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!


Cllr Mark Wright said...

Hi Pete. I know you like to claim to be "above politics" and "point-scoring" and all that, but if you're going to be deliberately obtuse in order to score political points - as you obviously are here - then you cant credibly claim high ground.

I said at Cabinet that the Lib Dems and many other accepted long ago that "more roads = more traffic". I then made the point that you cant make the jump from that correct paradigm to saying: "and therefore we oppose all new roads" - and I used the example that new houses need new roads to reach them, and I do hope that even the Green Party accepts that we need a great many more houses.

The point about the sand (which again you deliberately omitted) was that the argument that a better public transport system is all that is needed is utterly wrong. There is a major problem in south Bristol for businesses and industry wanting to get the raw materials in and their completed products out. You cant take raw materials and completed products on public transport. That might sound obvious, but it is a point that you and other environmental campaigners who are against the road have never accepted and never even tried to answer.

I say again that I'm gutted that the long debate on exactly this that was on the Bristol Blogger site is now lost, because rehearsing this argument is a bit Ground-hog day...

Pete Goodwin said...


I understand what you're saying about my political point scoring - but that's at the heart of what this post was all about. The political culture of the council is being set not by the issues and arguments, but by the way different parties put their own interests and reputations first. The evidence was there at the Cabinet; the only thing that provoked a response was my comment that you're breaking with LibDem national policy. If (like Mike) I'd just stuck with making a coherent case against the Ring Road, I'd have got the usual polite 'thank you' and that would be it. You're reacting to the 'party' threat, not to the rational issue-based arguments.

I'd be the first to agree, though, that playing the 'party' card simply reinforces whatever position each party has already adopted. And that by quoting your verbal reactions in the Cabinet meeting is a little unfair; the impromptu spoken word often looks much sillier in print than it sounds on the day.

I'm a bit perplexed by your reference to "new houses need new roads to reach them, and I do hope that even the Green Party accepts that we need a great many more houses". Of course houses need road access, if only for emergency vehicles - but so far as I know this particular road is not giving access to houses. Unless you know better.

Whether we need 'a great many' more houses is a moot point. I can't help thinking that this is much more than a question of supply and demand and simple market forces. The big problem is having enough houses in the the right place at the right price, and links to the wider economy of job availability. The market is, in any case, horribly warped by the extremes of wealth in this country, and by the real fear of 'negative equity' - just look at the sub-prime mortgage crisis and its impacts on the economy. Add to that the assumptions of population change across counties and across borders, the dictates of central government, and a few more factors, and it gets much more complicated than just 'build more and the market will provide decent homes for all'.

Not that I know what the answer is....

Charlie Bolton said...

I suspect Mark W is losing the environmental arguments so is moving swiftly on to the economic ones.

Cllr Mark Wright said...

Pete: do you have a response on the need for businesses in SW Bristol to transport raw materials in and products out?

Charlie: It is because I believe that all arguments have both an economic angle and an environmental angle that I am a liberal and not a green.

Pete Goodwin said...

Mark, you ask me to respond (and I will) - but it should be reciprocated. I'd really like to know what the South Bristol Link highway has to do with 'new houses need new roads'.

You're asking me about "need for businesses in SW Bristol to transport raw materials in and products out?".

Well, they've always managed it up to now, what's changed?

The only change of circumstances that I see is Peak Oil; and, as your own officers have told you "Peak oil is currently not even considered as a risk for most businesses, yet its effects would make many of today’s business models redundant". A year or two ago the business lobby claimed that the lack of a South Bristol Link highway is a disincentive to business relocating to the area. They didn't, of course, say 'build it and we will come' - but that seems to be the way the authorities have taken it, despite all the evidence that it won't work.

I see that Tony Dyer's latest piece for Bristol 24/7 comments on the Ring Road and its potential impact on retail centres in South Bristol. It's worth a read if you want to be a serious candidate.

The Bristol Blogger said...

What industry do you have in mind for S Bristol Mark?

And why would they locate in the middle of S Bristol near a congested single carriageway rather than the much more convenient M4/M5 corridors?

Cllr Mark Wright said...

Pete, there is no link between SBL and 'new houses need new roads'. The 'new houses need new roads' line simply illustrates that an absolutist "no more roads" policy is absurd, because people wont even be able to get to their new front door.

On raw materials in and products out you say "they've always managed it up to now", but the point is exactly that they havent. Unless you count unemployment and deprivation as "managing". This is exactly why there is such a desert of jobs in anything other than retail in the southern arc, because the businesses wont come.

BB: Clearly the M4/M5 corridors have a significant advantage. The benefits the southern arc have are cheaper rent & rates and probably lower wages too as unemployment is higher there. Obviously I'd like to see higher wages, but these will be career jobs with prospects and still pay more than local retail.

At the same time the aim is that Hengrove Park will draw in more cutting edge industries that should have spin-offs to the area and actually put the place on the map. There are some very interesting business prospects brewing at Hengrove (that unfortunately wont fall into place and be confirmed until some time after the election, but that's life!)

Cllr Mark Wright said...

Re Tony's piece, it's good - I was talking with him about it today. To be honest I dont see people in SW Bristol driving all the way to Sainsbury's when they have an excellent Morrisons much nearer, and Asda not far too.