resourced to deal with this. And that’s a political decision that’s made by the police and crime commissioner and also the national government.

“If we say there is a fire ban and a barbecue ban on the Downs, and don’t enforce that in the other parks in Bristol, it might be true that fires and barbecues will happen in other parks, and that’s a huge issue. We’re not in a position to actually enforce any of that across the whole of the city.”

David Freed, a member of the Merchant Venturers, added: “That’s the council’s problem, that’s not our problem. We’re here to look after the Downs, and the Downs is one of the most beautiful open urban spaces anywhere in the south of England. It’s being trashed at the moment. Every day that goes by, we’re gaining a reputation nationally for not looking after it.”