Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

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.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Temple Meads - Now and When?

A rare glimpse into the opaque planning process for the derelict sites around Temple Meads station is promised from Tuesday 13th, when we'll be invited to “help shape our proposals for Temple Gate”. There'll be an exhibition of the latest plans at the Engine Shed (the original GWR offices) on weekdays till the end of the month, with actual planners present between 4 and 8pm on the 13th and the 21st.  The consultation website is at

If they've kept to the letter and spirit of the Temple Quarter design brief, published a couple of years ago, the proposals will contribute to

which sounds like common-sense if seriously unambitious (where's the connectivity with the rest of Bristol, where's the expectation of quality?  "21st Century" isn't enough)
Before we get to a glimpse of this promised land on Tuesday, lets look at where we are – at least with the rail/bus links.
Temple Meads is a lovely station – but it provides next to nothing for people on the town side of the ticket barriers. No seats. No toilets. No cash machine. During the working day there's a WH Smith's, plus basic refreshments and flowers outside by the taxi ranks. There's been an attempt to provide more public transport information as well – a real-time display and more for buses leaving stops around the station, and volunteer meet-and-greeters for the bewildered.

There are bus timetables to take away – but the only bus map of the city comes courtesy of First, and only shows their services (I got the last one, anyway!) Even the Elf-Kingdom to our southwest publishes a bus map – but the European Green Capital no longer seems interested.
For those travelling on from Temple Meads by bus, the most fortunate are those heading for the airport, or for the 8 and 9 services to the city centre and Clifton.
They get the benefit of the station canopy while they wait.
No such luck for UWE students and staff, and others headed up the Gloucester Road. For them – if they can find it - there's an unmarked, un-timetabled, unsheltered stop half way up the ramp.

For buses into the south-eastern suburbs and beyond, there are stops along Temple Gate at the foot of the ramp; small shelters that may be the only option for the busy narrow pavements they stand on, but totally inadequate for the passenger numbers they attract, and under extra pressure from pave-cyclists escaping the considerable risks of riding the main highway .

Those arriving from the same places, or boarding the 1 or the 2 towards the north-west of the city, must cross Temple Gate, adding as much as 2 minutes to the journey time, or much more if it leads to a missed train or bus.

 (Those 2 minutes might not seem much, but similar time savings are used to justify many £millions of investment in grandiose flagship transport schemes!)

No real-time displays on any of these stops, by the way
Passengers suffering these minor, but wholly unnecessary inconveniences are actually the lucky ones. Those whose journeys will take them to other parts of the city – huge swathes of the south, southwest, east and northeastern urban areas must add an extra leg, and an extra wait, to complete their journey.  Or jump in a taxi, of course.

WasteLand of Opportunity.... the undeveloped brownfield sites around the station.

Even before electrification and MetroWest, passenger numbers at Temple Meads have been rising.  With the present shambolic interchange between rail and bus there'll certainly be a shift in the modal split away from rail/bus toward rail/car or rail/taxi - exactly what we can't afford to happen.  So radical change is a must - and it's got to involve those wonderful windfall sites around the station.  The Temple Gate proposals must take them into account.

First among them is Plot 6, of course.  That's the strip between the station and the Friary, where Network Rail have talked of putting the new station entrance.  Although the DigbyWyatt Shed (the redbrick part of the station currently used to park cars) will be provide a home for the London electric expresses, and so won't be available as a common concourse for all passengers, it must be possible to find similar space in the new entrance for the amenities that waiting passengers want.  Plot 6 offers easy access to southbound buses from Temple Gate, and could be engineered to allow northbound buses to enter and leave while the pedestrian crossing is in use, keeping flow interruption to a minimum.
Next, the area around the Bristol and Exeter building at the front of the station.   Again, a great opportunity to get the buses off Temple Gate while their drivers are busy taking fares and issuing tickets to boarding passengers (what a crazy way to do things!).   Already First seem to be using this 'mixed use development' as an ad hoc bus park.   An advantage could be easy access into the station at the road level, and through to a planned eastern exit on Cattle Market Road (for the Arena, more new developments, and traffic-free routes to Brislington and beyond).   Difficulties might be in providing a route into the site to and from the northbound lanes of Temple Gate.  
Finally, that long-derelict eyesore the Royal Mail building on Cattle Market Road.  Probably not a place to redirect buses - but potentially a hub for pedestrians, bikes, and - yes - cars!  With the Arena over the bridge, dependent in its financing plan on parking revenues, that's become a sad reality - and of course there'll always be a need for some station car parking.  Whatever happens on the other two sites, this one needs to complement them.   Reported plans by the present owners Kian Gwan to use the existing structure for multiple uses, and to relieve the isolation of the site with a riverside boardwalk link towards the town actually look very promising, especially if Network Rail and the Arena planners manage to provide direct access to and through the station (those who are familiar with Cardiff Central will recognise the similarities)
The conclusion is that all these sites are interdependent, and all relate to Bristol's transport infrastructure.  Mess one up, you mess the lot up.   On Tuesday, when we get to see what's being lined up for Temple Gate, the big test will be how it relates to improving public transport, and whether it shuts down options for the other sites.
This picture is the flyer for the Temple Gate consultation :
Apart from the much heralded two-way carriageway, some scaffolding removed and an opportunistic spot of infilling, it looks much as it does today.   Lets hope Tuesday reveals something much more radical

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Railways Bill

[See update (added Jan 9) at end]

Come January 9th, the Railways Bill is scheduled for its Second Reading in Parliament. Bristol's MPs should be well-placed to support it – but will they?
The Bill, introduced by the Greens' Caroline Lucas with formal support from a number of Labour and Plaid Cymru MPs, has been hyped as renationalising the railways.
It doesn't do that though. This Bill is more modest and very much cheaper. It sets out to bring the passenger train operating franchises, the ones currently held by Virgin, Stagecoach, First, and a fistful of foreign owned companies, back into public control.
picture from
Instead of buying these companies out, it waits for the end of each contract, then awards the new operating contract to a publicly owned company – thus turning the trains back into a public service instead of the cash cow they've been for the private operators.
Test bed - East Coast Main Line
Of course, cash cows don't always cough up, and when franchisee National Express East Coast found that they couldn't fulfil their contract and show a profit, they walked away (very cheaply!) from their expensively negotiated franchise. To keep the trains running, a public company East Coast Main Line was created to fill the breach. They filled it very successfully from 2009 to date, increasing passenger numbers and revenue, and cutting the net subsidy to a mere 1% (the industry average is 32%, and a lot of that leaves the country!)
Even so, the current government has insisted on returning the route to the private sector.
Public Opinion
Very positive. A YouGov survey shows overall backing of three-to-one; even Tory voters were evenly divided. It's not unreasonable to think that Bristolians' opinions won't be much different.
Party policies.
MPs in this parliament aren't as enthusiastic as the general public, according to a recent Ipsos-MORI survey – as you'd expect given the make-up of the House. But in practice, few parties have a clear-cut policy - just Conservatives who are ideologically against, while Greens are strongly committed in favour. 
SNP have made positive noises, but where would that leave their funding from Brian Souter of Stagecoach? LibDem conference agreed that public bodies could enter the franchise bidding against the private sector – though, as Christian Wolmar points out, the franchise bidding system is hugely expensive and wasteful. Labour, while famously once espousing the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, now seems frightened of any formal endorsement of even having anyone but the private sector run the country's train services. That's in contrast with Labour's position in the Welsh Assembly, where they're looking at setting up a non-profit arms length company to run the Wales and Borders services, when the franchise enjoyed by Arriva (Deutsche Bahn) ends in 2018. That's a proposal backed by Plaid Cymru in the Wesh Assembly, but dismissed by the Welsh Tories as 'Marxist'!
As for UKIP, who knows?  Maybe, if he still reads this blog, Mike Frost could tell us?

On January 9th, the Railways Bill could be killed stone dead, or it could trigger a sea change in which passenger train services can run primarily for the benefit of the public. That depends on which MPs can find the time to be there to vote, and how they balance the pressures from their party whips, their constituents, and their consciences. We'll see.

[Added Jan 9:]   There was no time for the second reading today in the House of Commons, so it's been put back to February 27.   Meanwhile, not much enlightenment from local MPs about their voting intention.  Just Kerry McCarthy, who seems to be saying NO - she wants to keep the franchise bidding market going, but to allow a publicly owned company to join the bidders.   No word from Stephen Williams, while Dawn Primorolo still pretends her deputy speaker's role demands that she express no opinion on anything parliamentary!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Rendles of Bedminster

Until a couple of weeks ago, Stockwood Pete had never heard of Thomas Rendle VC, whose bravery a hundred years ago was being honoured at a ceremony in St John's churchyard, Bedminster.

But I had heard of his younger cousin Ellen who lived just two doors further down Victoria Place.   I actually met her once – and later married her grandaughter.   So reading the family name in the 'Post' reports gave us both special reason to find out more.

While Thomas and Ellen were Bristol-born, his father, her mother, and their five siblings had all been born in mid-Devon, and brought to Bedminster by their mother when she was prematurely widowed.  Other Rendles had already made the move, part of the mass escape from the market failures and grinding rural poverty of Victorian England that forced so many to migrate into the growing industrial cities.

Thomas's career, through reform school at Kingswood (where he learned his musicianship) to the army, through South Africa where he met his wife, and on into the horror of the First World War will be well documented elsewhere (though I'll add some links at the foot of this piece).   Here I'll stick to a couple of side-stories that have been turned up in the course of the research, and offer an insight into Bristol around the end of the Victorian era.

Wiliam Rendle

William Rendle would, had he survived childhood, have been Thomas's uncle.  Instead he was, literally, cut down at the age of ten.

His widowed mother had remarried in Bedminster when William was just seven.  Her new husband was Richard Davis, blind from birth, who eked out a living on the streets playing a harmonium – a sort of reed organ.   William was in the habit of being Richard's eyes, helping him – and the harmonium – around the city.

In the darkness of an early evening in January 1882, the two of them were making their way down Captain Carey's Lane, off Old Market Street.   You won't find it now, as it's become part of the Temple Way underpass, but it shows up very clearly on the excellent “Know Your Place” website.  Captain Carey's Lane was narrow, but it was much used by the carters who shifted goods to and from the railway goods yard on Midland Road.

That evening, as the harmonium was being trundled down the lane, William leading and Richard behind, two horse-drawn carts were making their way in the opposite direction. There should have been room enough to pass – but the impatient driver of the second cart attempted to overtake.

It was never clear whether he had control of his horses, or heard William's warning shouts, or even saw the child.   The cart hit the harmonium, crushing William against the wall. 

The boy was carried into a neighbouring warehouse and from there to the Infirmary, but he died within minutes of arriving.   The distraught driver of the cart briefly disappeared from the scene.

At the inquest, the evidence emerged that many of the rules of cartage were rarely observed, and that the driver had been all too aware of what he'd done, though he claimed to know nothing about it till later.

A verdict of accidental death was returned.  Several of the jury remarked that at present the street was very dangerous as a thoroughfare.    Just another death in Victorian Bristol.

Education, Education, Migration

Life was indeed hard for the children of the poor.   Thomas Edward Rendle VC, living in Bedminster with three younger sisters and two brothers, had lost his mother in 1898 when he was just 14.

Not long afterwards he was ordered to be detained at the Kingswood Reformatory.  Over a century later, S.Glos council is, for some reason, reluctant to release the school records for inspection at the Bristol Record Office, so it's not clear why he was sent there.   One thing's for sure; the motherless family was pretty chaotic and its members would have to live on their wits.

His younger sister Lottie was likewise sent to a reformatory school, in distant Exeter.  Later she returned to Bristol and married an Exeter man at St Mary Redcliffe in 1908, going on to live back in Exeter and later to emigrate to Canada.

A younger sister, Elizabeth, was brought before the courts in 1899.  The record shows that her offence was to be 'found wandering', and the court, in its wisdom, ordered that she be detained for four years at the Carlton House Industrial School for Girls, on St Michaels Hill.

Another sister, Maud, was sent to live with her married aunt's family in Coventry, but in 1904 was sent (along with the two younger brothers) to Canada by the Bristol Emigration Society to a very uncertain future.

All six children, then, were  'rescued' by the social reforms that were all too slowly supplanting the workhouse.   The powers of those rescuers, who seemed to have little or no accountability, over the children now seem unbelievable;  but they continued for a long time afterwards; even now charities like Fairbridge and Barnados are having to live with the shame of exporting children to the colonies as indentured labour, while knowingly hiding from them the fact they still had parents in Britain.  

I wonder if that's what happened to the younger Rendles.

Bristol Record Office for the news reports of William Rendle's death, and the Carlton House school registers – and help in using the archive.
Bristol Libraries for free access to Ancestry records.   FindmyPast (subscription) for censuses, news searches, and online reprints
General Booth of the Salvation Army for the pictures above – they're details from the frontispiece of his 'Darkest England and the Way Out', published in 1890.
No thanks to South Glos council, who've still not even acknowledged a request for access to the Kingswood Reformatory archive.  Why?

More on Thomas Rendle VC:  try
Great War VCs – a comprehensive description and CV, plus the pictures to go with it
Excerpt from Victoria Crosses on the Western Front – including more about Thomas's siblings.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Hydrogenesis – or hydrostasis? Remember, this is Bristol

Stasis, n. a state of inactivity in which no progress is made. 
Hydrostasis:  dead in the water

Let's start by looking beyond the harbour walls at the big wide world. (Feel free to skip this bit if you're already convinced of the need for hydrogen fuel)

The IPCC has just published yet another, ever more certain warning of man-made climate change bringing “severe, pervasive, and irreversible damage” to our world unless we stop emitting carbon. 

But how to get by without it? Britain's winds have managed to keep the lights on recently, with turbines even outperforming the baseload 5GW provided by the eight working reactors (of fifteen total) of the national stockpile of 
nuclear power stations. 

The CPRE in the southwest was dismissive. “It doesn’t matter how many wind turbines are built, if you don’t have wind you don’t have power” 

Which is true, of course. Fair enough, the more turbines there are, the more likely it is that some will be producing energy, but you wouldn't want to rely totally on their output at any given time. And so far as I know, no-one pretends that you could.  

That variability of supply is not just a problem wind energy. While consumer demand varies, it's hard to find any (non-carbon) fuel that can respond to that changing demand. Gas and (up to a point) coal and biomass power stations are quite demand-responsive; wind is anything but. Same goes for wave energy and the other generating sources that are equally ineffective at tracking the changing demand.

At the other end of the scale, nuclear energy provides fairly predictable outputs that bear little relationship to what consumers actually need at the time they need it. Solar has the advantages - and disadvantages - of both these extremes, while tidal needs big-scale civil engineering to even approach demand responsiveness. 

The big problem isn't finding renewable energy sources – it's finding ways to store the energy produced for where and when it's needed. That's where hydrogen comes in.

Back in Bristol a couple of weeks ago, while yet another trainload of Hinckley Point's radioactive waste was trundling through the city towards an uncertain future in Cumbria, a bunch of councillors at City Hall were discussing our innovative, but stalled, project involving hydrogen fuel. 

I think hydrogen is brilliant. As an energy store, it's just like coal, gas, and oil, available when needed. But unlike them it's emission-free, it's freely available anywhere there's water (no geopolitical energy security worries there, then).  Put it in a fuel cell, and all you get out is energy and water, with a conversion efficiency way above orthodox engines, and no climate change, no radioactive waste, no killer local air pollution. And you can make it at the times when power plants of every kind aren't having to meet immediate consumer demand. 


We've had just such a hydrogen system here in Bristol over the last couple of years. Hydrogenesis, the specially designed and built harbour ferry, wasn't a totally new technology, but it did require the enthusiasm and cooperation of the council, local designers and businesses, and at least one major corporation, each putting up some of the cash. That was the difficult bit – and it happened. It worked. Apparently there's even an official report to say so (though it's defeated my efforts to find it) 

But now Hydrogenesis is moored up without any role, without any known future, in the harbour. It's life support machine, the hydrogen fuelling station has been removed at the end of its hire term. 

The councillors, in the shape of the 'Place' Scrutiny Commission, couldn't find much cause for optimism.  Bristol might have introduced the the UK's first fuel-cell powered ferry, there might be every reason to think the initial investment had succeeded in showing it worked, but the human part of the whole project cannot get its act together. 

There's serious ill-will between rival ferry companies, certain councillors, and the mayor – so much that co-operation seems impossible. And without that co-operation, the whole project, the whole investment by all the parties, becomes a failure, a waste of money, a waste of a huge opportunity to kick start decarbonisation of local transport. 

What it needs is a commitment to a permanent hydrogen source; the £10k-a-month temporary unit served its purpose but clearly isn't a long term solution. 

Over in Swindon, Honda have just commissioned a commercial scale filling station where solar energy is used to separate the H2 from the O, and deliver it to vehicles. So it's perfectly possible. 

In Bristol, a harbourside production unit (why not at the Feeder Road basin,. in the TQ Enterprise Zone?) could provide not just for working craft like Hydrogenesis but for road vehicles too. Powered, perhaps, by renewable electricity from the Avonmouth wind turbines, from the tidal flows of the Avon, or the solar panels that will doubtless cover the new Arena. 

There's national funding on offer too, if the bid's right. Last month £11 million was allocated toward setting up as many as 15 hydrogen refuelling stations and for public sector fuel-cell powered vehicles. 

The brief report before 'Place' scrutiny did mention looking for funding – but it looked half-hearted and unconvincing. With the different parties only too ready to slag each other off (and there was some of that at the scrutiny meeting), it leaves the feeling that this terrific opportunity (the sort of thing that's essential if we're to respond to the threat of climate change) will be lost because the egos involved couldn't bring themselves to co-operate. 

George, do something.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Food Colouring – without the E numbers

The blue was produced from tubers bought at January's 'Potato Day' at the Southville Centre
 (the 2015 repeat is on 11th January). 
 It's a heritage variety called 'salad blue' and I'm told it also produces excellent blue chips. 
One to invest in again?
Just harvested, this is 'Inca Rainbow' which came from another of this year's seed swaps
[Added 21/10/14]
Appetising, eh?

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.