Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

If you go down to the woods today, enjoy it while you still can....

Dear Kerry,

EDM 1199: FORESTRY COMMISSION REDUCTIONS IN EXPENDITURE

As the Member for Bristol East, could you consider adding your signature to this Early Day Motion?

I imagine that like me, you're alarmed at the prospect of deep cuts in the budget, and the sale of a substantial part, of the Forestry Commission estate. It is hard to see what possible benefits there could be from a sell-off, apart from the immediate one-off lump sum, to set against multiple threats to long term public enjoyment of the forests, biodiversity, forests as carbon sinks, and jobs.

Jonathon Porritt has blogged about the broad implications in (Forests on the Front Line) as lucidly as ever, with an update that takes a closer look at the Forest of Dean and its MP

At a time when you and I both are urging a rethink on the plans to sell Bristol's own open space assets, perhaps we shouldn't lose sight of the much bigger national picture where the same thing is happening. (There's a seasonal crack here about not seeing the wood for the Christmas trees - but I wouldn't dare use it!)

Yours

Pete Goodwin

Friday, 17 December 2010

Babs, Gary, and the Age of Stupid

Barbara Janke was an onlooker at Wednesday's scrutiny commissions meeting where her councillor underlings spent over five hours going over the plans to sell off green spaces, all across the city.

Who knows whether she'd managed to read the 400-page plus documentation, let alone the public statements, but she did hear very clear reports of a flawed consultation, mislaid papers and petitions, expert advice disregarded, Freedom of Information requests unfulfilled, all of it showing that the 'consultation report' is founded on unreliable envidence. Probably the inevitable result of asking a heavily cut-back department to deliver and assess a huge consultation and review of the city's open spaces, way beyond its own resources.

The five hour session was enough to persuade the councillors that a hasty decision to sell the land on such dodgy grounds would be unwise; far better to give it just a bit more time to make sure we get it right. After all, these are final decisions, there's no going back, and there's no rush. So that's what they recommended to the LibDem Cabinet.

The Scrutiny Commissions' appeal was echoed by many others, including even the independent Parks Forum which had until now been 100% behind the sell-off plan (and is being vilified by the Evening Post for it). Add to that the pleas of more councillors, groups like our own Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces and the Neighbourhood Partnership, residents groups and individuals.

To defer a decision on the sales seemed obvious..... Everything to gain, to make sure the eventual decisions are well founded, sustainable, and in keeping with sensible city planning. Anything else would be stupid.

A pity the Cabinet was unanimous in rejecting their advice, and chose the stupid option instead.

Something to do with false pride, the pleasure of exercising power........ or even, possibly, just being stupid?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Aren't Neighbourhood Partnerships brilliant?

We actually achieved a bit of people power at the Neighbourhood Partnership meeting last night.

It was a pretty earnest but uninspiring agenda that delivered all that was required of it - but the interest lay elsewhere.

We threw out the 'Code of Conduct' required of Partnership members, and substituted something called 'ground rules' for the meetings, yet to come, and to be written in plain English. For me (as one of the delegate members), it means I can feel free to blog about the NP without first signing an Official Secrets Act.

We had a Public Forum item, too - which is probably unique in the curent round of NP meetings, because it's been disappeared from their agendas. It drew three statements, and they in turn contributed to our final decision - added as an emergency item in spite of vigorous protests from the LibDem corner (including our own Goulden Boy, self-styled saviour of the Craydon Road Open Space). They didn't want it discussed at any price and raised every possible objection (none of them valid!)

The subject was, of course, the Green Space sell-off - or rather the failures in the consultation, such as the loss of Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces response, the failure to fulfil FoI requests, and the under-recording of petition numbers. I'd distilled this into an appeal from the NP to Thursday's Cabinet to delay any decision to sell land until it could be sorted out. Eventually, it was overwhelmingly approved - with the sole exception of the three dissidents, who presumably want an immediate decision to sell.

I'm glad to say that today's Scrutiny Commission reached the same conclusion as our Neighbourhood Partnership, so the Cabinet will be faced with a multiple appeal to hold back on the controversial sales when it meets tomorrow.

Festive Airport


At the Broadwalk shopping centre, this year's Christmas display is of a festive airport.

Maybe it's a sign of the times that airports have joined the iconic symbols of Christmas. It prompted me to confirm that you can still buy the ultimate in destructive holiday flights, taking the kids on a day trip to Lapland for a visit to Santa and a snowmobile trip. It won't be long before the trip becomes impossible, as the snow and ice disappear under relentless climate change caused by - people who do trips like this.

Meanwhile, you can still go. For parents and two under 12s, the day will set you back around £1700. So why not do it properly with a couple of nights in a room in a log cabin - for just £4,600? Or even in an 8-seater private jet from upwards of £19,000 - plus your accommodation and keep.

I think I'll settle for Broadwalk. And feel good about it.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Green Space sell-off: the back-of-an-envelope analysis

Key figures (revised 13/12 to compare like with like):

Feb 2008 Cabinet:

Element of Parks & Green Spaces funding required from land sales:
£41m :For capital investment
£22m :For maintenance
£63m :Total to fund parks programme
add
£27m : agreed share (@ 30% of gross sales) for the council pot
£90m : total sales receipts required.

Dec 2010 Cabinet:
£16m : total value of sites identified and recommended for sale
£ 4.7m : lost to parks as the agreed cut for other purposes
£11.3m : funds available toward PGSS target.


Shortfall : £51.7m (i.e. only 18% of the total can be raised)

Extract from Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, driving the sales:

"should there be insufficient 'low value' marginal land available.... the council will review the ambitions of the strategy and consider alternative funding sources." (p42)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

News Management, Council House style

Extraordinary - but not that unexpected.

Tuesday was the day that BCC had to reveal which of the city's green sites it intends to sell off, so that the others might be properly looked after. With a bit of a bonus; 30% goes into the general council pot, and not into the parks at all.

The details eventually emerged in the papers for the Scrutiny meeting next Wednesday.

But well before that, the press and broadcasting media had been called in for a briefing, even before fellow-councillors had been told what was planned for their wards. Then there was a press release, in which Gary Hopkins reveals that the whole Cabinet has already agreed (what? when?) which green spaces should be sold off - subject, of course, to a token hearing of whatever the scrutineering councillors might say, and public statements made at their cabinet meeting.

In other words, verdict first, then square the press, then seal the deal with a 'democratic' dance of confirmation.

The long and comprehensive consultation process looks like a complete waste of time and effort, at least as far as those of us in Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces are concerned; our comprehensive response to the consultation has been lost, stolen or strayed, because it isn't even listed in the verbatim reports among the papers.

Add to that, of course, that a Freedom of Information request for officer assessments of each disposal site continues to be ignored, way beyond statutory time limits.

It all stinks.

Update, Wed 8th:

The council has promised to get the overdue FoI information to me next Monday - which gives about 24 hours to go through 60-odd site details and get representations to the Scrutiny Commission meeting.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Whipping Yarns

"We're not being whipped" Cabot's LibDem councillor Alex Woodman told the council debate on abandoning the sell-off of the city's green spaces.

Technically, he was probably right, because a Labour amendment had just been introduced, and any formal whipping on it was impracticable. But only the previous day the LibDems had announced that "Bristol City Council’s ruling Lib Dem group (38 members out of 70) will amend the Tories’ motion on the Green Spaces Strategy (PGSS) at tomorrow’s full council meeting (Nov 16th).". It's hard to know how Alex could have any choice but to do what his party had agreed.

You'd think that the selective sale of green space wouldn't really be a big 'party' issue, except maybe for the Greens - but right through this debate, every vote was conducted entirely on party lines. LibDems in wards threatened by proposed sales still voted for it; Tories and Labour in wards that could only gain voted against. The usual disciplined tribal voting patterns, in fact.

Why this 'default' of routine voting as a block? Don't parties trust their own councillors to make their own judgements?

I put in a Public Forum statement to the same full council meeting to suggest that where a whip is in force, speakers should say so, and say why. I explained that "If an election or manifesto promise is involved, or some intrinsic party values, then a whip is understandable; but for the majority of council decisions (for instance the motion to be heard later about the funding for the Area Green Space Plans) it is very hard to find any rational difference between the parties."

The statement's been referred to the respective party whips. So far, only Labour has responded; I'll come back to this when I hear more.

As a footnote, it's worth noting that Alex Woodman and his fellow Cabot councillor Mark Wright (defender of Green Belt except when it involves a stadium) have put out a 'Cabot E-News', acknowledging that "that there is opposition to the sale of some of the sites (around 15 of the 60 proposed)". It turns out that the 15 are not actually sites, they're protest groups, while the 60 are proposed sale sites - so it's grossly misleading. It's still not been corrected though.

Meanwhile my own Freedom of Information request for the officers' assessments of the various suggested disposal sites remains unacknowledged, a couple of weeks after the statutory date for a full answer. With decisions imminent, you have to wonder why such a delay.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Green Spaces - the sham debate

Bristol's LibDem councillors have gone one step further than their Westminster counterparts. Not only do they do hypocrisy, but they can do NIMBYism simultaneously.

The Great Green Spaces Debate on Tuesday was their demonstration platform. We were told that there was no whip in force, this was a free vote for the LibDem councillors. Several of them represent wards with a lot to lose through the policy of green space sell-off - so they dutifully tell their constituents that they'll oppose sales in their own wards, and then vote for the rest of Bristol to bear the cost. It would be hard to find a more NIMBY position than that.

It was the 100% support of these councillors in 'un-whipped' votes that won the day for the LibDem administration. No doubt it will, in turn, be used to justify the sale of green open spaces (although, for some reason, no-one mentioned that for every £1 raised in land sales, only 70p will go back into the parks anyway).

True, the original Tory motion wasn't up to much, as it threw out the baby with the bathwater; all the good work that had gone into the Area Green Space Plans would be scrapped under their proposals, not just the land sales. Both Greens and Labour had suggested improvements, that would allow the best of the plans to be retained; and the Tories took that on board.

The debate itself quickly degenerated into a routine shambles of tribal point-scoring. Jay Jethwa, seconding the Tory motion, set the tone with an attack on Executive member Gary Hopkins. She must know after nearly four years that no-one wins Gary's heart or mind with that approach, he just digs in deeper and responds in kind. Clearly, Jay's priority was to impress her constituents, not the decision-makers.

What a waste! There was an option that just might have worked - we'd included it in the Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces response to the Green Space Plans, and the Greens invited the Tories to take it up. It was a key passage in the Parks & Green Spaces Strategy that said "should there be insufficient 'low value' marginal land available....  the council will review the ambitions of the strategy and consider alternative funding sources." Reference to that might (and still could) provide the face-saving formula that would allow the LibDem Executive to quietly drop the unpopular and unsustainable drive to sacrifice the city's open spaces.

Llandudno Junction, 0620hrs, November



I'll try to forget the carbon footprint of this one - it was just too good an opportunity to miss. Arriva Trains Wales 'Premier Service' offers its first-class passengers the full monty... a complimentary three course dinner on the northbound Cardiff to Holyhead journey, and a full breakfast on the way back.

And thanks to an unintendedly generous special offer, the whole trip, from Bristol, was there for the taking at £32. The bike went free, and made it possible to reach a good accessible Youth Hostel - Conwy - for a couple of nights, with a bike ride round waterfalls, woods and castles in autumnal sunshine in between.

Young when it suits, old when it suits. Can't be bad. And if I wasn't there, I'd have felt obliged to go to the council meeting - so it was a double benefit!

(Penance done - I've watched the webcast debate)

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Kerry and the Bill-killers

Kerry McCarthy MP is rightly aggrieved. Arcane parliamentary procedures allowed neighbouring MP Jacob Rees-Mogg to recite poetry as part of a government strategy to 'talk out' the second reading of the Sustainable Livestock Bill yesterday.

Yet again, a Friday afternoon "Private Members Bill" that made a great deal of sense and had very strong support, was lost not though argument, not through a vote, but through the abuse of Parliamentary procedure. And it's become a habit. No wonder Kerry tweets that
"We've got to sort out these Friday procedures".

Pity she wasn't so keen when her party was in power, and, as a junior whip, she was only too ready to use those same procedures to block Bills that, for its own reasons, the government didn't want discussed.

Bills like Lord Morris's Haemophiliacs Bill, to compensate victims of "the worst medical treatment disaster in the history of the NHS" the contamination of haemophiliacs with HIV/HCV through plasma imported from US prisons. That one was killed stone dead by Kerry's call of 'Object!' one Friday back in February.

There have been innumerable popular Bills killed off the same way. I know, I've often been part of the lobbying to persuade MPs to try to get them taken up in the first place.

Caroline Lucas MP was, like Kerry, appalled at the way yesterday's Bill was stopped. Unlike Kerry, Caroline hasn't got a history of killing Bills herself, or of using arcane procedures to avoid debate - the legislative equivalent of using legal loopholes to avoid paying tax. As she told this autumn's Green Party conference:

" I remain conscious of how strange, even alien, Parliament is.

It isn't just the odd language, the arcane procedures and strange costumes.

It's an institution designed for, and run by, an elite, who simply don't want to let the people have a real say in decisions. "

Kerry and the rest really need to get their act together if they really mean to challenge this shameful side of 'the mother of parliaments'.

But will it happen?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

New Kids on the Blog

Two new additions to my blogroll (right)

Save Stockwood's Green Sites is one I run for Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces. It's on the roll to alert locals to new posts - but I want to spread the word further - and asap - about the most recent post, backing an all-Bristol call to prevent the sale of the city's green spaces to fund the Parks Strategy. Key date is the council meeting next Tuesday, so please take a look and spread the word.

Those on Facebook (me, I avoid it!) can help it go viral with this link

The other link is to Stockwood's Other Blogger - the LibDem candidate, Michael Goulding. Michael's blog is, he assures me, entirely his own work, though he has been advised not to link back here to Stockwood Pete, which he regards as a front for the Green Party! (it isn't of course. Well, not always.) Anyway, the blogroll link will alert me to whatever he has to say without me having to visit to check.

What a pity our two Tory councillors still don't have a presence on the web, or even take the trouble to comment on these pages.

The Big Shift

Meanwhile, back on the ground....

Here's a nice contrast with the Zaragoza junket (previous post), with its focus on the abstractions of brands and image as the key to a golden future.

It's about the real world, and it's much cheaper and easier to get to, too. (Council House, Sunday 28th, 9.30 till 5, £14/£8)

I wonder if Barbara Janke or our Director of Place-Making will find the time to go....

www.shiftbristol.org.uk/?page_id=306

Monday, 8 November 2010

Bristol goes to Zaragoza



This search on the city council's website really was for 'eurocities' and not, as they feared, 'atrocities'. I'll save that one for another day....

It did find a few references, too - but none of them were about the trip that Leader Barbara Janke has just taken to the four-day Eurocities Conference at Zaragoza. That doesn't seem to be on record anywhere.


Barbara's big Zaragoza opportunity was to join a panel discussion where she could share with fellow leaders "the process of developing Bristol's identity, and the consequences of building an internationally recognized city brand". That may be why she took our newly appointed Director of Place Making along with her.

I see that one Steve Woods has been wondering about the value of trips like this (perhaps remembering how they jetted off to Copenhagen for the Climate Change conference, and came back to twitter about an innovative bicycle wheel that we knew about anyway). Steve wants to know if anyone else went to Spain and what it all cost us, so he's put in an FoI request.

He misses the big questions, though. After the Conference closed on Friday, there was still 24 hours entertainment available for anyone not rushing back home. So did Bristol's finest hang back for the guided Zaragoza bus tour? Or the dramatised tour? Or the tapas tour? Or the Saturday morning Chocotour ("Let yourself be sweetened and discover Zaragoza’s chocolate tradition in some of the city’s most well known chocolate caf├ęs").

I think we should be told...

Friday, 5 November 2010

An Apple for the Banker



Thanks to a team from Barclays Bank, we made a terrific start on opening up the abandoned orchard on Stockwood Open Space earlier this week.

Residents, the council (even a councillor!), and the Wildlife Trust played a part too, so you could - if you wanted to make political capital - call it 'Big Society' in action. Except that it wasn't a case of a 'partnership' taking over council duties, it was something that wouldn't have been done otherwise, and it wasn't so much an exercise in self-flagellation (until you look at the bramble scratches!) as it was pleasure.

Now we've got a part-cleared orchard, loads of unidentified fruit trees, and a winter window to finish getting it all into shape before the breeding season starts up again. We'll need all the help we can get.

More on the Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces web site. (And all welcome at the AGM on Monday, 8th November, at the Free Church, 7.30pm)

Why Smart Cards aren't so smart for First Bus

[Over on 'Turning Bristol Red', Darren Lewis takes a well justified pop at the problems of travelling by bus in Bristol. Here's a bit more, to explore how First Bus's corporate priorities actually prevent progress.]

On the face of it, 'smart' oyster-style tickets have a lot to offer bus operators. They free up drivers from the fare collecting duty, save costly, non-profitable time at bus stops, make the service faster and more attractive to passengers. All good for business, good for profits. But instead of going for it, FirstBus are keeping well away from Bristol's efforts to introduce smart travel cards.

Could it be to protect their monopoly?

In Bristol, it was the First group that held the dominant position after the post-deregulation bus wars, and they've protected that monopoly ever since.

Near-monopoly, of course, brings economies of size and (in theory) greater efficiency. That was one of the great assets of publicly owned transport networks; full access to the more profitable routes allowed cross-subsidy for the less economic routes. First, though, don't have to do that - they can (and do) abandon unprofitable routes at will, leaving local councils with the obligation to provide a subsidy to keep those buses running.

FirstBus has two more vital trade advantages that help maintain their monopoly, and thus their profits, while removing the need to actually improve services.


One (believe it or not) is customer loyalty! There's persuasive anecdotal evidence of customers waiting for First's more familiar and long-established buses, with a history on that route, rather than use one of the upstarts like U-Link or ABus, notwithstanding the time and fare advantages they might offer.

The second, crucially, is their First Day ticket; £4 each and travel anywhere in Bristol for the day - so long as it's on their buses. Take the family (off peak) and it's a mere £7.50. But of course, if you want to do one leg of the trip on someone else' bus, you'll have to pay that fare on top.

No other operator in Bristol can compete with that offer - and First know it.

In London, the Oyster card seems to set the standard for smart cards on local public transport. It does what a First Day ticket doesn't do - it takes you on London buses, tubes, trams, and even on heavy rail. Who runs the service doesn't matter. If, at the end of the day, you've 'spent' more in fares than a daily cap (if you'd used a Travelcard instead), you pay the lesser fare.

In Bristol, such a scheme would threaten First's monopoly, because they could no longer rely on selling cheaper 'First-only' tickets that keep passengers from using rival services.

First Bus get deeply involved in forward planning for such things as bendy bus routes, where they think there's something in it for them. But they're nowhere to be seen when smart cards are mentioned. So what progress has Bristol managed without the active support of its main bus operator? As you might expect, very little.

Any good scheme has to be ITSO compliant, ITSO being the national standard for smart travel cards. Apart from a 'back-office system' that's being set up to manage it, there's little progress in Bristol to turn it into reality. Instead of helping push it forward, First are looking the other way.

Meanwhile a couple of minor (but more progressive) operators - U-Link and Wessex - are trialling a simpler short term substitute, a 'stored value' card that offers quicker boarding and fare reductions, but isn't ITSO compliant. That's all.

In short, First's priorities are self-interest and non-cooperation with anything that might undermine the market distortions that it has cultivated to protect its monopoly. And that stalls progress towards the smart travel card that Bristol desperately needs

[ADDED] There'a an e-petition on the city council web site calling for Oyster-style smart cards for Bristol

Thursday, 28 October 2010

New homes - or the school run?


Behind Stockwood's Hollway Road shops, there's a grim, uncared for area that finds use by shoppers and by parents on the Waycroft School run. It's in private ownership. The owner's just applied to put three detached four-bedroomed homes on it.

You can take a look at the plans, and comment, on line at the council's planning portal. The application number is 10/04539/F and you can go direct to the application documents here. I'd recommend a look at the 'proposed perspective views' for starters.

No-one would pretend that the present frontage (or backage?) has anything to commend it - but these proposals will raise many questions...

How on earth will service vehicles navigate their way to the shops' rear entrances? Will the same service road become a 'dark alley' out of hours, out of sight, a no-go zone for anyone other than the residents who must use it for access?

Will we see a mass protest march (or, more likely, convoy) launched by the schoolrunner mums? Will the developers actually be able to build at a price that attracts buyers to this... er... rather different kind of a site?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Tory U-turn on Green Spaces!

Well, well.

At the full council on November 16th, the Conservative group will " CALL ON THE LEADER AND CABINET TO SCRAP THE AREA GREEN SPACE PLANS". That's the ones that they, along with Labour and LibDems, supported just a couple of years ago!

Could there be an explanation for these dramatic contortions?

It CAN'T be on principle...

After all, this is the ideologically driven party that plans to sell off Britains' publicly owned (and profitable) forests to private speculators and investors - with the extra bonus of being inheritance tax free! (Petition against it here)

This is the party whose local councillors are backing tax-exile Lansdown's bid to build a stadium on the Ashton Vale green belt, trampling on the lawful rights of local people.

So, if it ain't principle, could it be - dare I say - electoral opportunism?

Next May will see more than one Tory councillor having to explain to angry voters why they backed a strategy to sell off much loved local parks and open spaces in their wards. In Bishopsworth, for instance, where Kings Head Park is under threat. In Frome Vale, with where six sites have been identified for sale. And here in Stockwood, where several open spaces could be lost to the community for ever, and Cllrs Jethwa and Morris have been desperately distancing themselves from any responsibility for it.

But it's not just about hanging on to these seats - there might be new opportunities for electoral gain. Brislington East and West, Hartcliffe, Hengrove, Hillfields, and St George East are all threatened by a loss of open space, and in all of them the Tories might expect to benefit, if they play their cards right.

Call me a cynic........

Anyway, the Tory motion submitted for the next full council meeting is:

COUNCILLOR M WESTON TO MOVE

THIS COUNCIL CALLS ON THE LEADER AND CABINET TO SCRAP THE AREA GREEN SPACE PLANS

Public consultation has shown that the planned sell-off of parkland and valued leisure land, identified in the ideas and options proposals, is a step too far and that community open space is not for sale.

The original Parks and Green Spaces Strategy was meant to dispose of
land of low value, poor quality plots or areas that attract anti-social behaviour.  Instead, the developed plans have earmarked well-used and highly valued recreational space.

Alternative funding sources must be sought for investment in our
Parks.”


Which just happens to have been the Green Party position for the last three years. Welcome on board.

[Note: Petition against forest sales]
[This post comes with a self-interest declaration - as a likely Stockwood candidate next May]

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Council's "TV, not Parks" plans challenged

As the Evening Post series explores the city's open spaces and looks at what's gained and lost by the different plans (today revealing that the some of the profit from parkland sales in Stockwood could help pay for a giant TV screen in the Bear Pit) - Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces have sent in their own verdict on the plans.

They conclude that it's time to trigger that part of the Parks Strategy that provides "should there be insufficient 'low value' marginal land available.... the council will review the ambitions of the strategy and consider alternative funding sources."

[Added] FoI Request

Meanwhile, an FoI request has gone in to try to get to the bottom of why all these sites were selected. Has their attractiveness to developers been a factor? The answer will be too late to inform any consultation responses, but it might still help influence the actual decisions. The FoI request is Bristol-wide, and should put all the answers in the public domain via the "What do they Know" web site.

Lansdown's MPs - breaking the line, or breaking the law?


After the extraordinary 'A City United' statement that Bristol's MPs were cajoled into signing by BCFC, Simon Cook and the Evening Post, at least two have been under pressure to explain the bit at the end: “Councillors have an important and difficult decision to make. We urge them to stand up for the views of the majority of residents and bring the stadium to Bristol”. After all, that's a direct call on councillors to put populism ahead of an honest assessment of the Village Green application. Which would, of course, be unlawful.

Now, both Stephen Willams (in comments on his blog) and Kerry McCarthy (in comments on this blog) have given assurances that they expect councillors to act within the law - i.e. to consider the village green application only on the evidence of public use, not on the potential of the land to provide a stadium. Neither MP has yet gone so far as to retract that final sentence, though - even though it appears to have been drafted for them by the football club!

Of course, that leaves the other signatories - Dawn Primarolo, Charlotte Leslie, Chris Skidmore, and Tessa Munt, still totally unapologetic about urging Bristol's councillors to defy the law when they come to decide the village green designation.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Strategic Diversions in the Parks

Today's Evening Post publishes some questions emerging from all the protests about the threatened sale of Bristol's green spaces - and how Gary Hopkins, the Cabinet member with the Parks brief, responds. I've added my own comments in italics - plus a bonus Q&A at the end.

Q THERE has been vocal opposition to a quarter of the areas put forward for sale at the very least – is that an acceptable number?

A It's certain there will be changes to the original list that officers came up with.
But just because there are comments doesn't mean there will be changes to individual sites.
How can we address 30 years of neglect without a strategic, sensible action?

* Of course it needs action. The problem is whether the way of funding that action is fair, realistic, or sustainable. I suggest it is none of these.

We will guarantee that every park not sold off will be protected for the next 20 years.

* What's so special about that promise? Isn't it what councils are supposed to do anyway?


Q Is it fair to give money raised from selling land in one part of the city to another area that might not lose any green space?

A The whole point of the strategy, which all parties signed up for, is that there should be minimum standards people should be able to expect for their green spaces.

* As Glenn Vowles has pointed out (and Gary Hopkins himself admitted at Stockwood) the Green Party opposed the funding method from the start. No one listened though.

It would be ludicrous to sell off land where there is a deficit of green spaces.

* Setting up an aunt sally just to knock it down again. No-one's suggested any such thing


Q Should money be going to improve parks in relatively wealthy areas like Clifton and Henleaze, which won't lose out on any green spaces?

A What about areas like Easton and Lawrence Weston, which have a shortage of open space? Would it be fair to say you should deprive people of Easton of the parks they need?

* A politician blatantly avoiding a question. The general cash flow will be from the less wealthy outer wards of Bristol into the centre - and into the general council pot.

The argument that you can't sell off land because you're spending the money elsewhere in the city is not a particularly strong argument. Improvements cost money.

* The fact remains that many poorer communities, where green space is one of the main amenities, will lose out. That makes it a stronger argument than it would otherwise have been!

Some people might come up and say we don't want anything sold off up here but then say we would quite like those improvements.

* It's not unreasonable for people to expect that children will have play space near their homes, and would look to the council to provide it in the course of time. That doesn't have to mean raising cash by selling valued land, then putting (some of) the proceeds into buying new swings.

In some areas there wasn't any local group interested in that land, so we have stirred up interest.

* A bit like saying the blitz was a good thing because it brought people together.....

Q Instead of selling off green spaces to raise money for improvements, why not spend section 106 money, raised from developers who submit major planning applications?

A We know it's not enough. It's a quarter of what's required. There are four funding sources – land sales, section 106, council money and grants. The grants are easier to come by when there is a strategy showing what you want.

*Here in Stockwood, the major improvements aren't being funded by the Parks Strategy sales, but by old Sec 106 money. Can't that happen elsewhere?

Q The council says it wants to sell the green spaces to help fund an £87 million programme of improvements to other green spaces in Bristol. How many of the 62 sites will have to be sold to raise the £63m the council says it needs to fund improvements?

A We can't say how many, it depends on the sizes of the areas and other factors.

This is a 20-year strategy, so we're not talking about selling off 15 to 20 spaces now.

*The Strategy gave ball-park figures of £90 million, raised by the sale of 90 acres, providing £60 million to spend on parks improvements and maintenence over twenty years. What happens after that is anybody's guess. That was always the real target - not some notional mapping of those land assets considered to be of 'low community value'. It follows that market value will determine which sites are put up for sale.

It's not likely any of these will be sold in the next few years.
The situation has always been that land has been sold off on a piecemeal basis but the money has not gone back into parks.

* Of course every council will buy and sell land in order to function (some might even give it away if there's a rich tax exile wants it). In this case, of course, only 70% goes back into the parks, and some of that is merely for maintenance.

Q Why not just sell off brown field sites instead of building on green spaces?

A That's what the site allocation plan is for. The money from those will go back into the council coffers, and some of the money for the green spaces plan will come from the council.

* Not entirely true. The site allocations document is about future land use, whether by the council or anyone else.
Still, this simply suggests that the parks can't expect anything much in future from general council funds, even though they're a council service. We've been conned.
How do other councils find the money to provide and maintain parks? Bet they don't use the Bristol method....


Q The council is consulting on two separate documents at the same time – the area green space plan and the site allocation document – which confused some residents. Should the consultations have run separately?

A No. They are two separate processes but there are connections between them because both involve council use of land. If responses have been sent to the wrong department that's not a problem.

* AGREE!


Q What happens when the consultation comes to an end?

A A list will come out in December of the sites that are going to be sold off.

* Verdict first, evidence afterwards.


[Here's one further question, not put in the Evening Post:]

Q. What if there is insufficient 'low value' marginal land available once the planning process has been concluded?

A. The council will review the ambitions of the strategy and consider alternative funding sources. (At least, that's what it says on p42 of the Parks and Green Space Strategy. Looks like Hopkins and Co have unilaterally ditched that part of the deal, though!)

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Illusion

As a change from the orchestrated illusion of the Spending Review - ideology masquerading as economic reality - here's a lighter version of hiding the economic truths.....

First, what was George & Railway Hotel in Temple Gate, nicely disguised (except when mammon requires a dirty great advert in the same place) as a cared for building. OK, it's not going to fool anyone, but most people would agree that it looks better than what's underneath.


Next, a parade of shops in Stockwood (though it could be anywhere). A potential case of the 'broken window' effect, where a down-at-heel environment tends to prompt further antisocial behaviour.


Next, more empty shops - except these are in a High Street. Redcar's shopping centre has been going downhill for years under pressure from supermarkets, out-of-town retail parks, and economic decline as industry shuts down. In an effort to brighten the scene, the High Street is now peppered with 'virtual shops' instead of steel shutters. The consensus is that it looks very much better than it did.



Finally, scope for a more ambitious project; what could you do with this monstrous concrete skeleton that welcomes everyone arriving at Temple Meads?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Cutting the debt? No, adding to it

Some deeply disturbing announcements coming out of the government today.

The National Security Strategy - all 39 pages of it - does actually recognise climate change as a key part of our future insecurity. But it doesn't even mention putting prevention at the heart of the strategy - much as neither Clegg nor Cameron (leaders of the 'greenest government ever') mentioned climate change in their big conferences speeches.

Still, we have bankers to appease right now, so let's leave it to the next generation.

Then there's the embarrassing sight of Energy Secretary (sorry, energy and climate change secretary) Chris Huhne embracing the nuclear option. It's not that long since we heard him declare that there'd be no public subsidy for the industry. Now, however, it looks like the nuclear operators unique freedom from having to insure against a 'Maximum credible accident" - the government and people would bear all the horrific costs - will be maintained. Now that's what I call a subsidy!

Meanwhile, as Jonathon Porritt points out, Chris Huhne's departmental budget continues to carry the cost of Britain's previous nuclear programme, the clean-up costing us £1.7 billion a year. Now that's what I call a debt!

Still, we have bankers to appease right now, so let's leave the next debt to the next generation (and their kids.... and their kids...)

Friday, 15 October 2010

Something in the water.... fluoride and us.

There are plenty of good posts on the theme of water today - it being the subject of blog action day. Richard Lawson's Mabinogogiblog (as always) has a fresh and positive take on some of the global angles.

Me, I'll stick to the wonderful commodity that comes out of our Bristol taps - the nice clean wholesome and incredibly healthy stuff-of-life that we scarcely give a second thought to.

There are plans to change all that. The regional health people want to add fluoride to it, and have been asked (by the Primary Care Trust) to look into the practicality of putting it in our drinking water supply. Last time I checked, they'd not yet commissioned the necessary work, but it is (dare I say) in the pipeline.

Although fluoridation is highly controversial, medical orthodoxy insists that one part fluoride per million in the water supply would do a lot to reduce dental caries in young children, especially those who don't brush their teeth much. As the government and NHS pursue their new primary objectives of cutting everything to keep the markets happy, fluoridation is going to look like a pretty good back-up for the already thin provision of expensive mass dental care. It would probably please the manufacturers of sugary confections too!

Enter Professor Paul Connett. Paul's work on two subjects, incineration and fluoridation, have led him to become an international expert on both. He's coming to Bristol on Tuesday week (26/10) to speak at a public meeting about fluoridation at University of Bristol, Wills Hall, Parry’s Lane, Stoke Bishop BS9 1AE, starting at 2pm. (Not far from the 54 bus route for us bus freeloaders).

[Added Note: There's some doubt as to whether this talk is actually happening - right now I can only find Paul talking about incineration at UWE on November 17. I'll update when I know more.... ]

I heard Paul speak many years ago, and was seriously impressed not just by his encyclopaedic knowledge, but by his ability to share it, entertainingly, with his audience. I'll thoroughly recommend the meeting to anyone who cares about the science or the ethics of mass-medicating us through our drinking water supply.

The Latest LibDem PR trick

“The Alternative Vote ...... does not give voters real power over both the party and the person elected as MP.

“Only the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member seats would abolish MPs’ meal tickets for life, and we will fight to amend this proposal to give people a real choice for a more significant change.”
Chris Huhne, setting out the LibDems' flagship policy, 1st Feb 2010


Thanks to Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, together with Douglas Carswell (Con) and Austin Mitchell (Lab) we could all have had a referendum vote on it, if their amendment to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill hadn't been voted down by most MPs, including the LibDems themselves, led by Nick Clegg and including our very own Stephen Williams!

How do LibDems live with such a betrayal of promise and principle?

Caroline's amendment, which would have allowed us voters, not the MPs, to choose the voting system that we use to elect them, can be found here. Then 'FIND' 'I am pleased to move' to get to the debate itself, which is actually worth a read, though it won't add to your confidence in our democracy!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Dear Kerry..... About that stadium statement.


Dear Kerry,

I've just read the extraordinary statement issued by the Bristol MPs, yourself included, about the proposed stadium site in Ashton Vale.

I don't know who wrote it (though it has the hallmarks of BCFC authorship), but I'm surprised that you and your colleagues have signed up so readily to such selective and sweeping unproven claims. Have you seen the piece by Marina Hyde  in today's Guardian nailing the myth that sports stadia bring urban regeneration, prosperity and jobs?

Equally important, your unqualified call on councillors to 'stand up for the views of the majority of residents and bring the stadium to Bristol' could amount to an invitation to break the law.

As things stand at present, councillors have ONLY the evidence that the land qualifies in law as a Town Green. There is nothing in the public domain to suggest that the independent inspector got it wrong.

As you must know, councillors must now make their judgement on the same issues as were dealt with by the Inspector - the use of the land by the public in the last twenty years.

The development potential of the land, for whatever purpose, is not a legal consideration. (I don't think the Evening Post has ever mentioned that inconvenient truth!).

If councillors allow the stadium issue to influence their decision, they are operating outside the law, and you are encouraging them in that.

If you really want the councillors to bring the stadium to Bristol, can I suggest an approach that would protect green belt, minority groups such as the Town Green applicants, and council assets - while allowing you to promote a stadium without having to publicly encourage councillors to break the law!

It isn't impossible for Bristol's two clubs to ground share, so both sets of fans would get the benefits of a new stadium. There's a choice of potential brownfield sites on post-industrial land to the north of Avonmouth. There's good access by road, and by public transport (especially given the potential of the existing rail infrastructure, including the Henbury loop.   By comparison, access to Ashton Vale is difficult and likely to be a victim of cuts). Arguably, at Avonmouth there are industrial hazards to contend with, but I feel sure they can be overcome - they certainly were at Middlesbrough, with a similar site close by COMAH-regulated chemical plant. 

The big obstacle seems to be the clubs themselves; a proposal a few years back was stymied by a refusal of Bristol City to entertain the idea of sharing. I'm sure your guess as to why they did that is a good as mine - and probably the same!

Clubs that cannot co-operate for the good of the city and for their own businesses frankly have no right to hold the council, the fans, the residents, and local MPs to ransom.

Yours

Pete Goodwin

25th Oct: Kerry's response added in the comments below

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

GUEST POST - A chance to improve the environment in Stockwood

[Here's an initiative that can make a real difference to the place we live - with a direct input into the council, too. Stockwood Pete]

Stockwood Environmental Group is a new group that is working to improve the environment in Stockwood. The group will be meeting for the first time on Thursday 28th October at 2pm, at Maple Court, Stockwood Road (over the road from the Library)

If you have an interest in anything environmental from parks to sustainability to litter in the streets, come along and get involved.

If you would like any more information, then please contact Gemma Dando on 0117 352 1090 or email gemma.dando@bristol.gov.uk

JLTP3

Back in July, I blogged about the latest 'public engagement' version of the Joint Local Transport Plan (JLTP3). At the last moment (as per usual) I got engaged, and sent this piece in to the West Of England transport planners.

1.  Above all else, a real, state of the art multimodal public transport hub at Temple Meads should be at the heart of JLTP3.

Plot 6 is there ready and waiting - a unique development site right next to the West of England's biggest railway station, yet it's not even mentioned anywhere on the Travel+ website ! We're told that officers have been in discussion about the future of Plot 6.  We know that time and again the public have raised this as a top public transport priority for Bristol.   Yet it's totally absent from your plans.  

2. A Passenger Transport Authority  is a must if the W. of England is to make any real difference to the dire state of transport in the subregion.   It may have been voted down 3:1 by the Executive members, but there's no reason why it shouldn't at least be kept as an option under continuous review - and published as part of JLTP3 - to show that the region has the ambition to make a real difference.

 3. Smart Cards and accessible, comprehensive Real Time Information : as yet, there's little real progress (and of course it's not helped by the major bus operator whose monopoly would be weakened by a smart card)  ; both these are universal benefits that make the experience of using buses both easier and faster.   They deserve much more emphasis in JLTP3

 4.  Traffic Reduction should be an absolute ambition for the urban areas, scoring well in terms of cutting congestion, road safety, quality of life, carbon reduction, Peak Oil, air quality and (arguably) economic growth of the useful variety.   It's a prerequisite of easing our urban traffic problems.  Lets not be shy - make it a real ambition.

5. JLTP3 makes a passing reference to the importance of 'digital infrastructure' in cutting traffic; perhaps it should also refer to the importance of land use planning, sustainable communities, local food production and distribution,  'low-traffic' businesses etc. as legitimate parts of a sustainable transport plan.

6. A 20mph city would save lives, reduce carbon emissions. At the same time, it's easier to sign and to drive than the 'partial' zones now being set up.   Why on earth is there no mention in JLTP3 ?

7. The Portishead Branch and the Henbury Loop, are grossly underused resources that should be getting a far greater commitment in JLTP3, not just warm words.   At a time when the major capital projects (all road based) are all under financial threat, the focus should be on worthwhile projects that make the best use of what we already have on the ground.

The first six have in common that, unlike most of the flagship projects, they all have universal application, bringing the most widespread benefits for the travelling public.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Latest Land Grab

Developers are about to reveal plans for continuous housing across the fields that now separate Whitchurch village from Stockwood.

The area in question is 13 hectares of meadow, crossed by three footpaths and used at present for grazing horses. It's bounded by Staunton Lane to the south, Stockwood Lane to the east, Craydon Grove to the north, and the cycle path to the west. All of it's in BaNES, and if it goes ahead, the 340 homes will almost double the size of Whitchurch village to make a continuous built up area.

Footpath users will already have seen changes in the fields. A notice from Robert Hitchins Ltd (better known as developers of commercial and industrial estates) warns walkers to stay on the path - which has now been marked, uniquely in my experience, by posts every few yards with blue arrow footpath markers. It doesn't do much for that 'freedom of the countryside' feeling! There are signs, too, of exploratory boreholes.

Hitchins' agents Pegasus Planning, who take a great interest in the potential of greenfield, green belt countryside south of Bristol, are putting on an exhibition of their plans at Whitchurch Primary School (on the A37 Bristol Road) on Monday 4th and Thursday7th October, between 3.30pm and 8pm

That's a nice walk across the fields from Stockwood!

Added 1.10.10:
More detail on this Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces page

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Prejudicial Interests

It's increasingly likely that that the PROWG committee may (understandably) duck out of making the decision on whether to accept or refuse the inspector's recommendation to register Ashton Vale as a Town Green, and instead refer it to full council so that it can be voted on there.
 
If this should happen, any councillors who have already expressed an opinion on the overriding need - or otherwise - for a stadium will obviously have to abstain.  Neil Harrison, a member of the PROWG committee, had the good sense to anticipate this, and explained why on his blog in August

So, for example, Cllr Simon Cook would have to abstain because he has already made statements both in support of the new stadium and against the Town Green recommendation. On the other side, Tess Green would be unable to vote because she's already welcomed the judgement of the independent inspector. Neither would go to the decision making meeting with an open mind.
 
The OTIB ("One Team In Bristol") City fans' web site has suddenly closed down access for new subscribers - but not before publishing posts revealing other councillors' prejudicial views on the Town Green.

For instance, our own Stockwood councillor David Morris seems to have ruled himself out of any vote by making his (and, apparently, his party's) views known to the City fan who posted this message on OTIB:
 
"Hello i am a first timer so please go easy,i have read on the forum about people writing to there councillors and mp without little feed back. I have written to Councillor Morris to voice my concerns about Ashton vale like the club have asked us to expecting nothing back when today i had a knock on my front door and this guy introduced imself as councillor morris and he would like to talk about Ashton vale ,he said that he was in total agreement that bristol city should have a new stadium and he and alot of his other councillors will be voting in favour off our new stadium , the only time i will be voting blue is in the next elections if Mr morris stands"

I have no idea whether David Morris reads this blog; he and Jay Jethwa always seem reluctant to risk any dialogue in public on local issues, so there's never been any comment from either of them to my posts. If he does get the opportunity to vote on what is over-simplistically described in the above post as a 'stadium v town green' decision, then he must first explain this OTIB post and reveal who 'a lot of his other councillors' are.

I'm sure David wouldn't want his Conservative colleagues to vote against accepting the Town Green recommendation, while pretending that they have no predetermined views and would be influenced only by the evidence.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Divide and Sell

Vowles the Green has raised an e-petition to save green space around the Pigeonhouse Stream in Hartcliffe from threatened development.

It's part of the green path stretching from Dundry slopes down the Malago into the heart of the city, so it's significant well beyond Hartcliffe.

Even so, I hesitate to sign. The Area Green Space sell-off makes NIMBYs of us all, and sets communities against each other.

The Parks Strategy relies for its funding on selling off the city silver in the shape of chunks of its land holdings. So if one site doesn't get sold, they'll have to find another one to replace it. That one might just be the open space that means so much to you.

Gary Hopkins was quite explicit about it when he turned up in his usual combative mood at our Stockwood public meeting. He encouraged those of us objecting to particular land sale proposals to make it easier for ourselves by nominating some other plot, someone else's backyard.

Yesterday, showing Kerry McCarthy MP some of the threatened sites in Stockwood, we found ourselves pointing out others that might just be more appropriate for the big development sale. Kerry, of course, still goes along with Labour, LibDem, and Tory policy that backs the unsustainable strategy of selling land to raise cash for parks, especially to benefit those parts of the city where other amenities than parks are the major assets.

Whatever the outcome of the current consultation, someone will have to select from named sites just which ones are to go. It probably won't be Gary (or his successor) who takes that painful decision. The duty of executioner will be delegated, in the true spirit of democracy, to local level in the Neighbourhood Partnerships (or, in this case, those for the outer wards that contain the target sites).

How will that work? If the total land sales are to provide a fixed capital sum (in this case, the cash needed for the parks plus 50% for the pot), it must mean each partnership providing a prescribed share. Those neighbourhoods with bigger land banks will, presumably, be expected to volunteer a bigger proportion.

In this Neighbourhood Partnership, will the gloves come off? Stockwood v Hengrove? Upper Stockwood v. Lower Stockwood? Burnbush v. Gillebank?

Nice bit of community building, eh?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Freebie from BCFC

To enjoy it live, you'd have had to buy a ticket. But now the club's making it available at absolutely no cost to the viewer. Chairman Steve rallies the crowd before yesterday's match at Ashton Gate.


So, in the interests of balance on this blog, here's the link.
..........................

So what's the legal position now?

The media are misrepresenting it as an open choice for the councillors on the Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee, choosing whether or not to accept the Inspector's report. Reject it, and Bristol gets its stadium, arena, world cup matches, pride, and its rightful place on the world map. Accept it, and we're a laughing stock, living on the edge of a dog's bog. Simple, innit?

Well no, according to the Inspector's report. The final paragraph (thanks to Sacred Spring for the tip) explains the law:

578. ............ the Registration Authority must make its own decision and is in law free to follow or not follow my recommendation as it thinks right, applying the correct legal principles and after due consideration of the evidence. It must, of course, leave out of account, as being wholly irrelevant to the statutory question which it has to decide, ..............all considerations of the desirability of the land's being registered as a green or being developed or put to other uses.

In other words... whether all the bluster about the benefits to Bristol has any substance or not, the task for the Rights of Way Committee (sitting in its role as Village Green Registration Authority) is simply to accept the Inspector's findings or to explain why she's wrong to say that Ashton Vale meets the legal criteria for registration.

Clearly the club's legal advisers and inquiry witnesses failed to expose any flaws in the application during the ten-day Inquiry. No wonder Steve Lansdown is calling on the fans to provide new evidence. If they should manage it, Steve should demand his money back from his lawyers.

He might need it anyway.

"Today I can announce that the Chancellor and I have agreed a package of new measures to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion. We will be ruthless with those often wealthy people and businesses who think they can treat paying tax as an optional extra."
(Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander today).

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Spare a thought.....

The news is breaking that a Planning Inspector has recommended Town Green status for the Ashton Vale land that was targetted for Bristol City's new stadium (plus assorted other developments).

Spare a thought for the City fans whose hopes of a new stadium have been so carefully cultivated, and ruthlessly exploited, by the club as it pursued this speculative high-risk business venture.

It's those emotions that are football clubs' real stock-in-trade, the loyalties and goodwill without which the team and the stadium mean nothing. Just like money, the goodwill can be manipulated as part of a negotiation - and BCFC have certainly been doing that, aided and abetted by the Evening Post and certain senior politicians, in each of the somewhat suspect linked deals that underpinned the stadium project.

Now comes the big let-down for the fans whose ambitions had been raised, and probably brings on the anger that goes with it. The club, responsible for the whole fiasco in the first place, will certainly want to divert blame onto the Ashton TG objectors, the Inspector, and anyone else who's raised their head above the parapet.

It will be fascinating to see whether the promoters accept that the whole matter has been fairly and lawfully dealt with, or whether they go back to offering carrots to the fans and taking sticks to the objectors in an effort to get their way.

[Added 10.20pm]
They're wasting no time....

"There are a variety of options open to us and we will use all these options to fight this report. The anger must rest with the inspector and the evidence used to support it.

“This is a clarion call for Bristol not to be tramped upon this way. We need the people of Bristol to say this is absolute madness.

Colin Sexstone, quoted on Bristol 24/7

Cllr Simon Cook's not taking a very balanced view either. "The law behind this application is a complete nonsense, but I am utterly determined to find a way through it."
That's the official Bristol City Council / Commons Registration Authority view then?

The report itself - all 250 closely argued pages of it - can be read from the same official page.

Friday, 10 September 2010

A Journey...



........to its rightful shelf in Waterstones.

Heh, heh.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The yellow line cover-up

Ward councillors are still denying any suggestion of wrongdoing, after getting the threat of yellow lines outside a colleague's house withdrawn, and claiming the Neighbourhood Puppetship backed their decision.

The charge, as I described to the September NP meeting for Hengrove and Stockwood, was:

"The minutes record the very special treatment that the voting councillors gave to one public forum statement ; they agreed to reverse a recommendation for yellow lines at a road junction, at the sole request of the resident whose property fronts the junction. I (and I am sure most of those present) did not see any such decision being made, or any opportunity for residents or officers to give an opinion on it, or the agenda item it should relate to. It is all the more alarming that the resident making the statement - and winning instant councillor support - is an Alderman and a party colleague of the two Stockwood councillors."

This brought a heated, but wholly unconvincing, response from the councillors involved.

Cllr Jay Jethwa (who'd spent much of the previous 48 hrs calling a fellow councillor a liar) complained that my remarks were 'personal'

Cllr David Morris attempted an explanation to exonerate him: his original bid for yellow lines was at the request of another resident, but it wouldn't be considered anyway because that area's not in the Traffic Dept's programme, so reversing the decision wasn't necessary.

Their LibDem counterpart from Hengrove, Cllr Jos Clark, said the Minute must be right, because the minuting officer is good at his job.

None claimed that the decision had been made openly, or even attempted (given the Morris version) to explain why they'd bothered to take it. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no members of the public there who'd been at the previous meeting (that must say something...) so no-one else could challenge the written record.

The police intervened in the shape of Insp. Colin Salmon, who knocked our heads together (coppers can still do that, as long as they do it metaphorically). He suggested a simple word change ('could' for 'would') in the Minute that should make everyone happy. But the councillors wouldn't even make that concession. The official record remains intact. They took an unnecessary decision that no-one else saw, outside the agenda of the meeting, and which just happened to do a favour to a party friend.

So the charge remains. Until we know better, this was a blatant bid to give Neighbourhood Puppetship authority to a councillors' uniquely generous treatment of a party colleague.

Just One Songsheet for the Neighbourhood Partnerships

This round of the quarterly Neighbourhood Partnership meetings all have a couple of things in common.

One's that the agenda is virtually identical for each. What we can talk about has been decided by unnamed people at the council house, not by the neighbourhood, not even by the ward councillors.

The other's that the 'Public Forum' has been quietly dropped. No announcement, no explanation, no source; it just ain't there - whatever the NP constitution might say to the contrary.

I became one of the first victims of this remarkable turnaround at the Hengrove and Stockwood NP meeting this evening. I'd filed a 'Public Statement' a week or two back, offering suggestions for getting residents more involved and citing some of the things we'd been getting wrong so far. Bits of it were contentious, with suggestions of abuse of power and cronyism. So instead of the Statement, I had to bring that bit up as a challenge to the accuracy of the last meetings minutes.... but I'll save that side of it for another post.

Anyway, I wasn't allowed to present my statement. After prolonged exchanges, I did get a promise that it will be included in the minutes, and so be part of the public record; but it'll be the last one.

No more public statements, no more public forum. Who knows whose idea that was, but, well, that's democracy, Bristol fashion.

............

Later in the same meeting, we, like every other NP, were asked to form an 'environmental subgroup' to advise on local aspects of several council services.

I'm glad to say we went a little bit further, settling for separate groups for each ward, a real effort to publicise it and recruit members, and to invite wider public participation through the medium of the internet. Most of this was on the lines of what I'd suggested.

So watch this space. Somehow, stay optimistic.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A (subversive) Journey

Next time you're in a bookshop....
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=150746811621277

Have Railcard, will travel

'Walk-on' fares for travelling any distance may make rail travel look prohibitively expensive - but there are some crazy bargains to be had, especially with a railcard. We've been doing our best to take advantage of them.

A trip back from Tenby yesterday at £3.95; a three-train odyssey from deepest Eskdale, in the North Yorks Moors, to Kings Cross (with a nostalgic walk up Roseberry Topping on the way) was a mere £7.95.

Take one Great Western train to Penzance, but buy separate tickets for the Exeter, Plymouth, and Penzance legs, and you can have a those last couple of hours in first class luxury through Cornwall for £3.95 until you sweep past St Michaels Mount (travel on to Lands End with a bus pass if you wish!) - skinflints can save another couple of quid by slumming it in second class.

For the north-west, a trip through Newport and up through the Marches gets you to Manchester more cheaply, comfortably, and probably better tempered than the orthodox Cross-Country route in a packed Voyager train. A separate ticket gets you to the Lakes for little more.

But one of the best bargains is the most local - and you don't have to buy in advance. Temple Meads to Severn Beach, £1.50 day return. Loads to look at on the way, too.

I'm not sure that we deserve all these age concessions. Chris Mullin mentions in his diaries how, after a late session in the House of Commons he, other MPs and a Lord or two would get the late bus from Victoria Street, along with one of the waiters who'd worked a late shift in the House. Only the waiter paid his own fare.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Another stone from the blue glass house

Stockwood's Cllr Jay Jethwa has tabled some party-politicking questions for next Tuesday's council meeting. They suggest that the LibDem administration has gone out of its way to protect its own council wards, when choosing which open green spaces to put up for sale to fund the Parks and Green Space Strategy.

If true, that would be very serious malpractice. But it looks much more like Jay's convenient political interpretation of what some of us had forecast long since. Wasn't it inevitable that sites for sale would be identified in outer, poorer, areas, to fund a strategy that largely benefits the wealthier wards of the city - which do tend to elect LibDem, or Tory, councillors? Jay and her fellow Tories chose to ignore that obvious fact when they welcomed the PGSS strategy a couple of years ago, so it's a bit late to play party games with it now. She also conveniently ignores wards like our neighbours in LibDem-held Hengrove, which is every bit as threatened by land sales as we are in Stockwood.

So try again, Jay. But remember that blue glass house that you're in. Remember how your minority group held the Labour group to ransom a couple of years ago (same time as you approved the land sale policy in the PGSS)? Your blessing for their entire city budget was conditional on including £215K on play parks - exclusively in Tory wards. That really set the standard for party self-interest.

[Good grief! That's the second time I've defended the LibDems against Tory attack! Why don't they do it themselves?]

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Defending our green spaces

On Tuesday 7th September - an hour before the council meeting - there's a photocall outside the council house for all Bristolians who don't want the city's precious green spaces sold off. Gather by 5pm, bring a placard if you can! And spread the word!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Good News from First (honest!)

The new 54 timetable, now in force, shows a later last bus home to Stockwood on a Sunday night - leaving the Centre at 11.19. That brings it into line with the rest of the week. What's more, the journey isn't being subsidised by the council.

Last buses are generally well patronised, but most are still subsidised - you have to wonder why.....

Anyway, no need to leave the Old Duke Jazz festival early this weekend!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The blue glass house in Stockwood

Jay Jethwa's Evening Post attack on LibDem councillors relied on an appeal for transparency and integrity in public life. It was motherhood and apple-pie stuff. But before we get any more calls for democracy to be seen to be done, our two Stockwood councillors should look very much closer to home.

The Hengrove and Stockwood Neighbourhood Partnership meeting in June was horribly chaotic, but otherwise seemed unremarkable. Once again, it was hard after the event to work out quite what (if anything) had been agreed by whom, and if so, just who was going to put it into practice. The only sure thing was that the residents wouldn't play much part in it.



The meeting kicked off with a couple of Public Forum statements, one of which dealt with that topic that should make every councillor run for cover - residential on-street parking. A local whose house fronts both the busy West Town Lane and the quieter Imperial Road (pictured) put his case against imposing parking restrictions at that corner, claiming they were unnecessary. So far, so good.

The norm for Public Forum statements is that they're received and passed to the relevant councillor or officer. There's no debate, no immediate response. Officers might know a bit about the issue - but aren't invited to explain. The meeting moved straight on to the next item. As it should.

The Minutes of the meeting tell a different story:
"A Public Forum Statement was received from Colin Williams concerning a proposal to install yellow lines at the West Town Lane/Imperial Road Junction. It was agreed that this scheme should not be proceeded with."

Eh?

OK, I know that it's the councillors who make the spending decisions, but isn't the whole idea of the Neighbourhood Partnership to sound out local opinion, to weigh up the pros and the cons, and reach a decision in public ? Uniquely, this one individual's public forum statement was taken as doing the job - though it certainly wasn't apparent at the time.

Hmmm.... demonstrable integrity, with decisions being taken openly, after due debate and without undue influence..... ??

Far from it. Here were our two Tory ward councillors (David Morris in the Chair, plus Jay), and one of the LibDems from Hengrove, cutting some highly unorthodox corners.

Could it be because the 'public forum statement' that triggered it came from an ex-Tory councillor, now an Alderman of this city, who didn't fancy having double yellows on his doorstep?

Jay Jethwa is throwing stones from a particularly fragile glass house.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Expurgated !

There's a letter of mine in the Evening Post today. Well, part of it, anyway. It's been edited down, which is fair enough (though it would be far more honest if they marked each letter that's been cut, so readers know they're not looking at the original). What's more, they always seem to cut the best lines!

Have blog, will publish. Here is the original; the bits in bold never made it past the BEP editors.

" It's disappointing to see Stockwood councillor Jay Jethwa (August 5) condemn those councillors who decided, on the evidence, that the Sainsbury's superstore should not be permitted at Ashton Gate.  There is no reason for her to imply that party pressure was put on those councillors; after all, the LibDems have been as transparently pro-stadium as Tony Blair was pro-war.  Presumably Jay writes because, like all councillors, she's been targetted by the club's campaign to get fans to put pressure on individual members.

Jay might have been better advised to challenge the Cabinet decision to hand the club £5 million of land in an unsecured deal, in exchange for 'community benefits' spread over 30 years. 

Members of all parties, including her own, who scrutinised the sale advised against such a high-risk comitment of public assets to a very shaky business.  Jay's Tory instincts should have warned her against such extravagance with the public purse. Above all, her commitment to her Stockwood ward should have alerted her to the fact that every handout to the club, whether as land, as planning concessions (that's another £3.2 million plus), or as an inappropriate planning permission, must be recouped by squeezing wards like hers even harder. 

The 'affordable housing' that Steve Lansdown won't now have to provide at Moorelands will have to go disproportionately somewhere else.  The cash that should have come to the council from the Ashton land sales will have to be found by selling off land, or cutting services, somewhere else. Stockwood seems especially vulnerable.  And the changed traffic and cash flows caused by such a big superstore would have repercussions throughout South Bristol and beyond.

In short, however much we'd like a new Bristol City stadium, there are limits to the public risks and sacrifices that should be made to get it, especially in a time of savage cuts. 

Pete Goodwin
Green Party, Stockwood "

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Temple Meads - a way out

Before the developers pulled the plug on the first choice Bristol Arena site, saying the money just wasn't available, it was already clear that the old Temple Meads diesel depot would, in spite of its central position, be very difficult to reach.

It's an 'island' site, bordered by railways, the tidal River Avon, and the elevated A4 Bath Road. The only road access is the service approach from the west side of Bath Road, twisting back under the A4 alongside the rail line to the train service depot. Despite the proximity of Temple Meads, any pedestrian link between station and arena appeared long and tortuous, probably involving new river bridges and a new eastern station entrance from Cattle Market Road. No bad thing - but it wouldn't come cheap.

Except that there's already a bridge. A massive bridge, carrying the station itself over Cattle Market Road and the Avon. And between Platform 15 and the Arena site, there's just one track in the way, generally used by trains heading between Paddington and Weston, or beyond.

Here, at least, it would be very easy to provide direct level access from Platform 15 to the site - the ideal for any venue that attracts visitors from outside Bristol.

All it needs is to swap the tracks either side of the London platforms, so that Platform 15 becomes the the terminal platform and Platform 13 takes the through trains. Operationally, it's exactly the same. In signalling terms, it needs negligible change.

Maybe this has got a future as a site for an Arena, an Exhibition or Conference Centre, or even a car-free housing development. At the moment, it holds little other promise.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Politics, Pacts, and Pothole Pointers

In the May elections for a Stockwood councillor, I was trounced by all three other parties - particularly disappointing as I'd been runner up the time before. I put it down to the country's obsession with the Leadership Debates (remember them?) and the fleeting epidemic of Cleggmania.

In Michael Goulden, the LibDems had a local candidate this time, and I'm glad to see that he's now blogging too. If only our councillors did the same. I suggested that we exchange links ("you show mine and I'll show yours") but he declined. Proper politicians don't do that sort of thing. But just this once, I'll provide the link anyway.

Michael must have been encouraged by his vote in May, because he's evidently been to the LibDem Focus Academy, and successfully completed their foundation 'Pointing at Potholes' module. It's been the launchpad for many a successful political career.


The chosen pothole is a Co-op pothole, so Michael's clearly stolen a march on Labour to claim it as his own. Anyway, it's in the run-down area behind the Hollway Road shops, and he assures us that "The Lib Dems are acting on this appalling, dangerous, unsightly mess"

On the afternoon of Monday 16th August, this appalling, dangerous, unsightly mess is due to be cleaned up by a team from Community Payback. It's prompted by the Stockwood Neighbourhood Forum (previously PACT), where residents prioritised the shopping centre for urgent attention.

Question is, which party will claim the credit?

The Neighbourhood Forum itself meets on August 12 at the Christ the Servant Church, to hear what's been done so far and to look at future priorities.