Power to the people: Why Bristol Council made a U-turn in St Andrews Park

Never before has an issue in St Andrews Park generated so much anger – and that includes the short-lived proposal to put dogs on leads! This time Bristol Council tried to attack some of the most cherished beliefs and ideals of local people. Their proposal to, effectively, auction off the concession for the park cafe to the highest bidder recently provoked local people into almost a declaration of war. Opposition to the council’s plans grew into an avalanche of disapproval as the day of the public consultation meeting drew near.

As well as the risk of losing important community members Karen and Fey who run the current Tea Garden, local people feared an invasion of junk food and fizzy drinks – with piles of paper cups, crisp packets and chocolate bar wrappers littering the park. The consultation meeting was held in the convivial surroundings of the Derby Road Bowls Club. Organised by The Friends of St Andrews Park (FOSAP), it tried to remain strictly neutral, under the balanced Chairmanship of John Mayne.

This is not a venue used to seeing nearly 90 people of all ages voicing their undiluted fury, dismay and fears over a council proposal. The nitty gritty of the proposal, bravely described to the incensed crowd by the Council’s Alberto Palmiero, was the plan to replace the existing charming cafe with a semi-permanent kiosk. At present the cafe kiosk is towed into the centre of St Andrews Park every morning and driven back every evening.

Alberto’s proposed new cafe structure, he told us, would be similar to one which the council has already erected in Oldbury Park. It appears this generates a nice little income for the council but its appearance is a far cry from the charming cafe currently situated in our park. Above all, the council’s one-size-fits-all park cafe concept revealed a complete misreading of local public opinion.

The present cafe is a small local business, pioneered by two caring and community-minded women, Karen and Fey, who sell low-cost home-made cakes and (where possible) organic food, with tea served in teapots with real china cups and saucers. They even organise (at their own expense) special events like a Halloween party for local kids. Their commitment to the community, added to their natural flair, has made the cafe a charming focal point in the park and endeared them to local people.

Local Lib Dem Councillor, Fi Hance said, “It is no exaggeration to say that the presence of Karen and Fey has transformed St Andrews Park, their cafe never fails to draw compliments from friends visiting from other towns and cities.”

The possibility that Karen and Fey might lose their cafe concession to a larger company which sold pre-packed factory-made sandwiches and junk food appalled local people, especially as the council’s blatant motivation was, in their own words, to: “provide a substantive income opportunity to the department.”

Inevitably with so much anger brewing around the park an unprecedented number of local people turned up on a Monday evening to tell the Council what they thought?and in no uncertain terms. The arguments articulated so passionately were inspiring to hear, the level of debate must have felt overpowering to Alberto and his line manager for whom the crowd must have started to feel sorry for. Point after point, question after question failed to be answered to the satisfaction of the crowd by the beleaguered Council officers.

At half time Alberto and his line manager began to look pale and exhausted. Victory was almost there it seemed. It was a truly memorable and magnificent evening for local democracy, packed with more real drama than any episode of East Enders!

And we are delighted that the council listened. They took notice. Four days after the meeting Councillor Jon Rogers, who is on the Council’s Executive, and had also opposed the new kiosk plans, forwarded an email, received from Alberto, to the Friends of St Andrews Park. “I am writing to confirm that BCC will not progress any plans for the provision of a structure/building for provision of refreshments in the park, and the general feeling was that this did not fit with the character of the park, and the flexible nature of how space in the park is used”.

Power to the people of St Andrews!

Martin Weitz ? Publicity officer for FoSAP


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