Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Latest Land Grab

Developers are about to reveal plans for continuous housing across the fields that now separate Whitchurch village from Stockwood.

The area in question is 13 hectares of meadow, crossed by three footpaths and used at present for grazing horses. It's bounded by Staunton Lane to the south, Stockwood Lane to the east, Craydon Grove to the north, and the cycle path to the west. All of it's in BaNES, and if it goes ahead, the 340 homes will almost double the size of Whitchurch village to make a continuous built up area.

Footpath users will already have seen changes in the fields. A notice from Robert Hitchins Ltd (better known as developers of commercial and industrial estates) warns walkers to stay on the path - which has now been marked, uniquely in my experience, by posts every few yards with blue arrow footpath markers. It doesn't do much for that 'freedom of the countryside' feeling! There are signs, too, of exploratory boreholes.

Hitchins' agents Pegasus Planning, who take a great interest in the potential of greenfield, green belt countryside south of Bristol, are putting on an exhibition of their plans at Whitchurch Primary School (on the A37 Bristol Road) on Monday 4th and Thursday7th October, between 3.30pm and 8pm

That's a nice walk across the fields from Stockwood!

Added 1.10.10:
More detail on this Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces page

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Prejudicial Interests

It's increasingly likely that that the PROWG committee may (understandably) duck out of making the decision on whether to accept or refuse the inspector's recommendation to register Ashton Vale as a Town Green, and instead refer it to full council so that it can be voted on there.
If this should happen, any councillors who have already expressed an opinion on the overriding need - or otherwise - for a stadium will obviously have to abstain.  Neil Harrison, a member of the PROWG committee, had the good sense to anticipate this, and explained why on his blog in August

So, for example, Cllr Simon Cook would have to abstain because he has already made statements both in support of the new stadium and against the Town Green recommendation. On the other side, Tess Green would be unable to vote because she's already welcomed the judgement of the independent inspector. Neither would go to the decision making meeting with an open mind.
The OTIB ("One Team In Bristol") City fans' web site has suddenly closed down access for new subscribers - but not before publishing posts revealing other councillors' prejudicial views on the Town Green.

For instance, our own Stockwood councillor David Morris seems to have ruled himself out of any vote by making his (and, apparently, his party's) views known to the City fan who posted this message on OTIB:
"Hello i am a first timer so please go easy,i have read on the forum about people writing to there councillors and mp without little feed back. I have written to Councillor Morris to voice my concerns about Ashton vale like the club have asked us to expecting nothing back when today i had a knock on my front door and this guy introduced imself as councillor morris and he would like to talk about Ashton vale ,he said that he was in total agreement that bristol city should have a new stadium and he and alot of his other councillors will be voting in favour off our new stadium , the only time i will be voting blue is in the next elections if Mr morris stands"

I have no idea whether David Morris reads this blog; he and Jay Jethwa always seem reluctant to risk any dialogue in public on local issues, so there's never been any comment from either of them to my posts. If he does get the opportunity to vote on what is over-simplistically described in the above post as a 'stadium v town green' decision, then he must first explain this OTIB post and reveal who 'a lot of his other councillors' are.

I'm sure David wouldn't want his Conservative colleagues to vote against accepting the Town Green recommendation, while pretending that they have no predetermined views and would be influenced only by the evidence.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Divide and Sell

Vowles the Green has raised an e-petition to save green space around the Pigeonhouse Stream in Hartcliffe from threatened development.

It's part of the green path stretching from Dundry slopes down the Malago into the heart of the city, so it's significant well beyond Hartcliffe.

Even so, I hesitate to sign. The Area Green Space sell-off makes NIMBYs of us all, and sets communities against each other.

The Parks Strategy relies for its funding on selling off the city silver in the shape of chunks of its land holdings. So if one site doesn't get sold, they'll have to find another one to replace it. That one might just be the open space that means so much to you.

Gary Hopkins was quite explicit about it when he turned up in his usual combative mood at our Stockwood public meeting. He encouraged those of us objecting to particular land sale proposals to make it easier for ourselves by nominating some other plot, someone else's backyard.

Yesterday, showing Kerry McCarthy MP some of the threatened sites in Stockwood, we found ourselves pointing out others that might just be more appropriate for the big development sale. Kerry, of course, still goes along with Labour, LibDem, and Tory policy that backs the unsustainable strategy of selling land to raise cash for parks, especially to benefit those parts of the city where other amenities than parks are the major assets.

Whatever the outcome of the current consultation, someone will have to select from named sites just which ones are to go. It probably won't be Gary (or his successor) who takes that painful decision. The duty of executioner will be delegated, in the true spirit of democracy, to local level in the Neighbourhood Partnerships (or, in this case, those for the outer wards that contain the target sites).

How will that work? If the total land sales are to provide a fixed capital sum (in this case, the cash needed for the parks plus 50% for the pot), it must mean each partnership providing a prescribed share. Those neighbourhoods with bigger land banks will, presumably, be expected to volunteer a bigger proportion.

In this Neighbourhood Partnership, will the gloves come off? Stockwood v Hengrove? Upper Stockwood v. Lower Stockwood? Burnbush v. Gillebank?

Nice bit of community building, eh?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Freebie from BCFC

To enjoy it live, you'd have had to buy a ticket. But now the club's making it available at absolutely no cost to the viewer. Chairman Steve rallies the crowd before yesterday's match at Ashton Gate.

So, in the interests of balance on this blog, here's the link.

So what's the legal position now?

The media are misrepresenting it as an open choice for the councillors on the Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee, choosing whether or not to accept the Inspector's report. Reject it, and Bristol gets its stadium, arena, world cup matches, pride, and its rightful place on the world map. Accept it, and we're a laughing stock, living on the edge of a dog's bog. Simple, innit?

Well no, according to the Inspector's report. The final paragraph (thanks to Sacred Spring for the tip) explains the law:

578. ............ the Registration Authority must make its own decision and is in law free to follow or not follow my recommendation as it thinks right, applying the correct legal principles and after due consideration of the evidence. It must, of course, leave out of account, as being wholly irrelevant to the statutory question which it has to decide, ..............all considerations of the desirability of the land's being registered as a green or being developed or put to other uses.

In other words... whether all the bluster about the benefits to Bristol has any substance or not, the task for the Rights of Way Committee (sitting in its role as Village Green Registration Authority) is simply to accept the Inspector's findings or to explain why she's wrong to say that Ashton Vale meets the legal criteria for registration.

Clearly the club's legal advisers and inquiry witnesses failed to expose any flaws in the application during the ten-day Inquiry. No wonder Steve Lansdown is calling on the fans to provide new evidence. If they should manage it, Steve should demand his money back from his lawyers.

He might need it anyway.

"Today I can announce that the Chancellor and I have agreed a package of new measures to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion. We will be ruthless with those often wealthy people and businesses who think they can treat paying tax as an optional extra."
(Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander today).

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Spare a thought.....

The news is breaking that a Planning Inspector has recommended Town Green status for the Ashton Vale land that was targetted for Bristol City's new stadium (plus assorted other developments).

Spare a thought for the City fans whose hopes of a new stadium have been so carefully cultivated, and ruthlessly exploited, by the club as it pursued this speculative high-risk business venture.

It's those emotions that are football clubs' real stock-in-trade, the loyalties and goodwill without which the team and the stadium mean nothing. Just like money, the goodwill can be manipulated as part of a negotiation - and BCFC have certainly been doing that, aided and abetted by the Evening Post and certain senior politicians, in each of the somewhat suspect linked deals that underpinned the stadium project.

Now comes the big let-down for the fans whose ambitions had been raised, and probably brings on the anger that goes with it. The club, responsible for the whole fiasco in the first place, will certainly want to divert blame onto the Ashton TG objectors, the Inspector, and anyone else who's raised their head above the parapet.

It will be fascinating to see whether the promoters accept that the whole matter has been fairly and lawfully dealt with, or whether they go back to offering carrots to the fans and taking sticks to the objectors in an effort to get their way.

[Added 10.20pm]
They're wasting no time....

"There are a variety of options open to us and we will use all these options to fight this report. The anger must rest with the inspector and the evidence used to support it.

“This is a clarion call for Bristol not to be tramped upon this way. We need the people of Bristol to say this is absolute madness.

Colin Sexstone, quoted on Bristol 24/7

Cllr Simon Cook's not taking a very balanced view either. "The law behind this application is a complete nonsense, but I am utterly determined to find a way through it."
That's the official Bristol City Council / Commons Registration Authority view then?

The report itself - all 250 closely argued pages of it - can be read from the same official page.

Friday, 10 September 2010

A Journey... its rightful shelf in Waterstones.

Heh, heh.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The yellow line cover-up

Ward councillors are still denying any suggestion of wrongdoing, after getting the threat of yellow lines outside a colleague's house withdrawn, and claiming the Neighbourhood Puppetship backed their decision.

The charge, as I described to the September NP meeting for Hengrove and Stockwood, was:

"The minutes record the very special treatment that the voting councillors gave to one public forum statement ; they agreed to reverse a recommendation for yellow lines at a road junction, at the sole request of the resident whose property fronts the junction. I (and I am sure most of those present) did not see any such decision being made, or any opportunity for residents or officers to give an opinion on it, or the agenda item it should relate to. It is all the more alarming that the resident making the statement - and winning instant councillor support - is an Alderman and a party colleague of the two Stockwood councillors."

This brought a heated, but wholly unconvincing, response from the councillors involved.

Cllr Jay Jethwa (who'd spent much of the previous 48 hrs calling a fellow councillor a liar) complained that my remarks were 'personal'

Cllr David Morris attempted an explanation to exonerate him: his original bid for yellow lines was at the request of another resident, but it wouldn't be considered anyway because that area's not in the Traffic Dept's programme, so reversing the decision wasn't necessary.

Their LibDem counterpart from Hengrove, Cllr Jos Clark, said the Minute must be right, because the minuting officer is good at his job.

None claimed that the decision had been made openly, or even attempted (given the Morris version) to explain why they'd bothered to take it. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no members of the public there who'd been at the previous meeting (that must say something...) so no-one else could challenge the written record.

The police intervened in the shape of Insp. Colin Salmon, who knocked our heads together (coppers can still do that, as long as they do it metaphorically). He suggested a simple word change ('could' for 'would') in the Minute that should make everyone happy. But the councillors wouldn't even make that concession. The official record remains intact. They took an unnecessary decision that no-one else saw, outside the agenda of the meeting, and which just happened to do a favour to a party friend.

So the charge remains. Until we know better, this was a blatant bid to give Neighbourhood Puppetship authority to a councillors' uniquely generous treatment of a party colleague.

Just One Songsheet for the Neighbourhood Partnerships

This round of the quarterly Neighbourhood Partnership meetings all have a couple of things in common.

One's that the agenda is virtually identical for each. What we can talk about has been decided by unnamed people at the council house, not by the neighbourhood, not even by the ward councillors.

The other's that the 'Public Forum' has been quietly dropped. No announcement, no explanation, no source; it just ain't there - whatever the NP constitution might say to the contrary.

I became one of the first victims of this remarkable turnaround at the Hengrove and Stockwood NP meeting this evening. I'd filed a 'Public Statement' a week or two back, offering suggestions for getting residents more involved and citing some of the things we'd been getting wrong so far. Bits of it were contentious, with suggestions of abuse of power and cronyism. So instead of the Statement, I had to bring that bit up as a challenge to the accuracy of the last meetings minutes.... but I'll save that side of it for another post.

Anyway, I wasn't allowed to present my statement. After prolonged exchanges, I did get a promise that it will be included in the minutes, and so be part of the public record; but it'll be the last one.

No more public statements, no more public forum. Who knows whose idea that was, but, well, that's democracy, Bristol fashion.


Later in the same meeting, we, like every other NP, were asked to form an 'environmental subgroup' to advise on local aspects of several council services.

I'm glad to say we went a little bit further, settling for separate groups for each ward, a real effort to publicise it and recruit members, and to invite wider public participation through the medium of the internet. Most of this was on the lines of what I'd suggested.

So watch this space. Somehow, stay optimistic.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A (subversive) Journey

Next time you're in a bookshop....

Have Railcard, will travel

'Walk-on' fares for travelling any distance may make rail travel look prohibitively expensive - but there are some crazy bargains to be had, especially with a railcard. We've been doing our best to take advantage of them.

A trip back from Tenby yesterday at £3.95; a three-train odyssey from deepest Eskdale, in the North Yorks Moors, to Kings Cross (with a nostalgic walk up Roseberry Topping on the way) was a mere £7.95.

Take one Great Western train to Penzance, but buy separate tickets for the Exeter, Plymouth, and Penzance legs, and you can have a those last couple of hours in first class luxury through Cornwall for £3.95 until you sweep past St Michaels Mount (travel on to Lands End with a bus pass if you wish!) - skinflints can save another couple of quid by slumming it in second class.

For the north-west, a trip through Newport and up through the Marches gets you to Manchester more cheaply, comfortably, and probably better tempered than the orthodox Cross-Country route in a packed Voyager train. A separate ticket gets you to the Lakes for little more.

But one of the best bargains is the most local - and you don't have to buy in advance. Temple Meads to Severn Beach, £1.50 day return. Loads to look at on the way, too.

I'm not sure that we deserve all these age concessions. Chris Mullin mentions in his diaries how, after a late session in the House of Commons he, other MPs and a Lord or two would get the late bus from Victoria Street, along with one of the waiters who'd worked a late shift in the House. Only the waiter paid his own fare.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Another stone from the blue glass house

Stockwood's Cllr Jay Jethwa has tabled some party-politicking questions for next Tuesday's council meeting. They suggest that the LibDem administration has gone out of its way to protect its own council wards, when choosing which open green spaces to put up for sale to fund the Parks and Green Space Strategy.

If true, that would be very serious malpractice. But it looks much more like Jay's convenient political interpretation of what some of us had forecast long since. Wasn't it inevitable that sites for sale would be identified in outer, poorer, areas, to fund a strategy that largely benefits the wealthier wards of the city - which do tend to elect LibDem, or Tory, councillors? Jay and her fellow Tories chose to ignore that obvious fact when they welcomed the PGSS strategy a couple of years ago, so it's a bit late to play party games with it now. She also conveniently ignores wards like our neighbours in LibDem-held Hengrove, which is every bit as threatened by land sales as we are in Stockwood.

So try again, Jay. But remember that blue glass house that you're in. Remember how your minority group held the Labour group to ransom a couple of years ago (same time as you approved the land sale policy in the PGSS)? Your blessing for their entire city budget was conditional on including £215K on play parks - exclusively in Tory wards. That really set the standard for party self-interest.

[Good grief! That's the second time I've defended the LibDems against Tory attack! Why don't they do it themselves?]