Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

HandS ON the levers of local democracy!

HandS ON - Hengrove and Stockwood Online Neighbourhood - is our web forum and blog, just launched. It's set up to share news and views across the two wards, and to widen interest in Hengrove and Stockwood's Neighbourhood Partnership in its many forms.

HandS ON has the support of the Neighbourhood Partnership, but it is independent. The ward councillors welcome it; Hengrove's Sylvia Doubell promptly registered, and the others say they will! We've even bribed them with an 'announcement' forum where no-one can heckle!

The sites have been developed by Toni Massari and me (Toni providing the know-how!).

Now comes the real test, getting enough residents interested and putting stuff on it, to make it useful and effective.

The forum's the key to that. For instance, a couple of instant controversies....

The Area Green Space Plans. Parks want to settle on a list of local priorities within the next few weeks (starting at an open meeting next Tuesday). Taking the debate online will make it a little less exclusive!

A BMX track alongside the railway path - great for kids, potentially good for wildlife, threatening for the neighbours. How do we cater for (and involve) everyone?

The forum's public on the web, but only registered users can post to it - and we're asking people to use their real names, not hide behind an anonymous username (else we might get like the Evening Post comment columns!)

If you live in Hengrove or Stockwood, please sign up.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Marching for the Alternative

On the massive anti-cuts "March for the Alternative" today, I never made it to the Hyde Park speeches; the numbers were too great and the shuffle from the Embankment far too slow. And this is before the cuts really start biting.

The sheer scale of today's demonstration was enough to raise the spirits; looking across the river and seeing the packed crowds and their banners stretching along the Embankment was like the big antinuclear protests at the height of the Cold War.

And, like them, the life threatening issues that brought us together had inspired creativity and good humour too...

[Added] and one more, not-so-original, for Paul BemmyDown....

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Helping an arms dealer create useful jobs

There's more than a little concern that as we do our civic duty this weekend and complete our census forms, we'll be contributing to the profits of one of the world's biggest arms dealers, Lockheed Martin. This is the US corporation that provides the worlds military machines with such must-have items as Trident nuclear missiles and cluster bombs. I'm told they do a nice line in torture too. And now they're providing the customer contact centre, questionnaire printing and data capture and processing for the 2011 census.

Peace News has come up with a few ideas to make sure Lockheed Martin don't gain from our freely given part in the contract. There are lots of creative ideas there, and the great thing is that they mean more of the job has to be done by real people instead of by automatic scanners. Blacking out all the bar codes is a good start, so that information will have to be transcribed by hand.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Inheritance - or not !

Our efforts to trace our family trees left a lot of mysteries unsolved. One such involved my wife's aunt, Ivy, who was born in 1900. All we knew was that she'd been adopted as an 8-month old baby into the family. We still have the very sad little declaration from the mother, giving up all rights.

Apart from that, no documentary record and next to no anecdotal history, except it was rumoured that Ivy and her husband had been drowned.

Then we got a phone call from a firm of probate researchers. It was a bit guarded... their stock-in-trade is information, and if they freely release too much, bang goes their chance of a cut of the estate. Slowly it emerged that Ivy had lived to be 103, but had no contact with her adoptive family during her long adult life. Her first husband had indeed drowned (later we found the news reports) and many years later she'd married again. No wonder we couldn't find her!

Technically, she'd died intestate (there was a will, but it was a copy, so it didn't count in law). So the probate researchers set out to find surviving 'relatives' who would, in the absence of any other instructions, be entitled to the estate. We're talking about £25K or so here, less the researchers' cut, among at least twenty relatives. They're called the rightful heirs, though it's hard to see what's right about it - as she'd never met us or even known we existed. !

In the end the claim turned out to be a non-starter; there was no such thing as a legal adoption in 1901, so there was no claim. What's more, justice was done - Ivy had led a very full life, with many friends right up to the end. The copy will named them as beneficiaries, and the Treasury eventually gave them discretionary payments to the same value. It's what she would have wanted.

We got a lot out of it too; most of all the answers to the mystery that was Ivy. And some very powerful reminders of the absurdity of the whole, rarely challenged, concept of 'inheritance'; the only decision you can make that only comes into force when you're dead. It perpetuates so much that is divisive and unjust in our society, from one generation to the next.

It gave us another unique experience too. At lunchtime today, in a cafe in Wells, one of the staff came over and said "I hope you don't mind my mentioning it, but didn't I see you both on television this morning ? I love that 'Heir Hunters'... ".

Recognition at last!

Last night's council meeting.

To write about the LibDem's behaviour over the Green Spaces Petition would be too negative (or do I mean not negative enough?). In short, it was appalling and it was stupid. IMHO.

Instead, lets look at the good news about that other hobby horse of mine - Plot 6 and the city transport hub. I'd tabled some questions to chase up some up of the half-promises we've heard so far..

Q: Are there conditions in place yet that will protect the site's potential to be used as a multimodal transport hub serving all parts of Bristol?

A: Bristol City Council is negotiating to take on several SWRDA sites but they were initially told to sell Plot 6 to the highest bidder by the Treasury. We intervened and are now confident that the need for an integrated transport hub will be paramount. The ownership model is yet to be finalised.

Q: When might we see the council, or the Cabinet, or the West of England Partnership, adopt these aspirations as written policy?

A: You will find that the West of England is having a rapid refresh of the JLTP and having made such progress you will find new objectives appearing very rapidly.

OK, there are potential weaknesses in these answers, but on the face of it they look good. And we desperately need to find something positive in the debris of last night's meeting.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Here we go again..... Zero minus 44

Over on Bristol 24-7 my friend Tony Dyer speculates about the outcomes of the local elections on May 5th, when 1 in 3 of the city's seventy council seats are up for grabs.

His only firm conclusion is that when it's all over, "most Bristol voters look forward to a year without any elections while south Bristolians look forward to two years without some wanna-be politician knocking on their door telling them how it was all the fault of the others."

Just in the last few days Stockwood has seen circulars from Tories, LibDems, and a newbie Labour candidate. And that's over six weeks before the poll! Labour's offering is a modest 2-colour A4, the Tories went for full colour A3, and now the LibDems have capped that with glossy full colour A3, containing claims even more extravagant than the paper they're printed on. (From me, there'll eventually be an A4 circular, which should tell you what you need to know, with an opportunity to learn more if you want.)

There seems to be a well trodden path to success at the polls, by way of particular ritual activities in the run up to an election. They're an electoral 'must-do' - a bit like supporting the local football club.
Football Diversion 1: Peter Mandelson famously told his local paper that the thing he treasured most was his Hartlepool United football scarf. He also became the club's president. Since ownership of the club can be traced to a Virgin Islands company called Independent Oilfield Rentals, he might actually have felt at home in the role.

Football Diversion 2
: Demonstrably, the professional clubs enjoy massive local political influence through exploiting their fans' loyalties, and possibly through councillors being easily influenced by association with wealth. But those clubs no longer have much claim to be local. Perhaps, instead of
responding to City fans' pleas for a Sainsburys superstore, a Stockwood councillor should be looking closer to home, so that Stockwood Wanderers need no longer wander quite so far from the pitch the council evicted them from.

Anyway, back to the campaign trail. Here in Stockwood, we candidates have an essential campaigning asset, believed to have the power to capture the hearts and minds of the electorate. It lies tucked away in the car park.

Here's the LibDem candidate (always opportunists, those LibDems) laying first claim to it...

And here are our sitting Tory councillors following suit...

Me, I think I'll risk having my photo taken at one of the potholes the other candidates don't know about, because they drive over them so fast they don't notice. Well, it's a unique green angle.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Big Save Our Green Spaces Debate

Having got twice as many signatures as were needed, the Big Save Our Parks petition will be discussed at the full council meeting next Tuesday evening. The petitioners say that
"Neighbourhood Partnerships should decide on any green space disposals in their area – making sure local people are involved in the decision making, unlike the decisions taken so far by Cabinet."

No doubt the lead petitioners will ask their council colleagues to vote for a supporting resolution (which can't actually make any decision, only recommend that the ruling Cabinet go along with it).

And, judging by what happened at our Neighbourhood Partnership last night, the LibDems will want that resolution emasculated or simply defeated by weight of numbers.

Last night, (just the same as in December - before the Cabinet ignored public opinion and steamrollered through its decision to sell off the green spaces, including eight here in Stockwood) I asked our NP to agree to submit a Public Forum Statement to the full council meeting. In December, our Statement had asked the Cabinet to defer its decision. This one simply urges councillors to support the petitioners' contention that Neighbourhood Partnerships must consent to selling green spaces.

And, just as at the last NP meeting, just three people fought tooth and nail to stop the NP agreeing the Statement. They were, of course, Hengrove's two LibDem councillors plus their Stockwood candidate for the May election.

You'd think that Neighbourhood Partnerships might be pleased to have the say-so on what green spaces on their patch should be sold, but not these LibDems. We had a whole series of attempts to avoid a vote on it, including a desperate claim that we couldn't ask the council to do what it cannot do. (Answer A. We weren't doing that. Answer B. What's to stop us expressing a view, anyway?)

Anyway, we agreed to put the Statement in, the three LibDems dissenting. Just like we did in December. It's getting to be a habit.

It's still a mystery why our local LibDems should be fighting so hard against us getting these rights. Maybe they could provide an explanation here?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Petition Power

Locally, the 'Big Save our Parks Petition' raised some 7,000 signatures, twice the target, so the full council is obliged to debate it.

It calls for the decisions about selling Open Spaces to be devolved to the Neighbourhood Partnerships instead of the Cabinet, and it'll be debated on March 22nd.

The meeting starts at 6 with the 'Public Forum', i.e. statements and questions from the public (I've got a couple of questions tabled myself, but they're about transport). Statements can be submitted up to noon the day before (to ), and I hope there'll be plenty.
Another highly successful petition was the '38 degrees' bid to stop government proposals to sell off the nations forests. It attracted over half-a-million online signatures - and the government backed down. For now, at least!

Now, 38 degrees are back with another one. This one's about the NHS 'reforms' that even the LibDems are rebelling against. The wording is:

Our NHS is precious - we won't forgive you if you ruin it.
Don’t break up our health service and hand it to private healthcare companies
  • Listen to the the real experts - doctors, nurses and patients - when they give warnings about these plans
  • Don't rush through massive changes without testing them properly first
  • Protect patient care - don't cut beds, wards, doctors or nurses

It's reached 80,000 signatures in its first week. You can sign it at

Another linked petition "Blood Money" aims to stop the sale of the National Blood Service (yes, honest!) to a private, profit-driven contractor. It's running at around 34,000 signatures as I write. You can add more here

Come to think of it, it could be sold off to one of the big US 'Defense' contractors like the firm that's doing the UK Census. Yes, Lockheed Martin, manufacturers of cluster bombs and Trident missiles.

Blood Money indeed.

Monday, 7 March 2011

The national stage will have to wait...

We'd been led to believe we'd be quoted in the Sunday Times this week. They've been doing a series on selling off public land assets, and this time planned to do a local angle - including Bristol. The phone interviews were done, and a tentative photo-op at the threatened Sturminster Close open space was lined up.

So I bought the paper - all 1.26kg of it, to see what they said. True, Bristol got a brief mention, with a quote about Brislington, but that was about it.

Maybe they had to cut it so that most of the first three news pages could be devoted to the Royal Wedding Dress - after all, Murdoch's flagship of quality journalism must get its priorities right.

Ah well... At least, instead of hanging around for a photographer, we spent Saturday morning down at the orchard, pretty well finishing off the main clearance before the birds start nesting. Amazing what's been done, nearly all by hand, through the winter.

And I'm told that we've hit the 3,500 target for petition signatures, so that there should be a full council debate on the local land sell-off. So we're doing all right!

And the sun's shining, and the blackheaded gulls are getting their black heads back for the summer...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

A Temple Meads Hub - a passing bandwagon that's going nowhere?

I make no apology for coming back (for the nth time on this blog) to the topic of a multimodal city transport interchange at Temple Meads.

This is where the happy conjunction of the Digby Wyatt shed (the massive unused, covered listed extension of the Brunel's Old Station, adjoining the current booking hall) and Plot 6 (the development site alongside, currently used for car parking) could provide a shared passenger concourse and the bus and coach bays respectively, offering one-hop access to every part of the city - and most parts of the country. All with the luxuries of shelter, safety, seating, real time information, shops, smartcard cross-ticketing, and refreshments - and the added bonus of direct pedestrian access, cycleways, and the harbour ferries. Even taxis.

Suddenly, a Temple Meads hub has arrived in the political mainstream. Beyond the Green Party, beyond the transport activists, beyond the planning lobbyists. It's now embraced by our last three Transport supremos (Gary Hopkins (hold that thought...), Jon Rogers, and Mark Bradshaw. It's endorsed by the cross-party Transport Scrutiny Commission. What's more, Gary Hopkins has had a word with Norman Baker, and has high hopes of getting the site, or at least the required planning designations, for the city. We're nearly there.

Or are we?

On Bristol 24/7 Labour and LibDem frontbenchers seem keen to claim a part in moving the Plot 6 hub forward. But faced with a request to endorse the whole plan, really making the best of the opportunity, everything goes quiet.

Meanwhile, an email exchange with SWRDA this week reveals that
" The draft development masterplan for plot 6 provides for c.300,000 sq ft of employment-led mixed use development and a new multi-storey car park to reprovide the existing surface car parking. The scheme will include public realm areas and a much improved pedestrian and cycle link between the station and Temple Quay. We have worked with Network Rail, Bristol City Council and English Heritage to produce the draft masterplan, which will effectively form part of the overall Temple Meads station transport interchange, by providing interchange between pedestrians, cycles, ferry, private car and heavy rail modes." (Looks like they've missed the bus there, then....)

and "Any contract for the disposal of the land will require the purchaser to deliver a scheme within these parameters. "

I would have linked here to the master plan at - but the site's been taken down. The copy I made shows next to no public transport provision on Plot 6, and only rail uses for the Digby Wyatt shed. In the Master Plan, "interchange" means pretty much what we have now, but with more up to date bus stops.

So if there's really been a big push from the city council for a city hub at Plot 6, it looks like SWRDA haven't been told.

And now the Evening Post tells us (SWRDA didn't!) that there are ongoing negotiations with a private buyer, who'd develop the site as per the 'master plan'. No hub.

The site could be sold under our noses, and this wonderful opportunity lost forever.