Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Public Forum Party Games

Over the years, I've used the public forum part of council meetings to ask many questions and make a few statements too. For the most part, it hasn't changed anything, except to put put things 'on record' that would be otherwise hidden. Statements are politely received then forgotten. Answers are carefully crafted to give nothing away.

It was a bit different at last week's Cabinet. The topic was the bid for the South Bristol Link (Road + BRT), which they were about to nod through. Knowing that nothing I said about the rationale for the project would change anything at this late stage, I simply pointed out that new road building is contrary to Lib-Dem national policy.

For once, they seemed to listen, and I got an animated response.

Jon Rogers (who, I suspect, is quite embarrassed by having to push this particular project through) floundered a bit: "This is not road building, it is a link route, it is a Greater Bristol Bus link route, and although there is a road element within, it is clearly not just a road"

Hmmm... yes, a new road predicted to carry 1070 vehicles in the morning peak hour, compared with 200 passengers on the parallel bus rapid transit. If it looks like a road and it smells like a road.....

Jon went on to claim the 5-page 'eco-checklist' prepared for the meeting was enough to satisfy his party's expectation of environmental protection (although there are not yet any clear predictions of the wider traffic impacts of the scheme, )

We also got the repeated mantra that "This is not a Ring Road, absolutely fundamentally, it's not". Tell that to Steve Comer, who has told his Lib Dem colleagues how much easier it will be for him to drive from East Bristol to the Airport and beyond.

Mark Wright then weighed in, undermining Jon's case with a paean of praise for the road, and the traffic it would bring to South Bristol. Somewhat obscurely, he told us that you can't have new homes without new roads (possibly a coded reference to his ambitions for green belt development?) and that you can't take a six-ton sack of sand on a bus. Thanks, Mark.

No-one bothered to refute the case put in another statement from Mike Landen of the Alliance Against the Ring Road. But then Mike wasn't being 'political', he was just stating the reasons why the Link is a bad thing.

Then, of course, they voted to put in the bid.

Ironically, given the claims that the BRT element will provide access to the city centre and beyond for S. Bristol Residents, albeit by way of Ashton Gate (the scenic route?), the next item nodded through was the Hengrove to North Fringe bus rapid transit; which provides a far more direct and fast public transport link, making the South Bristol Link BRT redundant within minutes of being approved!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The wheels on the bus go round and round....

Except, of course, when it's standing at a bus stop, engine idling, a big capital investment doing nothing while drivers are obliged to collect a fare from everyone who boards.

Which makes the news of Bristol's own tentative venture into smart card fare payment systems more than welcome.

ULink, the UWE-operated services, have led the way in this; the innovative courage of their transport staff, and their ability to see their role in wider terms than short term operational profit, are something that the reactionary First bus companies should have taken on ages ago. After all, First runs on a vast scale, with near-monopoly in many towns and cities. For them, the potential benefits of switching to a more efficient fare collecting scheme are far greater than any development costs.

Not that Bristol's smart card trial is in itself going to speed the buses up much, it will simply show up any flaws in what's a very simple system. So far as I can see there's still a cash option on the buses, and every passenger will need to declare where they're going and be issued with a ticket, so that the right fare can be deducted from the card.

This is a million miles from the complexities, and the beautiful simplicity, of London's Oyster card. With that, you can pay-as-you-go (knowing there's a cap on the cost each day, however many trips you make), get a travelcard covering the zones of your choice for the period of your choice, or even an annual all-London bus pass (bit of a nightmare thought, that). You can buy it pretty much anywhere, including online. You can use it on the tube, the buses, the trams, and, these days, on suburban rail. And you won't hold everyone up while you get a ticket.

Of course London has a massive advantage over Bristol, in that it has TfL (Transport for London) commissioning most of the services, the rest being the 'heavy rail' train operating companies. We just have a sprinkling of small bus operators, two big bus operators (both owned by First) and the trains (almost all First Great Western, though Cross Country's Temple Meads - Parkway service shouldn't be forgotten.) Without a Greater Bristol Transport Authority (a prospect kicked well into the long grass by the dinosaurs of our neighbouring councils) trying to negotiate cross-modal, multi-operator ticketing with daily fare caps and period concessions will be a nightmare. After all, there's little sign of the three First companies talking to each other, let alone co-operating with any of the other players.

NB. Discovered in the course of writing this....
An annual bus and tram pass for the whole of London costs £664.
An annual bus pass for First services within the built up area of Bristol plus Keynsham costs £784.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Looks like the Tories got here before us.....

Sure enough, it wasn't long before more evidence of Conservative activity appeared. It was wedged in the ironwork that barred entry to a boarded-up house.

Is it global warming that's brought them out so early in the season? Or is it just a pending election?

Either way, it's time to bring out the Green Party's secret weapon.

The Pusher. Very low-tech, very green. Very good for protecting fingers against dogs lying silently in wait behind letterboxes, too (Charlie Bolton, read and note!).

Apparently 'In Touch' is the second Conservative broadsheet this year in Stockwood (though neither has been delivered to our house). The first one heavily featured their parliamentary candidate, Adeela Shafi. In this one, though, she's all but airbrushed out, which is strange, just before a general election. Instead, we're left with what looks like a spoof LibDem 'Focus' newsletter, with our two present councillors photographed at sites throughout the ward.

Unfortunately, nothing to tell us any detail of local conservative policy, nor even any mention of the election in six weeks time (does this mean that 'In Touch' is not an election expense?).

Fortunately, no examples of pointing at dog-dirt or grafitti. (Thinks.... maybe I should get myself pictured beside the bin that we successfully asked for on the brookside path. On second thoughts, no, it's surrounded by litter!)

Back home, there's another party news sheet waiting on the mat. They're getting nearly as regular as old clothes collecting bags - and with claims that deserve the same scepticism! This one's the 'East Bristol News', four big full colour pages, promoting Kerry McCarthy and her unstinting faith in everything New Labour . The opposite of 'In Touch', which never strays into the world outside the Stockwood boundary; this one's all national policy, without so much as a nod at local issues.

Looking through them, I think that our tiny Green Party effort is a model of clarity, honesty, and useful information. But I would say that....

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Chris Hutt

It is shocking and saddening to hear of the death of Chris Hutt, who has added so much to Bristol's current cycling and blogging scene - not least with his own Green Bristol Blog, and with his challenging comments on other blogs, including this one.

Chris was very much his own man, not frightened of controversy or even of ridicule, as when he dared to point out that the unofficial practice of using the Trenchard Street car park lifts to take a bike up a hill could actually be a recognised option that would encourage cycling. His contention that road space for residents parking should be considered a tradeable market commodity was provocative, but carefully thought out and argued.

I only actually met Chris once, when he spotted me taking photos at Prince Street Bridge and we fell into conversation. I didn't know till seeing the tributes today now just how much we owe to his efforts years ago to establish the Bristol Bath Railway Path, and his more recent involvement in a whole range of cycling events.

A great loss to this city.

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Green'un to hit the Stockwood streets

That rare thing, a slogan-free pre-election newsletter. This one's specially for Stockwood (and without any help from Belize). The full colour bells-and-whistles on-line version is here. The alternative high-cost copy (in mere black and white) is to go door to door within the next two or three weeks.

HELP !.. There are close on 4,500 letterboxes in Stockwood. Can you help get the Green'un into some of them? It really will be appreciated!

If you can, please ring Pete on 01275 543280 (or email stockwood[at] Thanks.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Buses in Space

Is there room for a major bus station on part of the Plot 6 development site at Temple Meads? The question was asked in a comment on a recent Bristol 24-7 article, and the answer is crucial to Green Party proposals to turn the city's transport problems around.

Here, I've taken screenshots from Google maps of four sites, all on the same scale, so that 'land take' can be compared

The questioner mentioned, in particular, the coaches using the present Marlborough Street bus station, but it's used by all the routes that extend beyond the built up area of the city.

The bus station has a tolerably comfortable and safe waiting area, an understaffed information/ticket office, and displays that owe more to the official printed timetables than to when buses might actually come. But that's by the by..... The apron also provides some'layover' space for buses not in immediate use. Passengers step pretty much out of the waiting room onto the bus (good), which has to reverse out of the bay (bad).

Next, Plot 6 at Temple Meads. Could that take Marlborough Street plus city buses?

Here, the long central roof is the Digby Wyatt shed, built to extend the Old Station but now just a car park. It would provide a concourse for the interchange, with ticketing, real time information, seating, catering etc. Buses would use the area immediately outside, the four rows of cars being a part of Plot 6. Beyond that there's Pipe Lane and the Friary, giving road access. There's also an option to use the main station approach ramp, as the 8 and 9 services do now. It's equally accessible from the Digby Wyatt shed.

London's Victoria Station is also a key bus/rail interchange, plus the tube and, a few hundred yards away, the coach station. Here, there's no real waiting area, just the bus shelters, and passengers have to cross bus lanes to reach their stops. The high service frequency makes real-time displays unnecessary. No need for reversing manoevres, and no boarding delays (prepaid tickets only) Buses flow through in one direction (left to right), taxis go mostly right to left!.

Middlesbrough's bus station serves the town centre, but not the rail station. It's different in it's horseshoe shaped, with passenger boarding points continuously along both inner and outer edges, all within easy reach of the main covered concourse at the centre of the horseshoe. The 'outer' bus path is ramped, rising to the right, so that passengers don't have to cross any tarmac (or go outside) to reach their buses. A very effective design, that would be more efficient with smart ticketting to encourage quick throughput. On the (semi-pedestrianised) road just north of the bus station, there's a cab rank visible.

So... does Plot 6 offer the extra capacity to provide a really good transport hub, served by all the key city and country buses and allowing bus/bus and bus/rail interchange in comfort and safety? I'm convinced that we could have something that's not only a showcase for modern transport, but actually works enough to bring a step change in the way people get round this city.

(Added 13/3/10) Stephen Petter's 2007 vision of a Temple Meads hub is worth a read.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


My friends, fighting the insidious spread of Tescos across the city, will be appalled at reading this, but I have to say it.

I am a Tesco shopper.

Somehow, I just drifted into the habit. Tescos is there, twenty minutes traffic-free walk, and much less by bike. Every time I step out of the front door, I can see the bright lights of Tescos, beckoning me in. If I feel the need for the Tesco experience at 2am, the store is there, ready to fulfil my needs.

They entice me with cheap organic food - putting it on the shelves just often enough to keep me coming back. They're so thoughtful, giving me special treatment - putting some of the veg I buy into special compostable bags, knowing that's what I want. They don't do that for ordinary shoppers. Thanks to my ClubCard, they know all about my shopping needs without me having to tell them.

Once in that warm cavernous interior, it's an escape from the harsh realities of the real world. No-one worries about the usual social obligations. People wander round, quite unaware of each other, raised into a different level of consciousness in which every want can be met.

Our Tesco Extra offers opportunities for personal growth and development that you just don't find in other shops. I'm just a novice, of course. I can't yet free myself of those irritating social conventions that say I mustn't trolley-block an aisle while enjoying a long mobile phone chat. I've not yet learned how to reach the trance-state of more experienced Tesco shoppers. Sometimes my pent up aggression is too much even for the multidisciplinary team of Tesco therapists to contain - but they hold out the promise that true enlightenment will one day come.

That promise is hard to resist. So I go on paying the money.

Yes, Tesco is addictive.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Small tortoiseshell

We weren't the only ones persuaded by today's sunshine to think it might actually be warm outside. This small tortoiseshell butterfly must have got the same feeling, emerging from hibernation early to sample the heather. I thought the photo, and the lifting of the spirits that goes with it, is worth sharing!

Everything you might want to know about small tortoiseshells here

Today's other photo, a close-up of lichen on a branch on the Open Space, will live for a while in the blog header.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Chips with Everything

I'd like to be able to commend Gary Hopkins' latest wheeze to reduce waste, apparently by rewarding those householders who reduce their 'black bin' waste. In principle it's fine. I can live with the idea that my black bin gets weighed; that's not nearly as intrusive as what Google has learned (and recorded) about me just as I research this short piece.

Still, Gary's notoriety as the man who would spy on you has spread quickly and widely. Locally (and inevitably) Labour's bruiser, John Bees, in the Post has taken the lead. Nationally, the Daily Mail has taken up the 'Town Hall Spies' theme, and further afield even the San Diego Union Tribune has a piece on the same lines.

All these, and many more, are sounding off without bothering to find out what is actually being applied for in Bristol. And Gary Hopkins is no help there, because in spite of claiming "we wanted local people to know what we were proposing before it was agreed" there's little in the council press release or website, or in the recycling press to tell us the details. All that's clear is that the trial is voluntary, measurement is done by microchipping the black bins, and (I think) that the rewards are based on waste reduction over time. It does seem better than the Maidenhead system, which rewards recycling (rather than actual waste reduction). The rewards are set low enough to make any serious abuse unlikely. Possibly the greatest reward for participants is to have their achievements logged on the web.

But from what little is being published, it has self-evident failings as a trial and as an incentive scheme.

The participants are self selecting. They're confident of winning rewards. They can start with full bins, and gradually reduce it to meet the targets, and collect their cheques. But - once those targets are reached, there's no incentive to keep it up. For for those who already throw little away, or for those who don't care, it's not made a blind bit of difference. For those who use their own bins to dispose of locally collected litter, it's a strong disincentive.

So what is all this going to prove, Gary? If you've thought it through and you really can see how this can lead to long term further reductions in household waste, please share your ideas with us. Else we might think it's all self-promotional hype.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Money as Debt

Once you get beyond the idea that money's solely a medium of exchange, the way the system works gets ever more unreal, with all the fine qualities of the Emperor's New Clothes.

It never made any sense to me that suddenly we're faced with recession, people are losing their jobs, essential services are cut back, and the rest, when the real world hasn't changed. We still have the same real assets, the biosphere that provides for us, the man made infrastructure, and knowledge and experience built up over millenia. But thanks to the unreal world of the financial houses, and the money system we use, it's all falling to pieces.

Next Thursday evening (7pm, 11th March), we'll be showing and discussing the film "Money as Debt" at the Green Party office, 17 Great George Street. Maybe that will bring some enlightenment! There's no charge (even in local currency) though donations will of course be welcome.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Clean and Green

In a couple of hours on Sunday, some 10 volunteers cleared this rubbish from a stretch of greenery on Sturminster Road, the brook, the steps, and the railway path. It included an ironing board, a garden swing, a couple of bikes, a buggy, loads of d-i-y stuff, and - of course - any amount of throwaway containers. First thing on Monday, SITA took it all away (probably to a Buckinghamshire landfill!). And everything looks good again.

All that was left was a couple of notices just to let the passers by know about it. They in turn disappeared within 36 hours, this one finding its way by some unseen hand into the brook.