Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Power to the People?

Tuesday's council meeting handed a new and challenging responsibility to the city's fourteen Neighbourhood Partnerships - they're to decide on the thorny issue of selling off some local green spaces for development.  Well, not the Partnerships themselves - it's actually down to the ward councillors who sit within the Partnerships as 'Neighbourhood Committees'.

The word is was (see note below) that they're to reach a decision by the end of January.  They'll also be offered incentives to sell as much as possible - because the more they sell, the greater proportion that comes back to improve the land that's left.

This is where I get parochial; I'll stick with what I know (and the Cabinet and central administration clearly don't) - the threatened open spaces of Stockwood.  Here, seven spaces are on the target list:
Burnbush Close (bus terminus field)
Ladman Road (turning circle)
Ladman Road/Bagnell Road
Gillebank Close (pictured above)
Craydon Road Triangle
Hazlebury Road/railway path
Sturminster Close

As I told the council on Tuesday, only one of the seven could possibly be described as a 'backland' site, such as they love to describe as 'low value'.  None of them has significant antisocial behaviour problems.   Most are well used by the public, and with a little work all of them could be. 

The purpose of delegating the decision to local councillors is to allow local people, who know the sites best, to get involved.  But in practice the younger NP's (like ours covering Hengrove and Stockwood) haven't so far excited a lot of interest from residents in general. 

I'll try using this blog to point to where the local information is and where to join the discussion - on and offline.  Starting with the under-used 'HandS ON' forum where the stage is set to host comments on the Stockwood and Hengrove site sales.  If you're a Stockwood or Hengrove resident, please use it.
Note, 24/11/11. The word now is that there will be a little longer allowed for the NP's to reach decisions. In Stockwood that means it's more likely to reach decision time in the April round of NP meetings. It still isn't long, of course. So it was all the more disappointing that at tonight's Stockwood Forum, neither the ward councillor nor the officers showed much interest in launching any kind of dialogue with the residents about it. Power to the people? Huh!

The Whipping Boys

As council meetings go, Tuesday's turned out unexpectedly uncontroversial.  There were even a few fleeting glimpses of sweetness and light, that the usual suspects, goading the opposition at every opportunity, couldn't entirely dispel.

For most of us, the big issue was, again, the threatened sale of green spaces.  When it came to the vote, Members would be faced with a tricky balancing act, weighing up issues of localisation, social justice, quality of life, revenue, home-building, maybe even soil, wildlife and water conservation.  Oh, and electoral advantage!

In the public forum, we strutted our stuff as best we could in the very limited time available.  I'd wondered, not for the first time, if there was any point in this ritual, and this time I seized my moment with the mike to ask them to declare (for once) whether the vote was being 'whipped'.  After all, if that order's already gone out, what's the point of debate?  What's the point of the public forum?

In the event, it turned out that a deal had been struck before the meeting, and it finished with a unanimous vote.  Whipping would have been irrelevant anyway - just like the statement I introduced on behalf of Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces.  The deal was already sealed.

OK, my whipping question wasn't 100% innocent.  I knew that the two Greens on the council ('Leader' Tess Green and 'Whip' Gus Hoyt) had formed independent and different views as to how to vote on the choices in the original motion.  Fair enough. They'd both looked at the complex issues in great depth, the voters and the party had entrusted them to use their common sense, so why try to override that with some kind of whipping system that forces either of them to go against their consciences? 

The three bigger parties don't seem to operate like that.  I don't doubt that most of their members joined up because they found something in the party line that chimed with their own world views.  But on an issue of parkland sales, which had been endorsed years before by all three, (only the Greens questioned it then) it's hard to see why any of them should have changed their views...  what is so different now from the situation then? 

The only thing I can think of has nothing to do with principle, it's simply electoral opportunism. Those party groups, as always, seem to define themselves primarily in electoral terms, and don't hesitate to silence any possible dissent within their ranks by telling their councillors how to vote.  They even see such enforced obedience as a virtue. 

How long before I'll witness in the Bristol council chamber what I once saw happen in my (then) local town hall?  The debate was staged, the party positions were pre-defined, and the whips were out.  The Leader of the majority Labour Party returned to the chamber after answering a call of nature, just in time to hear the mayor call for the vote.  He put his hand up.  Falteringly, his fellow members followed his example.  So, to the Leader's surprise, did the opposition benches.  By that time it was too late to rectify his mistake.  Council policy had been dramatically and unexpectedly changed. 

After that he listened much more carefully to what vote was being called. 
They still routinely use the whip, though.  They're still proud of their party discipline, too.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Saving the NHS

Quick....  this e-petition needs to get 100,000 signatures to force the government to debate the Health & Social Care Bill again in the House of Commons.

Though the bill was passed at its Third Reading by a majority of 65 in the House of Commons, opposition continues to grow as public understanding of the implications of the bill spreads more widely.

Forcing a government re-debate will at the very least throw another spanner in the works - and who knows, constituents may be able to persuade their MPs (with the threat of not voting for them at the next election) to vote against the Bill this time around.

Let’s make this Very Viral to get the numbers Very UP.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Friday, 4 November 2011


Bristol's LibDem contortionists are getting plenty of practice as they try to deal with the embarrassment of the Occupy Bristol encampment on College Green. Barbara Janke has had to retreat into an embarrassingly patronising "understanding" of their cause, while seizing on the excuse of marking Remembrance Sunday as an emotive reason to 'geroff my land'. Characteristically, Gary Hopkins is, as always, much more bellicose, with his aggressive dismissal of the Green Party's open approval of what the occupiers stand for.

Labour seems to follow broadly along the Janke line, while the Tories lean heavily to the Hopkins approach. None of them are talking seriously about the underlying issues though.

The Evening Post is playing a predictable part in its own reporting of the encampment. Next to nothing about the reasons it's there, but with negative headlines that belie the nature of the occupation, and draw a disproportionate number of ill-informed comments on the website.

There's been a much more thoughtful and adult approach on Bristol24/7

Yesterday, College Green and the tents had suffered from the heavy rain; and the occupiers were busy laying new temporary boardwalks to protect the grass.
Meanwhile, over in Cannes, the G20 were also busy attempting to patch up the increasingly slippery foundations of their own very temporary looking structure - the economic system.

Of course, everyone wants the College Green 'occupation' to be temporary. On the other hand we also want an economic system that's fair and just, that won't come crashing down around us. That will take more than a few pallets.

One thing that could give that international house of cards a little more stability, damping down some of the market tremors that could bring it down, is the so-called Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions - those deals that have no substance in terms of real goods or services, they're merely abstract and often incomprehensible 'products' dreamed up by the financial establishment to produce a quick profit for some and the illusion of economic growth for others.

Originally known as a Tobin Tax, this always seemed a very obvious way of tackling some of the world's most serious inequalities and injustices, while at the same time slowing down the dangerously erratic tides of the money markets. And at last it's gained very respectable and influential support from those who really can do something to make it happen. Sarkozy, Merkel, Soros, Buffet, Gates, the Vatican, and now our own Archbishop of Canterbury, writing in the Financial Times on Wednesday.

There's the opportunity to do it at Cannes - if they're not too distracted by the debacle of the failures of the Greek economy. Lets hope.

Unseasonal Fruits

Last month was the first time I recollect seeing ripe strawberries still growing so late in the year. But this is the third time I've been able to blog about picking outdoor tomatoes in November.