Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Thursday, 29 January 2009


The big thing claimed for the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is that it gets local authorities off the hook of putting big money into high risk projects. Instead, the private sector takes on the risks (and as we all know, that's what they're good at!)

Successive governments have been so enthusiastic about this that they give councils and health authorities big incentives to go down the PFI funding route. I suspect it's because it shows up better in the national books if capital funding comes from the private sector - even if, as generally happens, the public finish up paying far more for an inferior product.

Now, it's that risk element that intrigues me. The controversial bid to seek PFI funds for a waste incinerator at Avonmouth should rest on the premise that the private sector bears the investment risk. In practice, the whole choice of preferred technology rests on the fact that the banks won't risk their money on anything else but this sure-fire cash cow - fed by public cash in the form of 25-30 years of contractual gate fees, with penalty clauses for any shortfall in waste delivered. Negligible risk for the banks. Every risk for the public - especially if consumption and waste rates go down, or recycling rates rise. Not to mention the mind-boggling costs of setting up the deals in the first place.

Given, too, that the banks' new found reluctance to lend is now having to be shored up by government guarantees against loss, the whole case for PFI is shown to be doubly flawed - high risks are transferred the public at both local and national level.

We've been set up. Look at it from a council treasurer's viewpoint, and PFI still offers government (i.e the nation's taxpayers') cash to offset against locally raised capital. Attractive, eh? But all it means is that we're paying through taxation for PFI schemes nationwide, instead of just paying locally for local schemes. For councils the choice might look easy - but for individuals we'd all be far better off without PFI. We'd have far better waste disposal too.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Good news for the Open Space

Looks like the Stockwood Open Space has won some friends. There were plenty of Stockwood people went to the 'Parks Stakeholders' meeting last night to discuss how the Open Space might be better cared for and used.

It's clear that lots of people do care about the Open Space and some take an active part in looking after it. But now there's to be a meeting (provisionally 3rd February)* to form a 'Friends of Stockwood Open Space' - or maybe even 'Open Spaces'.

The great thing about 'Friends' groups is that they can do loads of things that individuals can't. They can raise funds for improvements, provide help with maintenance and litter-picking, liaise with the managers (the Council and the Wildlife Trust), and generally keep a protective eye on the place and its wildlife. They can have a say on the city's 'Parks Forum', alongside reps of many other Bristol parks and open spaces.

If you'd like to be involved, contact me (stockwoodpete (at) or Jay Jethwa for more details.

* added Thursday 29th:

Now confirmed as 7pm on 3rd February at Stockwood Free Church (Baptist), Ladman Road, Stockwood, BS14 8QH, with a follow-up meeting on 16th February at 7pm at Stockwood Free Church (Baptist).

A woodland carpet

Eight bags of rubbish were extracted from the undergrowth alongside the 40 metre path between Dutton Road and Lanesborough Rise this morning. That was just from one side - the other will have to wait a couple of weeks till the next bin round comes.

I'm told that when the estate was built, this was an attractively laid out route, with plantings of ornamental trees. You can still pick out the trees among the brambles

But lift a little of the leafmould, and you get the feeling that there's a permanent plastic skin spreading across the surface of the planet.

Along this path, there's plenty of the kind of rubbish you'd expect to be put out in a wheelie bin, but for some reason it's been neatly bagged up, tied - and hurled deep into the brambles.

Apart from that, there are the inevitable drinks cans and plastic bottles, often still half full. Crisp and snack packets too - with bright designs intended to catch the eye of the supermarket customer, now drawing the eye of anyone walking by the woodland.

A bit more curious are the multicoloured mass of cable insulation, the buggy, and the one ladies stiletto heeled red boot. Someone had a painful journey home!

Not much of all this was degradable - it's more likely to degrade the district.

Ironically, to leave it there would have been 'cost-free' in the economists book. By shifting it to the roadside, to be gathered up by the bin men, taken to the waste transfer station, bailed and containerised, and railed off to be reburied in some Buckinghamshire landfill, a few quid will have been added to the council's waste bills.

And maybe today's economists would welcome that as a much needed stimulus to economic activity.

There are always stories of all sorts of nefarious antisocial behaviour in this little piece of woodland. The clues in the rubbish show something different. I think there's a secret cabal of treacle addicts who assemble there by night, beyond the gaze of the dieticians. But I can't explain the heap of carrots further down the hillside. A bit back, there were oranges at the same spot - and before that, bread buns. Any ideas?

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Roundabout Routes

The proposed Bus Rapid Transit route from Ashton Vale seemed to be welcomed by the four West of England Executive Members who were presented with the details this morning. What they didn't pick up is that it fails miserably to improve millions of journeys - by missing the golden chance to kick start a new interchange on Plot 6 at Temple Meads.

Instead, the nearest the bendy bus would get to the station would be the 'Island Site' - being what's now in the middle of the Temple Circus gyratory system. It's the furthest from the station of all the scattered bus stops around Temple Meads - but it's still being described as a new 'interchange'! Is this really the limit of the city council's vision?

It's already intended to turn the gyratory back into a light controlled junction, with Temple Way and Temple Gate forming the main through road. The listed George and Railway Hotel will find itself on the Redcliffe side of both carriageways, with more than enough land released by the works to provide a stop for the rapid transit. BRT passengers heading for the station (or emerging from the station and heading for the city centre and points west) will have to cross the main road by a new subway or bridge before they can continue their journeys by BRT. They probably won't bother. Would you?

The excuse for this abject failure is that BRT passengers heading on to Broadmead or the Centre would be delayed by as much as five minutes if their superbus had to cross Temple Way twice, to get close enough to the railway station to share its passenger facilities, along with - potentially - bus passengers to and from the rest of Bristol. The time loss for rail or bus interchange passengers somehow got left out of the calculation.

errr... isn't this BRT the flagship route that includes a new bridge over the Portishead line, a reconstructed bridge over the New Cut, two new foot/cycle bridges (the New Cut at the Create Centre and the Floating Harbour at Prince Street) and - probably - the re-engineering of the Cumberland Road bridge to give enough clearance for double-deckers? How is it that a bus underpass or bridge at Temple Meads, where they're going to rebuild the road system anyway, is so unthinkable?

Taken from the developers' 'Area Development Framework',this screenshot shows the proposed new road layout. Being a bit out of date, it also still has the rapid transit crossing Temple Way and heading off toward the railway path. Another daft idea is the 'bus hub' on the far side of Bath Bridge.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

£47 million for what?

The Post reports today on the first of the proposed Bus Rapid routes, from Long Ashton Park and Ride into the centre. The story's based on a report (pdf) to the West of England Partnership.

Good to see that one suggestion I (and no doubt others) had put forward has been taken up - they're going for an 'anticlockwise loop' route, so that the inbound bendy buses will go to Temple Meads before they circle Carboot Circus and the Centre.

Even so, it's hard to see much justification for the route as a 'stand-alone' system - after all, it just replicates the existing P&R buses. Hardly worth spending £47 million to gain a couple of minutes journey time on just that route. And that's before the running costs.

Wouldn't it be wiser to put the money into, say, Oyster-type smart card ticketting systems ? That could save more than a couple of minutes on every bus journey made in Bristol

Orbital Movement in South Bristol

No, not another euphemism for a Ring Road. I got a puncture on the A38 when taking a look at the Ring Road alignment, and - having failed to take a repair kit - walked home through Bishopsworth and Hengrove pushing the bike.

But who cares.... it's a brilliant day, BUSH HAS GONE!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Twenty is Plenty - but lets not ask why!

This morning's Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Bristol included a piece on leaked plans for pilot 20mph zones in Bristol. It was prompted by a Green Party press release, welcoming the schemes proposed for Bedminster and Easton, and hoping they'd extend right through the city.

The BBC even arranged to phone me at 7.30 this morning to discuss it on air. That's rare recognition for a Green press release, so I boned up on the topic till I reckoned I had an answer for everything.

In the event, there were just a couple of trite questions about whether it's possible to drive at 20mph in Bristol, and whether speedo-watching might actually increase risk (that's the AA's line). That was it. Nothing about what 20mph zones are actually for. If I'd been more professional, I'd have told them anyway!

I'll stick to just one good reason for keeping below 20mph in residential areas.
It cuts risk of injury accidents by more than half.

Why are we waiting?

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Callington Cash Conserved

Back in November, I blogged on the use of Cycle City funds to buy land for a cycle route that's scheduled to become a new major road - the Callington Road Link.

Better news today. After further questions to Mark Bradshaw in the council's 'Public Forum' we've won an assurance that the cash will be returned to the Cycling Budget if the same route is needed for the road.

More Fun at the Counts Louse - it's Groundhog Day for threatened schools

As one councillor said, it was like groundhog day. Yet again, members and the public were lining up in a last ditch attempt to save Stockwood Green and the two other primary schools scheduled for closure under the 'Primary Review'.

The battleground today was the full council meeting. The line-up was LibDem, Tory and Green members versus the Labour group, ever-loyal to its executive member and axeman Peter Hammond. The debate was forced by Jay Jethwa and her Tory leader Richard Eddy having the Cabinet's closure decision 'called-in' so that the whole council could make its views known.

It started with the public forum, with strong defences of each school put up in statements to the council. I'll copy the one about Stockwood Green, from Mike Landen, below.

The debate that followed had its moments, but never felt as if it was going anywhere. As ever, the party groups formed inflexible lines. A Tory/LibDem resolution called for the Cabinet to re-examine its decision, this time having a lot more regard for the very good reasons for keeping each school open. But as Charlie Bolton pointed out, it would have been much better to have simply voted against closing the schools.

Peter Hammond's performance was embarrasing. With one statement, he managed to provoke an unheard of procedural device, so that his false claims about one school could be categorically refuted from the public gallery by its head teacher. With another, he seemed to be putting the case for council officers to decide policy rather than elected members because they're the professionals. Nothing new there then....

There were a couple of votes during the session - each got a loud 'AYE' from the majority opposition benches, and a loud 'NOE' from Labour. Both were repeated as a 'named' vote, each councillor's vote being recorded. Miraculously, this time all the Labour NOEs became abstentions.

In the end, council made its will known, and the Cabinet was duly asked to go back to the drawing board.
And will it make a jot of difference to the three condemned schools? Almost certainly not. The Cabinet has no constitutional duty to respond to the will of the full council.

Statement to Council 13 January 2009
Re Proposal to Close Stockwood Green Primary School

It is clear that the decision to apply the 'call-in' was made because, in the opinion of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee (Call-in) Panel, the process relating to the closures was not carried out correctly. We now hope that the decision made by the Cabinet to close Stockwood Green will be re-examined. Over the past few months we have presented arguments as to why the case for closure has been flawed and these are 'on record' and so there is no need for me to repeat these. We now hope that the following will happen:

1. The consequences of a possible closure will be considered much more carefully and should include provisional plans for the site, the provision of child-care and nursery provision in the local area and details of the school(s) that the parents/carers will be offered in the event of a closure.

2. That there will be an immediate halt to the misuse of statistics by both Officers and by Councillor Hammond. These have attempted to show our excellent 2008 SATs results as somehow not being acceptable. I suppose it is too much to believe that the more extreme statements that were made, in some cases using data that should not be in the public domain could now be withdrawn, but we 'live in hope' since all those connected with Stockwood Green have been devastated by the completely unjustifiable criticism. All this happened at a time when support was required, not a shambolic attempt to misrepresent the school.

3. That there will another attempt to estimate the number of primary school places that will be required within the local area. This should take account of any new housing planned for Stockwood and should not just be for one particular year as happened when you asked for a reassessment of the number of places at a previous council meeting. I was able to obtain, with some difficulty, the information for a further year so surely officers can give rather better estimates than they have managed so far.

4. Councillors should also note that the school has admitted pupils this academic year who have been unable to get a place at Waycroft School for whom walking to Burnbush School was not a viable alternative. It is not acceptable for 'pram-pushing' families to have to walk a 3 mile round trip to Burnbush School twice each day because there is not a place in their local school.

5. We ask that before any final decision is made that there is a discussion at a local level as to what is required to give a first class primary education for all the children in the area. One council department is in the process of carrying out meaningful local consultation so surely CYPS could instigate a similar process.

Mike Landen
(Chair of Governors, Stockwood Green Primary School)

Sunday, 11 January 2009

People before cars? Not exactly

There's a little local difficulty over the sale of six blocks of council-owned garages in Stockwood, to release land for 'affordable homes'. You might think a 'Green' would welcome this, because at first sight it puts people before cars. Think again!

Closer to the city centre, the council is embroiled in controversy over residents parking zones - because road spaced is so prized that it must be rationed out in an artificial market created to favour residents (at least, those who care to pay) for the privilege of on-street parking close to home.

Yet out here in Stockwood, the same council wants to empty garages, forcing more cars to park on the streets. As if that wasn't enough, the emptied sites will be used to provide more homes - and by definition, still more cars.

The sites include such as Dutton Close (above). Most would agree that this isn't the most marketable of sites, especially in a recession. The immediate neighbourhood gets more than its fair share of mentions in PACT meetings, and there will be fears that more social housing won't help. Very few houses on this estate have off road parking, car-dependency is high, and there are problems with pavement parking and other road safety issues for pedestrians and cyclists. Bus fares are prohibitive, it's a long way to the nearest stop - and it's considerably further to the main employment centres.

Building here, then, is sure to add significantly to the number of cars that never leave the roads, without adding a lot to the council's land sales receipts. It might provide a handful of 'affordable homes' but it's in a place that's otherwise far from cheap to live.

All in, it doesn't tick any of the right boxes. It's an ill-thought out project, dreamed up in isolation from any joined up thinking about how Stockwood, and the city, should develop.

Running parallel with this bit of nonsense from one section of the council is another department's effort to raise cash from selling off public land in the area. For the stakeholder group looking at the future of parks and green spaces in Stockwood and Hengrove, Tuesday 13th is 'low value' day . 'Low Value' means low amenity value land that might be sold off to help fund parks provision, and it looks like we'll be expected to find some from our 'surplus' to help those parts of the city, rich or poor, that are less well provided for (this blog, 22nd December). Should be interesting!

Send your ideas of 'low value' land to me at stockwoodpete (at) - or post a comment.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Engineering consent (and congestion, and pollution)

Tim Kent complains in the Post today, that his Whitchurch constituents are excluded from the consultation on the South Bristol Link (aka Ring Road).

That's less than half the real story. It's not just Whitchurch, everyone's being excluded - including those who get as far as filling in the West of England's questionnaires, guiding them carefully to deliver just the opinions the roadbuilders want.

Reason is that vital information's being withheld, so no-one can give a properly informed comment. And without that, the consultation is meaningless.

The proposed Link is supposed to be about different options to 'improve connectivity' within South Bristol. But they haven't told us just what the options are, and they haven't told us what the effects of the road will be. They're even too shy to tell us quite where it will go. That's some consultation!

Glenn Vowles and I have been trying to worm some of this information out of Mark Bradshaw. At the first attempt (Cabinet, November) he confirmed that
"a shorter list of the more promising options is being taken forward for more detailed study..... This shorter list includes alternative rapid transit options"

He went on to confirm that studies of a link road have also given
"an initial indication of likely impacts (on congestion and air quality) but more detailed transport modelling is now being progressed to give a clearer picture."

BUT he didn't volunteer to release any of this to the public.

You might think congestion and air quality are quite important before you comment on the plans - you might even make an informed guess that places like King Georges Road and Wootton Park would lose a considerable chunk of their attractiveness, or that the Wells Road/Airport Road junction might become the new Cumberland Basin Crawl. But that's not on the consultation agenda.

We've tabled further questions for the next council meeting on January 13th. Will these crucial studies - which might well give cause to support the non-road options - still be kept hidden from the consultees?

Is it possible that the West of England just wants to tick the boxes that say they've consulted, and they've looked at alternatives, when it puts in its (already scheduled) bid for road construction? Surely not!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

The fall and rise of Giles Chichester

2009. Euro-elections to look forward to in June. And, yes, it's the south-west's chance to re-elect Giles Chichester, who now heads the Tory list in spite of certain book-keeping irregularities that led to him being sacked from his job of UK Conservative leader in Brussels last summer.

I was reminded of Mr Chichester when I checked up on one of his current colleagues, Dr Caroline Jackson MEP, whom we should know - but most of us don't - because she takes special responsibility for representing Bristol in the European Parliament.

Like Giles Chichester, her name is highlighted in "Too close for comfort" - an analysis by Spinwatch of some pretty spectacular conflicts of interest.

Dr Jackson evidently finds her basic £61k plus expenses isn't enough. [There's a useful breakdown of MEP's entitlements on Caroline Lucas MEP's website].

Dr Jackson has no problem with adding to this income with another £6k from waste company Shanks, in return for 'environmental advice'. Which must be a real bargain to them, because at the same time she's been the Parliament's 'rapporteur' on the EU's Waste Framework Directive. In fact the European waste industry lobby group that tried to influence Dr Jackson's report was headed by the boss of Shanks, who retain her as a consultant!

Giles Chichester rose to notoriety in June when, as leader and nominated 'sleazebuster' for the Tories in Europe, he had to admit that he'd channelled nearly half a million of his MEP income through his own company. But, probably more important than that self-styled 'whoops-a-daisy' moment, this climate change sceptic and 'peak oil' denier has very close ties with the nuclear industry. Somehow, he manages to reconcile being President of the industry lobby organisation, European Energy Forum (EEF), with chairing the EP's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.

Chichester denies (unpersuasively) there's any conflict. However, he keeps the topic well off his own web pages, where, instead, you can find endless reminders that his father was the late Sir Francis Chichester.

The Tories don't seem fazed by all this - they've elevated him to the top of their list for the June elections. So we can be pretty sure that he'll be representing us and the energy companies at Brussels for a few years yet.

All the more important to have a quality Green counter-weight. Ricky Knight heads the Greens' list for the South West.