Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Uniting against the space invaders

Stockwood came alive twice on Tuesday in defence of its open spaces against the threat of their sale and development under the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy.

Until the bush telegraph got moving on Monday evening, no-one knew there was to be a meeting about it next morning. It turned out it had been called by the two ward councillors - at the request of the Evening Post, who wanted to do a story about it! So thank you, Onions of the Post. It's a meeting that wouldn't have happened without you.

Later on came the photo-op, as residents gathered at one of the threatened spaces (the level area behind Maple Close)

Meanwhile Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces (whose constitution commits them to 'promote the of the informal public open space of Stockwood') hope to organise a better publicised meeting, and have launched the new "Save Stockwood's Green Sites" web pages for those who don't want to see community assets sold off.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The LibDems' Fruit Stall

Local councillor Jay Jethwa finds herself at the heart of an international news story today - thanks to be called a 'coconut' in a racist jibe from LibDem councillor Shirley Brown last year. It's nice to see that Jay has pointed out that the insult wasn't just a racial slur on her; it also implied that the whole white community opposes spending in black communities.

After this, it's hard to see how Shirley could defend her Ashley seat when it comes up for election next May.

It's not the only time that LibDem councillors have used fruit as a verbal missile aimed at Stockwood councillors. Not so long ago, Cllr Gary Hopkins publicly dismissed David Morris as 'one of the Banana tendency'. He went on to explain (as if he'd just invented the term) that it's 'Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone'

I wonder what fruity terms we could use to describe the current LibDem front bench

Invasion of the Killer Chips

A few years ago I wouldn't have dreamt that I could have such sophisticated hi-tech gear in my home. But here it is in front of me - a superlative piece of engineering, invaluable to me, and it only cost around forty quid.

And I hate it.

My Epson ink jet printer holds me to ransom. It cheats me. It lies to me. It extorts money from me for no good reason. It quite openly rips me off. I'm pretty sure it laughs at me.

It randomly tells me that I must buy new ink cartridges. Until I obey, it downs tools, and I cannot print anything.

It matters not that the all the ink cartridges still have plenty in them. The system is all-powerful. It won't even let me print only in black, having claimed the only ink deficit is magenta.

I blame the government. Back in 2004, they ruled that ink cartridges are 'consumables', not 'durables'. It was, of course, nonsense - there was absolutely no reason why a cartridge should not be refilled with ink, and used many times over. In fact that's what we used to do, in the good old days.

By defining them as consumables, the DTI put them outside the scope of the WEEE Directive. That in turn freed up the manufacturers to introduce design features (the 'killer chip') specifically to prevent cartridges from being reused. Result - a perfectly good cartridge (and whatever residual ink it contains) must be thrown away or sent for recycling, instead of simply being refilled.

Epson have come up with the ultimate in planned obsolescence. It's PC peripheral Gone Mad.

I'll have to console myself with the thought that it all helps economic growth.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

A top-down 'partnership'

[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.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Neighbourhood Partnership

The next of the Neighbourhood Partnership's quarterly public meetings for Hengrove and Stockwood is next Tuesday, 22nd June, at 7pm. It's at the South Bristol Sports Centre, aka the Imperial Ground (so if like me you're on a bike, we'll have to share the solitary bike bar)

The Partnerships are supposed to be administered by that shadowy entity the Bristol Partnership - but in practice it's the council that does it. In fact the H&S neighbourhood partnership's page on the Bristol Partnership website is already way out of date within a few weeks of the first meeting!

The Agenda for Tuesday is up on the council's own web site here .

Friday, 18 June 2010

Let consultation commence

Earlier this week the city council published its site-by-site ideas for new development in the city. They bring together years of work and public debate about Bristol's green spaces (as laid down in the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy) and from the emerging Bristol Development Framework, the major document to guide land use for many years to come.

Both sets of proposals have been broken down into 'Neighbourhood Partnership' areas. The key links are the
BDF sites consultation and the
area green space plans: these lead on to the detailed proposals.


A key element of the Parks Strategy is to sell off 'low value' green spaces - meaning low value to the community, maybe high value to developers. Then the cash raised would be used, in part, to pay to bring other long-neglected parks up to scratch; and to provide a more uniform share of access to green space across the city. Only the Greens raised any objection to this unsustainable sale of the family silver in the dubious cause of uniformity and growth.

It looked like Stockwood was set to be a serious loser in this process, given that the ward enjoys well above average access to informal open space. In the event, we've got off more lightly than was feared (so far, anyway!). It's all spelled out on these pages, including a description of the "disposal" sites.

The ward's bigger proposed disposal sites are chunks of the field facing Sturminster Close, down to the brook; and the high-level part of the Craydon Road open space to the north of the path up to the shops from Showering Road (a service road would give access from Craydon Road). The smaller sites are the Craydon Road triangle, the Burnbush Close open space, two sites on Ladman Road, a small strip between the railway path and Hazlebury Road, and the green 'squares' along Stockwood Road at Maple Close (across from the shops) and Gillebank Close - I wonder what the residents think of that. Oddly, the other 'squares' further up Stockwood Road haven't been targetted.

For the substantial green spaces that remain, there are plenty of well thought out suggestions for improvement - but with the blunt warning that 'we cannot afford all of these' !

A year or two back, Heather Barham led local discussion about the how the strategy could affect Stockwood, and she certainly deserves congratulation for this work. There will be criticism of it, and constructive suggestion, and this gives us a good starting point. Consultation continues until Friday 29th October.


Still in my Nimby mode, I'll link to the Stockwood and Hengrove pages - and refer only to Stockwood in this blog.

This discussion of sites for potential development (or, at least, change of use) includes the green spaces mentioned above, but a number of others; some of them unexpected. There's the continued disposal of council-owned buildings and closure of facilities - in this case, the Greville day centre and home off Lacey Road.

Over on Wells Road, the Counterslip Baptist Church site seems to be coming up for grabs - apparently the "existing operators are aiming to relocate elsewhere in the vicinity" - so it looks like being another of those little residential infill sites, favoured by those who don't mind road noise.

The green square at Maple Close, across from the shops, could be used for houses or for offices. This is the only new 'employment' use I've noticed in the ward, which is a bit of a surprise considering the official concern about unnecessary travel to work in the age of Peak Oil.

Again, the consultation on these sites (and any others you might care to suggest) continues until October 29th.

Dragonfly diversion

Two of these beauties have taken to visiting our garden in the last few days, and were content to pose for photos. I thought it deserved a proper picture here, as well as the temporary header pic. Click on it to see the detail.

I'm told it's a broad bodied chaser, either female or an immature male, and not uncommon. Apparently they're to be seen around the 'drinking pond' on the Open Space. Thanks, Tereza.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Those Recycling Questions Answered.

Gary Hopkins has given written reassurances that the 'waste' we put out for recycling really does get recycled. Though I have to say that he was pretty ungracious about telling me!

His full answers to the questions I submitted from the 10th June Cabinet meeting are here

Recycling Assurances

I hope that puts Gea's fears out of the way - for Bristol, at least.

I have no wish to reduce confidence in recycling, I want it to improve as a percentage of waste (but ideally decrease in absolute terms). Gary's kneejerk confrontational style led him to make some false claims in his preamble, but fortunately, that shouldn't prejudice confidence in the rest of the answers, as they will have been written by officers, not by Gary. The style's a giveaway!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Checking up on waste

With Bristol's recycling performance lying in 208th place among England's 358 local authorities, it's no wonder that Gary Hopkins (never knowingly avoiding controversy) wants to impose a bit of discipline on us throwaway residents.

At next week's cabinet meeting, he'll be wanting an official blessing for a pilot scheme that threatens punishment for residents who routinely dump recyclable materials in their black (landfill-bound) wheelie bins.

Fair 'nuff. It's a lazy habit that the rest of must pay for - as bad as littering. But I'm sure that the Evening Post, when it eventually spots it, will take its usual populist Daily Mail line and condemn the nanny-state spies who check what you chuck.

Just now, I'm more worried about whether the contractors who get paid handsomely to recycle waste are ever guilty of putting it in landfill instead. After Gea raised this possibility in a comment on a previous post I wrote to council contractors Recresco - twice - but didn't get any response, let alone the reassurance I wanted that plastic waste always does get recycled. Nor did Gary Hopkins - usually happy to add his point of view to this and other blogs - respond to a similar question.

So I'll try to get an answer with some 'Public Forum' questions at next Thursday's Cabinet meeting.

Watch this space.