Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Green Spaces - and the dark side of party politics

Soon after the council's plans to sell off bits of our green spaces were announced, Stockwood's LibDem candidate in the last election wrote to the other parties (including me, as his opposite number in the Green Party) to suggest that we link up in all-party (therefore no-party) opposition to it. Seemed like a good idea to me, and I said so - but it didn't have the same appeal for the Labour party, nor, more importantly, for either of our two current councillors, both of them Tories. So I'm sorry to say that a Stockwood all party consensus is a non-starter - even if we all feel the same!

There is, though, a heavy whiff of hypocrisy in the air. Selling land is a vital element of the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, welcomed by LibDems, Tories, and Labour alike a couple of years ago. They all voted for it. And if they didn't see it coming, it's because they didn't listen to the Green Party, who pointed out at the time that selling the family silver is neither sustainable nor desirable.

I shall sign the petition being raised by our Tory councillors against selling off open green spaces as development sites, because it is as bad a policy now as it was when they voted it through. But I feel angry that they're now making party political capital out of opposing something that they both voted for in the first place.

As for the LibDems, equally responsible for the sell-off strategy, their leadership seems quite happy to hand over publicly owned land to the off-shore owner of the football club, virtually for free, while it sells off our green space here to offset some of the deep public service cuts it's making (and to employ a parkie or two elsewhere).


Paul/ Bemmy Down said...

Hi Pete
Selling off Council land in exchange for community facilities. So who are this community? Is it just the people of Ashton and Ashton Vale who will be affected by the stadium or all of us here in South Bristol? Or should it not be everyone who lives within the city as we are all owners of the "give away"land. Has this been made clear because I don't know? Has anyone asked this community if they will use the facilities, and what happens if they don't? And what if the "proper"price for using the gym is not as much as stated, will the use go on beyond 30 years? And finally, is it now official LIB/Dem policy to sell public land to private companies and let them pay on the "never-never"? Afterall we don't need the cash do we!

Stockwood Pete said...

Hi Paul
When the Cabinet authorised the land transfers last week, a few people presented statements spelling out exactly why they were being grossly irresponsible, undervaluing public assets. Two of us said that the real test of value of the 'community besnefits' - subsidised gym places, room 'naming rights' and so on - is whether they would actually buy them for cash if there was no land to trade off.

In what passed for 'debate' (the decision having been taken beforehand, so no cracks in Cabinet solidarity would be exposed), it became clear that it's not the 'community benefits' that they're valuing, it's the perceived prestige for the city that comes with a new stadium and, perhaps, an Arena.

I suspect that the lawful justification for that approach would be to classify Lansdown's stadium as a 'public wellbeing' benefit. Which stretches credulity quite a bit, if you set it against all the cuts they're going to have to make to serious services.

Paul/ Bemmy Down said...

Hi Pete.
If what you say is true, then why not be straight with the public? Is it because they have the leaders of the other party's on side, so they know they can get away with it, or is it questionable practice? What if the houses (not affordable) are built but not the stadium. Do we get our money back? At a time when Ms. Janke is calling for public involvment in "cuts" decisions and they are planning to sell off parks and green spaces this is a public relations disaster waiting to happen!

BrizboiLD said...

Hi Peter & Paul

The selling off of green space was introduced by Bristol's then ruling Labour party early 2008, (Pete's link "pointed out at the time" overleaf refers), The Lib Dems are now in control of the Council & it's out to public consultation which ends 29th Oct 10 link area 14 Hengrove & Stockwood. I am opposed to some ideas and will remain so, whilst others will have less environmental impact. I put forward the consensus idea to Stockwood's local politicians, Pete agreed immediately, Labour failed to reply, (no surprise there!) & we now know our two Tory Councillors having voted in favour, are whipping up public opposition by way of a Petition, hypocrisy indeed!

As a Footie fan & in favour of the England World cup bid & Bristol's backing to bring matches here, if it's dependant on the bulding of a new stadium, we must look at the most environmentally friendly option. The decision is in the process of some fearsome negotation by the looks of it!

Michael Goulden (last years & next years Lib Dem Candidate for Stockwood)

Stockwood Pete said...


They did give assurances that the land transfer only goes ahead if the stadium is built, though quite how they build that in to the legal framework is beyond me. I'd have thought the club would want to make the most of the acquired land even before the stadium is started, as they claim that the development value of that land is to finance the stadium construction. Still, I'm not a property trader, much less a gambler in futures markets....

What the Cabinet didn't do was to get a charge put on the club so that if it should go out of business, the council has first call on its assets. That's what had been recommended by the Scrutiny Commission, with members of all parties backing John Goulandris's (legal) opinion that it was an essential safeguard. But at Cabinet, officers told members that it couldn't be done - there are already lenders who have that first claim on the club's assets.

The webcast should confirm all that - if you've the stomach for it!

Stockwood Pete said...

Hi Michael

Thanks for risking commenting on here! I wish our councillors would.

I know you didn't personally set up the land sale strategy - but your party set it up initially, Labour enacted it with support from LibDems and Tories, and now of course lots of councillors (like the LibDems in Hengrove, for instance) are weeping crocodile tears at seeing green spaces threatened.

The giveaway of public land, with benefit of special planning concessions, to the tax fugitive Steve Lansdown is solely down to our LibDem cabinet, though.

The Bristol Blogger said...

"The football creditors rule" means it's impossible for such a charge to be put on our public investment in BCFC.

This rule ensures that deserving cases - or "football creditors" - such as players and agents must be paid in full first.

Local authorities would come way down the list of any creditors.

This, of course, makes any local authority investment or interest in a football club extremely high risk.

So risky, in fact, that it shouldn't be done in any circumstances.

I wonder if the senior officer class and the cabinet have taken any independent advice on this?

Or are they taking Alun Owen's word on all this? (And I bet he wouldn't put his own money into such a rank deal)

Stockwood Pete said...

I'd never heard of that rule, BB; I suppose it might be justified if the playing staff are low(ish) paid, like normal employees, but not at the upper end of football. Does it come from case law?

Officers did tell the Cabinet that "This risk is mitigated by a legal charge against the value of unperformed community benefits. NB – this charge will not be highest ranked in priority so its value may be limited in the event of an insolvency, although it would place the council ahead of unsecured lenders".

It seems that the club had already lined up other lenders and promised them first bite at any remaining cherries if the club goes bust. Why should it make a similar offer to a city council that's falling over itself to help the club out with land, with relaxed permissions etc.?

Paul/Bemmy Down said...

Hi Pete
I will save the Webcast for another time so rely upon you! Did they explain why there was no consultation. It seems there are consultations on many "narrow" issues, but when it comes to something that sets a precedent in paying for council owned assets, we don't get a say. Quite bazaar. This ranks alongside saying "we will protect the Greenbelt" whilst at the same time telling the local tv news that we intend building an arena on it. Me thinks, they think, we stupid!