Downs exercise classes could face £1k charge

Advisers say personal trainers  should be charged up to £1,000 a year to use the Downs for exercise classes. 

The Downs are a popular spot for many people running, playing football, taking part in bootcamp classes, and even playing Quidditch. But some classes can attract groups as big as 60 people, prompting complaints from the Downs Advisory Panel.

The parkland is run by the Downs committee, made up of Bristol councillors and members of the Society of Merchant Venturers. They agreed to set up a new advisory panel earlier this year, after complaints about a lack of democratic involvement in how the Downs are run.

Robert Westlake, chair of the new Downs Advisory Panel, said other cities charge licences for exercise classes in parks, and Bristol should do so too. Speaking to the Downs committee, on September 18, he said people “profiting” from the park should pay towards its upkeep.

Mr Westlake said: “Numerous bootcamps and fitness trainers advertise Downs fitness training schemes. They are completely unlicensed, unregistered and unregulated, operating a commercial enterprise free of any fee.

“This recommendation is in no way wishing to discourage individuals from exercising or casual recreation. However, there is a case from those wishing to profit from the Downs to make some contribution towards their upkeep. Other cities manage to do it quite well.”

He added that other councils charge a licence fee between £300 and £1,000 a year. Conditions on licences could include rules on making sure participants avoid using park benches, picnic tables or trees in their training, as well as limiting excessive noise.

The idea was previously considered by the council’s park department, which failed to get the new licences signed off. 

The Downs committee said it would consider the idea, although there were doubts about how to enforce the licences. Another concern was about legal liability, if any accidents were to happen during classes.

Labour Councillor Kye Dudd, cabinet member for climate, said: “It sounds like a good idea but I’m wondering about the policing of it. 

Mr Westlake replied: “In some ways it could be self-policing. Once a registration scheme is in place, those who are already signed up are not going to be happy about other people coming along and setting up and potentially undercutting their business.”

by Alex Seabrook,  LDRS