Bristol's Downs are for people, not for cars!

by Downs for People

Bristol's Downs are for people, not for cars!

by Downs for People
Downs for People
Case Owner
Ordinary Bristolians standing up for our right to enjoy the Downs, against a secret parking deal we believe to be unlawful.
days to go
pledged of £12,000 stretch target from 72 pledges
Pledge now
Downs for People
Case Owner
Ordinary Bristolians standing up for our right to enjoy the Downs, against a secret parking deal we believe to be unlawful.
Pledge now

This case is raising funds for its stretch target. Your pledge will be collected within the next 24-48 hours (and it only takes two minutes to pledge!)

Our Story

Bristol’s Downs are a cherished open space, intended by Act of Parliament to remain “for ever open and unenclosed for the resort and recreation of the citizens of Bristol”, as “from time immemorial “.

There have been objections for decades to grassland off Ladies Mile being used as a car park for Bristol Zoo on the best days of the year.  Previous decisions to allow parking were at least short term and taken at meetings open to the public.

But now, in secret and only revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Merchant Venturer dominated Downs Committee has approved a licence for unlimited use for parking for twenty years.  Such a long permission contravenes the City Council’s planning policies as well as the Downs Act.   For reasons which are not clear, the Downs Committee did not grant a licence itself:  the Society of Merchant Venturers granted a licence to Bristol City Council, which granted a sub-licence to the Zoo.

Our costs

This is our last chance to keep this part of the Downs open for people to enjoy.  But this will cost money we don’t have.  We paid for a legal opinion, which confirmed we have a good case against the Downs Committee and Bristol City Council.  In August we lodged judicial review proceedings in the High Court and we are seeking funding to cover the next phase of the case.  Our initial target is £2000.  We will set a new fundraising target to cover future stages in the case once we have raised the initial £2000.

If the Court grants permission for the case to proceed, we will need much more, about £15,000 if we win and at least £40,000 if we were to lose. We have raised £9,500 so far, from the Open Spaces Society, the Bristol Civic Society and others

The Downs Committee and Bristol City Council seem determined to make the case as expensive as possible.  In October we had to lodge a costly disclosure application to obtain licences and other relevant information. This is not how parties in such cases are expected to behave, as the judge ordering disclosure commented.[1]

Call to action

We call on all those who love the Downs and who want to see them managed properly, for the benefit of all Bristolians, to help us.  The Downs should not be for rent to preferred bidders, the subject of secret deals behind closed doors.

 Please share this web-page and give us what you can – any contribution, however small, would be welcome.


 1] In an order dated 12 November 2020 by His Honour Judge Cotter QC, the Court ordered the Defendants to disclose information to the Claimant and the Court by 27 November, commenting;  ‘In my judgment it is somewhat surprising that ……..relevant copies of the licences, or indeed any detailed information as to how they came to be entered into, have not been provided. Put simply the Claimant and the Court do not currently have the full picture.’


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Update 4

Downs for People

April 27, 2021

We've got a court date!

Our court hearing has been fixed for 13 May in Bristol’s biggest courtroom.  Although the defendants (the Downs Committee and Bristol City Council) asked for the hearing to held remotely, His Honour Judge Cotter QC ordered:

“Given the principle of open justice, which is particularly important when local issues of widespread interest are concerned, it will proceed by way of hybrid hearing in Court 7 at the Bristol Civil Justice Centre (the largest court in the region so to allow some members of the public to attend whilst still maintaining social distancing) and Counsel and any other representative/party may attend remotely upon notification by email to the Court.”

We are delighted to have received £1,000 in donations in the last month.  We still face a shortfall of about £25,000 , even if we win.  More help would be welcome.  We want  to make it crystal clear that it is unlawful to turn the Downs into a giant car park for businesses elsewhere. It does not matter whether they are zoos or supermarkets,  as the judge observed earlier.

Update 3

Downs for People

March 29, 2021

We're going to court!

We are delighted that His Honour Judge Cotter QC has given permission for our case to proceed.  A court will examine our claim that the Downs Committee had no power to authorise licences for zoo car parking, because such parking is contrary to the terms of the 1861 Downs Act.  

 Our costs so far have been about £45,000.  To continue we could need another £30,000.  If we win, we may be awarded up to £35, 000, leaving a shortfall of £40,000.  We will need more if we lose. Organisations and individuals have so far given us £13,500, for which we are most grateful – we hope for more!   Please help make sure the Downs will never again be threatened by parking for unrelated purposes, interfering with enjoyment of the open space that is the birthright of Bristolians.

Update 2

Downs for People

Jan. 18, 2021

Case continuing despite planned Zoo closure.

Progress was interrupted by the announcement on 27 November that Bristol Zoo would be closing its Clifton site. The Court agreed to extend its timetable by four weeks to see if the case could be settled without a hearing. This has not proved possible: the defendants’ position remains as stated in their original response, namely that they do not accept that parking on the Downs is lawful only when related to activities on the Downs. The case is proceeding. We hope to be given permission next month to go to Court. We have used all the funds raised so far and hope for further generosity.

Update 1

Downs for People

Nov. 19, 2020

Initial target reached in three days - many thanks!

The £2000 raised will go towards the costs of a response to the documents the defendants have now disclosed, as required by the Court.

We have set a new target of £12,000. The additional £10,000 will help with our existing legal bills and those expected very soon.

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