Planning permission for vandalism on a grand scale
The board of directors of Bristol Rovers FC, Sainsbury’s, University of the West of England, Bristol City Council and Gloucestershire County Council have agreed to demolish the stadium structures at the Memorial Ground and to build a huge Sainsbury’s superstore and car park on the site. In addition, two fine Edwardian terrace houses are to be demolished, to allow for 44 ton delivery lorries to turn into the site from Filton Avenue. This is vandalism on a grand scale.
In the centenary years of the Great War, Bristol’s largest war memorial is to be demolished. Desecration is now on the shopping list. Bristol’s inspiring and poignant tribute to the soldier sportsmen who played the ‘Greater Game’ is sold down the river. The trenches of the Western Front are to be memorialised as chilled food aisles. Will the tills fall silent on Remembrance Day? The giddy desecration is an insult to past and present servicemen and women.
Neutering the special effectiveness
The redevelopment plans include a small paved/landscaped area to be called ‘The Memorial Garden’ around the entrance gates. This is a token gesture, which utterly misunderstands the point of this war memorial, which is a place where fallen sportsmen are commemorated through active sport. A small static sorry garden would be a sop and would render the war memorial sports ground meaningless. It would also neuter the special effectiveness of the memorialisation. The entrance gates would become an entrance to the ‘Memorial Supermarket’.
There are concerns that the ‘Memorial Garden’ area would become a focus for disrespectful antisocial activities. This also would be inappropriate and would not be a fitting tribute to the 300 rugby players of Bristol who were killed in the First World War.
Thousands have respect
Local opinion is generally against destroying the war memorial. In May’s council elections two Green Party candidates, who campaigned on an anti-supermarket expansion ticket in the Horfield/Bishopston area (wherein lies the Memorial Ground), were voted in with sizeable majorities. Much of the local electorate evidently do not want a superfluous supermarket foisted on them.
Over a thousand people have signed the petition ‘NO SAINSBURY’S SUPERMARKET ON BRISTOL WAR MEMORIAL’ and over 6,000 signed a similar TRASHorfield petition.
Many people are not happy that because of an ill-conceived enabling scheme, BS7 is set to pay for the Bristol Rovers Football Club’s new stadium – paying with increased air pollution, more traffic congestion, and threats to the livelihoods of local independent traders and businesses. Whenever the subject is raised, people immediately understand that the tawdry scheme to destroy the war memorial is crass and wrong.
In contrast, the Chairman of the Board of Rovers is keen to desecrate the war memorial – and allegedly joked that the Memorial Ground could become a glue (or chewing gum) factory, for all he cares. His disrespect towards the fallen, as well as to local residents, is staggering.
The spurious enabling scheme
It is further shameful that this plan has been entertained by Bristol City Council, who have been misled by a spurious enabling scheme (the directors of Bristol Rovers FC would use the money from the sale of the war memorial to Sainsbury’s to invest in a new stadium for the club at UWE). The property speculators on the board of directors of Bristol Rovers (1883) Ltd seem to have forgotten that they are custodians of a war memorial, not any old brown field site. Bristol City Council have failed to protect a significant part of the city’s heritage. In a city that prides itself on its innovative character, an abject lack of imagination has prevailed. A dynamic living war memorial was the enduring product of a happy moment of genius.
If successful in destroying a war memorial sports ground, any sports ground in the country would be game. War memorials would not be safe either: who knows what next – a Morrison’s Local, or a Lidl, built on the Cenotaph in the centre of Bristol?
A further dire precedent may be set: In Bristol and elsewhere supermarkets are allowed to deliver goods in HGVs to their stores for about 10 or 14 hours per day. Sainsbury’s would like to drive 44-ton juggernauts to their proposed Memorial Ground store for 19 hours a day, 5am to midnight. Such is the obvious detrimental impact on resident’s chance to get some sleep at night, Sainsbury’s/Bristol Rovers are proposing to erect walls around the properties, which will cast gardens into shade and make for an oppressive, alienating prison-like environment (1). It would be shameful if Bristol sets such tawdry precedents – the rest of the country would not thank us.
David Cameron said in October 2014, when announcing £50m funding for the WW1 Centenary Remembrance: “The centenary will also provide the foundations upon which to build an enduring cultural and educational legacy to put young people front and centre in our commemoration and to ensure that the sacrifice and service of a hundred years ago is still remembered in a hundred years’ time.” (2).
The prime minister also stated that it would be “a monumental mistake” to forget the sacrifice and lessons of the conflict (3). It is difficult to reconcile the prime minister’s aims and words with the Sainsbury’s Rovers plan, as approved by a Bristol City Council planning committee, to demolish Bristol’s largest war memorial and replace it with a huge superstore.
If the Memorial Ground cannot be used by local rugby or football clubs, or as any sort of sport or recreation ground, as intended by its founders, innovative ideas for suitable alternative sport-related uses could be explored. Ideas include sports rehabilitation/physiotherapy (with Southmead Hospital) or a Memorial School – in both cases with the playing field shared with the community. Or maybe the site could be used as a velodrome? A renovated and modernised Memorial Ground, with full disabled access, might be a good result for Rovers’ fans and the football club – if only the Rovers’ board of directors would put the club before their investments (and if Sainsbury’s abandon their superstore plans)?
Building a supermarket on a war memorial is quite simply wrong. It would be a moral blunder and a stain on Bristol’s reputation. The men did not die for BOGOFs. It was the conviction of the people of Bristol that the sacrifices made would be honoured by the community through life-inspiring sport at the Memorial Ground, in perpetuity.
- Planning Application 14/04174/X: http://planningonline.bristol.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=NAND07DNKRF00
- WWI centenary remembrance plans given £50m by government (BBC News, 11 October 2012): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19913000
- A new generation WILL remember them: Cameron orders every state school to visit the trenches as part of £50million plans to mark WW1 centenary (Daily Mail, 11 October 2012): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2216074/First-World-War-Centenary-David-Cameron-orders-school-visit-First-World-Wartrenches-mark-100-years-conflicts-outbreak.html