Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Tree Decoration



If we get the extra dog waste bins that we've been promised for the Open Space and down by the brook, will this quaint little custom continue?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Into the Electoral Fray. Again.

I've been selected to stand for election as one of Stockwood's city councillors next May. The Green Party page about it is here.

Fortunately we don't do 'dirty' electioneering in Stockwood; I get on fine with our current councillors, Jay and David, even if we are poles apart on some issues. So here's hoping for a clean and fair election - same as last time, but with the top two places reversed!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

What are Bristol's three green 'Benchmarks of Excellence' ?


It's been suggested that Barbara Janke and co's flying visit to Copenhagen has little to do with the talks or even the banquets. Instead, she might find time to lobby for euro-cash for new energy projects in the city. She'd do it through the 'Covenant of Mayors' - a European Commission initiative of 1,000-plus European Cities aiming to exceed the EU's own targets for CO2 cuts. Apparently Bristol is a member, though who made the decision to join is unclear.

The Covenant of Mayors is also inviting member towns and cities to publish three 'Benchmarks of Excellence' that they're proud of.

So what should Bristol's three be?

Hmmmm.... food waste collections could be a contender, though it's not directly energy related. But after that ?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Babs' Banquets - and other things to do in Copenhagen



Turns out it's the 'Climate Summit for Mayors' that's Barbara Janke's must-go destination next week - together with her counterparts from London, Birmingham, Manchester, and 70-odd cities throughout the world.

What they're all getting up to is listed here (pdf file). Looks like a long week of royal receptions and other bunfights, corporate presentations and tours - plus a good few events that many of us in Bristol would get a lot from, helping to see how we can make a low-carbon future actually happen.

Still, no doubt Babs will be writing an extensive report on the plane trip back, so we won't have to bother.

"Labour is flying in the face of the spirit of Copenhagen" says Hughes - as Janke jets to the Summit

Bristol's Liberal Democrat council leader, Barbara Janke, is jetting off for a couple of days in Copenhagen. Meanwhile her website condemns government officials for travelling to the climate change talks the same polluting way.

Just another example of LibDem hypocrisy. Makes a change from wanting prestige buildings on the green belt, or new roads to bring more traffic and congestion.

Bristol City Council has made no official announcement of the council leader's trip, so its purpose and justification - if any - is unclear.

But you have to ask why the city (on our behalf) will pay the environmental and financial costs of Janke's junket when they're desperately searching for ways to cut spending on essential public services and to reduce our carbon footprint.

Maybe Babs didn't have time to read what LibDem front-bencher Simon Hughes had to say about flying to Copenhagen before she quoted it on her web site.....

"At least half of the 38 Ministers and officials that the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are taking to the Copenhagen Conference will be travelling by plane, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed.

The information was released in answer to Parliamentary Questions.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Simon Hughes will be travelling to the Copenhagen conference by train next weekend. The cost of his travel will be cheaper than the average £460 that DECC is paying to send each of its ministers and civil servants to the Conference.

Commenting, Simon Hughes said:

It’s a disgrace that ministers and officials are flying today to attend the Copenhagen Conference.

“They are supposed to be discussing how to save the world from a climate crisis and yet many of them are using the most polluting form of transport available - and at a very high cost to the public.

“I will be travelling to the conference by train, a method of transport far less damaging to the environment. It may take a little longer to get there, but it certainly will cost less than the people at the Department of Climate Change are spending on their travel.

“Labour has to wake up and realise that words are not what is needed to avert a climate crisis, it is real action that counts.



[Added 10.15 on 10/12/09]:
Jankepage link above now working - until the item drops off the page, anyway.

Meanwhile, the view from the cockpit - it's not my usual reading, but here's the story from the Bristol chapter of the Professional Pilots Rumour Network

Friday, 27 November 2009

Nuclear Cover

As we build up to the big Climate Change March next weekend, local green bloggers have been drawing attention to the failings of the government's 'solution' - a host of new nuclear reactors around our shores.

Vowles the Green has been writing about over-reliance on the building programme - who, outside Westminster, believes it would be on time or on budget? Charlie Bolton draws attention to a new anti-nuclear petition on the No10 web site. It's been started by a neighbour of the one planned for Bradwell. Sounds disgruntled. Well you would, wouldn't you?

Below, Caroline Lucas sums up the case against nuclear power in under two minutes....

Caroline Lucas MEP on nuclear power from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament on Vimeo.



What no-one seems to mention is that - unlike every other industry - nuclear power stations don't have to insure themselves against 'worst possible' accident scenarios. If they could find companies willing to take on the risk, Greenpeace reckon it would treble the price of their electricity.

Of course, the more nuclear reactors get built, the higher the risk of just such an accident.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

But Answer Came There None....

A load of detailed questions about the South Bristol Link were due to be answered at Tuesday's Cabinet Meeting. Several of them were based on damning data in the 'Options Appraisal' of last winter, to find out whether, as suspected, the latest scheme, introduced a couple of months ago, really performs as badly as the previous ones did in that Appraisal.

But answer came there none. Or rather, we were told that the officers and executive don't know the answers.

This time, no-one knows what congestion might be expected as a result of the new road bringing in new traffic. No-one knows how many more vehicles will thunder through South Bristol. No-one knows how it will affect journey times into the city in the morning peak rush. No-one knows if the scheme's proposed BRT 'figleaf' has the remotest chance of breaking even.

Because no-one's asked.

And maybe that tells us more than we could have got from any set of consultants predictive traffic modelling.

The story's on the Green Party's website here

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Monday, 23 November 2009

The new (radioactive) neighbours


Nice to hear Cllr Mark Wright speaking up on Original Radio on behalf of Bristolians who might be alarmed at the prospect of a new nuclear reactor being built at Oldbury - just nine miles from the city. Mark wants us to have more of a say in the decision - or at the very least, for the authorities to come and ask us what we think.

Once upon a time Bristol's people did have just such a forum, when the city council was part of the Association of Nuclear Free Local Authorities, a mutually supportive group of councils to help with fact-finding and with organising resistance to the threats that come from all things nuclear.

Today's LibDem council may be nominally anti-nuclear, but it's not going down that road. Last month, Mark's leader, Barbara Janke, turned down - for the second time - a Green Party appeal to rejoin the Association, on grounds of the cost (could be as much as a bank-breaking £30K).

Obviously she didn't ask Mark first. Too preoccupied with the World Cup bid, perhaps?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Oh No Jon, No Jon, No Jon, No

""Do nothing/minimum" is always an option"
Jon Rogers, re South Bristol Link, this blog, 28th October

"There is no point in asking people whether they want a scheme, that has been asked before, and we have, based on all the information, going back years, already decided to proceed to the next stage."
Jon Rogers, re South Bristol Link, email, 13th November

Cue a batch of questions for answer at next Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, in an effort to find out what the options really are, and to bring some of the realities of the road-plus-BRT Link into the public domain.

More of those later. Meanwhile, Vowles the Green has been tabling more challenging questions for Cllr Rogers at the same meeting. Like how can exponential economic growth, promoted as a 'Core Value' in the city's future, be 'sustainable'? Very fundamental question that. I'm looking forward to the answer, while not really expecting one!

Too good to miss.......

On A Father Christmas Steamday you will be able to:

* Ride on a Steam train to Father Christmas' grotto (advance booking essential)
* Meet Father Christmas and be given a present (for children).

In addition you can:

* Experience an air-raid in the 1940 built World War II Air Raid Shelter


(From the Didcot Railway Centre) website

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Jeckyll and Jon

In his Dr Jeckyll persona, Jon Rogers excelled himself at this morning's Joint Transport Execs meeting, confronting the forces of darkness from BaNES, South Glos and N. Somerset. His anger wasn't enough to persuade them to relax their opposition to an Integrated Transport Authority for Greater Bristol, though.

What he did manage was to make them admit it openly. The cross-party consensus in the city that an ITA is the only way to achieve a half-decent public transport system evidently doesn't extend into the neighbouring Tory unitaries. North Somerset's Elfan Ap Rees -whose favoured transport is by helicopter - was particularly obtuse and nimbyish. He'd said at the previous meeting that he'd like to kill the ITA ambition stone dead. In the end, it may not be quite dead, but it's certainly stuck in a coma with no real hope of improvement.

That was the extent of Jon's challenge to the status quo. When it came to the South Bristol Link, I'd put my own statement drawing members attention to the absence of analysis, consultation, and future proofing in the one remaining option, and asking them to make sure that that there was still a choice other than saying 'yes' to it. No chance. The statement didn't get a mention, even to refute it, as the officers' programme to build a ring road was nodded through. Whatever Jon meant when he said here that "do minimum is always an option" remains a mystery.

(picture of Elfan ap Rees leaving the meeting, job done.
from boreme.com)

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Ring Road Regress

When the West of Englands four Transport Executive members meet at the Council House on Thursday, one tiny item on the long agenda will ask them to 'note' - ie approve - what their staff are doing to push the South Bristol Ring Road forward. They're told that after a second round of public and stakeholder engagement this November, Members will subsequently receive a further report seeking approval to submit a bid to DfT in March 2010.

So it's verdict first, evidence later. Again. Except there's not even any prospect of reliable evidence to give some after-the-event credibility to this bid.

The one scheme on offer wasn't tested in the costly 'Options Appraisal' report commissioned a year ago from Mott MacDonald. Even the 'do minimum' scenario (a forecast that assumes that new initiatives like a Hengrove-North Fringe rapid transit, the Callington Road Link, and a Barrow Gurney bypass go ahead) didn't get fully assessed.

'Do Minimum', as you may have read on this very blog, is always an option (except, of course, in the current consultation documents)

So... if you were a DfT civil servant, weighing up competing demands for government cash that's nowhere near enough to cover everything, would you entertain this bid for a moment? It's not been appraised, the consultation is a mockery, there's no attempt to answer the Big Question: "What do we get from this scheme that we wouldn't get anyway?" Looks like an easy decision....

Cue for a nudge to the assembled Transport Execs, before they give the nod to this ill-advised stitch-up attempt. My own attempt comes in this 'Public Forum Statement' which, the partnership promises, "will be considered when that item is discussed"


Statement re S. Bristol Ring Road, Nov 09

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The World Cup elephant in the Committee Room


I lived near World Cup hosts Middlesbrough in 1966. North Korea became our home team for a couple of weeks, and they provided plenty of entertainment. But the face of Middlesbrough, much less its global reputation, remained untouched.

How many times will the 2018 world cup will be mentioned tomorrow, when the planning committee meets to consider the application to develop Ashton Vale?

The phrase turns up twenty times in the 'officers report' (pdf), intended to guide councillors toward a recommended decision. That's in spite of their Chief Executive's assurance, in a letter to the Green party and quoted below, that it's not a 'material planning consideration'

The Greens themselves have been pointing out that to get the World Cup, the stadium designers will need to plan to FIFA's 'Green Goal' standards. Solar panels, less 'throwaway' catering, combined bus/entrance match tickets, that sort of thing.

Meanwhile our own 11th hour comments go in (apparently development.management@bristol.gov.uk take them till noon today):


We believe there is very good reason, taking into account all material planning considerations, to reject all elements of this application, or at the very least to defer a decision to see if the applicants can revise their proposals into something that offers a net 'public good'.  As it stands, it's a public bad.

Reasons:
a) The application relies on the principle of 'enabling development' - a material planning consideration.  But nowhere is there any attempt to define or quantify the 'public benefits' to set against the acknowledged disbenefits of much of the proposal.  Therefore, an informed judgement is impossible.

b) The applicants are inconsistent in their reliance on current planing policy.  When it suits, they claim that only the policies laid down in the Local Plan should be enforced; at other times, they claim that the RSS (still in draft and subject to legal challenge) should guide decisions.

c) The applicants' financial case for 'enabling development' has not been proved - in fact the council's own advisors (among others) have taken it to pieces.

d) The proposed waiving of some £millions of Sec 106 payments amounts to a further indirect public subsidy, of dubious legality, to the football club.

e) The prospect of bringing some World Cup matches to Bristol in 2018 has been repeatedly touted as a 'benefit' arising from the new stadium.  For instance, the phrase 'World Cup' crops up twenty times in your Officers Report alone.  That is not a material planning consideration, and should be discounted.  In fact your Chief Executive has written "the Council, its officers and members are fully able to distinguish between the aspirational nature of the (World Cup) bid process and the need for the Local Planning Authority to determine the applications for the new Stadium and the former Ashton Gate site upon material planning considerations alone".

In any case, as Tony Dyer pointed out to the last Cabinet meeting, the proposed stadium should be built and operated to FIFA 'Green Goal' standards to give Bristol a good chance to host the games and live up to its 'Green Capital' aspirations; the proposed stadium just doesn't come near those standards.

f) the failure of the applicants to include affordable housing in their proposals - in defiance of planning policy and of real need.  The result is an elitist proposal for housing, while exporting the task of actually meeting real housing need to other areas that are already under pressure.  This is a major disbenefit.

g) loss of Green Belt land.  Utterly unjustified and undesirable, and without any basis in planning policy.

h) Alternative options.  One of the best (and most efficient use of scarce land) is a dual use stadium shared by Bristol City FC and another club (either Rovers or the rugby club).  The failure of the clubs concerned to take up this option is their own responsibility - not a burden to be borne by the city.

i) Peak Oil.  The city, as part of the Bristol Partnership, has just commissioned and welcomed the report 'Building a positive future for Bristol after Peak Oil'.  This will mean absolutely nothing if the city fails to take its values and recommendations into planning and 'future-proofing' new developments such as this.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Ripe tomatoes



Outdoor tomatoes picked from the garden this morning. The yellow 'cherry' ones are the wonderfully named, and well flavoured, 'Broad Ripple Yellow Currant'; thanks to Alan Lock for the original seedling he gave me when I moved to Bristol. The fat red monster in the middle is the hybrid Ferline, which this year showed its blight resistant credentials while all around were felled.

And yes, it is November 1st.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

South Bristol Link: time to weigh up the option.

Spot the difference.....



This is what Jon Rogers and the other three West of England Partnership Transport Executive Members approved when they met on 1st October. These two road/BRT options recommended for further examination and consultation might have surprised them - after all, they'd not been among the five shortlisted for the previous round of consultation or for the 'Options Appraisal' study of their probable impacts. Nonetheless, the Execs nodded it through.



This is what the two options favoured in October have now become. Somewhere, somehow in these last four weeks the southern option has been dropped. All that's on the table is the BRT to nowhere and the 'northern option' road. That's the one that squeezes 10,000 vehicles a day through the now quiet backwater of King Georges Road, swells traffic entering the Cumberland Basin by 20%, and increases journey times into the city centre. All in the name of cutting congestion, cutting emissions, and some nebulous claims of regeneration.

So now we're invited to comment on just one option. Hobson's choice. The 'consultation' takes the form:
"We welcome your views on the scheme - please help us by answering a few questions at the end of this pamphlet."

OK, I'll probably do that before deadline day. But I wonder if they'll first answer mine?

* Who took the decision to cut the two options mandated by the Execs, to just one?

* How are you going to cope with the extra traffic you'll bring to the Cumberland Basin - especially if a stadium and a superstore get added to the mix?

* Will you keep the bus rapid transit in the scheme, subsidising it to make up for its losses?

* How on earth will you explain yourselves to people living on the route?

* How do you square this new ring road with:
Cutting CO2?
Peak Oil?
Cutting congestion?
Getting people out of their cars?

* Whose tune is it that you're dancing to?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Land Grabbers are Coming.....

Last time I stood for election in Stockwood, I warned that 'they're moving the countryside further away'. Sure enough, it's all beginning to take shape now.

A new town in our own back yard.

While development plans for the Ashton Vale/ Barrow Gurney green belt have been hitting the headlines recently, we've not heard so much about the equally controversial bid for massive development along south-east edge of the city, bordering Stockwood and Whitchurch, and stretching to Keynsham and Hicks Gate.

That's about to change, as Bath & NE Somerset council consults on its 'Core Strategy' to guide future planning. It sees the development centred on Hicks Gate and on the fields around Whitchurch village.



In the next couple of weeks, they'll be holding two display and drop-in sessions to explain the options that are being considered in relation to a potential SE Bristol urban extension. Both take place at Whitchurch Community Centre (off Bristol Rd, about opposite Maggs Lane) between 3.30pm and 7.30pm. They're on Monday 2nd and Friday 6th November.

The BaNES website at www.bathnes.gov.uk/corestrategy shows the Core Strategy. It's called the 'final approval version' which doesn't give much confidence in their willingness to change anything now!. The details of the SE Bristol Urban Extension can be found in Chapter 5 - much more comprehensive than the map above.

Deadline for comments is December 11th.
........................

Meanwhile, the Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces somehow find themselves as one of the first ports of call for developers and planners in the area. Our (I confess an interest in this, as the secretary) 'to do' list now includes offering a local (pre-planning application) opinion of possible brownfield residential development immediately behind the Hollway Road shops. There's also an invitation from the City Council's 'Urban Extensions Project Manager' (honest!) to feed into a 'South Bristol Retail and Centres Study' commissioned from consultants GVA Grimley.

Arguably, Stockwood needs a separate and representative group of residents with an interest in local planning to take on these tasks.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Bristol's Future after Peak Oil


This is worth reading. Not just reading, but following up with pressure on the city's elite to actually lift their heads out of the sand and see the reality out there.

The Peak Oil report spells it out:

"An oil crunch would fundamentally threaten the way our city operates with challenges to transport, healthcare, food distribution, social cohesion, public services and other sectors"

"Peak oil is currently not even considered as a risk for most businesses, yet its effects would make many of today’s business models redundant"

"Major Bristol transport planning schemes do not currently consider the potential impact of different fuel prices"........."Peak oil fundamentally alters the viability of the private car as the leading mode of transport"

"Bristol Council has no statutory responsibility around food and no plan around food security. The city is totally reliant on major supermarkets for food supply."

"It is essential that planning decisions keep sufficient cultivatable land available in and around the city to allow for a low energy local food system. This is already at risk as developers move to buy green belt land around the city from farmers in anticipation of more relaxed planning laws"

"Current Bristol planning strategies, which are guided by central government, do not factor in peak oil as an issue or a risk."

"In order to raise some of the funding for the green space programme the Council is planning to sell some‘low value’marginal land. Changes in priority for land use brought by peak oil are not yet integrated into this strategy."

"Bristol does not have a strategic energy plan."

It wasn't Transition Bristol that produced this powerful, hard hitting, but constructive report. It's the child of that august body, the Bristol Partnership's 'Green Momentum Group', until now known mostly for its 'Green Capital' hype.

But the report's conclusions are in many cases diametrically opposed to the things the city fathers are actually doing - for instance, encouraging more traffic while cutting public transport.

It looks like its time to challenge the council - and the business people - on how seriously they will take this report. Can we hope they might even put its suggestions into practice, not just pay lip service? The consequences of failure are unthinkable.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Traffic to rise 20% in congestion hot-spot.

......and they're thinking of adding a Tesco Extra to the mix!

One of the two proposals for a South Bristol Ring Road, which won the blessing of the West of England's transport bosses on Thursday, would add over 7,000 vehicles a day to the traffic on Ashton Way as it approaches the Cumberland Basin.

That's before adding further to it by building 230 houses, a stadium, hotel, and fast food outlets at Ashton Vale, and a Tesco megastore at Ashton Gate, as Bristol City Football Club are demanding.

Is it the transport planners, or the football club owners, that are on some other planet? All of them, I reckon.

Edit, 2.30pm 7/10:

The 7,000 figure above comes from the Options Appraisal (App7.1), showing an increase from 35350 (do minimum option) to 42950 vehicles/day for Option 1 - a road from Hengrove to A370 Long Ashton

Lots more on this topic from the Bristol Blogger (look out specially for Tony Dyer's comment on the regeneration myth) and on Chris Hutt's 'Green Bristol Blog'

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The stadium and the World Cup

Looks like a decision will be delayed - according to Jones the News. But 'minded to approve' decisions on November 4 and 5 would leave it open for Bristol to remain part of the World Cup bid - and make it more difficult for the 'No Tesco' objectors to appeal.

Not, of course, that the World Cup bid has anything whatever to do with the planning decision! I know. Jan told me

Friday, 2 October 2009

A Day in the Death of Stockwood Green School


Throughout last year, the council's 'Primary Review' set out to meet targets by closing schools. Educational needs and parental choice were casualties of the process. Other casualties were the truth and any balanced assessment of what was best for the children concerned. Errors and half truths and the threat of closure were enough to trigger a response - children being moved to other schools - that paradoxically justified closure on grounds of falling rolls.

The whole sorry saga is spelled out in this 'statement' from the Stockwood Green governors, which was presented to the council by Stockwood Cllr Jay Jethwa last month - at the end of a long and exhausting full council meeting. It was barely noticed there, so I thought I'd republish it here, in the hope that someone might learn something from it, and maybe prevent such bureaucratic and political stupidity happening again.

Stockwood Green School: statement to Bristol City Council, Sept 2009

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Avonmouth and the Orang utans




This picture was taken in Indonesia - it's one of the huge 'Earth from the Air' placards that will be on display through Bath city centre through till January. The exhibition's been updated since its appearance in Bristol four or five years ago. See them if you possibly can! Take the family!




This picture is from a planning application (09/03235/F) currently awaiting 'determination' by Bristol City Council. It's what one small corner of Avonmouth could look like.

What they have in common is palm oil. At the Indonesian end, as a crop to replace the rainforests. At Avonmouth, as a 'renewable' fuel earning premium prices in the electricity generating market.

The power station is proposed by a firm called W4B Bristol Ltd, of Bourne End in Buckinghamshire. It does have some merits... it uses a site and some of the structures left by Sevalco Ltd. But it doesn't even attempt to do anything other than generate electricity for the grid - its other potentially useful product, process heat, will be wasted.

Nor does it attempt to use locally produced biofuels. The oils it uses will be highly processed products imported from the other side of the planet at the expense of the rainforest (not to mention the orang utans). Certainly not from Bristol's takeaways! Carbon neutral? You're joking.

So sadly, it's thumbs down for this one. To make it easy, there's far more explanation and background on a biofuelswatch page, with all the links you could want for evidence, and a well reasoned 'objection' to copy and
paste if you haven't time or confidence to construct your own.

A similar application by the same company (under a slightly different name) was turned down by the Weymouth and Portland Council on Sept 16 - apparently due to the same concerns about the impacts of palm oil planting. Let's make sure that Bristol's planners are equally well informed.

Tescobjection

Here's ours - worth reading only if you're interested in realities, not just dreams. Nothing against a new stadium. It's just that I'd rather the owners should pay for it in cash, not the public pay for it in kind.

Wouldn't it be good, though, if a big stake in the new stadium was held by the fans, whose week-in week-out support at the turnstiles is probably the greatest asset the club has. I think the owners forgot the fans when they claimed that the Ashton Gate stadium site is the clubs only asset. If they floated a share issue with the same enthusiasm as they've shown in orchestrating support for a Tesco Extra in Southville, maybe we could have a useful development instead, the fans would own part of their club, and Steve wouldn't have to reach too deep into his pockets to complete the deal.

Objection to a Tesco at Ashton Gate, Bristol

Monday, 28 September 2009

Kerry, Caroline, and Tobin

Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy complains on her blog that Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MEP was invited to speak at the Labour conference fringe meeting.

Fortunately, not everyone in the Labour Party has such a closed mind, and Caroline was warmly received at meetings yesterday of the Fabian Society and the progressive group 'Compass'.

It's not unusual for politicians to 'guest' at other parties' conferences. For me, one of the most memorable fringe meetings at the Green Party conference was addressed by Labour's Alan Simpson MP, when he spoke powerfully and convincingly about the virtues of the Tobin Tax.

It's not just the left and the Greens that support such a tax. In the last few weeks it's been backed by Adair Turner, who heads the Financial Services Authority, and by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

None of us seem likely to persuade the Labour/Tory establishment though, who clearly favour 'the treatment as before' - the banking system awash with money, along with savage cuts in public spending.

politicalcripple

No, not the one you thought. This one is the organisation behind an event on College Green today.

Incensed by the government's plans to restrict payments of the Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance that they depend on, they wanted to draw public and media attention to their petition to protect the benefits. People from all the political parties were invited to show support, though apart from my 'Green' presence, we only had a couple of LibDems while I was there... and I'm not sure that 'savage cuts' Nick Clegg would applaud them.



The petition is online here, and today laptops were available so passers-by could sign electronically on the spot. The campaign's also very much about disabled people making their own decisions, rather than being told what's good for them by the 'caring' authorities - hence the slogan 'No More Tiny Tim'. To ram the point home, 'patronisers' who go too far find themselves presented with a lollipop!

For some reason, council officers had made things unusually difficult for the event organisers. Although petitioning on the Cathedral property of College Green might seem to pose no threat to anyone, the council insisted on the group buying huge third party liability insurance before issuing a licence - and even that wasn't produced till an hour before it was due to start.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Good and the Bad in the Counts Louse

Among all the usual knockabout namecalling and the routine failure to answer public questions intelligibly at this week's full council meeting, there were one or two items to raise the spirits.

One was the universal welcome given to the recommendations of the Sustainable Travel Select Committee, with its analysis of what's needed to turn Bristol's chronic transport problems around. More here.

There was the standing ovation that greeted a statement calling for Cllr Richard Eddy's resignation as Tory leader after his homophobic remarks in the Evening Post.

But counterbalancing those high spots was the party gamesmanship around a Tory motion about the Green Belt.

On the face of it, it was the kind of motion you couldn't really argue with, although you might wonder at the Tories wish to protect the regulatory protection of open spaces against the rapacious free market development set out in the government's Regional Spatial Strategy.

But there it was, calling for a legal challenge if the government sticks to its expansionist greenbelt-grabbing plans.

The LibDems seemed to lose sight of the detail, assuming that the Tories didn't want any building anywhere, and put in their own amendment. It concentrated on slagging off Tory shadow Minister Caroline Spellman's ill-advised letter about housing to Tory controlled councils. Didn't make much sense here in Bristol, where a Tory council seems rather less likely than a Green one - but the LibDems wanted to make their mark, so they used their majority to force the amendment through.

For some reason which remains a mystery to me, Bristol's politicians don't publish amendments in advance. This means that no-one has a chance to read them, evaluate them, research them, develop arguments for or against. No-one watching the webcast can make head or tail of what's happening. It's all reduced to a mere surprise tactic in the never-ending tribal warfare in the council chamber.

New Labour - in the shape of Mark Bradshaw - then introduced its own surprise amendment to the already-amended motion. This one concentrated on the need for affordable homes, and was strongly linked to encouraging the physical growth of the city - which, for Mark, is a prerequisite for funding infrastructure and for future prosperity.

By then, there was no time left to debate this weird article of the Labour economic faith. To tidy things up a quick vote was taken and lost, then the council nodded through what was left of this motion. (We were all nodding by that time). The whole debate had taken the full 45 minutes, but hadn't made any difference because they all voted on predetermined party lines.

No time remained for the three further motions, arguably of much greater importance, about four-yearly council elections, a climate change action programme, and the city bus services. They - and we - will have to wait.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Learners and Customers



I can't wait to sign up. Can't decide whether to be a student, a learner, or a customer though.....

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Ashton Gate - the Ormondroyd view

Last month the Bristol South Greens complained to council CEO Jan Ormondroyd that by being part of the 2018 World Cup bid team, the council is compromising its neutrality on the linked planning applications to deliver a new stadium.

It will come to a head in November, when it's to rule on the planning application to put an unwanted, unneeded, 24/7 Tesco retail shed - much like the one here at Brislington - on the current Ashton Gate site, instead of something that's actually needed. Like places for people to live.

To avoid any suggestion of prejudicial interest, we suggested that the council stand down from the bid team, and let a real football fan take their place.

After all, we all know that no Tesco equals no new stadium. And that no new stadium equals no World Cup. We know, because they've said so. So doesn't council support for the World Cup Bid constitute council support for Tesco?

Absolutely not, says Jan. She'd 'like to differentiate between the Council's support for the principle of Bristol becoming a World Cup host city and the planning process the football club is pursuing to deliver a new stadium'. She doesn't say quite how they'll keep the two issues apart, nor does she think to mention that the council also has a pivotal role in deciding whether to hand over its own land to make it all happen. But she does freely admit that planning permission can be awarded on the grounds that Tesco's financial influence will 'enable' the new stadium. Even though we already have a stadium.

Arguably, of course, the new stadium is 'enabling' not only Tesco, but a green belt seizure; but I don't suppose they'll be pushing that line.

Jan goes on to assert her confidence 'that the Council, its officers and members are fully able to distinguish between the aspirational nature of the bid process and the need for the Local Planning Authority to determine the applications for the new Stadium and the former Ashton Gate site upon material planning considerations alone'.

My 'Simple OCR' software had its own ideas about the truth. It managed to reject 'aspirational' in favour of 'antirational'. Maybe it's a bit more perceptive than its name suggests?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Hengrove profits eyed up by a wunch of bankers



Good news. The South Bristol Community Hospital - awaited by generations of South Bristolians - could actually be delivered in the next three years or so.

It's only a little hospital (60 beds) but its planning and construction involves a hugely complex net of quangos, councils, agencies, and - of course - private sector interests. At Withywood this evening there was a presentation about it, set up by the local Neighbourhood Partnership, so I thought I'd check on progress and add a reminder that for most of us in South Bristol, Hengrove will be less accessible than the institutions that it replaces.

We were assured that they've overcome the little technical difficulties that had dogged the project back in the summer. The German supplier of the modular units to build the hospital had dropped out, so the whole thing's been redesigned using traditional construction methods, which will take twice as long. The reluctance of bankers to finance the project has, apparently, melted away, and now there are four or five of them queing to provide the money. That will free up Bristol Infracare LIFT (BIL)to get on with building and running the hospital. BIL's the Private/Public Partnership that binds the health and civic authorities with Carillion (the consortium that's got Bristol's health service sewn up just as securely as First have got the public transport monopoly). They're responsible for Whitchurch's new health centre (below)


Now it just needs the OK from the Department of Health, before the JCBs move in. It seems the Health Ministry has to approve because there's £54 million of public money involved. I still don't understand that... if that's public money, what the hell is it that the bankers are providing? That's the great mystery of the PFI system.

The government's effectively refused any other kind of funding structure - the health service is stuck with these private-public partnerships or nothing if they want to build anything. If and when the current general hospital gets sold by the NHS, you can be sure that the income won't be used to pay for this Hengrove hospital.

Someone asked about the environmental standards of the new hospital. The answer showed that it's not a big priority. It will meet minimum statutory standards!

There could well be a CHP unit to provide both heat and power, they're looking at different systems. Which begs the question of why the hell there isn't a unit to provide for the hospital, the college, the 'Healthplex' and the commercial development on this flagship site. The city council, as landowner, is already well into providing the road and services infrastructure for the whole site. Why on earth doesn't that include efficient on-site energy?

All this happens while Mandelson and the Tories compete to urge cuts in public spending - and as someone pointed out, it's vital to get the Hengrove project signed off before a general election throws everything into doubt again.

But for those who are getting confident that all will be well, it's worth a look at any of the exposures of all the PFI projects that rip off the public. The one highlighted by Green Party deputy leader Adrian Ramsay in his conference speech is a pretty good example.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Bristol's Other Railway Path - 2



'Cycling City' has turned its attention to the Whitchurch Railway Path. In the next few months we should see improvements on the section between Craydon Road and Manston Close.

The sharp inclines along the route will be brought down to 1 in 20 or better

There'll be more bins (for litter and for dog waste).

The bordering vegetation will be cut back and maintained to provide more light and better sight lines along the route

The surface, where damaged, will be replaced.

The Craydon Road entrance will be revamped and improved.

Solar powered inset lights (acting as 'cats eyes) will be installed

Benches and picnic tables will be provided where the path borders open space, above the Saltwell valley and at the Craydon Grove entry point.

So far so promising. But isn't something missing?

All this may be great for those of us with easy access from the east side - but what about people living in that strip of the ward to the west, up to the Wells Road? There's only one surfaced level access point along the whole route (at the north end, from Hazelbury Road).

At Longreach Grove there's an underpass taking a footway from one side of the railway path to the other. There are 'slip' paths provided too. It's well used by people on the Wells Road side to get to the frequent buses (7 an hour) that go down Sturminster Road to the city centre. It's the obvious preferred choice if you're using public transport. Here you can get the cheap 57 ABus service, or you can check the online realtime indicators before you come out, to see exactly when First's next 54A will get there. Compare that with the Wells Road, which offers 2 buses an hour at best, and no realtime checks.

But whether you're headed for the cycle path, the buses, the Sturminster Social Club, or whatever - if you've got wheels, you've got problems. The steps on the west side make it impossible for mobility scooters and bikes with trailers, very difficult for buggies, and a nuisance for basic pushbikes.

It wouldn't be too difficult to iron these out. Isn't that the sort of thing that Cycling City could include in the cycle path project?

They have, of course, been asked.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Bristol's Other Railway Path - 1



[This is the one that runs south through Stockwood along the Sturminster valley, following the route of the old Radstock line. Part of NCN route 3, which, if you stay with it long enough, will take you to Lands End.]

The rumoured sale of some of the green wooded space lying between the Whitchurch Railway path and Hazelbury Road raises questions about the council's observing its own rules for land disposal, as laid down in its Parks and Green Spaces Strategy which was adopted in February 2008. Did they really do it without the "extensive local consultation, research and observation" we were promised?

They certainly tried it with land alongside that other railway path (the one everyone talks about, up past the chocolate factory.) But after that little scandal was exposed, could it happen here, quietly, while the Area Green Space Plan is still being drafted?

It's enough to prompt questions in the council meeting. I've tabled some for Gary Hopkins to answer on the 15th:

2. Is the ribbon of green space (mapped in green and brown) in Stockwood alongside the Whitchurch Railway Path (National Cycle Network Route 3) 
a) a part of the city Parks land holding? and
b) subject to the P&GSS ?

3. Is any part of it currently up for sale, in the process of being sold, or recently sold? (if so, a map would be helpful)

4. Has any such land been fully assessed before sale as prescribed in the P&GSS (p36)?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Consultation and Kerry


A couple of weeks ago, our Bristol East MP, blogger and Twitterer Kerry McCarthy was invited onto a BBC 'Beyond Westminster' panel exploring the growth of 'direct democracy'. I know this, because she told us on her blog. We might have expected that she'd be proposing innovative ways of using the internet in the cause of grass roots democracy.

Far from it (unless, of course, the good bits were edited out!). Our Kerry, ever loyal to the party, was up there defending the status quo. On public consultation, she had this to say:

" I was Chair of Housing (I used to be a councillor) and consultation in principle is an excellent idea. Lets go out and consult with tenants, lets go out and consult with stakeholders. But what I found happened was it meant it took absolutely ages to make decisions..... "

Hmm... I wonder how she feels about the Water Act 2003, which allows the NHS quangos to decide to fluoridate our drinking water if they choose - subject only to the safeguard that they've 'consulted' consumers first. Note that the first regional health authority to do this (South Central) did exactly that, and is going ahead even though the public was, demonstrably, overwhelmingly opposed to it. Now our South West Regional Health Authority is starting down the same road. Maybe the problem is that people just don't have any faith in consultation.

Kerry's a bit uncomfortable about taking what her constituents tell her as any reflection of true public opinion, too. When the discussion turned to The Great Repeal Bill wiki, she was more than a little sceptical:

"How do you ensure that those people are reflective of... if I look at my constituency, I know the sort of people that write to their MPs, that send emails, come from a particular viewpoint, most of the people in my constituency won't do that, won't go online, won't take part in your wiki Bill procedure. Isn't there a danger of giving undue weight to the people who do participate?"

So there you have it. If you don't contact your MP, how can you expect them to represent you? And if you do, you're regarded by definition as unrepresentative and therefore you should be ignored. Catch 22.

Far easier to forget your constituents take your advice from the party whips. Or even actually become one, as Kerry has. And doesn't it show in her voting record.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Ashton Gate Tesco Debate - a NIMBY view from Stockwood

All credit to Aurea Mediocritas for some excellent and revealing research about the rival petitions , for and against a massive new 24hour Tesco at Ashton Gate. Well worth a look.

I'd hesitated to write about this particular hot potato, others are doing it very well without my help. I'll limit myself to a very local angle.

Since we've already got a mega-Tesco on our doorstep in Stockwood, you wouldn't expect much local passion for another one to built over at Southville. Even so, a few Stockwoodsmen have enthusiastically signed up to the pro-Tesco bandwagon. Embarrassingly, that's more than have so far signed up to my own petition for a city transport interchange at Temple Meads. If only I'd linked mine to a dream of World Cup football!

Our Stockwood petitioners for Tesco, along with others from all over east Bristol, South Glos and Banes, assert that a new Ashton Gate megastore will, as the petition claims, reduce "pressure on inner city roads around the bedminster Bridge area" and people from Avonmouth will get a wider choice of supermarkets to drive to. Such un-NIMBY altruism is deeply moving, even if the logic's a bit dodgy!

The initial planning choice for the Ashton Gate site was a mixed development of sports and recreational facilities and housing - both of which are needed, with a first call on urban brownfield sites such as this.

Of course, if housing at Ashton Gate is sacrificed in favour of a Tesco shed and accompanying tarmac and traffic, those homes will need to be built somewhere else instead. Step forward the rolling acres of Stockwood (and Hengrove, and Whitchurch, and the green belt).

The Stockwood petitioners for Tesco are even more self sacrificing than I thought.

For those who really want to weigh up the issues, without red-tinted dreams of perhaps seeing world cup matches in nine years time, there's plenty in the other blogs, not least Charlie Bolton's, where the real and lasting impacts on the Ashton/Southville area are much more clearly explained.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Two cheers for Jon Rogers


Two cheers for Jon Rogers. Presumably he's behind the city's response to the airport expansion plans, now awaiting a decision from North Somerset council.

Given the 'official' council position, after it first mutilated, then adopted, the motion that Charlie Bolton brought to full council back in March, outright opposition to expansion was never going to be an option.

Still, there's lots of constructive comment in there. In particular, it points out BIA's failure to put a persuasive case for the economic or environmental benefits of expansion. It calls for a far stronger commitment to noise reduction, and notes that road traffic generation will lead to a worsening of the already unacceptably poor air quality in the city if expansion goes ahead.

On climate change, it notes that, even excluding the worst offenders, the aircraft themselves; "the proposed development will significantly increase the West of England carbon emissions and make it difficult to meet our existing reduction targets (which exclude aviation emissions) particularly due to increases in surface transport CO2 emissions". As if it wasn't difficult enough already.

But sadly, the mitigation measures it suggests are no more than tinkering at the edges. More airport buses to more destinations, that sort of thing. The elephant in the sky is ignored.

And there's a disturbing, if predictable, reference to the South Bristol Link. Remember, that's the one currently under consultation to see whether it should be a road, a public transport, or a hybrid route? Looks like the decision's already made, it's to be a road, a final link in a South Bristol Ring Road. The response says "South Bristol Link would be likely to reduce airport traffic on Bristol's network in the vicinity of Parson Street gyratory....". I don't think that'll be down to the passengers from Hengrove who'd get the rapid transit over to Ashton Gate to change on to the 'Flyer' coach.

That's the trouble. It's hard to criticise the airport's added climate change impacts when you're busy doing just the same thing yourself by building more roads.

Hat tip: Bristol 24-7 for the news item.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Impacts of BIA expansion


Only a few days left to object to BIA's plans for massive expansion of flights - and all the ground based damage that goes together with the impacts on the atmosphere.

Fortunately, Stop Bristol Airport Expansion have made it easier to register objections to the planning application that BIA have made to North Somerset council. Many explanatory leaflets and response forms have been delivered door-to-door (I put a couple of hundred out in Stockwood yesterday), and there's detailed advice on their website.

The government (which has always had a very cosy relationship with the aviation industry) has already made it clear that aviation won't be subjected to any emissions capping separate from the rest of industry - which means that the swingeing cuts already necessary on the ground will have to be even deeper if there are more aircraft in the skies. That really is unthinkable.

Maybe Ed Miliband should do the maths, and look at the social consequences of this ill-thought policy. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to do what we can to make sure it doesn't happen. Starting with Lulsgate.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Hengrove Handout

Tomorrow, the city council's Cabinet will be recommended to hand over £800,000 to an unsuccessful bidder for the Hengrove 'Healthplex' PFI project.

They don't have to cough up, of course. According to officers, they've done nothing to make such a payment necessary. In fact the contractor that has come cap-in-hand (or rather wig-in-hand) to the council has neither the right nor the entitlement to the cash.

Yes, it's a proposed out-of-court settlement of a dispute over the bid for the contract to build and operate the planned Leisure Centre/ Pool. The report to Cabinet (pdf) gives all the background, but the essential part seems to be this:

DC Leisure Management (DCLM) are threatening to sue the city council. They say that the bidding process for this lucrative contract (ok, they didn't actually say lucrative) wasn't followed. The consortium that got the contract (Bristol Active Ltd) was allowed to change one of its members during the bid, and its proposals for a ten-lane swimming pool were accepted whilst DCLM's similar proposals were not.

The council's own legal advice is that DCLM haven't got much of a case - if any. But what they have got is the ability to delay the whole project through legal action - unless an out-of-court settlement can be reached. So it looks like a transfer of £800,000 pounds is going to find its way into DCLM's account instead of any of the much needed services that our council is supposed to be providing.

Of course, the council could go ahead and say we'll fight this. So what if the Healthplex is delayed? Other flagship Hengrove projects are already behind schedule; the Hospital, originally intended to open about now, has just been put back a couple of years and the Computershare HQ is also delayed.

A delay to the opening of the new pool might even be welcomed in some quarters too - especially among users of the Jubilee and Bishopsworth pools, due to be shut down as soon as the Healthplex opens.

And maybe £800,000 would help kickstart the long-promised provision of a library to serve Hengrove and Whitchurch....

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Councillor Recall

Charlie Bolton blogs about how last night's council meeting found a couple of minutes to deal with his motion to set up a 'recall' system when, as occasionally happens, wards lose confidence in their councillor.

Yes, said Charlie's fellow councillors, it's a fine principle. Then they went on to amend the motion so that nothing will be done to make it happen in Bristol. That would be far too complicated!

[Added 30th July]

The amended (and passed) motion:

Council endorses the concept supports in principle the idea of 'recall' for Bristol City councillors.

Council calls on the whips and Councillor Bolton to include in their discussions - as agreed at the full council meeting of 31st March - a proposal for the recall of councillors via a voluntary code. Once the details of such a code have been established, all councillors will be invited to subscribe to such a code.

Council further calls on the leader to write to our local MPs and the Prime Minister urging them to bring forward proposals to make 'recall' a requirement at both local and national government levels.]


OK, lets simplify it a bit for them. Recall means the electorate demanding the resignation of a councillor so that a further election can be held. That means a petition being raised among the electors; a figure of 20% of the electorate signing seems about right to demonstrate that the dissatisfaction is real, though that's negotiable.

Here are a few suggested rules to govern a 'recall' procedure.

1. It's voluntary on the part of councillors to commit themselves to 'recall', though the party groups could make it a condition of their backing. If, when elected, a councillor makes a commitment to accept any valid 'recall' bid, that commitment cannot be changed.

2. Any recall petition must be raised by the electorate at its own expense, and in a form that makes it practicable to check signatories' names against the electoral register.

3. Any person, or group, instituting a 'recall' bid should register their intention with the council - and the councillor concerned - beforehand

4. Any promotional literature inviting electors to sign should also be made available to the councillor concerned

5. The costs of mounting the 'recall' bid should be capped in the same way as candidates electoral expenses are.

6. No 'recall' election should be called if the councillor's term of office has less than a year to run.

That's off the top of my head. and no doubt it could be improved. But it's demonstrably do-able. Like me, experienced councillors also gave Charlie's motion some thought, but all they came up with was agreement on the drafting of their disabling amendment.

So why has the council ducked it?

Stockwood - Bristol's newest shopping destination!


Things have been happening at Hollway Road shops, the parade of two dozen units plus library at the heart of Stockwood. Cycling City is on the job of turning it into the destination retail centre of choice for the cyclists of South Bristol.


Until now, we've had to make do with just three bike stands at the shops.


Now, two have been added at the library


.....plus two at the Co-op


.....plus three at the post office


.....plus two at the chippy


.....plus two at the offie.


Sadly, the recently refurbished playground at Cottle Road Park, with its own little shopping parade, remains without any provision for bikes.


As do the shops on Sturminster Road.

Clearly, there's a plan behind all this. If only we knew what it was.
........................


Meanwhile, the other side of the one-time tracks, the Parks people are consulting about the future of the few acres of open space between the Whitchurch Railway Path and the Saltwell Viaduct on the A37. Apparently it's a Site of Nature Conservation Interest, (which makes it pretty safe from being sold off to provide park-keepers in Knowle). But isn't this the place where Cycling City want to provide a new off-road link route under the viaduct and up into Whitchurch? They don't seem to have told the Parks planners.....

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Bath Road goes 'Showcase'


Looks like the Bath Road buses are next to become 'Showcase' quality. Well, some of them. The plans are out now, and there's an 'informal public consultation' - whatever that is - until August 14th. On Tuesdays (10 till 4), Thursdays (10 till 8) and Saturdays (10 till 2) up to August 1st you can see the plans at Unit 9 on Brislington Hill (opposite the White Hart). Or you can see the detailed leaflet here, without leaving your PC, and send comments from this council website page

The cynic in me wonders whether these improvements will provide a bus service comparable in speed and reliability with those when I were a lad. After all, then there were lots of bus conductors and not nearly so much traffic cluttering the roads - so buses could move quicker and didn't have to stand still while you paid your fare.

There are certainly good things about the showcase plans. Better bus lanes, new pavements where none exist now (notably alongside the Arnos Vale cemeteries), more bike segregation. Real time information at bus stops. Bus stops with litter bins!

Some less promising things, too. Beyond the city boundary, cycling looks as suicidal as ever on the approach to Hicks Gate. Across from the Paintworks, there's one of those confidence-sapping cycle lanes outside a row of parked cars, any one of which might suddenly open an off-side door; there's a marked lack of bus stops from Temple Meads to beyond Totterdown bridge; and, all along, bus stops seemingly placed to maximise walking distance from homes reached through the side streets.

And questions, questions, questions. Will the real time information extend to all the routes along the Bath Road? There's the ABus 57 service, for instance, serving us here in Stockwood. First's 'country' buses, including the core X39 express route to Bath, haven't so far been brought in to the realtime system - will they be now? Same goes for the 349 Keynsham service, shared between First and ABus.

Now, if these buses are to be equipped to join the 'realtime' system, maybe we're actually making progress. But if not, all that fancy gear is only going to tell us when the next 1 or 36 is coming along. Hardly worth the effort.

I'll add comments below if and when I learn more

Monday, 22 June 2009

Ashley goes to Europe

It's just three weeks until Ashley Fox, Conservative councillor for Westbury-on-Trym, takes up his seat in the European Parliament. Congratulations and good luck to him. Ashley took the last of the three seats won by south-west Tories, with UKIP having taken a couple more, and the LibDems taking one.

Our Green lead candidate, Ricky Knight, polled 144,000 votes across the region - 12,000 short of taking that sixth seat that would have kept Ashley as a solicitor and councillor in Bristol.

Apparently, Ashley intends seeing out his term as a local councillor until next May, while at the same time carrying out his European Parliamentary duties on behalf of the people of south-west England and Gibraltar. That's not a good start, especially after his own party has been calling for action against those councillors who fail to attend council meetings!

Today saw another ominous cloud threatening our Tory MEPs' ability to represent us in Brussels. They've formed an alliance (in order to win funds from the Brussels pot as a recognised political grouping) with a ragbag of small parties across 7 other states, some with very dubious records. For instance, the 15 MEPs of Poland's homophobic 'Law and Justice' party (PiS), which has strong links with the misogynistic and anti-Semitic Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja. There's also the MEP from Holland's Dutch Christian Union, with a religious agenda that includes opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage.

So much for David Cameron's professed conversion to 'progressive conservatism'.
______________

In the run-up to the election, I deputised for the Green candidates at a local hustings. What came over most strongly from the audience was that they didn't feel they knew enough about the EU to make informed judgements in the election. And this was a small group of people who'd taken the trouble to try to find out! They're right, of course. The media ignore Europe - unless it's some 'straight banana story) - being obsessed with Westminster politics. The MEPs themselves barely attempt any dialogue with their constituents. Maybe that accounts for our woefully poor choice of MEPs.

I know that Ricky Knight fully intended to set up an office in Bristol if he'd been elected (you may well have seen the office he provided in Old Market in the weeks before the election). In the past, when MEPs had single constituencies, it was customary to have an office base there.

We've got three Tory MEPs now, all on very comfortable salaries and with access to funds to provide offices and staff. Can we hope they might use some of it to provide a local presence here in Bristol?

Homes and Gardens


Among the big houses along Wells Road, at the edge of Stockwood ward, there are a string of ten houses with comfortably sized front gardens fronting the A37 and huge rear gardens.

All ten owners have paved over their front gardens to provide parking for those of their cars that won't fit in the garages.

Finding they were spending more time in their cars, and less time in their gardens, nine of the ten householders went on to sell chunks of their back gardens to developers. Linden Homes had spotted that the land would be just right for a small estate, with access from a side road, David's Road. A few protests from neighbours went unheeded, and at the second attempt, Linden Homes won planning permission in April of last year.

The approved development had a footprint of 1.1 hectares, and they found space in it for 56 units, giving a density of 50 dph. The maximum height would be three storeys, 14 units would be "affordable" (whatever that means) and 9 of those would be rented. The price of the planning permission was a Section 106 payment to the council of £26K for 'sustainable travel options' related to the site, plus £14K for library purposes.

Then the recession hit. Linden homes decided not to build, not yet anyway. Instead they went back to the drawing board and came up with an alternative recession-proof scheme.

The new version has just the same footprint, just the same number of dwellings, but the garages are turned into parking spaces, and the maximum dwelling height is now down to two stories. The big difference is that it's ALL now social housing. Most will be at an 'affordable' rent, some will be at a 'sub-market' rent, with a view to shared ownership.

Cue a belated letter to the Evening Post from Stockwood's two conservative councillors. They say:

"It is sad that under the Labour Government's current planning guidelines, properties with large gardens continue to be seen as fair game for intensive over-development.

Sadly, these types of houses will remain out of the reach of ordinary people – as it is no longer fashionable or profitable to build new homes which utilise such space and the existing stock is rapidly being diminished."

There is no mention that the new proposals actually cater rather better for 'ordinary people' than the original scheme, with planning permission, that was intended for the open market. Instead, the argument seems to be that we need more houses with enormous gardens for 'ordinary people'.

If that really is their plea, then it does beg the question of where the land is to be found to accommodate them. The Tories are already (and rightly) incensed at the prospect of losing the Green Belt. We're already getting the usual inexplicable rejoicing that the property market is 'picking up' - i.e. prices are rising. So where are new affordable homes to be built - especially if they're to have the option of large gardens?

I think we should be told. Or we might even suspect that this isn't about protecting gardens... it's about keeping the undeserving poor out of the neighbourhood.

Anyway, the latest plans from Linden Homes have now been granted planning permission under delegated powers; it didn't even need to go through committee because the precedent had already been set.

That's a pity. There were very good grounds for challenging the developers' claims for this being a 'sustainable' development. It isn't.

The houses will be built only to Level 3 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. This is a minimum requirement for Housing Corporation (now Homes and Communities Agency) ventures.

There's no real attempt to discourage the ownership and use of private cars, the bus services are not good enough, and access to the nearby Whitchurch Railway Path and to Stockwood remains difficult for anyone on wheels. It's another missed opportunity.