One of Bristol’s most unusual areas is the famous Downs. In fact, strictly speaking, there are two areas of Downs that are jointly managed under a unique legal basis by both the city council and the Society of Merchant Venturers.
There is specific legislation from Parliament that created the Downs Committee in 1861 and one of my more unusual roles as a councillor has been to serve on this committee.
It’s chaired by the Lord Mayor, with close reference to the Master of the Merchant Venturers, who always serves as deputy.
So how did this come about and who are the Merchants? Their website is here: http://merchantventurers.com/
Wikipedia tells me that they began in the 14th century http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Merchant_Venturers and the background is covered in a report that the former Venue magazine published some years back: http://public-interest.co.uk/aseye/merchant.htm
I have to say that I would have liked a briefing when I joined the committee – one takes place for most aspects of council business, but not this most unusual side. I did ask for this not long after my councillor induction, especially as there seems to be continuing confusion or lack of clarity about the legal responsibilities and financial liabilities for issues being brought to the committee. My request does seem to be leading to a briefing of sorts that has now been promised for the whole committee.
So what does the Downs Committee do? This is certainly emerging and has proven to be quite interesting – everything to the continuing management of the site of special scientific interest, events, and a new play area. We’ve also been consulted about the options for safe cycle routes across this area which is helpful given the large numbers of commuter cyclists trying to cross the area which in its historic Act of Parliament bans cycling and leaves bicycle users on the busy main roads.
One recent issues for the committee is the collapse (sooner or later) of the massive cliff face at Sea Walls. A solution to this needs to be found as it is clearly breaking away and will crash onto the Portway below at some point. More of this later