Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Monday, 26 December 2011

2011 meets 2012

The climate change deniers always (and rightly) warn against taking warmer weather as conclusive evidence of a warming trend. Not that it stops them citing every cold snap as evidence of the opposite!

I'll just settle for these images.  Another local sign of the impacts of human behaviour on the global climate?  Or just plain weird?


This Christmas, we still have  (well, until we ate them) a few raspberries and nasturtiums in the garden.

Down the road at the Callington Road nature reserve, 2012's primroses are already showing.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Keeping the Lord Mayor mobile

At last, the answer to the question that's got all Bristol talking.

What to do about the Lord Mayoral Limo?  The tired old Daimler has been all but written off, since a little contretemps with a traffic bollard at the foot of the Council House ramp damaged its underside beyond economic repair.

Finding a replacement in these times of austerity was never going to be easy.  The civic leader of Bristol must have a civic vehicle to match the city's international standing. But we're skint.

The answer is inspired by Chooseday.

Remember Chooseday?   Probably not.  It was launched with a big fanfare a few years ago by the great and good of Bristol.  The idea was that Chooseday should be a the brand  (yes, brand) for sustainable initiatives in the city.  For starters, motorists were asked to give up their cars one day a week (on Tuesdays, believe it or not), and use their legs, bikes or public transport.  Once that habit got established, other initiatives would be developed to expand the Chooseday brand.

It was never going to work, of course.  Can you imagine if it did?  Every Tuesday, instead of the usual congestion crippling Bristol, everyone would be piling on to buses and trains that simply weren't equipped for the sudden influx.   Result... public transport totally discredited as an alternative to the car. 

Within a few days, Chooseday became history.

Until now. Using the Chooseday model, the Mayoral Limo can be resurrected for nowt.  The city and its Lord Mayor get a 'timeshare' vehicle, different on each day of the week, provided by the good example of the city bosses.

For three days, the leaders of the main parties will set the Chooseday example, putting their own vehicles at the Lord Mayor's disposal, while they find more sustainable ways to get around. 

The fourth day, it's the Greens' turn.  Tess Green, in fact.  Sorry, Tess, you'll have to walk.  Just pedal up to the Mansion House in Clifton, and leave your bike there.

Days 5 and 6, lets have the real city bosses join in. 

Merchant Venturer John Savage should certainly be up for it - he was one of the first spokesmen for the Chooseday launch.  On the day he volunteers his own car for civic use, he can still get to work at Business West on the newly upgraded 357/358 bus.  No problem there then.

On Day 6, perhaps it should be left to the business community to select one of their own.  Maybe by ballot among members of the Local Enterprise Partnership?

For the seventh day there can be only one volunteer - and one vehicle.  Steve Lansdown already owes a debt of gratitude to Bristol, for all its efforts to turn his dream stadium and the assets around it into a reality, and to oppose anything and anyone that might get in the way.  Steve, it is said, has a part share in a private jet based at the airport.  He must be able to spare it one day a week; come here too much and he might have to start paying taxes, and anyway, he could always use the Weymouth train and the ferry to get home to Guernsey.  So let this jet plane be the cherry on the mayoral transport cake - something to reflect the very special stature of the city, and to help attract the most ambitious candidates if, in future, we're to elect an all-powerful city Mayor.  What other city could compete with that?

Not that the Lord Mayor should use the Lansdown jet, of course, other than for photo-opportunities.  Just keeping it on the ground would do the city, and the planet, a favour.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Headbangers of the world unite

As falls go, it wasn't a big one - just a tumble off a pushbike onto concrete a few yards from home on a quiet residential street.  The biggest immediate response was embarrassment - did anyone see?

After lying there a few secs, I picked up myself, then the bike, and went home.  Checked for injury - just a grazed knee and elbow.

After a few minutes, though, everything went fuzzy.  I wasn't sure who I was or where I lived, let alone what had just happened.  I vaguely remember a paramedic asking me questions, an ambulance arrived, and my wife and I were whisked off to A&E.  On the way, memories returned - though not (and still not) of the half-hour or so blank spot after the bump. 

Walked cautiously into A&E where some routine tests and checks were quickly done, all of it very reassuring.  There was a wait for the CT scan (others' need were greater than mine) but after a few hours all was declared OK, and we caught the bus home.

The lessons:
  • Value the NHS - it's marvellous.  Don't let them kill it.
  • Always wear a helmet, even for little low-traffic local trips.  It was by chance I'd had one on this time, and it took enough hammering in the fall enough to split the side.  If I'd not been wearing it, this would have been another, much darker, story, if it had been written at all.

Now, off to get a new one.....

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The price of a kiss

TescoValue - £3

Street price - zilch

The 54 bus goes national !

.......  or at least it's attracted  plenty of comments on fixmytransport, after one Will Spurr used the site to ask for 'real time' displays along the 54 route.

The comments have brought plenty of info about what happens elsewhere in the UK, about different costs, and some original suggestions for making real time info more accessible.

No response yet from BCC though.




Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Neighbourhood Partnerships? or Councillors holding court?

The city council's decision to delegate the controversial green space sales to 'neighbourhood' level will thrust these emergent local democratic structures into a very public spotlight.   Will they deliver?  In this corner of the city, the indications aren't good.

Even at the council meeting, Cllr Gus Hoyt (Green) had to correct the euphoric Labour speakers with a reminder that they'd passed the big decisions not to the people, but to the Neighbourhood Committees.  That is, to the four or six councillors for those wards where sales will be considered.   How those councillors pick which (if any) sites to sell will be their own responsibility.  As will the converse - which sites to retain, thus losing a share of whatever income they might have produced to improve what's left.

In Hengrove and Stockwood, there's no sign that the residents will be involved to any degree.   My own attempt to start a dialogue between councillors, partnership members, and residents, fell at the first hurdle at the 'Stockwood Ward Forum' a couple of weeks ago.   There's no rush, said our councillor, we don't yet know the details, and we already know what our electors think.   No need to be alarmed that the government wants to force councils to sell everything in sight.  Calm down, dear, don't worry, we'll tell the people about it in our Conservative ward newsletter.

Sadly, our Stockwood councillors keep well away from 'open access' fora - whether third party public meetings, like election hustings, or on-line discussions (including even the Neighbourhood Partnership's own 'HandS ON' forum).  Party-funded ward newsletters offer a much more tightly controlled medium to set the agenda, the words, and the response.

But while Stockwood has seven sites on the parks hit list, our Hengrove partners have none, not since a group of residents succeeded in getting Brierley Leaze off the list by forcing a reluctant council to admit it met all the criteria for a Town Green.   So Hengrove has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from Stockwood's land being sold for development, and their two councillors – one LibDem, one Labour - must be aware of that.   And they form half the Neighbourhood Committee, alongside our two Tory conservative councillors. 

Each Partnership meets four times a year for the Neighbourhood Committee to make formal spending decisions.   In practice, the agendas are long and there's no time for in-depth discussion, let alone consensus building at the 90-minute meeting, especially on complex site-by-site issues such as this.   We're assured that land sales won't be rushed into the January meeting.   The next ones are in March and then nothing till June.

So for now, it looks like any decision will be down to four councillors, with little or no reference to the park users or, indeed, to anyone who might put a case for development. They will, of course, take representations from anyone who cares to make them, including their close local advisers and their 'party line'. But the Neighbourhood Partnerships, set up for the purpose, look like being excluded from the discussions. 

There will be no attempt at the tricky task of building a popular consensus. Leave that sort of radicalism to the College Green Occupiers.

Cosmetic Surgery



This new sign appeared outside our local GP practice.  What does it mean?

OK, the words are clear enough (though fingers crossed that 'we care' relates to the patients).  But what on earth is the blue hexagon about?   It can't be a cube - the yellow disc and the letters would be angled differently.   Has the practice manager been on a course about blue sky thinking, perhaps?   Or was it just some novelty drawing software ?   I think we should be told

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Power to the People?

Tuesday's council meeting handed a new and challenging responsibility to the city's fourteen Neighbourhood Partnerships - they're to decide on the thorny issue of selling off some local green spaces for development.  Well, not the Partnerships themselves - it's actually down to the ward councillors who sit within the Partnerships as 'Neighbourhood Committees'.

The word is was (see note below) that they're to reach a decision by the end of January.  They'll also be offered incentives to sell as much as possible - because the more they sell, the greater proportion that comes back to improve the land that's left.



This is where I get parochial; I'll stick with what I know (and the Cabinet and central administration clearly don't) - the threatened open spaces of Stockwood.  Here, seven spaces are on the target list:
Burnbush Close (bus terminus field)
Ladman Road (turning circle)
Ladman Road/Bagnell Road
Gillebank Close (pictured above)
Craydon Road Triangle
Hazlebury Road/railway path
Sturminster Close

As I told the council on Tuesday, only one of the seven could possibly be described as a 'backland' site, such as they love to describe as 'low value'.  None of them has significant antisocial behaviour problems.   Most are well used by the public, and with a little work all of them could be. 

The purpose of delegating the decision to local councillors is to allow local people, who know the sites best, to get involved.  But in practice the younger NP's (like ours covering Hengrove and Stockwood) haven't so far excited a lot of interest from residents in general. 

I'll try using this blog to point to where the local information is and where to join the discussion - on and offline.  Starting with the under-used 'HandS ON' forum where the stage is set to host comments on the Stockwood and Hengrove site sales.  If you're a Stockwood or Hengrove resident, please use it.
 
Note, 24/11/11. The word now is that there will be a little longer allowed for the NP's to reach decisions. In Stockwood that means it's more likely to reach decision time in the April round of NP meetings. It still isn't long, of course. So it was all the more disappointing that at tonight's Stockwood Forum, neither the ward councillor nor the officers showed much interest in launching any kind of dialogue with the residents about it. Power to the people? Huh!

The Whipping Boys

As council meetings go, Tuesday's turned out unexpectedly uncontroversial.  There were even a few fleeting glimpses of sweetness and light, that the usual suspects, goading the opposition at every opportunity, couldn't entirely dispel.

For most of us, the big issue was, again, the threatened sale of green spaces.  When it came to the vote, Members would be faced with a tricky balancing act, weighing up issues of localisation, social justice, quality of life, revenue, home-building, maybe even soil, wildlife and water conservation.  Oh, and electoral advantage!

In the public forum, we strutted our stuff as best we could in the very limited time available.  I'd wondered, not for the first time, if there was any point in this ritual, and this time I seized my moment with the mike to ask them to declare (for once) whether the vote was being 'whipped'.  After all, if that order's already gone out, what's the point of debate?  What's the point of the public forum?

In the event, it turned out that a deal had been struck before the meeting, and it finished with a unanimous vote.  Whipping would have been irrelevant anyway - just like the statement I introduced on behalf of Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces.  The deal was already sealed.

OK, my whipping question wasn't 100% innocent.  I knew that the two Greens on the council ('Leader' Tess Green and 'Whip' Gus Hoyt) had formed independent and different views as to how to vote on the choices in the original motion.  Fair enough. They'd both looked at the complex issues in great depth, the voters and the party had entrusted them to use their common sense, so why try to override that with some kind of whipping system that forces either of them to go against their consciences? 

The three bigger parties don't seem to operate like that.  I don't doubt that most of their members joined up because they found something in the party line that chimed with their own world views.  But on an issue of parkland sales, which had been endorsed years before by all three, (only the Greens questioned it then) it's hard to see why any of them should have changed their views...  what is so different now from the situation then? 

The only thing I can think of has nothing to do with principle, it's simply electoral opportunism. Those party groups, as always, seem to define themselves primarily in electoral terms, and don't hesitate to silence any possible dissent within their ranks by telling their councillors how to vote.  They even see such enforced obedience as a virtue. 

How long before I'll witness in the Bristol council chamber what I once saw happen in my (then) local town hall?  The debate was staged, the party positions were pre-defined, and the whips were out.  The Leader of the majority Labour Party returned to the chamber after answering a call of nature, just in time to hear the mayor call for the vote.  He put his hand up.  Falteringly, his fellow members followed his example.  So, to the Leader's surprise, did the opposition benches.  By that time it was too late to rectify his mistake.  Council policy had been dramatically and unexpectedly changed. 

After that he listened much more carefully to what vote was being called. 
They still routinely use the whip, though.  They're still proud of their party discipline, too.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Saving the NHS

  http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/5911

Quick....  this e-petition needs to get 100,000 signatures to force the government to debate the Health & Social Care Bill again in the House of Commons.

Though the bill was passed at its Third Reading by a majority of 65 in the House of Commons, opposition continues to grow as public understanding of the implications of the bill spreads more widely.

Forcing a government re-debate will at the very least throw another spanner in the works - and who knows, constituents may be able to persuade their MPs (with the threat of not voting for them at the next election) to vote against the Bill this time around.

Let’s make this Very Viral to get the numbers Very UP. 

  http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/5911

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Friday, 4 November 2011

Pro-occupations

Bristol's LibDem contortionists are getting plenty of practice as they try to deal with the embarrassment of the Occupy Bristol encampment on College Green. Barbara Janke has had to retreat into an embarrassingly patronising "understanding" of their cause, while seizing on the excuse of marking Remembrance Sunday as an emotive reason to 'geroff my land'. Characteristically, Gary Hopkins is, as always, much more bellicose, with his aggressive dismissal of the Green Party's open approval of what the occupiers stand for.

Labour seems to follow broadly along the Janke line, while the Tories lean heavily to the Hopkins approach. None of them are talking seriously about the underlying issues though.

The Evening Post is playing a predictable part in its own reporting of the encampment. Next to nothing about the reasons it's there, but with negative headlines that belie the nature of the occupation, and draw a disproportionate number of ill-informed comments on the website.

There's been a much more thoughtful and adult approach on Bristol24/7

Yesterday, College Green and the tents had suffered from the heavy rain; and the occupiers were busy laying new temporary boardwalks to protect the grass.
Meanwhile, over in Cannes, the G20 were also busy attempting to patch up the increasingly slippery foundations of their own very temporary looking structure - the economic system.

Of course, everyone wants the College Green 'occupation' to be temporary. On the other hand we also want an economic system that's fair and just, that won't come crashing down around us. That will take more than a few pallets.

One thing that could give that international house of cards a little more stability, damping down some of the market tremors that could bring it down, is the so-called Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions - those deals that have no substance in terms of real goods or services, they're merely abstract and often incomprehensible 'products' dreamed up by the financial establishment to produce a quick profit for some and the illusion of economic growth for others.

Originally known as a Tobin Tax, this always seemed a very obvious way of tackling some of the world's most serious inequalities and injustices, while at the same time slowing down the dangerously erratic tides of the money markets. And at last it's gained very respectable and influential support from those who really can do something to make it happen. Sarkozy, Merkel, Soros, Buffet, Gates, the Vatican, and now our own Archbishop of Canterbury, writing in the Financial Times on Wednesday.

There's the opportunity to do it at Cannes - if they're not too distracted by the debacle of the failures of the Greek economy. Lets hope.

Unseasonal Fruits

Last month was the first time I recollect seeing ripe strawberries still growing so late in the year. But this is the third time I've been able to blog about picking outdoor tomatoes in November.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Creative

Dedicated to everyone who's travelled on a 36 bus......

We believe that buses are the future | First bus from Frame Digital on Vimeo.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

BMX for the Under-70s

[between-the-lines mentions that today is the International Day of Older Persons ]

One of the great things about younger people having to go to school, college, or work, is that their playthings are left for us older ones to enjoy....

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Result!

I'd like to claim the credit, but more likely it should go to the new 'Fix My Transport' website.

The real time bus departure boards at Temple Meads are working again after many months out of action.  Being one of that minority of Bristolians lucky enough to live within a single bus trip of the station, the board's very useful - it tells you whether to rush or to linger awhile.  That's all the more important these days with curtailed evening buses (for instance the now hourly Sunday evening No 1 service to Broomhill).  But I'd been merely passing by the defunct screen with a long-suffering grumble, without breaking through the inertia barrier and actually lodging a real complaint.

Until, that is, 'Fix My Transport' was launched by UK Citizens Online Democracy, the same people who brought us TheyWorkForYou, WriteToThem, What do They know and FixMyStreet

"FixMyTransport represents an experiment to discover whether a sufficiently well designed internet service can help tip people over the edge from grumbling about a problem to taking action to resolve it."
It tipped me over the edge on September 6th.  And now the screens are working again.

Unless it's just a coincidence, of course......

Still, is there any reason why this simple device shouldn't be provided in other public places too?  Say, in the main shopping malls...  or the bigger pubs (Wetherspoons, just adapt one of your rolling news screens).  It makes good business sense, if people choose to spend time on your premises instead of out at the bus stop.  Or even put one in the council house foyer, to help councillors after one of those interminable evening meetings.  If the buses are still running, that is.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Lord Mayor's Show

There was no green political capital to be made from the Visitation to open Stockwood's just-built BMX park - which is probably all for the good. The Mayoral Car didn't take a short cut across the field; instead Cllr Gollop made his stately way on foot, protected by the mayoral wellies. The only signs of party politics was the icefield that spreads from the council house even into this corner of Bristol, cutting certain councillors off from even talking to each other.

Otherwise, it was all celebratory; though among local establishment figures, only the vicar had the nerve to bring a bike and gingerly try out a bit of the new track.

Here's the mayor wielding the Civic Scissors to open the 'BMX Park' (while missing the show behind him).

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The figleaves are falling on the South Bristol Ring Road

It's official.

90% of the peak hour traffic on the South Bristol Link - "a new road linking the more deprived suburbs of South Bristol to the existing road network at the A38 and the A370" - won't serve those suburbs, it'll just go straight through.

And even if becomes impossible to provide the promised Rapid Transit buses along it, the council will still consider building the road.

These two disclosures came in reply to questions I put to Executive Member Tim Kent at Tuesday's full council meeting. They show emphatically that, despite years of denials, a Ring Road is the ambition. Bus Rapid Transit and a half-promise of economic development were mere figleaves, designed to hide the ugly fact that in an age of climate change, peak oil and congestion, they still think it's good to increase traffic.


............................
References:

Q. Does traffic modelling indicate what proportion of journeys on the two sections of this new road will originate or end in those 'more deprived suburbs'?

A. The traffic modelling indicates that in the morning peak, approximately 10% of trips would be to/from the more deprived deprived suburbs. In the inter-peak this would be approximately 20% of trips and in the evening peak this would be approximately 10% of trips.

A further answer showed that the Link could be threatened, unless 'certain aspects' of the Ashton-Vale-to-City-Centre bid go ahead. A supplementary verbal Q&A (which will be on the webcast) showed this means BRT on the Link won't work without BRT on the rest of the line - but doesn't rule out going ahead with the road anyway.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Crying all the way to the Happiness Bank

Why does this email make me even grumpier?

Dear [contact name],

CONGRATULATIONS! [name of group] has been identified as a particularly brilliant part of Bristol Life and somewhere that develops Happiness.   We've arranged an AMAZING OPPORTUNITY for you to feature in the forthcoming Happiness Bank AND have the chance to have FREE film training resulting in a film made about what you do. 

READ ON….

Happy City has been working with communities all around Bristol asking them what are the best things in their area, and what projects, ideas, initiatives are doing great things that increase happiness in all sorts of diverse ways.   Your project has been put forward as an all round brilliant thing.

We are currently busy building the soon to be launched ‘HAPPINESS BANK’ online – which will be a place where everyone can share what works and how it’s done. This is so that others can learn from it, support it, be inspired by it, replicate solutions and develop their own ideas with the help of this shared wisdom. 

We will be featuring your work in the bank of solutions and would love it if you could enter the details on our development site so the real story can be shared and your top tips for making change happen can be made available to other people across the city.

It should only take around 5-10 minutes to make your deposit in the Happiness Bank and in return we can promise:

·         Publicity – we will be sharing the best of the stories with all our contacts in local press, radio, tv and online media outlets

·         Social Media – we’ll be tweeting, facebooking and Youtubing the best of Bristol

·         When the Happiness Bank is launched in autumn 2011 your project will be showcased to people across the city and beyond interested in supporting growing happiness by volunteering, supporting or funding the best projects around.

In addition, the TOP 5 projects (judged by members of our trustees and partners) will be offered the opportunity to have a bespoke FREE FILM MAKING WORKSHOP resulting in a short film about their inspiring work which we will be sharing extensively and you will be able to use for your own publicity, recruitment, funding bids, evaluation…  This is worth £1000s to the 5 chosen projects, as part of a pilot Community Voice project funded by Lottery Awards for All.  Plus, EVERYONE who shares their story in the Happiness Bank will be in the running for this opportunity when the full Community Voice project is launched next year (subject to further funding).  More information about Community Voice is on the website at http://www.happycity.org.uk/happy-city-community-voice.

To share what you do on the Happiness Bank and enter your project for the Community Voice film workshops please sign in athttp://www.happycity.org.uk/user/register  and create your own username and password.

Once registered click on the Happiness Bank tab and then on the ‘deposit’ button (or go straight to http://www.happycity.org.uk/node/add/solution) and fill in the online form.  The site should do the rest – and your story, your wisdom and your ideas will be available to everyone who searches for an answer to their challenge, or an idea or activity to support.

Thanks in advance for adding to the Bank and to the Happiness of communities everywhere.  We’ll let you know by the end of September if you’ve been chosen for the Film project and in the meantime we’ll keep telling people about what you do.

Best wishes

The Happy City Team
..................................
 
In case you don’t already know about us, we are Happy City, a small grassroots organization, based in Bristol, aiming to:

·         Enable communities to focus on happiness, and the things that positively influence that.

·         Share pre-existing sources of happiness and support the growth of new ones, through uncovering, highlighting, celebrating, and sharing the learning from what is already working across the city and use that learning to support change to happen faster, better, with greater participation and fewer natural resources.

For more info go to www.happycity.org.uk, or call 07836 706978

Monday, 5 September 2011

Tories for off-road biking

On Saturday, we'll have Lord Mayor Geoff Gollop here in Stockwood for the Grand Opening of the new bike track, set into the slopes behind the Whittock Road allotments. It's rumoured (well, I'm starting a rumour...) that he'll hurtle down the course on a penny-farthing borrowed from the M-Shed, to symbolise our rapid descent into the Tory World of Victorian Values.

No doubt our own Conservative ward councillors will be there too. The real credit for the new course, though, should go to the young people who put such effort into creating and improving the old one. It was enought to earn themselves Youth Opportunity Fund backing, to pay for all the earthworks on this impressive new run.

Question 1 is - will this new-found Tory enthusiasm for bikes off the road be matched by keeping their own cars on the road?

The new track's a good 100m off Whittock Road, across level grassland. It was always going to be tempting for those arriving by car (and it looks like there'll be plenty, this won't be a wholly 'Stockwood' track) to drive those final 100m over the grass, summer and winter. Will Bristol's Conservatives set them a permissive example on Saturday?
...........................

It certainly seems that Bristol's Tories are wedded to their cars. They've been pretty silent, but (like their Labour and LibDem counterparts) generally supportive of plans for Bus Rapid Transit for the city. Until, that is, they got round to reading the Cabinet papers for last week and realised that the cost wouldn't come out of general taxation - a big chunk of it must now (thanks to George Osborne) come from Bristol itself. And the only realistic way of doing that is to levy those businesses in the central area that have workplace parking, at a rate of (wait for it....) a pound a day a parking spot. Cue Tory Shock Horror.

Of course, there was no plan B from the Tories; why bother when you're not in power, and there's some easy political point-scoring that's there for the taking?

So Question 2 is, does the Tory reluctance to raise funds from those car-driving commuters blessed with free workplace parking in the city centre stretch as far as opposition to the South Bristol Ring Road which is an integral part of the BRT bid package? I think we should be told. After all, that road would have a far greater impact on the quantity of traffic in Bristol than all three BRT schemes put together. IMHO.
.............................

Back to the bikes. The conservatives' enthusiasm for the off-road bike track riders clearly doesn't extend to the safety of those who cycle to get from A to B on real roads. Stockwood Cllr David Morris, who's written to BaneS about proposed new housing development between Whitchurch and Stockwood, takes the opportunity in his objection to blame congestion on Wells Road on "the installation of cycle tracks along the A37 reducing the flow of traffic into and out of Bristol".

And there I was, thinking it was caused by too many cars and heavy lorries!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Riding Out Review: ftr-metro, Swansea.

We were keen to try out the new ftr-Metro over at Swansea - largely because the same outfit is tipped to open up in Bristol before long.

ftr-metro is a new offering from the First chain, which already provides this more specialist choice to its customers in York, Leeds, and Swansea - to mixed reviews.

In Swansea, as in Bristol, First already has a near monopoly trading position, so for our starters we thought we'd try their basic buses, and as we expected there is little to choose between Swansea and Bristol. One difference, though, was that holders of concessionary fare passes had only to touch their cards on a reader to board the bus; no need to tell the driver their destination, so boarding and dwell times were marginally quicker.

Next came the eagerly anticipated main course of ftr-metro.

We'd done our homework and knew already that we should expect our existing perceptions of public travel to be challenged - making the terms bus, tram, and train redundant for this journey. The goftr website had told us.


As we waited for our neither-bus-tram-nor-train, we did note that perhaps there had been a bit of a cash shortfall in the preparatory phase; the raised kerbs offering easy boarding for buggies and wheelchairs had, here at least, been substituted by temporary rubber sloped steps on the low pavement. That seemed fairly typical of central Swansea; what isn't modern, anonymous, and cloned from other centres looks pretty seedy and uncared for.

Then we saw our 'new mode of public travel' approaching.


It comes presented in stylised blue and purple cladding, par for the course and straight out the First Colouring Book. The illusion that this is not a normal bus is further stressed by the lack of anyone called a driver. Instead, the vehicle is controlled by a 'pilot', who sits in a separate and spacious air-conditioned cabin. The more menial task of dealing with the passengers falls to a 'customer service host' - bringing nostalgic memories of the conductors who did the same job when I were a lad.

Fortunately, we'd had the foresight to buy a 'PlusBus' add-on to our rail tickets, so we didn't have to pay the usual First prices, which are much the same as here in Bristol.


No-one would deny that the interior of the ftr-metro was clean and reasonably comfortable. Possibly the presence of a customer service host discourages the jetsam of bottles and old newspapers that litter other buses. Otherwise, though, the ride quality wasn't much different from our local 54 bus in Bristol. And you get a better view from the upper deck of a 54.

Dwell time at stops was very short, thanks to the two entry/exit doors and the absence of any need to buy or show tickets on entry.

Outside, there's been extensive re-engineering of the road layouts to provide a clearer run for ftr-metro.


There's even a new section, isolated from the public roads by automatic gates. It doesn't really live up to its 'rapid' promise, though. If it's true that ftr-metro triggers green lights as it goes, it certainly didn't show up on our trip.

Swansea's modern central bus station can't accommodate the ftr-metro, because its layout requires buses to back out. Instead, this most central ftr stop, where drivers changeover, is on the road skirting the bus station. We noticed one would-be passenger racing dangerously (and illegally) across the busy bus apron in an effort to reach the ftr before it set off.

Remarkably, ftr-metro doesn't come packaged with real time information, which they don't seem to have heard of yet in Swansea's public transport system. Nor is there any expectation of prepayment of fares, as is the norm in London, and is planned for the Bristol BRT. No cross-ticketting either (except within the limits of First's own day and season tickets) and no smart cards.

As the flagship of Swansea's public transport provision, ftr-metro may be eye-catching to the visitor, but it really doesn't live up to the hype. It smells like a bus and it looks like a bus and it does what buses do.



Disappointed by our main course, we decided to complete the trip with an open-top ride around Swansea Bay to Mumbles Head. That made up for a lot!

Ratings (Nottingham=5):
Buses: 2
Rapid transit (ftr-metro): 2
open-top bus: 4
infrastructure: 2

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Ain't nature wonderful?



The footpath runs through a nature reserve. Among the wealth of wild flowers and trees, there's an abundance of birds, insects and mammals. At this time of year, there's plenty of wild blackberry and elderberry be enjoyed, too, to be followed by the sloes, and, if the squirrels don't get there first, some nuts.

There's not much unnatural noise, either; just the constant hum of traffic on the A4 at the Bath Road Park and Ride.

In the southern part of the reserve, volunteers from Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces have spent months clearing some of the thick undergrowth of bramble to regain access to the old orchard.

So far around 100 apple trees have been rediscovered, plus some pears, plums, and damsons. In October, there'll be an apple pressing day - locals can bring their own apples, or those freely gathered from the orchard, for pressing and go home with bottles of the fresh juice.

The Open Space is a free luxury - somewhere to escape to, to enjoy, to value - even to feed from.

But put a spade in the soil, and as likely as not its blade won't sink right in - there'll be a brick or other rubble, or a bit of old iron in the way. Between 1954 and 1978 this was the Stockwood Lane municipal tip, taking industrial, commercial and household waste. The footpath in the picture was the main access road, down which a procession of loaded wagons would bring the city's rubbish. Strictly, it isn't a landfill; like most tips, it was really a 'land-raise' operation, altering the natural topography of the countryside.

I'm not a great fan of landfill - it's generally the worst possible of options for all the 'stuff' that we no longer have any immediate use for. But thirty years on, this part of the Stockwood Open Space shows little evidence of this ugly period of its history. The wildlife and the fruits thrive, and the local people (those in the know) come to enjoy it.

Four or five miles to the west, another more controversial one-time landfill site, Parsonage Farm, is not being returned to nature so easily. Like Stockwood, this one was farmland commandeered for refuse disposal, and it received the same kind of treatment - but without the household waste. Now, it's become the battleground between those who want it protected as an Ashton Vale Town Green, and those who see it as a vital stepping stone for Bristol City's future success in the upper heights of English football. Possibly others see it as a way of making lots of money, but that's another story.

This Ashton Vale ex-landfill site is once again being dismissed in the comment columns of the Evening Post as a muddy field, a rubbish tip, a dog's toilet, or worse. Just the place for a dream stadium, fast-food outlets, car parking, a hotel, and the rest.

I don't doubt that the Stockwood Open Space could have been dismissed just as strongly a few years back.

It's our good fortune that it wasn't.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Caring for Chatterton's Birthplace


Above, a picture taken on 14th July of Thomas Chatterton's birthplace on Redcliffe Way. Looking well cared for, and with a nice bit of local food production outside.

Below, the same place this last Sunday. The veg have been thriving, but everything else has gone downhill. The place is derelict.


Anyone know the story?

Friday, 29 July 2011

Stupidity? Irresponsibility? Ticking the boxes for Plot 6.

Plot 6, alongside Temple Meads rail station, is arguably the finest opportunity to do what bendy buses won't do, and what trams or Portishead reopening wouldn't do; to turn around Bristol's woeful public transport network so that everyone can get everywhere in two hops at most, with safe and comfortable interchange on the way. The sort of thing that might actually be better than using the car. Cross-ticketing and good real time information can offer 'soft' infrastructure to make it all seamless, and an Integrated Transport Authority can provide the essential governance. Not rocket science. Easy. Job done.

Except.... that the soft infrastructure is being developed only very slowly, sometimes actively opposed by key players, and the ITA isn't being pursued at all. All the energy and the public money is going into Bus Rapid Transit (and, in the case of the South Bristol Link, into the completion of a southern ring road masquerading as sustainable transport).

Worst of all, the Plot 6 site itself, and all its potential, is set to be buried for ever under a new development of retail, office, and car parking.

You might think such folly is impossible. After all, don't the politicians of all parties now officially recognise that Plot 6 has fantastic potential as a transport hub? Didn't the new Local Enterprise Partnership at their very first formal meeting acknowledge the importance of the site for transport interchange to serve economic development? . And they're the unelected quango gifted with the powers to turn this designated 'local enterprise zone' into an employment hub at the heart of a transport network. Everything's in place to make it happen.

BUT this last week, Bristol24/7 published a story that had until then only circulated informally; Plot 6 will not be used as a transport hub. Best we'll get (perhaps) is a BRT stop over in the Friary (Pipe Lane) to serve the station, while the 8/9 buses and the airport flyer that currently stop on the main station approach ramp would be relegated to the same place.

Significantly, the council's rapid rebuttal unit, and the Executive member, have remained strangely silent.

And today, we've seen the pictures of the Prime Minister re-enacting the Thatcher 'Walk in the Wilderness' alongside Temple Meads, in the company of the Local Enterprise Partnership's chair, Colin Skellet. Again, the covering press statements are full of promised opportunities for commercial development across the zone; not a word about its transport potential.

So where's the debate, where's the accountability?

Over on 'Ask Bristol' we've just been invited to discuss the pros and cons of the three bendy-bus routes, just after the council's made its decision to bid for them (while committing to raising the best part of £100 million locally to pay toward the cost). And the politicians are just starting their annual August break from public meetings.

Treating the public with contempt is nothing new, and neither is breaking promises - but the Plot 6 debacle takes stupidity, short-sightedness, and irresponsibility to quite unprecedented levels.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Stockwood Miscellany

Time to catch up.....

Recycling
Residents of Harden Road will welcome the reports that we'll 'soon' be getting the long-promised kerbside recycling service for plastics. The inadequate bin behind the Co-op does get overfilled, or more often just littered by people who can't be bothered to actually put stuff into it.

Meanwhile, across Hollway Road, Leadbitters, the contractors for the new Chestnut Court complex, have put in their own fairly comprehensive recycling bank. It's only a few large bins set behind slots in the site fencing, but it's a welcome addition to Stockwood's barely existent recycling facilities. The same contractors have offered to provide a recycling centre at the completed site, too.

Down at the Orchard.....
Looks like we can expect a good harvest from the 'official' fruits of the orchard on the Open Space (some 'unofficial' crops of nettles, elderflowers and plums have already been put to good use). A recent count of the trees along the informal path north of the new picnic table (thanks, FoSOS, Parks, and the Neighbourhood Partnership) found fifty apples, four pears and a plum; and there are plenty more in the uncharted scrublands to the east of that.
In October, Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces expect to bring in an apple press to make the most of it. If enough people help organise the day, it could be our own Oktoberfest.

Stockwood Green School buildings

.... are not to become the community resource that we'd hoped for. Instead, from September, they're the new home for the Whitehouse Centre, a 'pupil referral centre' which is moving from inadequate premises over in Hartcliffe. It's a short stay unit for pupils who haven't coped with mainstream schooling (or vice versa), who'll be bussed to and from the new unit each day.
A new head teacher and staff are keen to build good relationships with the Stockwood community. The Evening Post quotes the acting head: "We will be able to make extensive use of the tranquil grounds and hope to create a kitchen garden and outside space which would benefit from community involvement." A good oportunity for allotmenteers! "I'd also welcome any local people who would like to take an active role in our management committee." . Looks like there'll still be opportunities for community use of the buildings in the evenings, too.

Local Food Project
It looks like the Whitehouse Centre and the two primary schools will be leading the way with initiatives to put local food on the table, and maybe in the shops. It coincides with members of the Neighbourhood Partnership actively encouraging the use of public sites to grow food to share - one of the first signs of that will be planters/raised beds in public places. There's also whatever we can gather from the orchard and the sprinkling of fruit and nut trees around the ward. But in the end it's people power that's the key.


Nice to see this bit of thriving guerrilla gardening alongside Chatterton's house on Redcliffe Way. All the more so on such a busy public site that must be vulnerable to vandalism. Presumably the work of the people occupying (and looking after) the long-neglected building?


High Growth Investments?
One initiative that doesn't tick the right boxes is the arrival of hanging baskets around the Stockwood shops. They're absurdly high up, and ridiculously awkward to maintain and water. Fail.

Write your own news....

The badly revamped Evening Post website makes it possible to dream up your own news story and present it as fact on the main news pages.
I was briefly delighted to see the announcement that the 55 bus (Stockwood via Wells Road) is to be restored. Until it turned out to be a bit of mischief from an anonymous contributor to their 'forum' pages, elevated to the news page because it attracted comments.
The fiction seems to be a response to improvements made to bus stops along Wells Road - which are, I guess, more to do with introducing a 'showcase' route between Bristol, Midsomer Norton and Radstock. That won't be before time, though you have to wonder what it will do to the Wells/Street service.

and thinking of buses....

What an asset Alan Peters' A-bus service is! Cheap, but never predictable.
........................
(and, added a day later)
Work should be starting (at last) on the upgraded BMX track behind the Whittock Road allotments tomorrow (Monday).

Saturday, 18 June 2011

AVTG - The Biggest Fix Yet? Probably

It was, by any measure, an extraordinary way of reaching a decision. So much so that the term 'fix' looks like the right one. On the balance of probability, of course.

Right at the start we had Cllr Peter Abraham dismiss the widespread concerns that he might not be fully open-minded (bearing in mind his declaration last month that he is "convinced we should reject the inspector's advice. I don't think this qualifies as a town green and it brings the process into disrepute."). That, he explained, was before he joined this committee and was invited to chair it. Now, he is 100% open minded. He's taken advice and is confident that he is beyond any legal challenge.

So that was all right, children.

The meeting papers did not include the report of the independent Inspector, Ross Crail, who had (together with two barristers) thoroughly tested the evidence of witnesses brought by the applicants and the objectors - and concluded that the land does qualify as a Town Green. Someone, somewhere, had decided that the committee needn't bother with that.

Nor did the papers include the 'further evidence', crucial to the officers' recommendation. Why read it when you can be fed a carefully chosen selection?

There was only the officer's 13 page report, and of that only three pages were dedicated to the 'further evidence' of objectors and applicants - roughly in the proportion of 4:1 - as summarised by the council's own chief finance officer, who doesn't seem ever to have been involved in a Town Green application before.

Public statements came first. Most of the committee looked bored, even when our Stockwood councillor ignored all the reminders that this is about past use of the site and waxed enthusiastic about its development potential. The Green Party statement was listed at No 80 (of 80) so I never got the chance to speak to it.

The Chief Executive, Jan Ormondroyd, told members what their options were. When she said one is to approve the whole site as a Town Green, she added 'but that wouldn't take the new evidence into account'. A serious misdirection there, Jan. Of course they could do both.

After a few desultory questions (at least one of them showing the papers hadn't been read or absorbed), and a comment from Cllr Alex Woodman that the information was wholly inadequate, we waited for the meat of the discussion. What did members actually think? What value did they attach to the evidence, and why? Would they question the Chair's integrity?

It didn't happen. From the Chair, Cllr Abraham simply took it straight to a vote on the recommendation before them. Six hands were raised. The deed was done.

The two dissenting members were Alex Woodman and Neil Harrison. Neil gives his own perspective on his own blog

Monday, 13 June 2011

AVTG - The Biggest Fix Yet?

Over the last couple of years, we've got used to the council insisting on getting its own way, whatever the evidence or the legal niceties might do to get in the way. As Harry commented on this blog, "The council doesn't care anymore. They can break any law. Break any convention. Do anything they want. "

How far can they go with it? Back in March of last year, building a ring road on the shallow pretence that it's really to get jobseekers in Hartcliffe a bendy bus to find work in Ashton Vale seemed to me to be pushing the limits.

But that was easily capped by the long drawn out saga of the Green Space sell-off, which for sheer consistency of denial in the face of reality broke new ground, only to be halted (perhaps - but that's another matter!) on May 5th when the electorate made it impossible to continue with the charade.

Now they're set to go one better even than that, with the Ashton Vale Town Green decision, to be considered by the PROWG Committee on Thursday.

I and others have already commented on the self-evident 'predetermination' of the decision by key Committee members. But now we can also see the advice those members will be getting. It's carefully honed to give them an excuse to reach the decision the Administration (not to mention the landowners) want, while simultaneously rejecting the independent opinion of the expert assessor brought in by the council. In fact that expensively gathered opinion doesn't even seem to be among the meeting papers.

This new report to PROWG members relies instead on the council's own 'in-house' expertise to analyse the case for and against a Town Green. Expertise? Well, not quite. Instead of getting the report written by its most senior expert in planning matters and law, the council's commissioned it from a colleague on the Strategic Directorate; Will Godfrey, the Strategic Director of Corporate Resources. Planning isn't part of his brief; his corporate task is 'overseeing the Finance, Human Resources, Shared Transactional Services, ICT, Integrated Customer Services (including Benefits and Council Tax), Legal and Procurement functions. He also leads on work relating to Value for Money and Commissioning across the council'.

Handed this (for him) novel task, the Strategic Director has obligingly delivered just what the Administration wants. He recommends 'partial registration' of the site. This would fully meet the wishes of the Objectors (being, in effect, Steve Lansdown and the football club); they can build the stadium exactly as planned, while the remaining land would be a managed soakaway (or wetland) to cope with the drainage from the main site. This is, as ever, presented as a social benefit for residents.

But that's not what the original professional assessment, by Ross Crail, decided after ten days close examination of all the evidence. How does the Director square the two conflicting views? Simple. He rejects 'on the balance of probability' the original determination that the northern part of the site, at one time used as a landfill, meets the criteria for Town Green Registration.

Then he goes on to conveniently redefine the northern part of the site - not just as the one-time landfill, but as exactly the area required for the new developments and the linked infrastructure. It becomes bounded by the outer line of the proposed BRT route from Long Ashton Park and Ride.

Should any committee member be tempted to ask for the evidence of the public's failure to use this redefined area 'as of right' in the last twenty years, the report tells them that "There is no statutory requirement that a Committee reads this documentation". Trust me, I'm a lawyer. Trust me, I'm a finance expert. Trust me - but I'll not trust you.

Committee members are, however, offered a summary of the 'new' evidence, at Appendix B. The objectors side comes in some detail; the applicants side is so curtailed (and so misrepresented in the Evening Post) that they've since released the detail (linked from the Bristol Blogger's Indymedia post)

If there's a hole in the Strategic Director's report caused by the absence of any examination of this alleged evidence of non-use, it's been filled instead by an enthusiastic claim of what new development will do for the club and the city; 1,000 new jobs, £150 million investment.... you know, you've heard it before. Not of course that Members should let that promise sway their decision! These wonderful developments, the Director adds cautiously, are 'not a material consideration'. He just thought it was worth mentioning.

So on Thursday we'll have a prejudiced committee, and a prejudiced and inadequate report, a sidelined recommendation from a qualified inspector, along with huge pressure on the councillors involved to reach the decision that the landowners and the current administration and the Evening Post want.

You'd think, if there was a real case against Town Green registration, it would be easier than that.

NB. The meeting's at 4pm on Thursday at the Council House. A webcast is promised.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

GetaCab 2

The webcast, for some reason, didn't happen. The council's press office has remained silent. So all we passengers know so far of what the Cabinet decided for us is what the media chose to publish. From that...

On First's 'service' routes, it sounds like all those journeys marked with a £ sign in the paper or online timetable, will be reduced to hourly - except those on Sunday evenings, which will disappear completely unless First sudenly decide they were economic after all.

The 500 Harbour Link bus is no more. Intriguing that it should be axed to save a few bob, when the same council is promising to find £17 million MORE for the Ashton Vale rapid transit, to provide vital public transport in the same area, guaranteed to lever in squillions of inward investment etc etc. that wouldn't otherwise materialise.

Intriguingly, though, the Park and Ride contract has been won by a 'not for profit' company, HCT (Hackney? Community Transport).

And - totally outside the council's influence - Freebus was successfully launched yesterday, providing a half-hourly Saturday daytime service on a loop around the city centre. So there is something very positive to report.

Otherwise, even without the detail, this thirties Labour Party poster pretty well sums up what's happening across the board.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

GetaCab

Expect to see cabbies dancing in the ranks tomorrow evening. The Cabinet will be handing them a wealth of new business, as key bus services for this major city are dismantled to appease George Osborne.

The Cabinet's being asked to decide between two intolerable options - both of them cutting deep into those services deemed (until now) to be "socially necessary". In the process, it will hit everyone from schoolchildren to the elderly and disabled, make nonsense of any pretensions to fight climate climate change, to cut air pollution, or to reduce congestion.

Right now, we don't know which option the Cabinet (are there any non-motorists among them?) will impose on us (I'll add to this post when it happens). The papers in front of them at the meeting won't help them choose, they don't spell out out what will be cut, only, scattered about the documents, what might be retained. Sir Humphrey would be proud of it.

It's clear, though, that after September, it will be much harder (if it's possible at all) for any Cabinet Member to catch a bus home after a meeting. At best, evening services on the main city routes will be heavily reduced in the evenings, so that (say) to get back here to Stockwood will involve waiting for the next HOURLY bus. At worst, the last bus will leave around 9.30!

Early morning services face the same threat, while Sunday buses are likely to be halved.

This may all be good news for First; unless passenger numbers are cut pro rata to the number of buses, they'll be able to squeeze more passengers on fewer buses, and pick up a city subsidy at the same time. It's an ill wind....

Meanwhile, over in Nottingham......


......I had the chance last week to try their city-run public transport - the bus and the tram. Cheaper than Bristol, city-wide, high frequency, excellent buses, stops, and information. Routes are branded by colour, and terminate in the centre.


There's a flat fare (£1.60, or £3.40 all-day) plus a whole range of cheaper seasons and group tickets, operating as smart cards, often valid with other operators too. The buses are much quicker, because no change is given and most people use smart cards anyway. And so far as I can see, it's all unthreatened by cuts.

That's what happens where a city has the wisdom to keep its transport operation 'in house'. Tomorrow, Bristol City Council will agree to abandon its last council-owned vehicles, the specialist vehicles dedicated to community transport. Ideological insanity.

Countdown to Zero


At the tender age of twenty one I, like most of those around me, was contemplating imminent death. We were helpless to prevent it, the decisions would be taken many thousands of miles away. It was the time of the Cuba Crisis, the most public cold war confrontation between the nuclear armed governments of Russia and the USA. Either one side gave way - and they were showing precious little sign of it - or global nuclear war would be triggered. The unthinkable horror that would end our civilisation was never more thought about.

Nearly half a century later, nuclear weapons remain, in quantity, and have spread much wider across the globe. The 'MAD' dogma that Mutually Assured Destruction ensures that war is not an option has been abandoned; first strikes and tactical use of nuclear weapons are part of military language. There have been a number of 'near misses'; it doesn't need an international crisis to provoke a launch, just an 'accident, miscalculation, or madness' as JFK put it.

But in 2011, the risk of nuclear war gets little public attention. For most of the UK population, Hiroshima is history, nothing more.

All the more reason to take a look at 'Countdown to Zero', a new film being premiered across the UK on Tuesday June 21st. In Bristol, it's at the Watershed, at the Chessels Community Cinema in Southville, and at CoExist in Hamilton House, Stokes Croft

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Fettered Discretion?


Tory group leader Peter Abraham has been around the council chamber for many years now. Long enough to know the council's constitution backwards, and quick to remind his colleagues of it whenever they threaten to stray from doing things strictly by the book. More than once I've seen him reminding fellow-councillors that the public will judge them by the way they conduct themselves, and that all too often it leaves a lot to be desired. Amen to that.

Peter will certainly be well aware of the rules governing councillors who might be thought to have 'predetermined' views on the decisions they take on the council's regulatory committees, like those dealing with development control. So when he comes to chair the Public Rights of Way & Greens Committee on June 16th, he'll want to ensure that such a sensitive decision (whether to register land at Ashton Vale as a Town Green) is beyond any possible reproach.

He could start by reminding members of Part 5 of the City Council constitution:

"Members who sit on a development control committee must be careful not to fetter their discretion and by consequence their ability to take part in a planning decision. Members would fetter their discretion if, for example, they made up their minds, or clearly appear to make up their minds ...... on how they intended to vote on a planning matter prior to the development control committee’s consideration of the matter and the hearing of the evidence and arguments from all the parties."

If that doesn't sink in, he could add that

"If such a member fetters his/her discretion then that member will put the Council at risk of legal proceedings on the grounds of bias, predetermination or a failure to take into account all the factors to enable the proposal to be considered on its own merits and/or a finding of maladministration by the ombudsman."

Of course, if he'd come across a piece in the Evening Post earlier this month, attributing to one of his committee members the words:

"My personal view is that I am convinced we should reject the inspector's advice. I don't think this qualifies as a town green and it brings the process into disrepute."

then he might make a special effort to make sure that his committee's decision wasn't put at risk by the self-evident pre-judice of that member.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Some Extra for Tesco

A small splash in the Bristol Evening Post followed my story (below) about Tesco's takeover of the council recycling banks at their major stores. The Post's theme was that Tesco are diverting the value of the materials to their own profits, instead of to the council.

They were right. It's a takeover that's being rolled out across the country, and it's drawn well-deserved criticism.

The Post article drew more online comments than you might expect, some of them well-informed - pointing out, for instance, that collections from large recycling banks are one of the few truly profitable (as against less costly) recycling services. The council could use that income to subsidise the more costly elements of recycling collections. Tesco will use it, in part, to make selective contributions to local schools, presenting it as an altruistic measure while actually imprinting the name Tesco on impressionable minds. The rest will go into the corporate coffers.

This takeover also features a novel way of 'externalising' a commercial cost, so it doesn't have to be borne by the company. Under Tesco's usual business strategy, this usually means squeezing suppliers, but with the recycling banks it means getting the supply totally 'free'; we punters bring it along gratis, bearing the whole collection cost ourselves.

I asked the new contractors about the quality of this Tesco version of recycling. Two questions:


First, could we still deposit a whole range of plastics in the banks, as before?

Answer came there none, in spite of sending a second reminder.

Second (having ascertained a while back that there are checks in the council service to guarantee that the materials really are recycled) could we expect the same of the Tesco service - or might there be circumstnces where materials would be landfilled or incinerated?

Back comes the reply "Severnside Recycling/DS Smith Recycling have no investment in landfill, and are the market leader in diversion from landfill strategies, we always aim to return material back into the recycling stream." .

Not exactly a straight answer, then. And no word about incineration. Not even a fortnight after a second request.

So it looks like Tesco are providing us with an inferior recycling service, with no guarantees that the materials we take the trouble to provide will be recycled, and with the profits dedicated solely to Tesco's corporate aims instead of cross-subsidising the public recycling service.

Thanks, Tesco. Every little helps.


I've asked if Stockwood's only alternative plastics recycling skip (behind the Co-op) can be expanded; it's now the only place we can take many plastics. It's also the only place we know they'll really be recycled. And also the only place where the income goes to help provide council services at a time of deep cuts.

[Added 30th May:]
The tidy appearance of the recycling banks after the Tesco takeover was short lived: here's what it looked like today.


Not entirely Tesco's fault, of course, part of it's down to the punters who seem to see every recycling bin as a handy spot for a bit of flytipping. Even so, you'd think that if they can run the whole retail operation on a bank holiday, they could extend it to covering their own recycling operation.

The 'trolley' bins are newbies, just arrived - and they hold the promise that plastics of all sorts deposited here will be recycled, as when under council control. The contracting firm is based in Chippenham, and specialises in skip hire; it will be interesting to know what happens to the plastics that are overflowing from these bins. If they tell us.

The Hadge is dead. Long live the hadge....

.....or, more accurately, the azada, or the djembe, or the Chillington hoe. Somehow this tool, bought by chance as part of a job lot of second hand garden tools at a pre-millenium auction, became know to us as 'the hadge'.


Heaven knows how many years it had been around before it became my first choice in the garden and at the allotment. But it met its end as a tough tool among the rubble and bramble roots at the Open Space Orchard; too hard a battleground for such an aged veteran. Now it will be retired to lighter pastures.

The new one had to be bought online. I can't understand why such a useful tool isn't available locally. I once saw one at Bath's Green Park market - but that's about it.

This one's sold as a 'trenching hoe' - seems like the design's unchanged (the blade's much thicker and half-an-inch longer than the old one, but that's probably down to wear and tear). It's beauty is in its functionality - it makes many tasks easier, but above all, cultivating neglected ground. One swing into the soil (at a slight angle if the soil or the weeds are extra thick skinned). A quick lever up or sideways, using the leverage offered by the long handle, to detach the clod and draw it forward. A twist of the hoe and a downward thwack to break the clod up and separate the roots. A lighter pull to bring the rooted weeds to my feet, for disposal. Job done. If you have the self discipline, you can even dig over a four foot bed without treading on it.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Cross-Party Progress!

The new council is already showing unusual, and welcome signs of cross-party co-operation. Long may it last.

The 'Statement' setting out the basis of the other groups support for a minority Lib Dem administration is set out here. It's good to see at least three items that were put forward by the new Green Group.
110517 Statement

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Recycling gets that little bit harder


A couple of years ago, there was a welcome, if under-publicised, step forward in Bristol's provision for recycling. Selected 'bring sites', including the big one at Tesco Brislington, were extended to take more than just plastic bottles - a whole new range of non-film food wrappings could now be recycled.

Then last spring it got better; the system was extended so that every recycling point could take the larger range of 'soft' plastics - even Stockwood's sole recycling bank (which had survived the attempt by our councillors to have it removed altogether).

So what's happening now?

Down at Tescos, the big Recresco plastics containers have disappeared. Instead we have half a dozen dual use 'trolley' bins. One aperture for plastic bottles, one for cans.

They're arranged so that it's difficult for two people, near impossible for three, to use them simultaneously (the third person in the picture, waiting his turn, eventually decided to go to Asda instead!).


The 'dual use' doesn't work either, because people are so close to the bins that they don't read the distinguishing signs, and the carefully segregated recycling streams get cross-contaminated at the first hurdle.

I'm waiting for a council response to these concerns - let's hope it was a cock-up, not a cutback.

[Added 13/5:]
It turns out that Tesco have taken the recycling banks 'in house', employing their own contractor. More on that later....

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

....in the eye of the beholder


A contrast here, discovered on the back of a kale leaf. Eggs beautiful? Bugs ugly? I don't even know what they are, or if they're related, but it's an intriguing picture anyway.

Friday, 6 May 2011

So it's back to the Allotment (while they still exist..)

Clearly, yesterday's vote shows that the 'sleepy backwater' that is Stockwood is not yet ready for a Green councillor!

Congratulations to Jay Jethwa - and especial thanks for her generosity on polling day, giving a lift home from the polling station to a disabled green voter (it was that or a ride on my crossbar....)

Congratulations to Yvonne Clapp, too, who attracted far more Labour votes than might have been expected for a newcomer from outside the ward.

No congratulations to the Lib Dem candidate, Michael Goulden, whose election publications on paper and online showed the very worst of his party's electoral strategies, the sort of thing that is so negative, dishonest, and potentially libellous that it makes cross-party co-operation impossible.
---------------------------------------------

Much better news on the wider Bristol front - most of all Gus Hoyt's landslide victory in Ashley, bringing the Greens their second city council seat, and, with it, the status of a 'party group' on the council.

The balance of the council is once again of 'no overall control', with the 70 seats being split 33 LibDem, 21 Labour, 14 Tory and 2 Green.

It raises many intriguing prospects - most of all about how Labour, Conservatives and Greens can combine to fulfill their joint campaign promises to cancel the centrally enforced open space sales, so that Neighbourhood Partnerships can decide.