Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

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 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.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The LibDems' Unique Special Offer

I needn't have wasted my time. And the same goes for hundreds of others here in Stockwood. Every one of us objected to the proposed sell-off of publicly-owned green spaces in Stockwood.

Just one of the spaces - the 'Craydon Road North Open Space' - actually was saved.

But we can't even claim any part in that little victory. It wasn't us, all the credit must go to our LibDem candidate in the elections. One hundred per cent.

We know, because he says so. Repeatedly.
On his election literature....

On his blog....

and again....

and again

.....and, apparently, on the doorstep.

For those who believe him, the conclusion is inescapable.

A Lib Dem administration will respond to one of its own candidates, while ignoring local councillors, community groups, and residents.

Best vote them out on Thursday, then.