Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Leader Column

It was something usually experienced only by celebrities and those facing trial for heinous crimes. I was trying to walk along looking nonchalant, as if the photographers and cameramen in front of me, shooting away while walking backwards, didn't exist.

Behind me was a column of local Green Party activists. I was explaining to the person alongside about our long-running campaign to get Plot 6, alongside Temple Meads, to become home for Bristol's all-purpose transport hub. And it was she who had brought the cameras out - Caroline Lucas, our first Green MP and our first 'leader' (though given our suspicion of leadership, and seeing the way some recent Prime Ministers have chosen to exercise it, our Caroline is more constrained than most by the party constitution.)

Caroline was here in Bristol on Thursday, taking the scenic route from her Brighton consituency to the Greens' biannual conference at Cardiff by way of the north of England,, London, Devon, and Bristol - and concentrating, as you might expect, on places where the Greens look set to do well in the local elections.

For once, the media took interest in us. Both regional TV stations were there, with the BBC doing lengthy interviews for The Politics Show. Even the Post, not usually one to take an interest in Green Party events, sent a photographer (it's political editor was too busy writing yet another piece about stadia and superstores). So we got coverage on ITV news, Radio Bristol, Jack FM, and the Evening Post; with (I hope) more to come, from Venue (soon, I very much hope, to be reborn) and the Politics Show.

But the biggest impact of the day was certainly Caroline herself. The fluent way she handled questions and made all the key points, whether on national or local issues, (she did far better on those than I would have done!) left most of us in awe.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

City's latest signing

Lots of people will have seen the new signing on roads, paths, and posts, giving a bit more confidence for those attempting to find their way around Bristol by bike.

It's a Cycling City project, helpfully mapped on this pdf from their website.

It shows the major cycleways, like Sustrans National Cycle Network 3 that uses the St Philips Greenway and the recently Whitchurch Railway Path.

This has been rebranded as 'Whitchurch Way' along its route through south Bristol.

The signage map also shows route links - like these at Stockwood.

Fortunately, not all of them have acquired signs 'on the ground' like this one (the lower link on the map) at Longreach Grove at Stockwood, directing you and your bike up two flights of steps:

The next one north, if anyone were to use it would bring the rider up a steep cul-de-sac, to be rewarded for the effort by a confrontation with the steel fence of a well-defended golfcourse. (The reward is freewheeling back down!)

And a bit further north, the route heading westward up to Knowle includes these three flights of steps (which haven't had the blessing of real, on the ground signs - just as well!)

Another link into Knowle from the city side is shown leaving the Malago Greenway at Lynton Road, heading for the Health Centre. Perhaps if the signers ever got there to do their work, they'd have decided not to bother.

Could this symbolise the new, reformed, NHS ?
You have to wonder why, if this signage map was commissioned, so little trouble was taken to get it right. The information about these links must have come from somewhere, it is demonstrably wrong, and now it's in the public domain for anyone to take as gospel.

The Longreach Grove stepped access has for a long time been on the official city cycle map. How long before the others join it on the official map, on route finders, or even on GPS gear?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Me and Eric - Localists

The last couple of days I've spent an hour or three outside the local shops with clipboard and a petition. The idea is to get enough signatures to force a council debate about their plans to sell off public open spaces, including several local ones (I could see two from the shops, with children making good use of them in the sunshine). What's more, I could tell the shoppers that it's a joint project by the Labour, Conservative, and Green Parties. That's a first! People are very keen to sign. People power in action.

Meanwhile, in Whitehall, Community Secretary Eric Pickles was doing his own bit to promote the small government, pro-localism agenda. Except he didn't. Instead he gave his blessing to plans to burn food (palm oil) grown in Asia as fuel in an Avonmouth power station to provide electricity in Britain - overriding a decision by our own city council a year ago.

Hidden in that bad news for localism and for global food supplies, though, there's a crumb of comfort. The inspector who heard the appeal from would be plant-builders W4B had already rejected the city council's contention that wider issues of sustainability are a material planning consideration. In short, if it does no damage to Bristol's rainforests, only to those in S.E. Asia, we shouldn't let it worry us.

Maybe the inspectorate - or even Eric - had a change of heart. There are conditions in the final permission that 'any bioliquids burnt in the main boiler shall satisfy the sustainability criteria' . That means compliance with the EU's 'Renewable Directive' on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, particularly those sections relating to the sustainability of bioliquids. There's a requirement that the company report to the council annually on how it complies.

All of which suggests that the council was right to raise global sustainability as a legitimate reason for turning the original application down.

There's lots more, plus plenty of well-informed comment, in a Guardian piece by George Monbiot . Neil Harrison's been blogging about it too - on much the same lines as this piece.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Stocktaking Time for Sainsburys

The latest plans for a Megastore at Ashton Gate, even with the advantage of being treated as an enabling development for a new green belt stadium, have taken another blow.

This time it's the council appointed independent retail consultants, GVA Grimley, who are advising their clients (us) that Sainsburys claims' for retail impact are specious. They conclude:

"It the Council reaches the view that there are one or more significant adverse impacts, then the application should be refused under Policy EC17.1 of PPS4, with no need to take into account any of the other material planning considerations surrounding the scheme."
" is our view  that the negative impacts of the proposal outweigh any positive benefits which may accrue. In reaching this view we have given particular weight to the financial impact of the proposal and its adverse effect upon the vitality and viability of both defined centres in Bedminster. We recommend that this conclusion is taken in account by the Council as it considers and balances the positive and negative impacts of the proposal as a whole."

Add to that the very persuasive evidence that their claims of job creation are fictitious, that their transport predictions are nonsense and a few other exploded myths, and it's hard to see how the planning application (to be considered on March 2nd, 6pm) can possibly succeed.

Far more likely that Sainsburys will drop this latest application and go back to appealing against the same committee turning down their previous application. Although, of course, they claim that the current scheme is better than the previous one - and that must mean that the previous one was worse than the current one.

Either way, the whole stadium project is a mess. I know Sainsburys don't give up easily - for years they've been pouring money into Southend United to keep it solvent, given the security of its big assets - the Roots Hall ground where they want an Ashton Gate megastore equivalent, and land with planning permission for an out of town retail park to boot.

Still, I can't see myself getting the opportunity to pedal off down a new South Bristol Ring Road Cyclepath to Ashton Vale to watch the match or to pick up Nectar points and orange bags. Which is probably a Good Thing.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Running Rings Round Bristol

The South Bristol Link is, exactly as predicted, morphing back into a Ring Road. The temporary green veneer that was provided by the promise of Rapid Transit is fading even before any contracts are placed.

Oh, and it's going to cost us an extra ten million quid, too.

Remember how Jon Rogers was so keen to deny that the South Bristol Link had anything to do with any ring road project? The Rapid Transit was what it was all about - even though everyone knew there was no convincing case for it.

Now, desperate to offer a road-loving, cost-cutting transport secretary what he wants (and to clip a minute or two off Steve Comer's drive to the airport), the Joint Lords of the West of England Partnership, egged on by the new Local Enterprise Partnership, have been wielding the knife with one hand and reaching for the council chequebooks with the other.

The new deal which keeps the Ring Road on the DfT table retains just the same road link between the A378 Long Ashton and Hengrove Park. The Rapid Transit is the same too - for the few hundred metres from Long Ashton P&R as far as Brookgate, where road and BRT converge just north of the railway crossing.

After that, what was a segregated guided Rapid Transit track becomes a mere nearside bus lane up the hill to the A38 at Castle Farm. To most eyes, that means it's going to be a four-lane road for most or all the time.

From there, dipping across Highridge Common through Withywood and on to the Hartcliffe roundabout, there was to have been a central carriageway for the buses. That's been ditched in the newest plan, substituted by 'nearside bus lanes on the approaches to significant junctions'. In other words, the bendybus becomes an ordinary bus on ordinary busy roads, but with less stops.

To complete the deal, the council is offering an extra £10 million from its (our) own resources toward the overall cost. £10 million that could have been set against the horrendous £70 million cuts to services that must be implemented in the next four years.

So we get the road that the businessmen and the airport operators want. The local price goes up to £17 million (plus the risk of cost overruns), but it's about more than hard cash and missed opportunity. We can also forget that talk about reducing road traffic, facing up to climate change and the threat of Peak Oil (not to mention the LibDem's claims to oppose new road building).

Welcome once more to the LibDem World of Hypocrisy.

Scheme Description (March 2010)
Revised bid for 5 Major Transport Schemes (30/12/2010)

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Big Save Our Parks Petition - printable version

A printable version of the e-Petition raised by the three opposition parties on the City Council is now available for download from the FoSOS website or from the Green Party website. (I know, I put them there!). Please print copies off and gather signatures from friends and neighbours.

The three councillors behind this petition (Tess Green for the Greens, Mark Weston for the Tories, and Mark Bradshaw for Labour) need at least 3,500 valid signatures to get the issue back on the council table - which could help influence policy in a crucial pre-election period.

Completed forms can be returned to any of the three councillors at the Council House; here in Stockwood they can be returned to
Pete Goodwin, 11 Lanesborough Rise
Margaret Short, 10 Townsend Close
David Reeve, 11 Maple Close

But remember, they need to be returned by the end of February

Clean-up Politics

Last weekend saw a 'clean-up' operation on the green and wooded valley side rising from the brook alongside Sturminster Road.

It benefitted from outside help provided by a team from Community Payback, lots council officers and contractors, and it was very successful. It was gratifying to see a plenty of local people joining in, after two of us from Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces had distributed a flier around the houses a week or two earlier. It also included three of the likely four candidates in next May's elections (one of them being me). Thanks to everyone who took part.

You'd think that this kind of shared local initiative wouldn't be sullied by anyone trying to make electoral capital out of it. You'd be wrong.

"Unless they were working in a different area to me & my co-worker, I didn't see anything of our two Tory Councillors at the clean-up. Maybe if Cllrs Jethwa & Morris are reading this they could advise me otherwise, if they were there!" writes LibDem Michael Goulden in his blog about the clean-up. I suppose that Michael would have dished out some of the same stuff about me, if he hadn't seen me there at the start. If he'd been there at the end, he'd also have seen Jay Jethwa. His crude attempt to muster electoral advantage was (let's be generous) grossly misleading.

More to the point, it is unreasonable to condemn anyone for not taking part. After all, there were thousands who didn't.... I wonder what Michael thinks of them. There are all sorts of reasons (not least age and ability, but also other commitments, or simply being unaware of the event) that could make it impracticable to join in. It is not, and it should not be, anything to do with electoral or party politics.

When we do party politics, lets do it on policy, not on litter-picks.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Royal Mail, Rubber bands, and Recycling

If you laid all the red rubber bands on Bristol's streets end to end, they'd stretch.......

And if any council enforcement officers, anywhere in Britain, brought just one action against a postie for dropping those red rubber bands, it would be national news and the problem would go away. Of course, they should do the decent thing and give warning first.

Meantime, on the Royal Mail website you can 'Ask Sarah' if Royal Mail recycles rubber bands.

Sarah, who evidently works 24 hours a day without sleep (and it shows), will reply "Do you mean: Can you tell me more about your new Simply Drop service?".

Then she confidently goes on to answer her own question by describing the Royal Mail's brand new 'Simply Drop' service, and providing a link to it.

Turns out that it's not a new public service to simply drop free rubber bands for community use on every corner.

It's about mobiles, digital cameras, ink cartridges and other 'value' goods. For that, the Royal Mail has a dedicated commercial service, and will even pay you to be a good recycler and send them your old device every time you upgrade. How conscientious is that? What's more, they assure you that you needn't even pay for a stamp. (I rushed to check what they'd pay for my camera and mobile. Nothing, comes the answer. If I sent them these valueless items, heaven knows what they'd do with them.)

They even anticipate you cynics asking "But what about the envelopes - what's the environmental cost of that?". Royal Mail have thought of that, too - and they don't go for the simple solution of using paper. They'll send you their special free Simply Drop™ envelopes (thoughtfully 'designed to fit simply into a pillar box'!). These are 'made from naturally oxy-degradable polythene. Oxy-degradable means they degrade and disappear in a short period of time, leaving no fragments, no methane, no harmful residues, and therefore no lasting impact upon the environment'

Hmmm... that's not what research commissioned by DEFRA says. Apparently oxy-degradable is very different from biodegradeable (itself a fairly meaningless term) and is certainly not compostable. It's simply oil-based polyethylene plastic with metallic additives to make sure it falls to pieces rather faster than it would otherwise do.

This means it can't be reused, and it can't be recycled along with mainstream plastics, for fear of making the end product vulnerable to early breakdown. It can't be composted. They reckon the only real options are incineration, landfill, or just letting it degrade over time, and under the influence of light or heat, into a very fine powder - though the impacts of that are uncertain.

I'll hang on to my phone and my camera. Ink cartridges aren't so easy, since they have a built in 'killer chip' to stop me just putting more ink in.

I've picked up the rubber bands from Burgis Road. There were 40 at this corner.