Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Mo Mowlam

Maybe I'll watch this evening's Channel 4 biopic about Mo

For a long while we lived in Mo's Redcar constituency. Even had we not been active politically, we would have got to know and like her, because my in-laws were lifetime Labour Party loyalists, and - though they came late to Redcar and were never really part of the political scene there - Mo had a lot of time for them personally, and often visited, sometimes with her Mum in tow.

We first met Mo, though, on one of Greenpeace's annual 'Whale Walks' - a fundraising ramble that took us (with Mo quite inappropriately dressed because she was going on to some party committee meeting) slipping and sliding up the steep flanks of Eston Nab to the magnificent viewpoint at the top, with its vista of Tees Bay and the vast industrial complexes on its shores, countered by the view south to Rosebery Topping and the North Yorkshire Moors.

Later, we'd meet Mo 'on business' from time to time about local campaign issues, and she'd always be ready to give considered advice about how best to take things forward, while still shrewd enough not to make too many commitments herself!

She lived in an unassuming terrace house at the steelworks end of the seafront - it was probably visible in the wartime Dunquerque scenes in Atonement. That's where we first saw routinely armed police in Redcar, thanks to her status as Northern Ireland Minister. Their protection was withdrawn not long after she was removed from that job, although she was still clearly a terrorist target, and it was generally thought that Tony Blair was behind the move. After all, at Conference her ovation had been bigger than his ovation.

The seafront house was also where we went to one of Mo's parties, mostly with local Labour Party members; one of them was quite shocked to see us there and whispered a warning to Mo that she had Green Party people in the house! Party politics, eh?

With Mo, what you saw was what you got. Her style was fresh, unstuffy, informal, good-humoured. When my father in law, by then widowed, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and confined to bed, Mo would still call in, unsolicited, from time to time to spend half an hour with him. A spontaneous personal call by a Cabinet Minister (and a really nice one at that, which must narrow the field a bit). He loved it!

On balance I don't think I'll watch the biopic - Julie Walters notwithstanding.

Monday, 25 January 2010

How Bristol has benefited from being a European Green Capital finalist

For anyone feeling in need of a boost after reading that last piece... here's a jolly pick-you-up.


Seven years ago, our Local Transport Plan set out a vision - and minimum targets - for the kind of bus services the city should expect by this year. 98% of Bristol's residents should live within 400 metres of a bus stop that offers at least four buses an hour (daytime) to the city centre, which they would reach within 25 minutes.

Then came the Utopian vision of Bus Rapid Transit. Modern vehicles, limited stops, quick boarding, dedicated lanes.

The very latest BRT scheme, the nominally 'green' part of the South Bristol Link, was up for scrutiny by West of England councillors on Thursday.

The map (click to enlarge) shows where it goes, Hengrove to Long Ashton Park and Ride. It's intended that the BRT units would continue their circuitous route from there, swinging sharp right toward the city centre. Whether they'd complete the whole route via Temple Meads to the Centre in 25 minutes is anybody's guess, I can't find any predictions - but the route is about three times longer than a direct line would take it.

I've added red circles to the map to show how much of South Bristol comes within about 400 metres of one of the stops. And how much doesn't. That, along with the meandering route and the expected service frequency of a bus every 18 minutes, might explain why consultants who looked at the scheme earlier in 2009 considered it just wasn't justified.

Most of the scrutinising councillors agreed that the plans were seriously lacking, forcing Bristol's Steve Comer into a desperate and embarrassing bid to praise both road and BRT elements of the SBL, in contrast to his LibDem colleagues from S. Glos and BaNES.

Steve told us what a blessing the road would be for people like him driving from the east of the city out toward the airport - inadvertently confirming that the road isn't really there to serve the regeneration of south Bristol, but to bypass it. Then he went on to suggest that the proposed 18 minute bus frequency would be fine, because timekeeping would be so good during the day you'd need wait by the roadside for no more than that for your super-duper modern transit vehicle to whisk you into the centre. He didn't announce his own intention to use it, though. And who would, given its narrow catchment strip and the instant availability of a spanking new road alongside?

The Scrutiny Committee did not give the scheme the unequivocal welcome that the promoters must have wished. Instead, they recommended that the decision makers (Jon Rogers and the other three Transport Executive Members) should seek - and share - further information about its pros and cons before any bid goes in for government funds. (Remember, it's not free - the local authorities must bear 10% of the cost plus any cost overruns).

Right now, the evidence to justify the South Bristol Link simply hasn't been produced, and there's a whole lot of evidence to weigh against it.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Democracy and the Power of RECALL

OK, I can't see any immediate need for it in Stockwood. No matter what happens in the May elections, there's no reason to think we won't have decent councillors representing the ward.

Such things do happen, though. When, for instance, a councillor's personal circumstances change radically, making the job impossible to carry out. Or because their conduct gets that bit too outrageous for their voters to put up with . They've still got a four year mandate and everything that goes with it, and no-one can do anything about it.

So it's a pleasure to be associated with the Greens' newly stated commitment to the principle of 'recall' of any councillors who, for one reason or another, are thought unfit to serve.

Not that it would (or should) be easy to dislodge a sitting councillor. First it would need one or more electors raising a petition that calls for the member to stand down and gives reasons. Then they'd have six months to get close on 2000 other electors to sign it, and volunteer the final petition for checking by an independent scrutineer, all at their own expense. These safeguards have to be there to discourage 'party games' - malicious or frivolous political ploys to change the balance of the council.

Once past these obstacles, (and assuming of course that the councillor honoured their promise) it would trigger a by-election. Even then there's nothing to stop the deposed councillor standing again if brave enough!

All the Green Party candidates in the May elections, me included, will be making a voluntary 'recall' commitment. Although the other parties on the council knocked the idea on the head back in July, we hope that their candidates will follow the Green example with the same public commitment to the electors.

Saltwell Valley

The history's a mystery! Only reference I've yet found to salt wells is a mention of the Salt Well spring, just south of Whitchurch close by the A37. So maybe the brook should be known as the Saltwell brook. Old maps don't name it, though, and modern ones just suggest that it's the upstream section of the Brislington Brook.

The council (through its overstretched Wildlife Officer) is hoping to arrange some work here during what's left of the winter, to protect the 'neutral grassland' to the south and east of the brook against further scrub encroachment. This means cutting back the brambles, blackthorn etc.

Apparently the neutral grassland is the main value of this SNCI. The tussocks are anthills, and are valued as an indicator of the sites history, i.e. it hasn't been cultivated for a long time. They also serve as a food source for various insectivorous species. Really it needs light grazing to keep it in condition - not by cows, which would trample it, but by sheep, goats, or even a dexter herd. However, graziers are increasingly rare.

All of which adds yet another dimension to the future enjoyment of this attractive valley.

It's already finding plenty of informal uses: play, exploration, dog-walking, and recently tobogganing.

Cycling City are planning to add interpretive boards, seats, etc, at the top of the bank by the railway path. They're also preparing plans for a new cycle path dropping from the Whitchurch Railway Path into the valley, then under the viaduct, and on to Whitchurch Park.

The Area Green Space Plan, due out in July, could suggest more investment to improve access and public amenity. (That in turn could provide a through link from the Stockwood side through to Wells Road and Gilda Parade). All in all, we can expect a few changes here.

If grazing's compatible with nature conservation, why not see the site as a potential local food project too, teaching livestock care and management? It could complement similar habitat around the Craydon Road entrance to the railway path.

Although that, of course, could provoke more Tory '#kerryout' twitters about Bristol East being all Mogadishu and goat curry.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Biomass and the Bristol Channel

picture from the geographs site, © Copyright David Baird and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

At Arnolfini there's a curious 'exhibit' in the main ground floor
hall, or 'Situation Room' about Climate Stability and
Technology Change. It's there till 17th Jan.

It starts with a perspective of the planet as a series of ocean
basins radiating out from the Antarctic, and looks at how
marine biomass can be encouraged to provide energy (as
methane), nutrients, and an absorber of toxins.

There's video of a particular project, now being carried out off the mouth
of the Tees, in encouraging the growth of laminaria (kelp). The
suggestion is that the Bristol Channel might provide an
excellent site for kelp farming.

click on pic to enlarge

My instincts are to oppose such a position, as an unacceptable
abuse of the natural environment. But given that the same
coastal waters are being lined up to accommodate new nuclear power
stations, perhaps a huge concrete barrage, and extensive wind
farms, not to mention onshore power plants fuelled by biomass
shipped in from Indonesian rainforests, kelp begins to look very attractive!


Belatedly joining the multitude of blog entries about grit - not least because this was the day the three bins on our bit of hillside were at last filled up, and (not to be outdone by Jon Rogers and Chris Hutt's efforts in Clifton), we promptly raided one to spread over the well-tramped, compacted snow steps.

Just as when clearing litter from paths, some passers-by ignore you completely; some thank you effusively; and others seem a bit perplexed that anyone could be doing such a thing without payment - though they too are appreciative.

Since it's unrealistic - impossible, even - to expect 'them', i.e. the council, to clear all the paths, it's not going to get done without a bit of local effort. Really, this work should be recognised in some way. But it's the kind of effort - like so many bits of unpaid voluntary work - that doesn't lend itself to the traditional employer/employee system, or to negotiated pay-per-job. So no money changes hands. The council plays a key part by distributing the grit in the first place (if you're lucky), or, for organised litter-picks, by providing protective gear and a collection service.

I wonder whether LETS - a Local Exchange and Trading System - has some role to play here, with the council (or conceivably a Neighbourhood Partnership) as one of the parties to a 'trade'. Possibly it could be with the individual volunteer, but more likely with a group such as a local club or society. Payment might be in a local currency, or in units of time, or in direct provision of services.

It's the sort of thing that could thrive in a well developed local economy, as skills and resources are shared more freely - and all the more so if there are harsh cutbacks that the party leaders are promising.

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Bristol East Tweet War

A particularly vitriolic campaign been been launched today by prominent Tories to replace Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy with the aspiring conservative Adeela Shafi. The LibDems appear to have been taken in, and want to clamber aboard.

What singles this campaign out from both the local and the national party sparring (increasingly irrelevant to most of us, given that there's next to nothing to choose between them) is its personally vindictive nature and its very dodgy relationship to electoral law.

Kerry McCarthy makes no secret of her passion for blogging and twittering, and we know from her record that she's the compleat Labour loyalist. Many of us would like to see a better MP representing Bristol East. But if she's to be challenged, let it be on performance and policy. By contrast, this new campaign appears to have been sparked by tweeter Kerry 'blocking' responses from senior Tory twitterer and blogger Iain Dale. Big deal. Result... the #KerryOut campaign hosted by Dale's fellow blogger Harry Cole

Back in the dark days of Southville 2007, something similar happened. The issue was more serious than a tantrum over the loss of a tweet ration, it was a privatisation of the council's Home Care service, and the third party was the T&G union. The T&G distributed (highly misleading) leaflets in Southville with the slogan "Don't Vote Green" (in other wards, where the fight was between Labour and LibDem, the same leaflet bore the slogan "Don't Vote LibDem"). Southville's Green candidate Tess Green was defeated by a mere 6 votes by Labour. Labour and the T&G got away with it because, apparently, it's OK for a third party to campaign AGAINST a candidate, provided the electorate isn't urged to vote for a particular rival. The case law is based on a key decision (R v BOWMAN 1998) where a 'pro-life' campaigner put her energy - and money - into opposing particular pro-abortion candidates. By no means the same thing as the T&G got up to, but enough to make litigation an unacceptable risk!

In an attempt to avoid a similar charge, the #KerryOut campaign claims to be "not officially endorsed by Adeela Shafi and completely independent of the Conservative Party machine". You don't have to look far to find what it's really about, though. Click the 'Donate' button, and you're taken straight to a site appealing for cash and help for the Tory cause in Bristol East. Not the Green candidate, not the LibDem. This is campaigning by a third party to secure the election of a particular candidate.

I HOPE the conservative candidate will show the wisdom and the courage to persuade these 'supporters' to pull their vicious campaign, which at best will serve only to put ordinary people off the whole business of politics, politicians, and elections.

I feel sure that the Green Party candidate, Glenn Vowles, will keep well away from any association with the #KerryOut campaign. But it's easy for him... he's got a set of sane and distinctive policies to offer the voters that mark him out from Labour, Tory, and LibDem.

Course, I would say that ......

Finally, a sign of real Tory principles re-emerging? The 'green tree' is the logo under which they've been disguising themselves as green progressives. The Union Flag one (unless that's a plastic bag caught up in the tree) is the new one, to appeal to activists... it comes from the official '' site.