Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

May 22nd – sovereignty, democracy, or corporate dictatorship. You choose.

Way back, when the internet was young, the 34 countries of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) was secretively planning a bid to shift the balance of power away from states (which, at least in theory, act in the interests of their people) toward corporations (acting solely in the interests of their owners) . It was called the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI). Nominally in the cause of promoting economic growth, it set out to 'protect' foreign direct investment from interference from elected governments.

The internet killed the MAI. A copy of the draft text was leaked and people realised what it could mean. Although the mainstream media largely ignored it, the word spread around the world (I remember setting up pages on the North-East Green Party website describing what local impacts it could have). Eventually the resistance grew so strong that the French government listened to what the people were saying. France withdrew from the OECD negotiations, and no longer having a consensus there the whole project was dropped.

Until now, that is.

They're at it again – and this time it's the USA and Europe making the running. MAI v.2 comes packaged within the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Most of the mainstream commentary on the TTIP has been on breaking down tariff barriers to open up markets and encourage economic growth. It's fairly uncritical, disregarding even the loss of discretion for individual states to regulate on, for instance, safety, gm foods and organisms, financial services regulation, or environmental improvements. Such things are dismissed in the treaty as impediments to the 'supreme, inalienable fundamental freedom' to pursue economic competition. Outside the specialist press and the internet, there's been very little discussion about the provisions that encourage FDI (foreign direct investment) by giving investors more confidence in being able to produce what they like where they like and how they like without any risk that the public authorities might get in the way.

Thus, for instance, EDF could make a legal claim against the British government if its profits from Hinkley B were threatened by new safety or environmental regulation. Most of the train operating companies, major bus companies, and airlines could do the same thing. Tobacco companies could challenge legislation requiring plain packaging on cigarettes (in fact Philip Morris are already doing exactly that in a bizarre legal challenge designed to bypass Australian national law using the 1993 Hong Kong/Australia Investment Treaty)

Crucially, such cases would be not be decided in a domestic court under British law, or even a European Court under European law; they would be heard by an international court set up solely for this purpose, passing judgment solely on the basis of compliance (or not) with the terms of the TTIP. The public good has damn all to do with it.


The European Parliament's consent will be required before TTIP is ratified. They want to do that within a couple of years, so it'll be down to the MEPs we elect on May 22nd.

I really don't know (though I could make an informed guess) how Tory, Labour, or LibDem MEPs would vote. 
I do know* how the Greens would vote. 
And I should know how UKIP ought to vote (if they turn up), given the importance they attach to national sovereignty.  But I suspect they'd not object to this handover of power from elected governments, whether local, national, or European,  to international corporatism.

* best summed up in this report from the two UK Green MEPs  we already have

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Election Fever grips Stockwood

Yes, there's are elections coming up.  Three of them.  I'm a candidate in one.

But this time it's not in hope of representing Stockwood on the council, let alone becoming a Euro-MP. This one's for the ultimate in localisation, the Hengrove Stockwood and Whitchurch Neighbourhood Partnership.

Up to four residents can be elected, with voting open to all who live in the ward. Last chance to vote will be on the afternoon of Thursday 29th May at the Library (2.30 till 4), but the ballot box appears before that at the Ward Forum (Christ the Servant church, 7 till 8 on Thursday 8th May). That one's a bit special, because we'll also see whether our two city councillors will, for the first time ever, take up the challenge to 'report back' to residents on their activities at City Hall

There's more information (and probably nomination papers) at the Library, or online here

Meanwhile, here's my candidate's Statement. The electoral suicide note is at the end!

As a Stockwood resident of ten years standing, I joined the Neighbourhood Partnership when it was created, initially representing Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces, later as a 'resident' member. In both roles I think I have influenced the Partnership for the better, though I believe there's still plenty of room for improvement. Slowly (too slowly), the NP is moving toward being more democratic, more representative, and more influential, but it needs members who are ready to challenge the status quo as I have done in the past.

I'm proud to say that I've taken a significant part in most NP backed initiatives, not least establishing priorities on new open space amenities, (including suggesting the seats on the Showering Road path and the new bridge across the Saltwell Valley brook), taking part in community litter-picks, making the Stockwood Local Food Festival happen, and bringing the outdoor table tennis table to the shopping square. I've had a part, too, in proposing and improving public transport services. If re-elected, I aim to continue on the same lines. One priority is getting a community notice board at the shops.

I bring a generally 'green' approach to the Partnership. So (boy racers please note) if the Partnership is asked to take a view on the ward's speed limits being brought down to 20mph, I shall argue that greater safety and lower noise pollution outweigh any journey time losses.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Twenty is Plenty – the provincial tour starts

The roll-out of 20mph zones continues apace. And why not? In Stockwood, we're part of the 'Outer South' area where it's planned to go 20mph within twelve months. With the exception of chosen suburban arteries, of course. For Stockwood, that means Stockwood Lane, Sturminster Road/Craydon Road, and most of West Town Lane. The map's here

Cue all the same arguments. Time lost? Pollution caused? Fuel consumption? Unenforcibility? Er.... safety, even?

The Roadshow promoting all this will reach Stockwood Library on 12th April, but we won't get the chance to hear from, and comment to, council officers until they come along to our Ward Forum on 8th May – just six days after this 'informal consultation' closes!

Me, I'd go for a blanket 20mph for the ward. Here's why.

I fully accept the case for 20mph speed limits in residential streets. No argument there. Criminally irresponsible not do it, really.

As for the three Stockwood exceptions, what they have in common is that they're all rat runs.

Stockwood Lane has long been used as a de facto outer ring road by those heading between Wells Road and the Bath Road P&R, or on to the Ring Road at Hicks Gate. This traffic will increase in future as commuter parking becomes more difficult in the inner areas . Stockwood Lane wasn't built for this, and has become a barrier to pedestrians from the east side wanting reach the buses/schools/shops/health centre on the west side, though there's no single crossing point . All the more reason, then to limit the speeds to 20mph

Sturminster Road/Craydon seems like a simple uncluttered thoroughfare. But it too acts as a rat run – witness the number of heavy lorries using it. Like Stockwood Lane, it's hard to cross because it carries a lot of traffic, and at some points – like the bend where Sturminster Road morphs into Craydon Road – sight lines are poor and traffic is fast. Yet children from the west side of the road must cross to get to school; pensioners must cross to reach bus stops.

West Town Lane is the longest established east-west route between Bath Road and Wells Road, and although Callington Road was built to take the traffic off it, plenty still uses West Town Lane as a through route. That is likely to increase significantly once the South Bristol link turns Callington Road into a de facto South Bristol Ring Road, putting more pressure on West Town Lane as an alternative rat run. The 20mph plans recognise this in part by retaining the present (though advisory) restriction outside West Town Lane School – but that's hardly enough even now to discourage the through traffic. Better to 20mph the full Bath Road – Wells Road link.

If all three of the above 'spine' roads are embraced by the 20mph restriction, Stockwood becomes 20mph throughout. That not only makes it safer all round, it discourages through traffic and it removes the confusion caused to drivers who must otherwise constantly adjust to different speed limits.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Whatever isn't happening at Temple Meads?

Charlie Bolton's current petition (please sign it!) calling for direct bus links through Bedminster to Temple Meads, prompts a review of where we've got to on the need for a multimodal transport hub at the city's main station  instead of the tinpot links that we have now.

On Tuesday, Bristol's Cabinet is poised to give the nod to spending £21 million on improving transport access to, and within, the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone around the station. Well, Tuesday's Mardi Gras, isn't it? Spend it now, and pay back later..... from the expected business rates raised in the Zone. Same formula as the Arena.

This transport spend includes:  
  • straightening out Temple Gate/Temple Circus. At £11 million, this takes up the bulk of the cash. As it will leave a smaller road footprint, some development land should be released too.
  • A bit more (£6 million) goes toward access to the Arena site, 'to make the site more attractive to potential development', presumably the offices/apartments that are required to offset some of the Arena costs.
  • The remaining £4m chunk goes to 'improved cycling and walking infrastructure on key routes in and through the TQEZ, sustainably linking residents with job opportunities'. This appears to include some unexpected but welcome projects like (at last) a cycle route along the Callington Road Link and, odder still, the Conham Riverside bike route.
But it doesn't include a multi-modal transport hub

A Temple Meads public transport hub has surfaced occasionally in the politicians' rhetoric for years. Only the Greens have made it a priority. But now that the high spending, low benefit prestige projects - especially the Arena and the Metrobus - have been pushed through, can't we look at something that really would bring about a step-change in the quality of the city's public transport network?
Despite all the half-promises, NEVER has the Bristol administration come up with a clear proposal, or even an outline brief, for what an interchange should provide.

So let me float one....
The Objective:
Overall, to make travel quicker and easier for all.
In particular, to provide a public transport system that is good enough to tempt significant numbers to choose not to use cars – thus freeing up road space for all travellers

The problem:
Every journey by public transport involves waiting time – and many trips involve transfer time from one mode or route to another. By and large, these things are done under sufferance. They're not a good use of time, and bus stops or station platforms are none too welcoming. There's the weather; often the darkness and insecurity; the doubt about when or whether a bus will turn up; and for many ongoing trips, a walk between the relevant stops and the doubt about which is the best one to use.

Of course these discomforts aren't the only downside of using public transport, but together they're a very big one – and until they're alleviated public transport is going to be second choice to the car for most of those travellers who have the choice.

The Answer:
That's where an interchange comes in, because it tackles all these problems head on. It cuts journey times by much more, and for many more travellers, than any Metrobus route could hope for.   And it does it efficiently, comfortably, and safely.

Here I float my own idea about what the minimum on offer at the TM Hub should be: 
  • Public transport (bus, train, or ferry) to all parts of Bristol, daytime and evening.
  • A single covered, enclosed, waiting area with seating, within one minute of bus pick-up, three minutes of trains or ferry
  • Real time information displays for all servicesTicket sales (all modes) before boarding 
  • Good access on foot or by bike, with traffic-free signed access toward Arena, Bedminster, Brunel Mile, Castle Park, Railway path, St Philips cycleway 
  • Toilets
Those are absolute minima; highly desirable additions would be:
  • Public transport to outlying areas, not just those served by rail, eg Clevedon, Thornbury, Wells/Radstock.
  • Retail, refreshments and other amenity on-site
  • bike hire and storage
  • Left luggage
  • Wi-fi
  • a dedicated and very frequent service to the Centre and Broadmead
Would it work?
Who knows... the psychological bond between driver and car is very hard to break. But an interchange of this quality would certainly do the job to an order many times better than any other single project.
Is it do-able?

The space is there. Plot 6, alongside the Old Station, is ideally placed (though rail electrification looks like it will need two further tracks, either adjoining or through it). There's also the cleared space around Bristol and Exeter House, and (less viable) around the derelict shell of the Royal Mail building. All of these, individually or in combination, have the potential to provide a real hub. All are that rare thing in a city centre, undeveloped sites. And all are part of the Enterprise Zone, enabling a joined-up development plan that can – if the will is there - provide joined-up transport.

Who's involved?
Principally, the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (self-appointed business reps and local authority nominees, including our own dear Mayor), along with Network Rail. The HCA own part of the land, too. Note that redevelopment of the station itself will be a Network Rail task; it will be major, involving new public access beneath the station, and a new concourse. Although all these bodies have public responsibilities, the public themselves are not a party to the plans.

Will they do it?
The broad intention is enshrined in the official planning frameworks.
The Central Area Plan (p40) promises:
The development of sites adjacent to Temple Meads Station will be expected to deliver improved public transport interchange facilities and new and enhanced walking / cycle routes as part of the development of Bristol Temple Quarter.
7.14 The precise location and type of interchange facilities that will be sought will be explored in more detail in the Spatial Framework being prepared for Bristol Temple Quarter. It is likely however that the development of the sites adjoining the station to the north will be required to accommodate this enhanced interchange function. Facilities will need to be fully accessible. “ 
The Spatial Framework that excerpt refers to is (as customary in such documents) quite flowery in its description (p35):
A 21st Century transport interchange at the heart of a regenerated mixed use quarter. A destination, where people can meet their travelling needs, move easily and conveniently between transport modes and connect with the city centre and surrounding neighbourhoods.

And in the West of England's 'GVA of Major Transport Schemes' commissioned from Atkins, there's the advice (p35):

“...... given the large numbers of people commuting in future to Temple Quarter, a step change in the capacity of bus provision to the area will be required. This will require new services, with high frequencies and high levels of capacity, to address the access requirements of the area. Failure to deliver major improvements to bus access will substantially constrain the ability to unlock the development potential of the Enterprise Zone. “

The 'Simplified Planning Document' sums it all up (p2):

'At the heart of the zone will be a transformed multi-modal interchange at Temple Meads'

You'd think from all this that a major transport interchange at Temple Meads is a done deal.

You'd think it would go into the Enterprise Zone's infrastructure from the start, to be ready for the incoming workers. 

And you'd think that even before employers move in, the demand is there from the city's rail and bus passengers wanting a seamless journey.
So how come it's missing from the Cabinet's agenda on Tuesday?

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Man in Space: down to earth with a bump.

Another day, another bog standard unimaginative bid to pack in a few semis on a brownfield site.

This one's where the Man in Space pub now stands, closed and forlorn, in Stockwood, near a parade of run-down shops. This is no depressed area, though... like most of the Stockwood 'plateau', the immediate area is filled with decent, privately owned semis. In fact the developer is at pains to assure us that this “proposal is not for high density apartments. It is for 14 family sized homes with parking and garden.“ Four pairs of semis, plus two 'triple' units, according to the indicative plans. 

Much like the rest of the neighbourhood, then, except that on this one garages won't come as part of the package; it looks like the front 'gardens' will be paved over instead. There's a playpark over the road, and the bus stops for a frequent service to town (3 or 4 miles) are under two hundred metres away. The pub will be gone, though!

All in all an unremarkable development. If it goes ahead, Stockwood will be more Stockwood still. The development won't provide local employment, it won't reduce the need to travel, it won't provide any new amenity. It could - if the planning conditions are right - include some solar panels and even some better land drainage than the present use provides, but it's unlikely to give more than a nod to such progressive ideas. 
But it would be utterly amazing if it included such innovative (though proven) standards as Passivhaus , though many of us believe this must be the norm if we're to take climate change seriously. And it won't touch the demand for affordable housing in a market that virtually excludes low earners. Nor will begin to recognise that more cars are bad news... we might expect a good 20 to 30 extra just from this 'infill' development, even though shops, library, health centre, school, and public transport are all an easy flat walk away. The notion of a 'car-free', or even low car-dependency development, won't come into the planning process.

Why not? We know about climate change. We know about homelessness and unaffordability. We know traffic on our roads is expected to increase 30% by 2030 if we go on as we are.

It's mad to just carry on as before. Small sites like the Man in Space are the big opportunity, the low hanging fruit, that can lead the change. Leaving it to the speculative market delivers only the bland, the unadventurous, and a quick and easy profit, with all the real costs externalised.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Ideology and the Chancellor

“there are people in the green movement who oppose the use of civil nuclear power for ideological reasons, if you like, when it is by definition a green source of energy generation”

photo credit

That's George Osborne, February 2014 in a speech that also described fracking as a 'green' technology that will reduce UK carbon emissions.

George, even apart from your attempt to rebrand 'green' to include nuclear power stations, you haven't a clue what you're talking about.

Why do you presume that ideology drives the opposition? Can't you even recognise that there is a real, evidence-based argument out there. The only 'ideology' here is the principle that we should leave this planet in as good, or better condition as we found it.   Assuming (ok, it's a bold assumption) that you go along with that, what further ideology have you identified that opposes civil nuclear power, as matter of principle and belief, as a 'world view', rather than as a rational position?

  • from the start nuclear power has been inextricably linked with nuclear warfare (the unthinkable)
  • sixty years on, we still don't know what to do with the waste – or how generations to come will cope with the poisonous legacy we leave
  • We've had more than enough of our own costly accidents, but worldwide there have been big scale disasters with huge health and economic impacts.
  • Every stage of the nuclear cycle from mine to waste dump is fraught with risk, both natural and man-made, to life.
  • (this one ought to appeal to you, George) you can't insure a nuclear power station – the cost/risk factor is untenable.
  • The timescales for bringing new nuclear on line make it largely irrelevant to the urgent need for greenhouse gas reduction.
  • 'New generation' nuclear relies on foreign direct investment, limiting essential regulation
  • While you promote nuclear, you're cutting back on energy conservation (the green levies)
  • While you promote nuclear, you're taking funding away from renewable energy development.
  • You're subsidising foreign investors from the public purse.

Any or all these things make for a reasoned case to reject nuclear power as an energy source. 
It's you, George, that's the ideologue.   We know that you're guided by more than one – the economic ideologies of exponential growth, the supremacy of the market, and the 'hidden hand' that will turn personal greed and ambition into a public 'good'. You certainly have a right wing 'small government' ideology. All these beliefs clearly guide your management of the national economy. Even your acceptance of man-made global warming is expressed as a 'belief (“I'm someone who believes climate change is happening, that it's caused by human beings”), not simply as an acceptance of the scientific consensus. 
You've not bothered to look at the whole picture, the whole balance of energy supply sources and consumption and how they serve the long term public interest. 
Maybe that's because you let your economic ideology, right or wrong, dictate your whole approach.

[Added 23/2/2014]   Forgive me for singling you out, George.  The other lot are doing their best to follow your bad example.   Caroline Flint, shadow energy secretary, seems to think the subsidy for Hinkley C is acceptable -  and that nuclear is renewable energy!

Monday, 10 February 2014

The weather that dare not speak its name

That homophobic  UKIP councillor in Henley-on-Thames may have had his own ideas about what's caused the ever-more-frequent extremes of weather. True, there is something apocalyptic about the floods and the storms that encourages that kind of irrational response .   As I write, every rail link between Devon and Cornwall and the mainland has been broken by the high seas or the unending rain – and even the urban areas of Torbay and Plymouth aren't going to reconnected to the rest of the country anytime soon. Who'd'a' thunk such a thing could happen?

 The rational explanation for the 'weather' is equally apocalyptic. It only gets mentioned in passing, though - and then only apologetically, anticipating a backlash.   Climate Change – a reality, and very probably a key contributory cause of our unprecedented extreme weather – scarcely dare speak its name in polite society. It's much too discomfiting. Following the abject failure of the world's politicians to tackle the causes, they now seem equally reluctant to acknowledge, let alone respond to, the effects that are already upon us. And we've barely started yet. It's going to get worse, far worse.
Yet right now, all we see is a localised blame game being played out among the politicians (who seem blind to the overriding science). And a grossly incompetent global warming sceptic (ie. 'Do Nothing' advocate) is still allowed to remain in post as Environment Secretary.
Meanwhile, I see that back in 2011, his predecessor Lord Henley (what is it about Henley?) dismissed the £100 million cost of restoring an alternative rail link to Plymouth as “far too expensive”.

Hell, you could build an Arena for that.