Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

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.


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.


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.