[Don't bother with this one unless you're in Stockwood or Hengrove - or frustrated with your own Neighbourhood Partnership]
Our Neighbourhood Partnership shows no real sign of doing what it says on the tin. The problem seems to be a disabling constitution, and little real enthusiasm from the ward councillors to turn it into an effective participative body. I can't be the only one who came away on Tuesday wondering what had been achieved, other than agreeing officers recommendations for minor highway works.
The big issue that brought most residents to this Hengrove and Stockwood NP meeting was the proposal to sell off council land for development - especially the green space bordering woodlands at the Coots.
However, none of that was on the agenda as a discussion or decision item. There was a tacit acknowledgement that the NP is invited to respond to the consultation, but in the end there was no debate, let alone agreement, about how that response could be developed.
Likewise, an invitation to bid for £3K for an 'Older Peoples' Health and Wellbeing Project' brought only a half-commitment to contact organisations who might come up with ideas - but no structure or timetable to take it forward.
Problems around the Hollway Road shops were passed back to the NP by Insp. Colin Salmon, with a promise to respond to whatever the NP might consider the priorities for the area. Again, we left without knowing who's doing what.
Oddly, a 'statement' from neighbours of the Hollway shops recycling point, complaining of overflows, noise, and flytipping and calling for its removal, appeared to be accepted by the Stockwood councillors. Does this mean they'll support it, as the view of the Neighbourhood Partnership? Why ever didn't they simply suggest that the plastics bin be replaced with one that's big enough to cope with the demand? No debate, though.
And the future of Stockwood Green School buildings, the top issue at the last meeting, didn't get a mention this time.
I reckon the problems aren't insoluble.
Let's have more participative discussion and clear decisions. Residents should be able to table topics and questions prior to a meeting, and expect them to be dealt with or to be given a good reason why not. And there has to be some ongoing activity (project groups?) in between the quarterly meetings.
Councillors and residents stress the divide between what are two disparate neighbourhoods, Hengrove and Stockwood. Already there's a working principle that spending gets split down the middle; actual need doesn't come into it. So Andy Schuman's suggestion that single-ward meetings would be better made a lot of sense. He got nowhere, though, on the grounds that the constitution doesn't allow it. I don't think that's true; the only requirement is that spending decisions are made jointly by the councillors of both wards who are present. There's no reason why residents shouldn't meet dealing with ward issues and give recommendations to councillors, just as officers do; councillors could agree a default position of supporting the residents recommendations - or explaining why they choose not to.
We need a much clearer idea of who's who. We're supposed to have members appointed - either by ballot or nominated by the Neighbourhood Forum (the revamped PACT meeting). I rather think I am a member (though not through either of those routes) but I haven't a clue who else is.
We need a web presence, along with a web forum similar to the well established one in Brislington
Lets hope that the council's appointment of Gemma Dando as our new co-ordinator (shared between ourselves and Bris, from July 1st) will help push things forward. But nothing will happen without a more innovative approach from our elected councillors.
If it's to work, it has to be more than 'just another meeting'. Right now, it's a waste of space.