Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

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.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Defending the Green Belt

They're lining up to develop Bristol's Green Belt. And plenty of groups and people in Bristol are lining up to prevent it.

One such initiative is a petition on the No. 10 web site, calling for the biggest threat (the draft Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West) to be withdrawn and to recommit to the protection of the green belt.

It's also worth a look at the 'Save Our Green Spaces' website which has plenty about the various campaigns - and at CPRE Avonside's map showing the extent of the threat around Bristol.