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.