Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Council Chamber pots

Fortunately, I wasn't involved in the 'Public Forum' business at this month's full council meeting. Asking questions or making statements there is always an odd experience - you go along optimistic, and come out wondering why you bothered. And if you stay to watch the full business of the council, there's usually a feeling of anger and frustration at the end, after all the bickering, grandstanding, bullying, and general negativity of the session.

Evidently last nights proceedings were worse than ever, as one irrelevant point scoring debate effectively took over the whole agenda, leaving the real business abandoned for lack of time. Two of my Green colleagues were moved to blog about it in Charlie Bolton's Southville Blog and in Aurea Mediocritas. Both are a good read.

Full council meetings should be a showcase, where issues of importance to Bristol can be discussed and acted upon. In practice they're a shambles, an embarrassment, as the interparty snipers try to steal the show by taking verbal pot shots at each other. This should be the place where elected members can suggest (and can be persuaded to reach) constructive decisions; in practice the party whips remove that opportunity (except, of course, for Charlie - the only member of the 70-strong council who can vote the way he believes to be right).

The irony is that Members know that this is a big problem, they've acknowledged it many times. But still, on the day, it's 'my gang's better than your gang'.

And if they can't even change their habits in the council chamber, what hope have they of facing the other realities - like climate change.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Smart Cards on the Table

Suddenly, they're all talking about bringing in smart cards for use on Bristol's public transport. The BBC story is here.

Wonderful! Is it for real.... or is it just more politicking?

Anyone who's recently used Oyster Cards in London, then found themselves on a First Bristol bus, will know it makes sense.

Take the 54A into Bristol from Stockwood (for instance), and you'll find a big part of the journey time is spent stationary, while the driver takes cash and prints tickets for every passenger. Even at stops where few passengers get on, the wait can be extended, as the driver keeps to a slow timetable based on the probability of long stops.

Compare it with the cheaper 57 route, run by Alan Peters' Abus. That one's ticketless, there's a flat fare of £1, so boarding is pretty quick.

Compare either with Oyster in London... well, there's no comparison. Oyster can be used on trams, buses, tubes, and increasingly on the suburban rail network. The day's fares are capped at the price of an all-day network ticket.

The story was first spotted on Kerry McCarthy MP's blog. She mentioned how Labour launched its campaign for something called 'Brunelcard' on Friday morning, during a visit by Transport Minister Paul Clark. Nothing to say what Brunelcard is all about, though. In fact the core of the item was to expose some rather silly LibDem opportunism at slagging off First, not to tell us about Brunelcard at all. There's nothing on the web, nothing in the papers, so we'll wait and see.

Of course, the hype about it being a Labour project was nonsense. In the Green Party we've been proposing it for years (eg in our 2005 recommendations for the Joint Local Transport Plan, and more recently in our current policy summary). The same morning as Labour was launching 'Brunelcard', I'd heard the current LibDem transport portfolio-holder commend much the same thing at a West of England meeting - and in the past I've heard even the Tory transport spokesman backing the same ideas.

I've since caught up with the news that a cross-party committee on the city council gave 'smart card' ticketting its endorsement at its wind-up meeting last Tuesday. The Sustainable Travel Select Committee, chaired by the Greens' Charlie Bolton, included it in its final recommendations to the council.

Even so, the signs are not good. We have an existing scheme that goes part way to doing the same thing... the free bus passes for pensioners. In Bristol, a ticket must still be issued by the driver for each journey, and there's no guarantee that the bill presented to the council by the bus company will be anywhere near accurate. But the cards could be automatically read on the bus, giving much better tracking of their real use, and speeding up the journey. Cambridgeshire, Chester, and the West Midlands are all well on the way to making this happen. Not Bristol, though.

Smart card ticketting (and the faster, more efficient bus service that goes with it) should not be reduced to a party issue. There's something approaching a consensus about it. The potential benefits are huge, and are for everyone (unlike, say, the Rapid Transit, which is essentially for a bunch of North Somerset motorists wanting to get into the city a minute or two quicker). The barriers to progress are not political, they're institutional. There's First's reluctance to take on anything that mean co-operating with other companies (or even its own companies!). There's the lack of any strong West of England commitment to make it work. There seems to be no informed debate about exactly what's technically feasible or desirable.

Can the key players get together to push it forward? We can only hope. And vote, of course.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

The Peewit Papers: 1. The Slugfried Line

Speaking at the official launch today, Professor Gordon Peewit said...

"Here at the Stockwood Sustainable Science Park our new slug control experiment is now under way. Results aren't yet in, but this preview should interest those like Charlie Bolton, desperate to protect their prize seedlings.

"Our approach is founded on the lessons of history - learning from the way the revolutionary aspirations of the local working classes have been dulled by the ready availability of alcohol.

At the same time, we're sticking by the principle of 'reduce, reuse, recycle' - with the emphasis on reuse. Our kit is discarded tetrapaks. Bits of them can be recycled, but right now that means sending them to Scandinavia, where the card is separated out and saved, but the aluminium and plastic is lost. Our research gives them new uses. First as germination boxes...

then as a barrier... meet the Slugfried Line.

It's a development of the 'slugpub' concept - but extends it into an impassable barrier to slugs and snails that attack from their daytime lairs in the undergrowth. As seedlings are planted out and the packs are emptied, they're fixed to old pallet boards (another bit of reuse) and filled with homebrew. The flap keeps out any diluting rain. Having the separate compartments means they can be used on sloping ground

We would perhaps have used the supermarkets cheapest beers - but these may be hit by the new 'minimum price' rules (a result, we suspect, of lobbying by the Association of Slug Pellet Manufacturers). Anyway, it keeps the beer-miles down.

The Slugfried Line is portable and re-usable. It is thought to have high potential for the regeneration of the real South Bristol economy (since no-one makes slug pellets locally) and we hope to get grants from SWRDA to continue the research.

Early results are promising:

Next, we'll try baiting the cartons alternately with beer ullage and bran. It offers the slugs the equivalent of a pub crawl and a take-away."

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

BRT Questions for WoE Partnership

An item on Chris Hutt's Green Bristol Blog starts me on a hunt for information from the West of England Partnership.

WoEP have just put in a funding bid for the Ashton Vale Bus Rapid Transit scheme, and have published the 'outline business case' (OBC) that they've sent to the government. Fair enough - the plan had been approved by the Executive Members form each of the four authorities back in January, and by the Cabinets of the key councils, Bristol and North Somerset, the following month.

It had also got through the scrutiny process without any blips, in fact Jon Rogers (still in political opposition at that time) was moved to describe the 'interchange' at Temple Meads as 'a very exciting, innovative element of the scheme'. He was referring to that exciting, innovative new bus stop 400 metres from the rail station.

But the OBC that the transport planners have sent to Westminster doesn't seem to reflect the plans that our elected reps gave their blessing to a couple of months ago.

Take the Prince Street Bridge crossing of the Floating Harbour. The plans said no more than that the bridge would certainly need a bit of work, to accommodate the width and frequency of the BRT and the rerouted buses at this pinch point. There had been mention of a new bridge, or a new cycle and pedestrian bridge.

What the OBC suggests is nothing of the sort: it's very much the same bridge, but with cyclists in both directions expected to share a carriageway with the shuttling buses and, apparently, with cars and commercial traffic excluded.

I have no problem with that last bit, but I know it's controversial! You might expect the motorists' champions, the Tories, not to mention the Evening Post, to be up in arms about the exclusion of cars. After all, their leader Richard Eddy had led the campaign to prevent it back in 2006, and with some success.

Today, they had their big chance to object using the official 'scrutiny' provisions of the Partnership. But they remained silent. Reason - their very own chair of the scrutiny committee, Barbara Lewis, had cancelled the meeting because it had no business of sufficient importance! And this is the only group that scrutinises the West of England's many functions. Has the partnership done nothing worth looking at this last month?

On Friday, the four West of England Transport Executive members will be meeting at Temple Quay, and they'll be asked to 'note' that the OBC has gone in as they agreed. Except, of course, that it doesn't seem to be what they agreed. Jon Rogers, as an assiduous blog reader and twitterer, should know that by now, if he didn't already.

I've tabled some questions for answer at the same meeting, to try to bring out this and other issues around the weaknesses of the BRT scheme - not least the opportunity loss of a decent Temple Meads interchange. It will be interesting to see what the members think of them.

I'm not holding out much hope of constructive answers though. Today I got an e-mail from the same transport planners after I'd pointed out crucial contradictions (items 8 and 9 below) in the case made out for South Bristol Link Road. It said " I'm not proposing to comment on specific elements of it at this stage".

Well, if they don't tell the Executive members what they're up to, why should they treat me any better?

Friday, 3 April 2009

Things you may not know about the South Bristol Ring Road plans

1. You're not to call it a Ring Road. A Link, yes. A Transport Solution, yes. A Ring Road....heaven forbid!

2. It might not look like what the West of England Partnership are showing us:

3. However, it might very well look like this:

4. The consultation questionnaire, that's been out for months, doesn't mention what the options are.

5. So here they are:
Option 1: a road from Hengrove roundabout via Highridge Common to the A38 and NW to the A370 near Long Ashton P&R

Option 2: a road from Hengrove roundabout via Highridge Common to the A38 and SW to the A370 near Barrow Gurney

Option 3: a rapid transit route from Hengrove Park via Highridge Common to the A38 and Long Ashton P&R

Option 4: the same rapid transit - plus a road from the A38 to the A370 near Long Ashton P&R

Option 5: the same rapid transit - plus a road from the A38 to the A370 near Barrow Gurney

There's also a 'reference case' - pretty much what we have now, plus a whole range of other initiatives including new bus routes and two rapid transit routes from South Bristol into the centre. Snag - that's not an option!

6. Options 1 and 2 (which the questionnaire tells us 'may increase traffic on Kings Head Road') lead to around 10,000 extra vehicles/day - on Kings Head Road

7. Options 1 and 4 would raise traffic levels along Ashton Way, approaching the Cumberland Basin, by 7,000 vehicles/day - 20% above current levels.

8. The "moderate beneficial" economic impact on South Bristol allegedly arising from options 4 & 5 is attributed to a road (A38 to Hengrove) that won't actually exist under those options! Is this error simply ineptitude?

9. Options 1 & 2 are said to bring "significant reduction in journey times on inbound journeys in the morning peak", giving them a 'moderately beneficial' rating. That's until you look at the figures, which show journeys will actually take longer. In other words they're either grossly inept or they're lying.

10. Every option on offer will raise greenhouse gas emissions. It's become impossible to see where the promised 'deep cuts' might come from. Coast dwellers and grandchildren, despair!

Bristol in the Age of Stupid

At the Watershed for the last few days, 'The Age of Stupid' takes as its theme the desperate urgency of tackling the climate change crisis, and the failure of the people who rule the world to do anything about it. A frightening film, all the more so because it's not just cinema, this is for real.

Just up the road at the Council House, Bristol City Council has been doing everything to prove the film-makers right. It's weird. Most councillors are no more or less rational and responsible people than anyone else - but give them a corporate identity and they can do irrational and dangerous things that they wouldn't otherwise contemplate. This IS the Age of Stupid.

The appalling debate - or lack of it - on Tuesday over the intolerable increases in greenhouse gas emissions that go with airport expansion was brought to mind as I watched the film. Charlie Bolton (for the second time in three years) had asked his fellow councillors to oppose expansion - and this time he was joined by the LibDems, brave enough to stick their heads over the parapet. I'm sure that many (I hope most) Labour members, and even some Tories, will have felt just the same. But they didn't let it show. They fell right in behind their spokesmen, Helen Holland and Peter Abrahams, and together forced through a 'wrecking' amendment. With the party system and the whips, no-one has to go to the trouble of putting persuasive arguments, and on this occasion neither Labour nor Tory tried to put a credible case for their position. There was just a bit of the routine cross-party baiting, plus a plea from the local CBI, relayed through its spokesman Peter Abrahams, that a bigger airport is vital to regional prosperity. (And to global warming, Peter.... but neither you nor your backers mentioned that litle disadvantage, which was what the motion was all about).

The Evening Post is equally in denial; it barely mentioned climate change in its report. This IS the Age of Stupid.

Earlier in the week I was working my way through the loaded consultation documents and background reports about the new South Bristol Ring Road (or should I say 'the South Bristol Link' or maybe even the South Bristol Orbital Transport Solution). One thing's clear about every one of the different options they're putting forward - every one adds to our output of greenhouse gases, over and above what they expect to happen anyway. But is there anyone within the council, or the regional authorities, or our MPs and MEPs, saying 'no, we can't do this, we've got to CUT emissions, not add to them' ? Well, there's Charlie, of course. Anyone else?

Denial rules. This IS the Age of Stupid.