Marvin Rees has agreed to visit Bristol’s under-threat last working farm following an impassioned personal plea from the daughter of the family who run it.
Catherine Withers says Yew Tree Farm in Bedminster Down will be forced to close if a proposed housing estate is built on existing greenbelt land that they rent.
The 200-home development is earmarked in the Local Plan, the city’s blueprint for housing over the next two decades.
Catherine, whose family has farmed in south Bristol for more than 120 years and at Yew Tree, off Bridgwater Road, for over half a century, made a direct appeal to the city’s mayor during a live phone-in on John Darvall’s BBC Radio Bristol show.
(Image: Dan Regan/BristolLive)
The 49-year-old told Mr Rees: “I am in a state of turmoil.
“I’m a proud Bristolian, as my family have been for generations.
“We’re the very last farm left in Bristol.
“Your proposed changes to the greenbelt will force us out of the city we love.
“Do you think it’s right to lose the last working farm in Bristol, which is low intensity, chemical-free, sustainable and a net contributor to Bristol zero carbon, Going for Gold and clean-air ambitions, in order for you to exceed government housing targets?
“Wouldn’t it better for us to continue to protect our fragile habitat here, educate city children and feed our community?”
The mayor replied: “The way you describe what the farm does is absolutely fantastic and we know we need to protect food land.
“What I’m trying to get beyond in the way we do political conversation in the city is just setting up binaries where we set off equally important issues against each other. It’s really undermining.
“One of the priorities we’ve got for the city, and talking to our partners in how we use procurement powers over food, is how we strengthen our sourcing of local organic food so we’re more food-resilient.
“At the same time we do have a housing crisis, and poor quality housing is one of the key determinates of life chances across health and education in our city.
“We have over 11,000 people on the waiting list and 500 families in temporary accommodation, and we have rough sleepers as well.
“We are not getting any more land, so one of our dilemmas as a city is how do we plan to use the land we do have that’s available to meet both of those needs.
“Some of that will be controversial.
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“I’ve never claimed to have the wisdom of Solomon but some of the challenges we face, you almost need to do that.
“The only thing I can guarantee is that when we make decisions, even if we make them for the right reasons and the outcomes are good, some other people are going to be disappointed.”
Mr Rees said Yew Tree Farm, within the South Bristol Link Road, was a different scenario to community farm Sims Hill, “blue finger” land next to the M32 that the mayor vowed to protect from the bulldozers after it was earmarked for a proposed park and ride.
His promise, made at a council meeting in January, saved the shared harvest scheme.
But he said in that situation there was an alternative location for a park and ride, and that the same criteria did not necessarily apply to Catherine’s farm, the last self-supporting farm in Bristol.
Mr Rees said: “There has been a vocal number of individuals saying I want to destroy the city’s skyline.
“That’s not what we’re trying to do. What we’re trying to do, on top of those needing a home today, is fit the extra 100,000 people that are going to be in Bristol over the next 25 years into a piece of land that isn’t going to get any bigger, while protecting green space and land for food-growing.
“That’s the dilemma we face.”
Catherine told him: “I’m desperate. Until you see the farm, you don’t realise the relationship between where the houses are and the land we own.
“Please do come up, it’s lovely.”
Mr Rees replied: “I will get my team to organise that.”
The phone-in took place on John Darvall’s mid-morning show on June 20.