£20 a year tax to live near Downs?

A NEW tax has been proposed for people living near the Downs to help pay for maintenance costs. 

The idea was discussed at a meeting of the Downs committee on June 12. Members were told an area of an undetermined size would be drawn around the Downs, and a levy would be charged on anybody living within that zone. The charge could be £20 a year, and early discussions among Bristol City Council staff are taking place about its introduction.

Liberal Democrat Caroline Gooch, representing Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze, said £20 a year would bring in a “big amount of money”.

She said: “The people who benefit most from the Downs are the people who live nearby. Why don’t we just put a small precept on the houses that are within a certain distance of the Downs? Even if it’s only £20 a year, that would be a big amount of money from all of those houses. I don’t see why we shouldn’t do it, if it’s done in other cities.”

Other plans to bring in extra income include replacing the toilet block near the Sea Walls with a cafe, building a mini golf course by the water tower, and installing cricket nets and padel courts. Personal trainers who put on classes at the Downs could also soon be charged a levy to do so.

The Downs receives income from hosting events such as Forwards Festival and Funderworld. But hosting these activities also creates extra maintenance work, due to issues such as damage to the grass.

The committee was told that the Downs operates at a financial loss, and last year £570,000 was spent on things like staff, maintenance and cleaning. But only £376,000 was made in income, meaning a deficit of £194,000 was covered by council tax payers across Bristol.

A mini golf course and cricket nets are planned for the Downs to get more people involved in sport. The new facilities would also help raise extra cash to pay for maintaining the open space and public toilets.

Luke Mackenzie, the Downs business development manager, told the committee: “We’ve had an approach from an operator looking to do mini golf, that he would like to do around the back of the water tower. That would involve taking on the second toilet block in that area. He would need to operate and open the toilets for public usage.

“But that would take on the burden of repairing the building and its upkeep. This would be proposed on a lease for a yet-to-be-agreed period, that would bring in an additional annual income to the Downs committee, and also cut costs that are currently borne by the council.”

As well as mini golf, cricket and padel are also planned. Multi-use games areas could also be installed, and personal trainers would be encouraged to use these areas instead of holding classes on the grass. The Downs committee could charge them a small fee for each class.