Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

An undeserved rescue for HorseWorld ?

It looks like HorseWorld's bodged up attempt to sell off its visitor centre site in Whitchurch for development may not be totally dead – in spite of being turned down by BaNES councillors last November.

HorseWorld's MD and the charity's trustees used the whole costly fiasco as an excuse to close the popular visitor centre in February. It now lies idle, the income it generated is lost, and the charity admits to being in all sorts of financial difficulty.

The perpetrators may yet be rescued from the hole they dug themselves into. On 10th July BaNES will likely adopt a new 'Core Strategy' that takes the Visitor Centre land out of Green Belt and turns it into a development plot, providing up to 200 houses. See p.12 of this for a location map. The land was offered, under pressure to up the housebuilding land allocations, as a sacrifice to Mr Pickles, and has been gratefully accepted by his Inspector.

What next? It looks like going through.... so expect HorseWorld to make the most of the instant leap in land value by selling the land to one of the big developers. Perhaps to someone like Barratts, who are already turning the other side of the narrow rat-run Sleep Lane into an extension of clone village Britain

What HorseWorld would do with the windfall is anybody's guess. Would they revisit their expensively prepared scheme for a new Visitor Centre / Arena, with its dodgy business plan and its reliance on added road traffic? Would they give their MD a performance-linked pay rise? Would they go back to basics and do what the charity is supposed to do?

Only one thing's for sure. 200 new houses here will not provide affordable homes for those who really need them. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Little local difficulties

For most of us, this was the first sighting of The Man from Stoke Bishop in Hengrove. At centre stage, too, as it turned out to be his turn to chair the Neighbourhood Partnership meeting on Wednesday.

It didn't start well. After inviting the other councillors to introduce themselves to those residents who'd bothered to turn up in the lecture hall of the Oasis Academy, Mike Frost took his own turn.... “I'm Councillor Mike Frost, the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove....” To add a bit of emphasis, he then asked those present to raise their hands if they'd voted for him – and looked a bit crestfallen at the minimalist response. Evidently UKIP voters are rare among those who actually take part in local democracy.

It could only get better after that embarrassing intro, and it did, mostly because Cllr Frost generally deferred to the more experienced officers who really run the show in these parts.

There were a couple more fireworks in the box, though.

The threat of a new bus stop

Not just any old bus stop. This one, proposed for Fortfield Road, will not merely inconvenience those living nearby. Peeping toms (well, you know what bus passengers are like) will threaten privacy, walls will collapse under their weight, vandalism and rowdyism will be rife, road accidents will rocket, and civilisation as we know it will come to an abrupt end. ( Somehow Stockwood Pete hadn't realised this when he blogged about it over a year ago.)

Most of the residents present had come simply to alert us to this threat, so that we could act now to make sure it doesn't happen. And the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove made no secret whose side he was on. He brought the topic straight to the top of the agenda from its lowly spot in 'Any Other Business'

The objectors were quickly reassured that the whole issue will be revisited, this time with extensive consultation through a couple of widely advertised drop-in sessions. That wasn't enough for the objectors, though. After they'd offered some pretty broad ranging contributions from the floor, the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove closed the discussion and moved to the next agenda item. Cue a mass exodus by most of the objectors, loudly complaining they'd not been listened to. The newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove looked perplexed. You could tell he's not been around for long.

The threat of a public forum

It was Stockwood Pete who lit the blue touch paper on the second firework. And did he really, as Stockwood Cllr Jay Jethwa claimed, twist her words? Or was he untwisting them when he said that at the last NP she'd rejected suggestions (broadly supported by the Hengrove councillors and most others present) to open up a new dialogue between councillors and residents. Whichever was true, neither was mentioned in the draft Minutes, so they could not be a true record.

Stockwood has long stood out as a ward where the councillors take pains avoid any kind of public forum where they can be held to account. And this new threat to their cosy position was a suggestion, put to the last NP meeting, that “we have a spot in the ward forum meetings...... in which councillors can report back on their activities and deal with any related questions from the floor?”

Whatever the truth of how she responded at the last meeting, this time Cllr Jethwa was unequivocal. She has NOT turned down the suggestion, and she told us so.

So maybe.... just maybe.... our next ward forum might see our Stockwood councillors tell us for the first time what they get up to at City Hall. They might even let us ask them about it. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Ballot Paper shockers – UKIPWars in Bris, while Stockwood's guaranteed two non-resident councillors

Instead of standing in the council election for Stockwood (of which more below) I'm the Green Party candidate in Brislington East this time round. It looks like being a colourful election, because there's another of those bizarre UKIP 'misunderstandings'.

One Phil Collins has been busy putting his 'independent' leaflet out, complete with the union flag, explaining that he's a UKIP member and intends to form a UKIP branch in the ward. But he's not just up against the usual electoral suspects, including me and the sitting councillor Mike Wollacott. There's also an 'official' UKIP candidate, John Langley, competing with him for whatever anti-European, anti immigrant votes the ward can muster.

The clash might be partly explained by this news item from last year. Collins used to be UKIP's branch chairman, but like so many of their spokesmen he was embarrassingly candid with his anti-immigrant opinions, so they dropped him. Or did they? A footnote to the Post story, added in an unusually sober style by regular 'Post' commenter/ranter UKIPBristol, said the ban had been withdrawn by the local UKIP branch.

You have to wonder whether they've managed to sort it out over the last year. Looks like they've not.

In Stockwood, May's ballot paper is looking remarkably different, with new faces – including Issica Baron for the Greens – filling the list. Except, that is, for long-time Tory councillor David Morris, who – much to many people's suprise – has decided to run for another term in spite of poor health. If David should be re-elected, we'll continue, as we have done for ten years and more, to have a couple of councillors who (presumably) quietly get on with whatever ward casework is required, but otherwise don't keep us informed, refuse to expose themselves to public debate, and who unfailingly vote with the Tory group on the council. You get what you vote for.  Or what you fail to vote against

One reason I've abandoned another stab at the Stockwood seat is that history shows I may well fail yet again. In itself that would be bearable - but by standing down I won't have to worry that the elected local councillors won't in future find cause to hamper and delay my every attempt to get improvements in the ward, in case I should turn it to electoral advantage. Such is the tribalism of party politics.

I hope that if elected in Bris E , I wouldn't fall into the same trap. But it's a big factor in taking my name off the Stockwood ballot paper. And I'm confident I could represent Brislington East every bit as well as Stockwood.

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?