‘We need security patrols’

Security patrols could be introduced on the Downs 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 are subject to 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, made up of councillors from Bristol City Council and members of the Society of Merchant Venturers  has been urged to clamp down on people flouting the byelaws. 

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.

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: “The police are simply not resourced to deal with this. “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 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.”