Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

New homes - or the school run?

Behind Stockwood's Hollway Road shops, there's a grim, uncared for area that finds use by shoppers and by parents on the Waycroft School run. It's in private ownership. The owner's just applied to put three detached four-bedroomed homes on it.

You can take a look at the plans, and comment, on line at the council's planning portal. The application number is 10/04539/F and you can go direct to the application documents here. I'd recommend a look at the 'proposed perspective views' for starters.

No-one would pretend that the present frontage (or backage?) has anything to commend it - but these proposals will raise many questions...

How on earth will service vehicles navigate their way to the shops' rear entrances? Will the same service road become a 'dark alley' out of hours, out of sight, a no-go zone for anyone other than the residents who must use it for access?

Will we see a mass protest march (or, more likely, convoy) launched by the schoolrunner mums? Will the developers actually be able to build at a price that attracts buyers to this... er... rather different kind of a site?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Tory U-turn on Green Spaces!

Well, well.

At the full council on November 16th, the Conservative group will " CALL ON THE LEADER AND CABINET TO SCRAP THE AREA GREEN SPACE PLANS". That's the ones that they, along with Labour and LibDems, supported just a couple of years ago!

Could there be an explanation for these dramatic contortions?

It CAN'T be on principle...

After all, this is the ideologically driven party that plans to sell off Britains' publicly owned (and profitable) forests to private speculators and investors - with the extra bonus of being inheritance tax free! (Petition against it here)

This is the party whose local councillors are backing tax-exile Lansdown's bid to build a stadium on the Ashton Vale green belt, trampling on the lawful rights of local people.

So, if it ain't principle, could it be - dare I say - electoral opportunism?

Next May will see more than one Tory councillor having to explain to angry voters why they backed a strategy to sell off much loved local parks and open spaces in their wards. In Bishopsworth, for instance, where Kings Head Park is under threat. In Frome Vale, with where six sites have been identified for sale. And here in Stockwood, where several open spaces could be lost to the community for ever, and Cllrs Jethwa and Morris have been desperately distancing themselves from any responsibility for it.

But it's not just about hanging on to these seats - there might be new opportunities for electoral gain. Brislington East and West, Hartcliffe, Hengrove, Hillfields, and St George East are all threatened by a loss of open space, and in all of them the Tories might expect to benefit, if they play their cards right.

Call me a cynic........

Anyway, the Tory motion submitted for the next full council meeting is:



Public consultation has shown that the planned sell-off of parkland and valued leisure land, identified in the ideas and options proposals, is a step too far and that community open space is not for sale.

The original Parks and Green Spaces Strategy was meant to dispose of
land of low value, poor quality plots or areas that attract anti-social behaviour.  Instead, the developed plans have earmarked well-used and highly valued recreational space.

Alternative funding sources must be sought for investment in our

Which just happens to have been the Green Party position for the last three years. Welcome on board.

[Note: Petition against forest sales]
[This post comes with a self-interest declaration - as a likely Stockwood candidate next May]

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Council's "TV, not Parks" plans challenged

As the Evening Post series explores the city's open spaces and looks at what's gained and lost by the different plans (today revealing that the some of the profit from parkland sales in Stockwood could help pay for a giant TV screen in the Bear Pit) - Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces have sent in their own verdict on the plans.

They conclude that it's time to trigger that part of the Parks Strategy that provides "should there be insufficient 'low value' marginal land available.... the council will review the ambitions of the strategy and consider alternative funding sources."

[Added] FoI Request

Meanwhile, an FoI request has gone in to try to get to the bottom of why all these sites were selected. Has their attractiveness to developers been a factor? The answer will be too late to inform any consultation responses, but it might still help influence the actual decisions. The FoI request is Bristol-wide, and should put all the answers in the public domain via the "What do they Know" web site.

Lansdown's MPs - breaking the line, or breaking the law?

After the extraordinary 'A City United' statement that Bristol's MPs were cajoled into signing by BCFC, Simon Cook and the Evening Post, at least two have been under pressure to explain the bit at the end: “Councillors have an important and difficult decision to make. We urge them to stand up for the views of the majority of residents and bring the stadium to Bristol”. After all, that's a direct call on councillors to put populism ahead of an honest assessment of the Village Green application. Which would, of course, be unlawful.

Now, both Stephen Willams (in comments on his blog) and Kerry McCarthy (in comments on this blog) have given assurances that they expect councillors to act within the law - i.e. to consider the village green application only on the evidence of public use, not on the potential of the land to provide a stadium. Neither MP has yet gone so far as to retract that final sentence, though - even though it appears to have been drafted for them by the football club!

Of course, that leaves the other signatories - Dawn Primarolo, Charlotte Leslie, Chris Skidmore, and Tessa Munt, still totally unapologetic about urging Bristol's councillors to defy the law when they come to decide the village green designation.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Strategic Diversions in the Parks

Today's Evening Post publishes some questions emerging from all the protests about the threatened sale of Bristol's green spaces - and how Gary Hopkins, the Cabinet member with the Parks brief, responds. I've added my own comments in italics - plus a bonus Q&A at the end.

Q THERE has been vocal opposition to a quarter of the areas put forward for sale at the very least – is that an acceptable number?

A It's certain there will be changes to the original list that officers came up with.
But just because there are comments doesn't mean there will be changes to individual sites.
How can we address 30 years of neglect without a strategic, sensible action?

* Of course it needs action. The problem is whether the way of funding that action is fair, realistic, or sustainable. I suggest it is none of these.

We will guarantee that every park not sold off will be protected for the next 20 years.

* What's so special about that promise? Isn't it what councils are supposed to do anyway?

Q Is it fair to give money raised from selling land in one part of the city to another area that might not lose any green space?

A The whole point of the strategy, which all parties signed up for, is that there should be minimum standards people should be able to expect for their green spaces.

* As Glenn Vowles has pointed out (and Gary Hopkins himself admitted at Stockwood) the Green Party opposed the funding method from the start. No one listened though.

It would be ludicrous to sell off land where there is a deficit of green spaces.

* Setting up an aunt sally just to knock it down again. No-one's suggested any such thing

Q Should money be going to improve parks in relatively wealthy areas like Clifton and Henleaze, which won't lose out on any green spaces?

A What about areas like Easton and Lawrence Weston, which have a shortage of open space? Would it be fair to say you should deprive people of Easton of the parks they need?

* A politician blatantly avoiding a question. The general cash flow will be from the less wealthy outer wards of Bristol into the centre - and into the general council pot.

The argument that you can't sell off land because you're spending the money elsewhere in the city is not a particularly strong argument. Improvements cost money.

* The fact remains that many poorer communities, where green space is one of the main amenities, will lose out. That makes it a stronger argument than it would otherwise have been!

Some people might come up and say we don't want anything sold off up here but then say we would quite like those improvements.

* It's not unreasonable for people to expect that children will have play space near their homes, and would look to the council to provide it in the course of time. That doesn't have to mean raising cash by selling valued land, then putting (some of) the proceeds into buying new swings.

In some areas there wasn't any local group interested in that land, so we have stirred up interest.

* A bit like saying the blitz was a good thing because it brought people together.....

Q Instead of selling off green spaces to raise money for improvements, why not spend section 106 money, raised from developers who submit major planning applications?

A We know it's not enough. It's a quarter of what's required. There are four funding sources – land sales, section 106, council money and grants. The grants are easier to come by when there is a strategy showing what you want.

*Here in Stockwood, the major improvements aren't being funded by the Parks Strategy sales, but by old Sec 106 money. Can't that happen elsewhere?

Q The council says it wants to sell the green spaces to help fund an £87 million programme of improvements to other green spaces in Bristol. How many of the 62 sites will have to be sold to raise the £63m the council says it needs to fund improvements?

A We can't say how many, it depends on the sizes of the areas and other factors.

This is a 20-year strategy, so we're not talking about selling off 15 to 20 spaces now.

*The Strategy gave ball-park figures of £90 million, raised by the sale of 90 acres, providing £60 million to spend on parks improvements and maintenence over twenty years. What happens after that is anybody's guess. That was always the real target - not some notional mapping of those land assets considered to be of 'low community value'. It follows that market value will determine which sites are put up for sale.

It's not likely any of these will be sold in the next few years.
The situation has always been that land has been sold off on a piecemeal basis but the money has not gone back into parks.

* Of course every council will buy and sell land in order to function (some might even give it away if there's a rich tax exile wants it). In this case, of course, only 70% goes back into the parks, and some of that is merely for maintenance.

Q Why not just sell off brown field sites instead of building on green spaces?

A That's what the site allocation plan is for. The money from those will go back into the council coffers, and some of the money for the green spaces plan will come from the council.

* Not entirely true. The site allocations document is about future land use, whether by the council or anyone else.
Still, this simply suggests that the parks can't expect anything much in future from general council funds, even though they're a council service. We've been conned.
How do other councils find the money to provide and maintain parks? Bet they don't use the Bristol method....

Q The council is consulting on two separate documents at the same time – the area green space plan and the site allocation document – which confused some residents. Should the consultations have run separately?

A No. They are two separate processes but there are connections between them because both involve council use of land. If responses have been sent to the wrong department that's not a problem.


Q What happens when the consultation comes to an end?

A A list will come out in December of the sites that are going to be sold off.

* Verdict first, evidence afterwards.

[Here's one further question, not put in the Evening Post:]

Q. What if there is insufficient 'low value' marginal land available once the planning process has been concluded?

A. The council will review the ambitions of the strategy and consider alternative funding sources. (At least, that's what it says on p42 of the Parks and Green Space Strategy. Looks like Hopkins and Co have unilaterally ditched that part of the deal, though!)

Thursday, 21 October 2010


As a change from the orchestrated illusion of the Spending Review - ideology masquerading as economic reality - here's a lighter version of hiding the economic truths.....

First, what was George & Railway Hotel in Temple Gate, nicely disguised (except when mammon requires a dirty great advert in the same place) as a cared for building. OK, it's not going to fool anyone, but most people would agree that it looks better than what's underneath.

Next, a parade of shops in Stockwood (though it could be anywhere). A potential case of the 'broken window' effect, where a down-at-heel environment tends to prompt further antisocial behaviour.

Next, more empty shops - except these are in a High Street. Redcar's shopping centre has been going downhill for years under pressure from supermarkets, out-of-town retail parks, and economic decline as industry shuts down. In an effort to brighten the scene, the High Street is now peppered with 'virtual shops' instead of steel shutters. The consensus is that it looks very much better than it did.

Finally, scope for a more ambitious project; what could you do with this monstrous concrete skeleton that welcomes everyone arriving at Temple Meads?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Cutting the debt? No, adding to it

Some deeply disturbing announcements coming out of the government today.

The National Security Strategy - all 39 pages of it - does actually recognise climate change as a key part of our future insecurity. But it doesn't even mention putting prevention at the heart of the strategy - much as neither Clegg nor Cameron (leaders of the 'greenest government ever') mentioned climate change in their big conferences speeches.

Still, we have bankers to appease right now, so let's leave it to the next generation.

Then there's the embarrassing sight of Energy Secretary (sorry, energy and climate change secretary) Chris Huhne embracing the nuclear option. It's not that long since we heard him declare that there'd be no public subsidy for the industry. Now, however, it looks like the nuclear operators unique freedom from having to insure against a 'Maximum credible accident" - the government and people would bear all the horrific costs - will be maintained. Now that's what I call a subsidy!

Meanwhile, as Jonathon Porritt points out, Chris Huhne's departmental budget continues to carry the cost of Britain's previous nuclear programme, the clean-up costing us £1.7 billion a year. Now that's what I call a debt!

Still, we have bankers to appease right now, so let's leave the next debt to the next generation (and their kids.... and their kids...)

Friday, 15 October 2010

Something in the water.... fluoride and us.

There are plenty of good posts on the theme of water today - it being the subject of blog action day. Richard Lawson's Mabinogogiblog (as always) has a fresh and positive take on some of the global angles.

Me, I'll stick to the wonderful commodity that comes out of our Bristol taps - the nice clean wholesome and incredibly healthy stuff-of-life that we scarcely give a second thought to.

There are plans to change all that. The regional health people want to add fluoride to it, and have been asked (by the Primary Care Trust) to look into the practicality of putting it in our drinking water supply. Last time I checked, they'd not yet commissioned the necessary work, but it is (dare I say) in the pipeline.

Although fluoridation is highly controversial, medical orthodoxy insists that one part fluoride per million in the water supply would do a lot to reduce dental caries in young children, especially those who don't brush their teeth much. As the government and NHS pursue their new primary objectives of cutting everything to keep the markets happy, fluoridation is going to look like a pretty good back-up for the already thin provision of expensive mass dental care. It would probably please the manufacturers of sugary confections too!

Enter Professor Paul Connett. Paul's work on two subjects, incineration and fluoridation, have led him to become an international expert on both. He's coming to Bristol on Tuesday week (26/10) to speak at a public meeting about fluoridation at University of Bristol, Wills Hall, Parry’s Lane, Stoke Bishop BS9 1AE, starting at 2pm. (Not far from the 54 bus route for us bus freeloaders).

[Added Note: There's some doubt as to whether this talk is actually happening - right now I can only find Paul talking about incineration at UWE on November 17. I'll update when I know more.... ]

I heard Paul speak many years ago, and was seriously impressed not just by his encyclopaedic knowledge, but by his ability to share it, entertainingly, with his audience. I'll thoroughly recommend the meeting to anyone who cares about the science or the ethics of mass-medicating us through our drinking water supply.

The Latest LibDem PR trick

“The Alternative Vote ...... does not give voters real power over both the party and the person elected as MP.

“Only the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member seats would abolish MPs’ meal tickets for life, and we will fight to amend this proposal to give people a real choice for a more significant change.”
Chris Huhne, setting out the LibDems' flagship policy, 1st Feb 2010

Thanks to Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, together with Douglas Carswell (Con) and Austin Mitchell (Lab) we could all have had a referendum vote on it, if their amendment to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill hadn't been voted down by most MPs, including the LibDems themselves, led by Nick Clegg and including our very own Stephen Williams!

How do LibDems live with such a betrayal of promise and principle?

Caroline's amendment, which would have allowed us voters, not the MPs, to choose the voting system that we use to elect them, can be found here. Then 'FIND' 'I am pleased to move' to get to the debate itself, which is actually worth a read, though it won't add to your confidence in our democracy!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Dear Kerry..... About that stadium statement.

Dear Kerry,

I've just read the extraordinary statement issued by the Bristol MPs, yourself included, about the proposed stadium site in Ashton Vale.

I don't know who wrote it (though it has the hallmarks of BCFC authorship), but I'm surprised that you and your colleagues have signed up so readily to such selective and sweeping unproven claims. Have you seen the piece by Marina Hyde  in today's Guardian nailing the myth that sports stadia bring urban regeneration, prosperity and jobs?

Equally important, your unqualified call on councillors to 'stand up for the views of the majority of residents and bring the stadium to Bristol' could amount to an invitation to break the law.

As things stand at present, councillors have ONLY the evidence that the land qualifies in law as a Town Green. There is nothing in the public domain to suggest that the independent inspector got it wrong.

As you must know, councillors must now make their judgement on the same issues as were dealt with by the Inspector - the use of the land by the public in the last twenty years.

The development potential of the land, for whatever purpose, is not a legal consideration. (I don't think the Evening Post has ever mentioned that inconvenient truth!).

If councillors allow the stadium issue to influence their decision, they are operating outside the law, and you are encouraging them in that.

If you really want the councillors to bring the stadium to Bristol, can I suggest an approach that would protect green belt, minority groups such as the Town Green applicants, and council assets - while allowing you to promote a stadium without having to publicly encourage councillors to break the law!

It isn't impossible for Bristol's two clubs to ground share, so both sets of fans would get the benefits of a new stadium. There's a choice of potential brownfield sites on post-industrial land to the north of Avonmouth. There's good access by road, and by public transport (especially given the potential of the existing rail infrastructure, including the Henbury loop.   By comparison, access to Ashton Vale is difficult and likely to be a victim of cuts). Arguably, at Avonmouth there are industrial hazards to contend with, but I feel sure they can be overcome - they certainly were at Middlesbrough, with a similar site close by COMAH-regulated chemical plant. 

The big obstacle seems to be the clubs themselves; a proposal a few years back was stymied by a refusal of Bristol City to entertain the idea of sharing. I'm sure your guess as to why they did that is a good as mine - and probably the same!

Clubs that cannot co-operate for the good of the city and for their own businesses frankly have no right to hold the council, the fans, the residents, and local MPs to ransom.


Pete Goodwin

25th Oct: Kerry's response added in the comments below

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

GUEST POST - A chance to improve the environment in Stockwood

[Here's an initiative that can make a real difference to the place we live - with a direct input into the council, too. Stockwood Pete]

Stockwood Environmental Group is a new group that is working to improve the environment in Stockwood. The group will be meeting for the first time on Thursday 28th October at 2pm, at Maple Court, Stockwood Road (over the road from the Library)

If you have an interest in anything environmental from parks to sustainability to litter in the streets, come along and get involved.

If you would like any more information, then please contact Gemma Dando on 0117 352 1090 or email


Back in July, I blogged about the latest 'public engagement' version of the Joint Local Transport Plan (JLTP3). At the last moment (as per usual) I got engaged, and sent this piece in to the West Of England transport planners.

1.  Above all else, a real, state of the art multimodal public transport hub at Temple Meads should be at the heart of JLTP3.

Plot 6 is there ready and waiting - a unique development site right next to the West of England's biggest railway station, yet it's not even mentioned anywhere on the Travel+ website ! We're told that officers have been in discussion about the future of Plot 6.  We know that time and again the public have raised this as a top public transport priority for Bristol.   Yet it's totally absent from your plans.  

2. A Passenger Transport Authority  is a must if the W. of England is to make any real difference to the dire state of transport in the subregion.   It may have been voted down 3:1 by the Executive members, but there's no reason why it shouldn't at least be kept as an option under continuous review - and published as part of JLTP3 - to show that the region has the ambition to make a real difference.

 3. Smart Cards and accessible, comprehensive Real Time Information : as yet, there's little real progress (and of course it's not helped by the major bus operator whose monopoly would be weakened by a smart card)  ; both these are universal benefits that make the experience of using buses both easier and faster.   They deserve much more emphasis in JLTP3

 4.  Traffic Reduction should be an absolute ambition for the urban areas, scoring well in terms of cutting congestion, road safety, quality of life, carbon reduction, Peak Oil, air quality and (arguably) economic growth of the useful variety.   It's a prerequisite of easing our urban traffic problems.  Lets not be shy - make it a real ambition.

5. JLTP3 makes a passing reference to the importance of 'digital infrastructure' in cutting traffic; perhaps it should also refer to the importance of land use planning, sustainable communities, local food production and distribution,  'low-traffic' businesses etc. as legitimate parts of a sustainable transport plan.

6. A 20mph city would save lives, reduce carbon emissions. At the same time, it's easier to sign and to drive than the 'partial' zones now being set up.   Why on earth is there no mention in JLTP3 ?

7. The Portishead Branch and the Henbury Loop, are grossly underused resources that should be getting a far greater commitment in JLTP3, not just warm words.   At a time when the major capital projects (all road based) are all under financial threat, the focus should be on worthwhile projects that make the best use of what we already have on the ground.

The first six have in common that, unlike most of the flagship projects, they all have universal application, bringing the most widespread benefits for the travelling public.