Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Cycling City's land ambitions

Item 10 on the Cabinet's agenda on Thursday: to authorise compulsory purchase of land for Cycling City projects.

Two are for 'awkward bits' on the Bristol - Bath path. One (Berkely Place) is to widen the very narrow - and slightly threatening - stretch as you emerge from the Lawrence Hill overbridge. The other is to provide a short cut alongside the original Midland line just north of the waste transfer station, so that walkers and cyclists coming up from Temple Meads don't have to make the tortuous diversion around the Days Road amenity site. Both look pretty good to me.

The big one, though, is the 'Two Supermarkets' route, on National Route 3. Also known as the Callington Road Link, which now looks like it won't be turned into a motor road for years. It will take the cycle route directly along the old railway trackbed between Tesco Brislington and Sainsburys at Arnos Vale, passing under the Bath Road instead of that laborious crossing at Arnos Vale. Hooray! I hope they'll find intermediate access points, though.

All the CPOs are conditional on getting planning permission for the new route alignments first, so expect some delays there.

Maps in the appendices here (pdf)

Chris Martenson and Peak Oil

I went to hear Chris Martenson speaking at Colston Hall last night - thanks to a tip-off from Yorkshire that this was a part of his UK tour. It was (I found to my surprise) organised by the council - for an exclusive invited audience that probably wasn't quite so exclusive once I'd persuaded them to add my name.

A very good talk. He was stripping down his 'Crash Course' (a three and a half hour video seminar) to a 45 minute summary, so it helped to know a bit of the background. He was careful to deal solely in facts and he avoided emotive issues like climate change or population. The message is that a world in which everything from money to debt to consumption of energy and raw materials requires ever-increasing (exponential) growth simply cannot be sustained - and that we're at or close to the collapse point. Like it or not, things will change dramatically. Better that we should think ahead and develop alternatives than suffer an uncontrolled collapse. Those alternatives would include other currencies (not debt based) to fall back on, and other ways of measuring progress that don't simply rely on economic output; and finding better ways to define happiness than ownership of more and more stuff.

All these things are possible, there are plenty of viable ideas around already; but the initiative to put them into practice will most likely come from the grassroots, not from central governments.

Chris's own history is of a scientist who later became VP of a big US corporation, and in that role learned more about the way the economy and money supply work (or don't work). That shocked him enough to send him on this mission to communicate the news to everyone else - principally through the 'Crash Course' on

He's one of many who realize the economic Emperor really has no new clothes - but he's much better than most at articulating it. The audience here was impressed, asked intelligent questions, got intelligent answers.

Full marks to this council for recognising that this is a real issue. Whether they'll be able to integrate it into real policy and action is anybody's guess - but there's a step in the right direction on Thursday when the Cabinet should be adopting a "Climate Change and Energy Security Framework" which will formally recognise 'Peak Oil' as a major factor in the city's future functioning.

[At the following Cabinet meeting, in March, they're set to approve the new traffic-generating South Bristol Ring Road - so let's not get over-confident about things!]

Saturday, 20 February 2010


When some of our local Green parliamentary candidates tried their hand at making a 'Winkball' video, I must admit that I wasn't 100% pleased with the results. It's easy to criticise..... but perhaps they could have been a little more professional?

Then I saw the kind of thing the opposition (including New Labour's 'new media czar' Kerry McCarthy) were doing. And I felt much, much better.

You can see the three Bristol East efforts at Winkball - just put Bristol East in the search box, and be entertained, bored, or embarrassed. Or check any other constituency, of course.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Neighbourhood Partnership

Any ideas for using the Stockwood Green School buildings after its enforced closure this summer? That's one of the items coming up at a public meeting of the new 'Neighbourhood Partnership' next week.

These Neighbourhood Partnerships, now being launched across the city, must have the council's paper suppliers and photocopier providers rubbing their hands!

Ours (Hengrove and Stockwood) is next Tuesday (16th) at Christ the Servant Church - top of Craydon Road - starting at 7pm. It's hard to see how it can end by the target 9pm - it would be a long agenda even without having to approve adoption of a long and centrally determined Constitution that defines most of the local partnerships goals.

In law, it's a council committee meeting, though it seems to be the Bristol Partnership, that's applying the branding. Like other council meetings, the public can make statements in a 30-minute 'public forum' at the beginning. They should be submitted by noon on Monday, though.

So far, the Neighbourhood Partnership hasn't attracted much public interest in the couple of years it's been limping along. Maybe it's because of the double misnomer in the title; it's hard to see much neighbourhood or partnership in this arbitrarily defined area, divided geographically by the A37 Wells Road and the 'green corridor' of the Whitchurch Railway Path. There's not even a regular bus route that links the two wards. Still, now it's taking on some local spending decisions, perhaps people will get more interested.

A health warning, though.... be selective in reading the meeting papers on screen. Too much of it, and the will to live will just ebb away.

The Robin Hood tax

The idea of a Tobin Tax has always seemed pretty obvious. Not only would it raise vast amounts of money, no-one would notice the cost. Money wouldn't wash around the world quite so uncontrollably, destabilising currencies and economies at the click of a mouse.

I tried raising the topic on Kerry McCarthy's blog a while back. Didn't get a response though... maybe the time's right to try again, now that Gordon's leaning in the same direction.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Cities of Sanctuary

It's a knee jerk reaction. A new initiative is linked to a perceived enemy; therefore it must be bad.

I think that's the mistake Bristol's Tory group is making with its assault on the 'City of Sanctuary' initiative. Among its many supporters they've spotted groups that benefit from funding from their No.1 Empire of Evil, the Legacy Commission. Therefore the whole thing must be a devious plan to extract more taxpayers money for politically correct projects and career enhancements.

Fronting this particular attack is Jay Jethwa (to her credit, not deterred by the ill-judged and racist 'coconut' jibe she got last time round). You can sense Tory leader Richard Eddy's instincts for a populist headline behind her, though.

Before jumping to their sinister conclusion about the whole 'city of sanctuary' movement, shouldn't the more level-headed Conservatives have urged caution? Wouldn't a more rational approach suggest that such organisations are bound to want Bristol to join the movement? It would be a betrayal of their objectives if they didn't.

So far as I can see, 'City of Sanctuary' is more like the Fair Trade Towns initiative, with recognition depending on a commitment to its principles by community groups, business, and (crucially) by local government. The promotional video, made by Sheffield, England's first sanctuary city, gives a bit more idea what it's all about.

I don't know just what resolution the council would choose to pass in support of Bristol becoming a city of sanctuary, but a quick web search reveals those passed by Bradford last March, and Swansea in December 2008. They're hardly the kind of stuff that would raise Tory blood pressure, indeed the Tories of those towns seem to have been enthusiastic.

A great pity if Richard Eddy's greed for a cheap headline means Bristol doesn't show the same unanimity.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Genesis of a Bendy Busroute

The decision was predictable enough... the South Bristol Bypass got the ok from the West of England Transport Executives this morning. Now it's down to the cabinets of North Somerset and Bristol to confirm they want to go ahead - followed by what (one hopes) will be close scrutiny of the whole thing by the Department of Transport.

Equally unsurpising (except in the fact that it was - in confidence - admitted by a key player) is that the Bus Rapid Transit route was added to the road scheme simply because a road by itself wouldn't stand a chance of funding. It always looked like the obvious explanation for such an unviable route - but here it was, straight from the horse's mouth.

Look out for the next bit of rebranding for BRT; Bus Rapid Transit will be deleted from the record, to be replaced by Bristol Rapid Transit. I expect we'll all still call it a bendybus.

And, while on about phrasing, how about Jon Rogers' new call, made at the same meeting, to 'bring balance to the city'? It appears to mean making South Bristol look like the North Fringe, but that doesn't sound quite the same.

More about the meeting, and what follows, on the Green Party pages.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Isn't the NHS wonderful?

Delivered today, First Class, from the BRI.

Contains notice of an appointment for 2014.

The Leigh Court Puppeteers

In June 2007, the words 'South Bristol Ring Road' made their last appearance in the transport planners' list of projects. In July 2007, we first saw the South Bristol Link - just the same project in a new suit of clothes.

There had been no 'Windscale fire' to prompt the change of name, and many of us wondered why the rebranding had happened. Whose idea was it, and why?

The answer may lie in a briefing about the Ring Road prepared by GWE Business West a few months before. It commented:
'Think about a new name for the road – it has a serious image problem! South Bristol Link Road, Bedminster Bypass – anything to get away from the idea of a ring road – “ring roads take people through places, not to them” '.

So, sure enough, that's exactly what the planners and politicians did.

There was more than that to it, though.... Business West were worried too that the business case for the ring road didn't stand up:

" The argument for the ring road suggests it will have a beneficial impact in access to existing employment sites (and may even open up new). If this is the case then these need to be clearly identified. If Cater Road and Hawkfield Business Parks will benefit, where is the evidence? Need facts and figures to support the economic development arguments particularly as more recent evidence on new road provision would not support this case." (my emphasis)

Perhaps that explains the absolute lack of any substantive case for the regenerative effect of the proposed road. Better to say nothing than to reveal that the case doesn't stand up.

Still, who needs facts? The real problem, as always, is negative public perception! To counter this, Business West recommended:
"Produce some photos/pictures/artists impressions together for particular sections of the route to show what it could look like – tree lined avenues,
cycle/bus lanes, guided bus route etc. This would help to get away from the idea that the ring road is just a dual carriageway for cars that would segregate communities and produce barriers to walking and cycling access."

If you'd like to see how that turned out, the West of England's 'Travel+' website has the pictures

On Business West's website now, it would take an expert navigator and a lot of luck to find what they thought - and feared - back then. Now, they too talk of the 'South Bristol Link' with the same simple assumptions that it's a good way to spend money and carve through South Bristol and the Green Belt.

Almost exactly what's being presented in the officers' report to tomorrow's West of England Transport Committee.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Another dodgy dossier

Yes.... it's the ring road again. Or rather its second rebranding, as the "South Bristol Link"

And this weeks dodgy dossier is the officers report(pdf)to the Joint Transport Executive Members of the West of England Partnership. It has much in common with the pre-Iraq War dossier on WMD; high on assertions, light on facts, and driven by ideology and the need to get support before a key deadline.

A week ago, councillors from all four local authorities looked at the case for the Ring Road plus Bus Rapid Transit that the Partnership aims to bid for in March.

They weren't satisfied with what they saw. They want more more 'information to be taken into account or work commissioned before a final decision is made'. That's because they were struck above all else by "the incompleteness of the report" (their emphasis), particularly on the economic (jobs and regeneration) performance. They wonder (so do I!) what's happened to work known to have been commissioned to do the economic analysis.

It certainly doesn't appear in the latest report. No reference to any economic analysis, though there's an assertion that benefit to cost ratios come in at a satisfactory 4. Still no commercial appraisal of the BRT service, which even at peak hour isn't expected to carry more than a couple of hundred passengers over its specially laid 7km route. There's confidence enough, though, to claim :
"the scheme will lead to improved accessibility for a number of key sites, and that this will result in increasing employment densities on these sites as well as an overall improvement in the quality of jobs on these sites."
No source for that, though. Maybe they found it on the web in someone's university dissertation?

There are a few stats thrown in, though no source is quoted for them, either. They're not about economics, though, they're about predicted traffic levels, and they don't really suggest the ring road will make much difference anyway! The key DfT yardstick of city-bound journey times is - once again - nowhere to be seen.

There's even a 45 minute claim! It's said to be the average peak journey time from Hartcliffe to the city centre on today's 'showcase' bus, and that (at least for the minority living close to the BRT route), the journey time would be shortened. You'd hope that smart ticketting would by then have cut journey times on all the buses, but that's not mentioned either.

However, all this is not driven by the need to establish whether South Bristol will benefit from a road through it; it's driven by a timetable that requires a bid for 'Programme Entry' in March, and the formal agreement of two Cabinets before that. And that may not happen if the Transport Executives ask too many questions on Thursday.

The S. Bristol Green Party's 'statement'to the meeting does list sixteen questions that need clear positive answers before this scheme goes any further. If we're going to spend 50 million quid (all public money, and a sizeable chunk of it our own) lets show that it's money very well spent. Remember the alternatives we'll be missing out on.