Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Now Showing on Stockwood Open Space

The Open Space has - at last - got a couple of Interpretation Boards installed, one at the Whittock Road end and one at the main Stockwood Road entrance. They should encourage people to take a closer look at  what this wonderful but little known reserve has to offer.

Now's a good time to start, after the warm spell has seen the early flowers burst into life...

Cowslip - this one making a first appearance in the glade behind Whittock Square


Blackthorn (sloe) at the 'back door' entrance to the reserve, at Ilsyn Grove

detail of blackthorn blossom
Bluebells and celandine in the Ilsyngrove woodland
Primroses in the woodland edge of the orchid meadow
Snakes Head Fritillary, orchid meadow

Bullace blossom in the orchard edge


Dog Violets, Ilsyngrove woodland
Viola Alba, now carpeting the orchard floor since we cleared the brambles a few years back (thanks, DR, for keeping up the good work)

Wood Anenome at the foot of Ilsyngrove woodland
and finally something completely different - new arrivals that appeared in the cart-washing pond.  At least until the herons find them!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Stockwood hits the headlines – for better or worse

Strange that this Bristol backwater should suddenly attract media mentions across the British Isles. Stranger still that it should happen twice in successive months.
Both stories have what the press loves – the chance to write a story that will produce a titter or a snigger among the readers.
In March, it was the BioBus, usually described as the Poo Bus. I'm sure it's no accident that First introduced it on the Number Two route, gifting an easy line to the journalists and guaranteeing media attention. Apparently the bio-methane fuelled bus is a first for the UK, though the technology is well established.

Long before moving to Bristol over a decade ago, I organised a Green Party trip to see Wessex Water's plant at Avonmouth. What made it special was that while other water companies were still pumping sewage into the sea, or taking it out in barges to be dumped, Wessex already had the foresight to treat it onshore. The biogas provided a renewable fuel, used primarily to generate electricity, while the dried granular byproduct could be used to enrich or remediate soil. It's that biogas that's now being used as a (relatively) clean renewable fuel to carry passengers from Stockwood to Cribbs Causeway (if they have the staying power, and nothing better to do!) and all points in between.
So it's a good news story.... well done First, well done Geneco and Wessex.
….............
This month's Stockwood story has a very much darker side. I don't know how the media got hold of it, though I have my suspicions. In the coming local elections, UKIP's candidate to succeed Jay Jethwa as one of Stockwood's two ward councillors apparently has a 'professional' life as Johnny Rockard (snigger) a maker, promoter, and actor in pornographic videos. Google his name if you must - I did, but a click or two more was enough before I abandoned the enquiry!
Cue lots of press and broadcasting media attention for the candidate, who's the vice-chair of the local party. Cue righteous indignation from UKIP and its supporters, complaining of being picked on by the media. My guess is that all the attention was inevitable, no matter what colour rosette the candidate was wearing.
Apart from the press enjoying the chance to describe in detail the 'plot' of one such video, and a huge burst in public awareness of UKIP's man in Stockwood, just before an election, the story is a bit of a non-event. It won't bring about a multi-million local tourism boom. Most people accept that for better or worse, the sex trade exists and people do work in it and they do meet a demand.
But despite of UKIP's defence of its candidate, making and selling porn is not like more legitimate businesses. It's a very dark sector of the economy, strongly associated with exploitation, with people trafficking, with drugs, violence and even modern slavery. Perhaps the media should have used this story to raise these much more serious aspects of the industry, instead of just treating it as a bit of a joke.  [added 14/04/15] Looks like 'Object' are presenting them with the evidence now.
Meanwhile, for balance, here's a list of the other candidates aspiring join David Morris as Stockwood's councillor for the coming year, until the first 'whole council' election in 2016. Sadly, like the UKIP man, none of them actually live in the ward.
Phil Bishop – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Ian Campion-Smith – LibDem
David McLeod – Labour
Graham Morris – Tory (David's son, I understand. Part of the Tory's inheritance strategy?)
Ellie Vowles – Green. Best of luck, Ellie!

Friday, 3 April 2015

A Mail Mystery

We've all seen a marked deterioration in the postal service.  Higher charges, less collections, less deliveries, less staff to do the job.  I think it's called 'efficiency savings'.

Today, among the junk mail on our doormat, was this envelope:

Inside it was a letter we'd posted to London on 1st February

By March 3, it appears to have reached Belfast, where the guardians of the nation's postcodes decided that there was 'no such address'.  So they took a look inside, and sent it on its way back to us in Bristol, a journey of another month.  And we're no further forward.

I can just about understand that the postcode N1 9DY could be interpreted by some 'efficient' sorting machine as being somewhere in Northern Ireland - possibly Londonderry?    But somewhere, at some point, there must have been some of the Mail's remaining human hands making a judgement on the addressing.   And getting it all abysmally wrong.   Maybe it's a reflection of the sinking morale among the staff, maybe it's just that they have absurd targets to meet, 'lost' letters to process?  Even so, such a consistently inept two months of mismanaging the mail (it's not as if the letter had got lost) stretches credulity to the limit.

A conspiracy theorist might even believe there was more to it; a letter addressed to a radical bookshop might have less chance of getting delivered intact than your average birthday card.   But that would be silly, of course.


Friday, 27 February 2015

Fracking: testing the grounds

On Wednesday, while a packed hall at the Wills Memorial Building was in thrall to a powerful talk from George Monbiot, down the road at St Mary Redcliffe another audience was learning about just one of many threats to the climate.  Fracking for shale gas.

Prof Peter Simpson of Imperial College promised an unbiased, fact-based appraisal of the scientific, environmental and economic factors in the Great Fracking Debate. 

Much of his evidence was based on the useful, if arguably limited “Shale Gas Extraction in the UK” published in 2012 by the Royal Academy of Engineering.  Limited because it looks primarily at the engineering risks of fracking, not the wider issues.

The talk offered plenty of insights that the industry, and its supporters in Downing Street and the DECC, wouldn't want to highlight.  It's not going to provide cheaper energy.  It's nothing like the US situation, where fracking has boomed because of vast reserves, a market that pays landowners for fracking rights, and a geology that provides much greater depths of rock between clean water and the shale than is the case in the UK.   Even so, there's plenty of evidence from the USA that fracking is bringing many local problems, and there (as here) its development may be as much to do with geopolitical dominance as with securing essential energy.

Put in persective, the UK gas resource is miniscule as part of global reserves – by far the biggest are in China, followed by the USA. 

It turns out, too, that if it is exploited, only around 3% of the shale gas will be put to use.  The rest will stay in situ as the extraction pressure drops, or else over the years seep out to the surface, perhaps via the water supply.

That seepage, and a host of other 'legacy' impacts, would of necessity become the responsibility of a new publicly funded quango, much as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has the impossible task of dealing with radioactive waste for centuries to come.

For Stockwood Pete, whose default position is to challenge anything that might increase fossil fuel burning and consequent climate change, the talk tended to confirm that position.  But it didn't get round to addressing the big claims made for fracking in the UK – that by displacing coal fuel, it will reduce net greenhouse gas emissions, and that it will improve our energy security.  OK, in an hour and a half that would have been too much to ask!

Here's a coal train, heading out this week from Temple Meads en route from Portbury Dock to EoN's Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Leicestershire.  The coal might have come from Colombia or from Australia, Russia or the USA, but it's just one of hundreds of trains from Britain's ports constantly feeding the huge Midlands power stations – allegedly to keep the lights on.  (Sorry, that's a stock political soundbite term, like 'hard working families').
 
Will fracking actually reduce carbon emissions?

Not in my book.  Or at least, only if internationally there's some kind of agreement to cap global fossil fuel emissions.  It's inconceivable that without such a deal, rigorously applied, the coal will just find its way into some other market, and finish up just the same spread through the planet's atmosphere.

At the end of the British Science Association's event at St Mary Redcliffe, someone pointed out that the choice of energy sources won't depend on any rational assessment of safety, emissions, or price; it will be a matter of political horse-trading, ideology, and influence.   Our votes on May 7 just might help with that.

Much more about the background and the local impacts on the excellent Frack Free Somerset pages

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Neighbourhood Partnerships in partnership

A good day at Circomedia looking at ways to make Neighbourhood Partnerships work better.  Plenty of NP members and councillors there - Labour Green and Tory.  For the Stockwood/Hengrove partnership, there were two of us Stockwood residents, but no sign of any of these wards' councillors.  Pity.

Clearly some Partnerships are already very proactive and forward-looking, and it's intended to expand the role of NPs later this year (a cynic might think we can do little more at present than decide which road repairs won't get done - and get the blame for it!)  So there's hope even for NPs like ours that rarely - if ever - stretch beyond the bread-and-butter workload prescribed by officers.

To work, though, it's got to attract a wider range of residents, not just the narrow demographic broken down by age and sex that we saw today and we see at NP meetings.  And can it break free from the local authority stranglehold by a bit of 'arms-length' creativity, or with urban parish councils?   Though even with that independence, a top-down austerity agenda will emasculate them from the start.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Rus in Urbe

Wedged between the consumer palace of the Brislington's giant Tesco Extra store and the non-stop traffic along Callington road, there's a short quiet stretch of Brislington Brook and a brookside path.
The kingfisher has been a regular patroller recently – though it's very camera shy!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Bridging the Gap ? Not 'ere, mate!

The scene when Stockwood Pete left the Temple Gate consultation for a peak time journey home. The 3 mile trip took an hour, most of it spent here. The new proposals would do next to nothing to relieve the discomfort and delay of this and similar journeys.
'Bridging the Gap' looks like being a strapline for Bristol's year as European Green Capital. Not as a daring highwire act, but as a serious attempt to bridge the gap between our green rhetoric and what we actually do to green the city and the world around us. Because we have to.  And because it will make Bristol a better place to be.
At Temple Gate, the talk has always been about seamless interchange (add similar phrases of your choice) as well as the wider city ambitions to become a low carbon, healthy, pacesetter among the Core Cities.
Do the current proposals for Temple Gate bridge that gap? No chance..
If (a very big if) the plans now out for consultation do allow traffic to flow more smoothly, then that will help a bit. There's not much to suggest that will happen, though. We're told merely that 'The reconfiguration of the road will ensure the existing capacity is maintained'. That doesn't really sound like a step forward, and doesn't take into account whatever extra traffic is generated by the Enterprise Zone developments and the major modernisation of Temple Meads railway station to accommodate ever-rising passenger numbers.
By the same token, the conflicts between walkers, bikes, and traffic mostly remain... a double whammy because it not only discourages the first two groups, it causes delays and traffic build-up.
A huge problem for the city's planners is that they simply don't know what's going to be built on the various Enterprise Zone sites. The Arena and the new Friary-side station entrance seem assured, but the rest are just a gleam in the eyes of the LEP and speculative developers. How can anyone design a road traffic system to serve that?
The obvious answer would be to wait and see. Even the suggested improvements to a short section of the Brunel Mile, taking centre stage in the Temple Gate literature, can't form part of a coherent whole until the big decisions are taken about Plot 6. For the rest of it, the newly straightened Temple Gate – Temple Way alignment would provide no opportunities for better public transport access to the immediate station/interchange area – wherever it might be. Even the spanking new Metrobus gets no nearer than 300m to the station – and that's a single route in a single direction.
To 'Bridge the Gap' would be to provide that interchange. It's essential to absorb all the new travel demands of the TQEZ and the rising passenger numbers at the station. And it's got to be good – very good - if it's to persuade significant numbers to forsake the car.