Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

AVTG - The Biggest Fix Yet? Probably

It was, by any measure, an extraordinary way of reaching a decision. So much so that the term 'fix' looks like the right one. On the balance of probability, of course.

Right at the start we had Cllr Peter Abraham dismiss the widespread concerns that he might not be fully open-minded (bearing in mind his declaration last month that he is "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."). That, he explained, was before he joined this committee and was invited to chair it. Now, he is 100% open minded. He's taken advice and is confident that he is beyond any legal challenge.

So that was all right, children.

The meeting papers did not include the report of the independent Inspector, Ross Crail, who had (together with two barristers) thoroughly tested the evidence of witnesses brought by the applicants and the objectors - and concluded that the land does qualify as a Town Green. Someone, somewhere, had decided that the committee needn't bother with that.

Nor did the papers include the 'further evidence', crucial to the officers' recommendation. Why read it when you can be fed a carefully chosen selection?

There was only the officer's 13 page report, and of that only three pages were dedicated to the 'further evidence' of objectors and applicants - roughly in the proportion of 4:1 - as summarised by the council's own chief finance officer, who doesn't seem ever to have been involved in a Town Green application before.

Public statements came first. Most of the committee looked bored, even when our Stockwood councillor ignored all the reminders that this is about past use of the site and waxed enthusiastic about its development potential. The Green Party statement was listed at No 80 (of 80) so I never got the chance to speak to it.

The Chief Executive, Jan Ormondroyd, told members what their options were. When she said one is to approve the whole site as a Town Green, she added 'but that wouldn't take the new evidence into account'. A serious misdirection there, Jan. Of course they could do both.

After a few desultory questions (at least one of them showing the papers hadn't been read or absorbed), and a comment from Cllr Alex Woodman that the information was wholly inadequate, we waited for the meat of the discussion. What did members actually think? What value did they attach to the evidence, and why? Would they question the Chair's integrity?

It didn't happen. From the Chair, Cllr Abraham simply took it straight to a vote on the recommendation before them. Six hands were raised. The deed was done.

The two dissenting members were Alex Woodman and Neil Harrison. Neil gives his own perspective on his own blog

Monday, 13 June 2011

AVTG - The Biggest Fix Yet?

Over the last couple of years, we've got used to the council insisting on getting its own way, whatever the evidence or the legal niceties might do to get in the way. As Harry commented on this blog, "The council doesn't care anymore. They can break any law. Break any convention. Do anything they want. "

How far can they go with it? Back in March of last year, building a ring road on the shallow pretence that it's really to get jobseekers in Hartcliffe a bendy bus to find work in Ashton Vale seemed to me to be pushing the limits.

But that was easily capped by the long drawn out saga of the Green Space sell-off, which for sheer consistency of denial in the face of reality broke new ground, only to be halted (perhaps - but that's another matter!) on May 5th when the electorate made it impossible to continue with the charade.

Now they're set to go one better even than that, with the Ashton Vale Town Green decision, to be considered by the PROWG Committee on Thursday.

I and others have already commented on the self-evident 'predetermination' of the decision by key Committee members. But now we can also see the advice those members will be getting. It's carefully honed to give them an excuse to reach the decision the Administration (not to mention the landowners) want, while simultaneously rejecting the independent opinion of the expert assessor brought in by the council. In fact that expensively gathered opinion doesn't even seem to be among the meeting papers.

This new report to PROWG members relies instead on the council's own 'in-house' expertise to analyse the case for and against a Town Green. Expertise? Well, not quite. Instead of getting the report written by its most senior expert in planning matters and law, the council's commissioned it from a colleague on the Strategic Directorate; Will Godfrey, the Strategic Director of Corporate Resources. Planning isn't part of his brief; his corporate task is 'overseeing the Finance, Human Resources, Shared Transactional Services, ICT, Integrated Customer Services (including Benefits and Council Tax), Legal and Procurement functions. He also leads on work relating to Value for Money and Commissioning across the council'.

Handed this (for him) novel task, the Strategic Director has obligingly delivered just what the Administration wants. He recommends 'partial registration' of the site. This would fully meet the wishes of the Objectors (being, in effect, Steve Lansdown and the football club); they can build the stadium exactly as planned, while the remaining land would be a managed soakaway (or wetland) to cope with the drainage from the main site. This is, as ever, presented as a social benefit for residents.

But that's not what the original professional assessment, by Ross Crail, decided after ten days close examination of all the evidence. How does the Director square the two conflicting views? Simple. He rejects 'on the balance of probability' the original determination that the northern part of the site, at one time used as a landfill, meets the criteria for Town Green Registration.

Then he goes on to conveniently redefine the northern part of the site - not just as the one-time landfill, but as exactly the area required for the new developments and the linked infrastructure. It becomes bounded by the outer line of the proposed BRT route from Long Ashton Park and Ride.

Should any committee member be tempted to ask for the evidence of the public's failure to use this redefined area 'as of right' in the last twenty years, the report tells them that "There is no statutory requirement that a Committee reads this documentation". Trust me, I'm a lawyer. Trust me, I'm a finance expert. Trust me - but I'll not trust you.

Committee members are, however, offered a summary of the 'new' evidence, at Appendix B. The objectors side comes in some detail; the applicants side is so curtailed (and so misrepresented in the Evening Post) that they've since released the detail (linked from the Bristol Blogger's Indymedia post)

If there's a hole in the Strategic Director's report caused by the absence of any examination of this alleged evidence of non-use, it's been filled instead by an enthusiastic claim of what new development will do for the club and the city; 1,000 new jobs, £150 million investment.... you know, you've heard it before. Not of course that Members should let that promise sway their decision! These wonderful developments, the Director adds cautiously, are 'not a material consideration'. He just thought it was worth mentioning.

So on Thursday we'll have a prejudiced committee, and a prejudiced and inadequate report, a sidelined recommendation from a qualified inspector, along with huge pressure on the councillors involved to reach the decision that the landowners and the current administration and the Evening Post want.

You'd think, if there was a real case against Town Green registration, it would be easier than that.

NB. The meeting's at 4pm on Thursday at the Council House. A webcast is promised.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

GetaCab 2

The webcast, for some reason, didn't happen. The council's press office has remained silent. So all we passengers know so far of what the Cabinet decided for us is what the media chose to publish. From that...

On First's 'service' routes, it sounds like all those journeys marked with a £ sign in the paper or online timetable, will be reduced to hourly - except those on Sunday evenings, which will disappear completely unless First sudenly decide they were economic after all.

The 500 Harbour Link bus is no more. Intriguing that it should be axed to save a few bob, when the same council is promising to find £17 million MORE for the Ashton Vale rapid transit, to provide vital public transport in the same area, guaranteed to lever in squillions of inward investment etc etc. that wouldn't otherwise materialise.

Intriguingly, though, the Park and Ride contract has been won by a 'not for profit' company, HCT (Hackney? Community Transport).

And - totally outside the council's influence - Freebus was successfully launched yesterday, providing a half-hourly Saturday daytime service on a loop around the city centre. So there is something very positive to report.

Otherwise, even without the detail, this thirties Labour Party poster pretty well sums up what's happening across the board.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


Expect to see cabbies dancing in the ranks tomorrow evening. The Cabinet will be handing them a wealth of new business, as key bus services for this major city are dismantled to appease George Osborne.

The Cabinet's being asked to decide between two intolerable options - both of them cutting deep into those services deemed (until now) to be "socially necessary". In the process, it will hit everyone from schoolchildren to the elderly and disabled, make nonsense of any pretensions to fight climate climate change, to cut air pollution, or to reduce congestion.

Right now, we don't know which option the Cabinet (are there any non-motorists among them?) will impose on us (I'll add to this post when it happens). The papers in front of them at the meeting won't help them choose, they don't spell out out what will be cut, only, scattered about the documents, what might be retained. Sir Humphrey would be proud of it.

It's clear, though, that after September, it will be much harder (if it's possible at all) for any Cabinet Member to catch a bus home after a meeting. At best, evening services on the main city routes will be heavily reduced in the evenings, so that (say) to get back here to Stockwood will involve waiting for the next HOURLY bus. At worst, the last bus will leave around 9.30!

Early morning services face the same threat, while Sunday buses are likely to be halved.

This may all be good news for First; unless passenger numbers are cut pro rata to the number of buses, they'll be able to squeeze more passengers on fewer buses, and pick up a city subsidy at the same time. It's an ill wind....

Meanwhile, over in Nottingham......

......I had the chance last week to try their city-run public transport - the bus and the tram. Cheaper than Bristol, city-wide, high frequency, excellent buses, stops, and information. Routes are branded by colour, and terminate in the centre.

There's a flat fare (£1.60, or £3.40 all-day) plus a whole range of cheaper seasons and group tickets, operating as smart cards, often valid with other operators too. The buses are much quicker, because no change is given and most people use smart cards anyway. And so far as I can see, it's all unthreatened by cuts.

That's what happens where a city has the wisdom to keep its transport operation 'in house'. Tomorrow, Bristol City Council will agree to abandon its last council-owned vehicles, the specialist vehicles dedicated to community transport. Ideological insanity.

Countdown to Zero

At the tender age of twenty one I, like most of those around me, was contemplating imminent death. We were helpless to prevent it, the decisions would be taken many thousands of miles away. It was the time of the Cuba Crisis, the most public cold war confrontation between the nuclear armed governments of Russia and the USA. Either one side gave way - and they were showing precious little sign of it - or global nuclear war would be triggered. The unthinkable horror that would end our civilisation was never more thought about.

Nearly half a century later, nuclear weapons remain, in quantity, and have spread much wider across the globe. The 'MAD' dogma that Mutually Assured Destruction ensures that war is not an option has been abandoned; first strikes and tactical use of nuclear weapons are part of military language. There have been a number of 'near misses'; it doesn't need an international crisis to provoke a launch, just an 'accident, miscalculation, or madness' as JFK put it.

But in 2011, the risk of nuclear war gets little public attention. For most of the UK population, Hiroshima is history, nothing more.

All the more reason to take a look at 'Countdown to Zero', a new film being premiered across the UK on Tuesday June 21st. In Bristol, it's at the Watershed, at the Chessels Community Cinema in Southville, and at CoExist in Hamilton House, Stokes Croft