Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

How Eric Pickles puts a squeeze on buses

[picture thanks to via Mabinogogiblog ]

A copy of 'In Touch' drops through the letterbox. This one turns out to be seriously out of touch. Apart from the routine photos of glum councillors, it leads me optimistically to their website, wondering if our Stockwood councillors have at last launched some kind of an online dialogue with their constituents.

Sadly, No. The link takes me to the Bristol and South Glos Conservative website. Click on 'News' for the very latest - and there's a South Glos Tories' press release complaining at the "absolutely outrageous" Govt cut in bus subsidy.

But the Govt is a Labour government, and the date is February of last year. There's been no news since then. Still, it remains topical.

The bus subsidy is again being cut. One pledge this 'greenest government ever' is keeping is to protect the concessionary bus pass scheme introduced by Labour. Meaning it's making the same demands of councils and bus companies, but cutting the funding.

The impact is inevitable, and it will affect passengers of all ages. Councils, faced with less money and more costs across all their services, are having to cut the payment they make to the bus companies for every concessionary journey. Bus company income drops, and some journeys no longer generate the revenue to cover costs. Result - service withdrawn. It's already happening in South Glos, where the payment is to drop from 97p to 82p - about 15%.

Expect a wave of bus service withdrawals. But don't expect the Tories to make much of a fuss.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Big Save Our Parks Petition

.....does what it says on the web page -

If it reaches 3,500 valid signatures, anyway.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Council House to Temple Meads - via Damascus

Earlier this month I blogged about the need to safeguard Plot 6, the development site at Temple Meads, before it goes into the fire sale of SWRDA's assets. It encouraged me to put a question about it to Gary Hopkins at Tuesday's council meeting - but his reply was seriously ambiguous, it could have meant anything from a fully integrated multimodal city transport hub to a bus stop outside the SWRDA office. Probably the latter, seeing that BCC officers have been actively opposing any designation of the site for an interchange.

All the more surprising, then, that within 18 hours of that exchange, Gary and I were again dealing with Plot 6, this time in a BBC radio interview. And suddenly Gary sounded really positive about a transport hub.

The details and links to the interview are on a Green Party press release here; possibly the LibDems will be giving their own interpretation. Gary's critics will find it easy to point to weaknesses and ambiguities in what he says (short radio interviews aren't the best place to spell out your plans, or to put them in a readable way), but let's for once give him the benefit of the doubt.

All we need now is a bit more flesh on the plans, and something firm in the council's own policy statements. Not much to ask....

This could be the dawn of a decent transportation system in Bristol. Yes, really.

Signs of Cycling City

Cyclists are being helped on their way to St Bernadette School and the Oasis Academy with these helpful new signs, at the Longreach Grove/Davids Road railway path access point.

There's yet another set of steps before Davids Road is reached.

Perhaps wheel channels might have been a more useful investment - though they only help cyclists, and there are plenty of buggy and wheelchair users who might find a smoother surface would give better access to the delights of Sturminster Road - including its frequent bus services.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Showcase decisions

Tuesday's full council meeting promises little, judging by the agenda - unless somehow public or councillors add a bit of spice.

One of the public forum questions might have special resonance for us in Stockwood and other places where schools have been closed down in the name of 'efficiency'. It suggests that the council's purchase of the failed St Ursula's private school, and the deal that brought Oasis in to run it as an Academy, has now ensured that the school survives with a roll of just 64 students. Tell that to the parents of the children of Stockwood Green and other schools with rolls allegedly so low that they had to be closed last summer.

I've got some transport questions tabled myself, about Plot 6, real-time information, and smart travelcards. By chance, they're all relevant to a decision to be taken by full council later in the meeting, endorsing the latest West Of England Joint Local Transport Plan.

That plan (JLTP3) offers next to nothing new, next to nothing to offer a decent smart card system, a proper public transport hub, or comprehensive real time information for travellers. It doesn't seem to have been touched by an exhaustive, expensive programme of public consultation. It doesn't even refer to the potential for a Passenger Transport Authority with powers to provide transport as a public service. None of the things, in fact, that could actually bring the all-round qualitative change to Bristol's public transport that could persuade motorists city-wide that it's a better option than the car. JLTP3 tolerates the prospect of ever-rising traffic in this congested city.

No doubt the council will approve it, rather than rock the West of England boat. In doing so it will be backing a programme of prestige projects that are unlikely to get funding, while putting the real opportunities to improve Bristol's transport on the back burner.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

At Last! an FoI response on Green Spaces....

Here they are, folks, the council's 2009 assessments of the sites selected for sale. Seven weeks late, but intact.

If there's a particular threatened open space near you, this link   might tell you more about their reasons for choosing it as a sacrifice.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Green Space "Call-in" and an FoI Failure (updated)

Tomorrow (Thursday, 5.30pm) sees the Cabinet's decision to sell off significant green spaces in Bristol - including eight here in Stockwood - "called in" by the Members' 'Overview and Scrutiny Panel' (details here)

Everyone who witnessed the decision will be well aware that the Cabinet rode roughshod over massive opposition and demonstrable flaws in the consultation process - and still reached a decision that doesn't actually provide the funding that the city's parks are said to need.

For the record, the council's own failure to respond to my 'Freedom of Information' request (for the assessments of the allegedly 'low value' sites in question) remains exactly as it was at the end of the consultation, and through the whole of the decision making process. It's now gone seven weeks beyond the date set by law for a reply.

The idea behind the request was to get vital background information, on which the council was basing its decisions, into the public domain. How else could the accuracy of its evidence be challenged? But that vital data remains under wraps, even now

That's just one example of the many failings in the whole process.

Postscript (6/1/11):

The call-in panel wasn't persuaded. It was only too clear from the start that this decision would be taken on party lines - and the call-in panel has 3 LibDems, 1 Tory, and 1 Labour member.

The 'complainants' were Labour's Mark Bradshaw and the Tories' Mark Weston, as the chairs of the two scrutiny commissions whose 5 hour investigation led to an all-party plea for the sell-off decision to be deferred. They argued that the Cabinet had been unreasonable and over-hasty in their decision to sell-off green spaces - the consultation was demonstrably flawed, the sales wouldn't fulfil the Strategy objectives, so why rush the decision?

Officers - who'd clearly been given an impossible task of assessing the many thousands of consultation responses - did their best to justify themselves, while Gary Hopkins decided (as always) that attack is the best form of defence, and turned the whole thing into tedious party political bickering. Sad.

So we finished up with a 3:2 decision to take 'no further action'. The Cabinet decision stands. Every site earmarked for sale will eventually get put on the market at a time to be decided by the officers. Unless of course it's unsaleable.

I'll (reluctantly) request an internal review of why my own FoI request remains unanswered 7 weeks after the statutory date for a response. It's way too late for the documents in question to be challenged, though. The decision's been made.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A Stockwood Miscellany

A new 'transport sub-group' for the Hengrove and Stockwood Neighbourhood Partnership has its first meeting next Monday, 6pm at the S. Bristol Sports Club on West Town Lane. If local transport's important to you, so is this group! All welcome.

Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces has published its New Year news-sheet, linked from their home page. Feel free to print and share it. Details of orchard reclamation work parties (including this coming Saturday and Monday mornings) are on the same site.

On Sunday 30th January, there's a 'community clean-up' along the Sturminster valley and railway path, centred on the Sturminster Club. A team from Community Payback will be helping, and doing more the following day. Details to follow - but email me (stockwoodpete [at] if you'd like them sent to you.

HandS is a new on-line residents forum now being set up to serve the Neighbourhood Partnership area of Hengrove and Stockwood (hence its name, H and S). It's independent of the formal Partnership, which is a council body, but supportive of it. Again, email me if you'd like to know when it's launched.

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Monday, 3 January 2011

Plot 6 revisited

A very timely question has been raised about Plot 6 - the wasted space alongside Temple Meads station. "Is this a suitable moment to renew the pressure on using Plot 6 for a more convenient Coach Station and Transport Hub? "

Good point. Plot 6 is in the joint ownership of Network Rail and development agency SWRDA - but their plans to cover this key site with another uninspiring development of offices, flats, and retail have stagnated - and now SWRDA is to close its doors, and its wallet, by March 2012.

Meanwhile Network Rail's future is little more secure, facing (as Christian Wolmar puts it) "something between dismemberment and death"

So what happens to their (ie our) Plot 6 asset? SWRDA says " the rules by which we are governed require that any disposals must be at open market value", though they also hint that councils or the new Local Enterprise Partnership could inherit land assets like Plot 6. An Evening Post report
is less optimistic: "The RDA has also been told it will not be allowed to hand on any properties or assets and they will have to be sold on the open market". In short, the whole deal's being rushed through on ideological grounds without much thought about how it's done or what will be lost, and no-one has much idea what's going to happen. Brilliant.

So is the Plot 6 opportunity be lost to Bristol for ever, thanks to gross political ineptitude?

There's certainly been plenty of public pressure put on both the city council and the West of England Partnership to make sure that this chance isn't lost - but there's been precious little response from them so far.

Bristol is now considering its long term plans for the Central Area, including Temple Meads, as part of the evolving Bristol Development Strategy. On the way, it's seen repeated demands to list Plot 6 for the road/tram component of a multimodal city transport interchange (using the adjacent, and equally underused, Digby Wyatt Shed as the passenger concourse); you'd be hard put to find an event or consultation where the topic hasn't been raised.

Questions to the Cabinet, though, suggest that there is no great ambition to do more than 'improve' the interchange facilities that already exist at Temple Meads - effectively providing a marginally better quality of bus stop. The council's own scrutiny commission was due to get a progress report on Plot 6 on September 23rd; but that seems to have got lost somewhere along the line. [*updated - see footnote]

As for the West of England Partnership, they too make a great thing of seeking out the public's views on their plans, and they too have been told very clearly that Plot 6 could provide the smooth, comfortable interchange that could make public transport in the city an attractive option that could really be preferred to travelling by car. So you might think Plot 6 would merit a mention in the latest Joint Local Transport Plan (JLTP3) covering the next fifteen years of transport development in Bristol and the surrounding authorities.

As luck would have it, the 'final draft' (isn't that a contradiction?) has just been published

And Plot 6 really does get a mention in it! JLTP3 puts on record that Plot 6 was among the big issues raised by consultees, and adds encouragingly that "we have been able to take most of these on board". But - that's the only mention - in 150 pages of detailed proposals to take us through to 2026.

In a further 275 pages of strategic environmental assessment, and in the supplementary papers on cycling, network management(!), public transport(!), parking, road safety, rural transport, smarter choices, and walking - likewise, Plot 6 is totally absent. It's not part of the plans.

So it's pretty clear that the local authories are sitting on their hands while the coalition government prepares a fire sale that will to kill off the sole opportunity to use this unique piece of land to help solve the city's biggest problem.

"Is this a suitable moment to renew the pressure on using Plot 6 for a more convenient Coach Station and Transport Hub?"

I think the answer's pretty obvious....

[*Updated 5th Jan]
I've just acquired a copy of the officers' scrutiny report, which should be added to the web records of the Sept 23 meeting soon. It shows a clear effort to defuse any attempt by rank and file members to get Plot 6 designated as a transport interchange...

  1. Although initially the site looks ideal for a multi-modal interchange, and there have been representations suggesting this, the case for a multimodal interchange is not clear. It may be that improving links to existing public transport and proposed future Bus Rapid Transit is better than diverting a large number of services on to this site.
  2. For this reason the prudent approach will be to seek that any development at the site is as permeable as possible, improves interchange and provides car parking for the station, without prescribing that it must solely be a multi-modal interchange."

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Signs of Enlightenment?

At last we've turned the corner! Consumer power forces manufacturers and retailers to take more responsibility for the stuff they sell us.

Take these sky lanterns. Attractive though they are, they've come in for a lot of criticism for the dangerous debris they leave around our countryside. But like the label says, we need worry no longer.

That progress was rightly being celebrated in Stockwood last night.

2011 ushers in a new era of environmental sensitivity and respect for the places we love.