Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Self reliance, hard work and determination.....

The Tories chose Jay Jethwa, one of our two Stockwood councillors, to speak up in the budget debate against spending on the Legacy Commission.

Anyone but Jay would probably not have got that disgraceful racist response (well documented on James Barlow's blog) from Shirley Brown, the Ashley ward councillor who now lives in Florida and very occasionally jets back over for the odd meeting. I hope this was the last time she gets the chance. Shirley called Jay a 'coconut' - an insult intended to suggest that she was betraying her Indian roots by taking a 'white' view of the world. Racist, or what?

In fact, Jay was simply coming up with a fairly predictable populist Tory line, aimed at an easy target. Textbook Norman Tebbit stuff about the virtues of self-reliance, hard work and determination, with a sideswipe at 'socialist style handouts'.

Question is, why should Jay think that these virtues and socialism are mutually exclusive? I seem to remember something about 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need' in the socialist creed, though perhaps it went the same way as Clause Four. And I don't see that many handouts coming from the present Labour Party (well, not to the poor, anyway).

But the question was brought home to me later, watching a showing of 'The Power of Community' put on by the Green Party and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. The film is the inspirational story of how Cuba (the state and the people) responded when faced with their own enforced pre-run of 'Peak Oil', after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the continuing US blockade left them without those modern 'essentials', fuel and fertilisers. This socialist state had to draw on all its resources of self reliance, hard work and determination to pull through. Instead of just talking about sustainability, Cuba had to do it, for real.

And they did. They still managed to enjoy those 'socialist' benefits of universal free education and health care, in spite of all the bullying by the White House; land remained in common ownership, though its stewardship and its produce was shared out more widely; and people managed to live pretty well within the natural limits of the island's resources.

Next, it's our turn. Peak Oil Britain. Peak Oil Bristol. Peak Oil Stockwood. Coming soon. Somehow I don't think traditional left wing or right wing party dogma, much less the present distortions of them, is going to provide easy answers.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Correction: Holland EUROSTARS to Belgium

I guessed wrong. Helen Holland and the Green City' team went to Brussels by train.

I'm impressed. Yes, really. I'll edit the earlier posting to make it clear.

We should all be pleased that they chose this less damaging travel. Doesn't it create a nice precedent for the new lot to follow!

I've not been following the air miles taken up on council business, but I got short shrift when I suggested a 'twinning' visit to Hannover might be done by the train, not the plane. And there was the press stunt not so long ago when a previous Lord Mayor made a flight all the way to Norwich - for no better reason than to publicise the existence of the flight! Maybe those episodes coloured my assumptions about the Brussels trip. That's my excuse.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

All change. Again

Another fun session at the Counts Louse as Eurasia made peace with Eastasia and declared war on Oceania.... or was it the other way round?

Anyway, the LibDems are back in control, at least until the June elections, after months of refusing to take power even when it was there on a plate. This time it seems it was the Tories who jumped them into it, by forcing the resignation of Helen Holland as council leader.

The key was a budget amendment, proposed by the LibDems, withdrawing funding for the preparation of a joint PFI bid to build an incinerator (along with South Glos and North Somerset - BaNES had wisely kept out of it from the start). This time the Tories backed them, and pushed the amendment through. That was an unexpected policy U-turn by the Tories, who had previously sanctimoniously backed the PFI bid as the right way to protect local council taxpayers.

So Labour said there was no way they'd administer the revised budget and promptly abandoned ship - and the LibDems found themselves seizing the reigns - with Barbara Janke at the helm. Or should that be the leader's chariot? Don't you just love mixed metaphors?

An incinerator was always going to be bad news for Bristol, not to mention the wider world, and I've been one of many constantly lobbying for cleaner more sustainable technologies. As time went on, there were less and less options, so this is a pretty desperate last throw of the dice. Every course is risky - whether it's the investment in major plant, the uneasy relationship with 'partner' councils, or the unpredictable world of waste tonnages and landfill costs. Fortunately, there are plenty of technologies out there that are much better than burning; some are well proven, others are emerging and should be well established by the time Bristol has more waste than it knows what to do with.

Back to the new-look council. Education, this time.

Over the last couple of days, the LibDems - well, the MP, Stephen Williams - has latched on to local concerns and been banging on about the failure to provide enough primary school places in inner Bristol, Ashley and Bishopston in particular, so young children will be forced to start their school lives a long way from home. Cue hollow laughter from here in Stockwood, where they're closing a highly valued school because of an alleged surplus of places leading to 'inefficiency'.

My guess is that Ashley will quickly be promised its new primary after all. Ashley is a LibDem/Green marginal ward, after all. Though it might upset the cricket fans, who had earmarked the same land to park their cars on match days. You can't win in politics.

Holland goes to Belgium

Nice to see that Helen Holland managed to pop over to Brussels to see the failure of Bristol's bid for 'European Green Capital' at first hand.

Still, she knows we were up there with the best, fully committed to "tackling the causes of climate change"

Addendum: The crossed contrails may give the false impression that the Brussels trip was made by air. It wasn't.

So far as I know the council has no view as to the merits or otherwise of air travel as a cause of climate change - though it does still seem keen to see the airport expand.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

In praise of the takeaway thali in Totterdown

Just had another thali from Totterdown

It's still hot when you get home.

It fits in a bike pannier (though not an a car floor) without falling over

It's only six quid every time they refill it, and that's enough for the two of us

There's no waste, nothing to throw away.

And it tastes good too.

(and getting to Montpelier was such a drag.....)


Some years ago, I asked the two supermarkets in the village where I lived to agree between themselves on making a charge for the plastic bags they handed out so prolifically, and putting the proceeds into a community fund. A win-win situation, you'd think.
But one didn't answer, the other (the Co-op) got into total administrative confusion as this unthinkable request was passed between departments up the heirarchy until it reached their Manchester HQ and disappeared. No joy there, then.

So it's especially pleasing now to see the supermarkets actually beginning to admit that, just maybe, not every customer wants to leave with everything prepackaged and repackaged separately with their company logo. And initiatives like the Thali, of course, breaking with the convention that every takeaway needs its complement of plastic, paper, polystyrene and card whether you like it or not, all to be disposed of at public expense.

Who knows, perhaps one day all hot food outlets will simply fill the containers that the customers bring along.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Labour Costs

Long overdue work in progress to restore Stockwood's Cottle Road playground to something you'd be happy to take the kids to. But it's at a political price.

This time last year, Bristol's minority Labour administration was desperate to get its budget through - and needed the support of either the larger LibDem group, or the smaller Conservatives to do it. Given the tribal hostilities of the Council chamber, neither was likely to be a natural ally, even if these days you couldn't slide a credit card between their political philosophies.

It was the Conservatives who were bought. Their price? Spending £215K on four of Bristol's playgrounds for younger children. Where? All of them in Tory-held wards, with a little more spent on Kings Head Park, in Tory leader Richard Eddy's ward of Bishopsworth, than on lesser prizes like Stockwood. Well, that's one of the perks of leadership. So the deal was done - the Labour group voted in the Tory amendment, and the Tories kept the bargain by voting through the rest of the Labour-prepared budget.

Since then, David Cameron has instructed his party not to cosy up to Labour opposition so easily - it looks bad in the heartlands. And down at the Council House, normal hostilities have been quickly resumed.

Last week we saw the Tories mount a badly planned and utterly hopeless bid to unseat the Labour administration by moving a vote of 'no confidence' in the council leader Helen Holland. It failed miserably, because the Tories didn't think to enlist LibDem support first.

Of course the LibDem group, who attract the same hostility from Tories and Labour as there is between Labour and Tory, chose to abstain. Well, they would, wouldn't they? They may be the largest of the three parties, but they'd already turned down one chance to take on the leadership, so they weren't going to do it now, were they?

It all makes a pretty depressing scene. Next Wednesday, they all square up again, over the details of the 2009/10 city budget. Labour will propose its budget; various amendments will be put by the other party groups and by Charlie Bolton, Southville's Green councillor; the big three will all vote en bloc, not on the issues but on perceived party interest.

I can't wait.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Cycling City and Stockwood

'CYCLING CITY' chose the Royal Hotel on College Green to launch its programme this evening. I didn't risk using the bike on slippery roads and went by bus instead, so I never found if Marriotts' guests can park their bikes there. A surprising choice for a venue, though, given that the Council House is only a few yards away. I don't know who paid the hotel bill but I have a pretty good idea.

Of the 70% of the budget intended for 'infrastructure projects', to be in use within two or three years, there are three that could make a big difference for cyclists in this corner of the city.

One's the Callington Road Link (aka the Tesco to Sainsburys link), initially just a cycle-and-walk way but later a strategic road, along the trackbed of the railway under the Bath Road. By going under the A4 instead of across it, it's got to be better than the present NCN3 route. Well, for those not heading towards Temple Meads and town via the pedestrian bridge, anyway. It doesn't offer much for them.

North of that, they hope to provide a safe cycling route over the St Philips Causeway across to Lawrence Hill. It's a much more direct route than what we have now, and braver, more reckless, cyclists use it already. For much of its length there's a separate lane and some striking views - but it's prone to wind gusts and at each end the road narrows and you're competing for space with the boy racers and the juggernauts. Anyway, from south-east Bristol it would give better access to the Bristol-Bath path and new links to the northern fringe.

To the south, within Stockwood, a link is proposed from the present railway path to follow the brook valley south west under the Wells Road at Saltwell Viaduct (hmmm.....) and on into Whitchurch. That could be useful if an when the Hengrove developments become a destination. Wouldn't we all prefer to cycle to a hospital appointment?

Chris Hutt has a copy of the map, and a commentary, on his Green Bristol Blog

Monday, 2 February 2009

...and more PFIffle

Looks like there's yet another high risk element in the bid for PFI backing for an incinerator. The PFI pot itself is drying up.

The Guardian reports on a leaked NHS memo revealing government warnings of a 'capital desert' in PFI credits for new ventures. As 'none of the banks have any money or are likely to have any for a few years, the absence of a 'plan B' is going to cause a real problem.'

Odd, that. Back in October I asked Mark Bradshaw if there's a 'Plan B' in case his own PFI bid fails. Evidently not. They'd just expect to pay a further £84 million to get the same scheme from taxation - although that scheme is selected solely because it's the one most likely to get bank funding!

While all this PFIffle is going on, the West of England has thoughtfully launched a CONsultation into how best to allocate land to deal with the sub-region's waste.

Option B, with waste management spread over 8 smaller sites - is the one preferred by environmentalists.

WoE makes it very clear that its own choice is for Option C, the one with a big site at Avonmouth that happens to be just the right size for a great big incinerator. And if you doubt their sincerity, judge them by the fact that they've already bid for the cash, months before March 12th deadline for public comment.