Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Ferry rescue

Odd that the news hasn't been more widely spread – 48 hours on, and only the BBC seem to have picked up on it. 

After Bristol Ferry Co went into administration, its fleet of five boats was auctioned off on Thursday.   The good news is that they'll stay in the harbour; having been bought by an ad hoc consortium, which plans to restore harbour services under the flag of 'Bristol's Ferry Company'.

It was BBC Radio Bristol that broke the news on Friday afternoon in their drivetime programme (here, at 1hr.16).   In an interview with John Grimshaw (the John Grimshaw?) it was revealed that 30 donors had submitted the successful bid (it's the good fortune of Bristol, or at least a part of it, to have such funds readily available – I doubt many places are so lucky). 

According to John Grimshaw, the plan now is to launch a community interest company to run the ferries as a public service, co-ordinating services with other operators, and joining other public transport operators to provide integrated ticketting.  That'll put First Bus on the spot!

I can see it now...  the 36 bus to Netham Lock, then the ferry along the Feeder into town, or maybe just to the shiny new interchange at Temple Meads.   Maybe.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

NP14 Inaction

For Mr Grouchy, the last couple of months have not been good. Every day he wakes anticipating the enlightenment promised by his local councillors. Every night he goes to bed disappointed.

It started when Mr Grouchy used the 'public forum' in that cradle of local democracy, the Neighbourhood Partnership, to raise matters that had been ruled off the formal agenda. The chair, local Tory councillor Jay Jethwa, had dismissed it, overriding protests from others present, to ban all discussion. 

Since then, it's been removed from official view; even the title “Something Rotten in the State of NP14” has been minuted as “Hengrove and Stockwood N P”. But there was a silver lining..... a written response was promised. Mr Grouchy's been waiting for that for nine weeks now.

An email reminder to the four councillors got no response. A direct request to Jay's fellow ward councillor, David Morris brought only the grudging assurance... 'you'll get an answer'. And at the Ward Forum, it was the same... Cllr. Jethwa conceded that she's still drafting a response, but couldn't say when it might be delivered. As a Christmas present? A new year's gift?   Sorry, don't know...... Switching into jobsworth mode, she reminded Mr Grouchy that there's no deadline for a response.

So even now, no-one's so much as acknowledged that the 'Partners' in this Partnership have any right to put items on the NP14 agenda, as other NPs do. No-one's even conceded that it would be common courtesy if councillors offered an explanation when they override the majority view and the decision making guidelines. Instead, the criticisms from Mr Grouchy and friends are dismissed as being negative, disruptive, or even bullying.

Mr Grouchy has a sneaking suspicion that the Hengrove and Stockwood councillors see the Neighbourhood Partnership as an irrelevant irritant – and why should they want to make it any more irritating by allowing the partner/residents to play a real part?

Is it time for Grouchy and co. join the many residents who've already given up on NP14 ? 

Maybe....  it would take a superhero to restore democracy to Hengrove and Stockwood.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Decision Time

We are where we are. Few really want a city mayor, still less want a Police & Crime Commissioner (I love that title.... which gets commissioned first?). But in 48 hours will have one of each, so we might as well limit the damage by voting to minimise the damage.

Or even to really change the face of Bristol for the better.

First choice for mayor – Daniella Radice, of course. Uniquely, she offers a clear manifesto, strong commitments to neighbourhood democracy, to equality, and to a green city, plus an honest commitment to reduce cuts. Not forgetting my favourite... a real interchange at Temple Meads. 

It's not a wasted vote, either; if the unlikely doesn't happen (though sometimes it does), there's always the second preference vote.

Mine goes to George Ferguson. Some doubts – there's little commitment to equalities, a suspect over-reliance on market forces, and promises of neighbourhood democracy are very vague. But those are over-ridden by a freedom from party dependency, by a broad commitment to green issues, by an impressive track record – and by being less bad than the rest!

Marvin Rees might have got that second vote but for being so deeply bound into Labour Party structures and expectations to the exclusion of all and everyone else. Geoff Gollop was never in the running for me because of the company he keeps, and ex-Doctor JonRogers.... well, even apart from his loyalty to the party that lets this government claim a mandate to do what it does, who wants a mayor who treats the residents as gullible idiots, as so much of his publicity does?

For PCC, Pete Levy gets my first vote. His comprehensive manifesto shows he's thought it through, and his priorities and values look both right and realistic. Pity about the LibDem party label.

The others seem much of a muchness, all offering similar platitudes that will offend no-one. So Sue Mountstevens gets the second vote, simply because she's independent of party ties.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Supplementary (mayoral) voting made easy

First preference:  vote for your actual first preference.

Second preference:  guess who the top two are going to be when first preference votes are counted - and then vote for the one who's least bad!

Or:   the first with the heart - the second with the calculating head

Why?  Daniella Radice explains...

Monday, 5 November 2012

Bid to develop Stockwood's Green Belt

Yes, they're back again. Developers Robert Hitchin have applied to build close on 300 houses in the three fields that still separate Whitchurch village and Stockwood.   Just the same houses as were refused by BaNES last year! Presumably they think the political climate's better now.

Deadline for comments is November 27. More on the Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces site

Sunday, 4 November 2012


The Bus Rapid Transit route that will bring north Somerset commuters from the Long Ashton Park and Ride into town by a different route, didn't start that way. Originally it was part of an ambitious new network that would traverse the city. BRT2 itself was to continue right through to Emersons Green by commandeering the Bristol-Bath cycle path for the its north-eastern leg. It was also intended to be a substantially different form of transport, using guided bus ways and sufficiently unlike a bus to attract drivers to make the switch from cars to public transport.

All that fell to pieces, of course. First with the successful defence of the cycle path against the encroachment of 'rapid' buses; then with the forced budget cuts that the Department of transport insisted on (the cuts were, of, course, in the government grant. The local contribution actually went up to £15 million plus extras). The latest change is to (perhaps) revert to a rather more eco-friendly bus instead of the diesel bendy-buses that have been the first choice up to now, and to fiddle a bit with the route at Temple Meads. 

In all, the current scheme is a very different animal from the original, except in the route it's to take from the Park and Ride into the city centre.

So it's legitimate to ask what it's actually for now.

The official answer seems to be that the government has offered some money towards it. That's a bit like going into a posh shop, seeing a very expensive item that you have no use for with a big “70% OFF!” price tag, and finding the offer irresistible. Then, after paying, finding there are many more built in costs than you bargained for. And it's not something you ever wanted anyway, and now you've got to find more money for the things you really need.

Another part of the downside is the despoilation of the popular waterside walks and rides along the New Cut and the Harbourside, as tarmac and diverted buses take over from the Create Centre to the M-Shed.

Benefits? We're told that the BRT2 will clip a minute or two off some journeys into town – though that will depend heavily on budgets, frequencies and, of course, on choice of destination. It could do the same for all the other buses from north Somerset that will be diverted onto the same route instead of coming through Hotwells and Anchor Road. And it will free up bits of the Cumberland Basin highways from some of those buses, in turn encouraging more private traffic, including all the extra that will be brought by the new South Bristol Link Road. Don't expect improved traffic flow there, then!

It's that South Bristol Link Road that probably explains why BRT2 (pretty pointless in itself even for its sole beneficiaries, the north Somerset commuters) is still on the table.
Ripe for development - the S Bristol Link Road route
The Link Road (read 'Ring Road') really is a money-spinner. It's key to developing the Green Belt to the southwest of the city, just as was proposed in the Regional Spatial Strategy with the enthusiastic support of land speculators and builders. The airport expansionists have been lobbying hard for it. But it would never win funding unless there was a veneer of 'sustainability' about it. 

That's where another of the rapid transit routes comes in.
This one follows the alignment of the South Bristol Link Road, and wraps it in a 'sustainable public transport' label. Nobody's really  fooled of course... everyone knows that if you want to invest in a useful rapid transit system, a link between Hengrove and Ashton Vale will be near the bottom of the wish-list. But the promise of these vehicles on the new road gives planners and politicians in Bristol and London the excuse they want to build a road, opening up the green belt.

To give this BRT link a bit of added credibility (because predicted passenger figures prove it would be nowhere near economic, or even socially necessary, or accessible to most potential passengers) the route has to do more. That's where BRT2 comes in, providing that essential link to take the South Bristol Link BRT on into the city, albeit by a tortuous and time consuming route that makes nonsense of the word 'rapid'.

If BRT2 should be abandoned, there's an inescapable knock-on effect on the South Bristol Link BRT, which would lose any shred of credibility that it might still retain. And if that BRT gets abandoned in turn, it removes the sole figleaf of 'sustainability' that covered the destructive potential of the Ring Road.

I think that's why they're clinging on to BRT2.

Note: A petition has been launched asking the new mayor (whoever it may be) to cancel BRT2. You can read and sign it at

Friday, 2 November 2012

57 Variety – on the way out

From November 5th, Stockwood's other bus route into town will be pared right down. Abus is cutting the daytime frequency of its 57 service, via Bath Road. Peak services will remain, but after that it will be every hour at best, with a much longer gap in inward journeys during the afternoon. The new timetable is here.

It's bad news for Stockwood, because for years Abus have offered a far cheaper trip into town than the exorbitant single fares on First's 54 service, and the only short access to the eastbound bus corridor along the Bath Road, toward Keynsham and Bath.

One contributory factor must be the national concessionary fare pass. For pass holders, fare differentials are not an issue, so First's more frequent buses have been able to draw more custom than they deserve, especially in the off-peak hours. 

For those travellers who do have to pay, First have the economies of scale that allow them to offer more attractive deals like the First Day tickets. They've also looked after their own monopoly interests by resisting, for years, any attempts to launch similar city-wide tickets that are valid on services operated by other companies.    And, in a mini 'bus war' when Abus were running the 57 service on Saturdays, First ran so many buses on the alternative 54 route that the smaller Abus couldn't command the passenger share to keep their buses running.

Thank you, Mrs Thatcher – and all the administrations of every colour that have followed in your footsteps.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

BRT – the new mayor's parlour game

In a surprise change of course, Bristol City Council – and presumably, its West of England Partners – have decided that bendybuses aren't the answer after all.  Or so we are led to believe....

What we really want is longer single-deckers with (like bendy-buses) two doors. Which means all those artists impressions might as well be binned. I wonder if they've told the bus manufacturers..... there'll be some worried workers in Ballymena tonight.

What's more, the BRT2 route will, at last, be diverted to serve Temple Meads!   Just what I've been saying for years......

It didn't need a meeting to decide it, it didn't need a consultants report, it didn't need the Cabinet Member with responsibility for Transport. It didn't even need the input of the council's own press officers.  

Instead, it came as a press release (*) from the LibDem group.   And instead of quoting the councillor responsible, the credit for this welcome proposal goes to none other than the deputy leader, one Jon Rogers, who also just happens to be running for mayor.

Which makes it even less credible than all the other unexpected announcements that emerge from the LibDems' transport spokesmen. Like Gary's transport hub and Tim's unmanned pods.

later discreetly removed - I wonder why

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Promises of Power

Here's an advance look at the mayoral election booklet. that should come through your letterbox before long.  Page 12 brings this list of hard promises from Labour candidate Marvin Rees.

If elected I will:
  • Build 4,000 affordable homes and crack down on bad private sector landlords
  • Build an Arena and back the two football stadiums
  • Make Bristol a Living Wage City, paying at least £7.20 an hour
  • Get cheaper, more flexible childcare - working with businesses, schools, and sports clubs
  • Introduce cheaper fares with a Brunel Travelcard and more accountable bus services
  • Make Bristol Greener, supporting local markets and sustainable energy
  • Involve more people in our city's decision making with four question times a year and weekly phone-ins.
As part of a booklet containing 14 rival mini-manifestos, this is more likely to be speed-read than considered in depth. That's a pity.... not many candidates make firm promises, and these are worth a second, if sceptical, glance. At least the Greens' Daniella Radice has provided a much more comprehensive manifesto that covers most of Marvin's shortlist in much more depth, and a website where these and other ideas can be challenged. 

Marvin must have been advised not to go down that path....

Every Labour promise begs more questions (not practicable here) about how, or whether, any mayor could deliver – especially when there are so many enforced government cuts threatening everything local government does.

More than that, his unashamed “I will build an Arena” bid to tap popular calls for stadia and an Arena is, to say the least, rash. 

Can Marvin really be talking about pouring public money (what money?) into someone else's commercial Arena, or is it just part of the same wish-list shared by nearly all the candidates? 

As for the stadia (read BCFC Ashton Vale) what form will his promised backing take? Everything's already in place, thanks to all the costly concessions already made by the council – except for one obstacle, the controversial Town Green application. That's a quasi-judicial matter, to be dealt with according to law, not by political influence. Does Marvin maybe intend to pack the relevant committee with people who'll 'vote the right way' ? It's hard to see how else he could guarantee delivery. As bobs commented to the Ashton Gate Blogger: “Marvin Rees – the first public servant to declare an intention to commit misfeasance in public office before he is even elected. “

As for the final promise, and given my own recent problems with local – neighbourhood – democracy, I'm keeping an eye on what the candidates have to say on making it happen. Marvin says nothing.     Mayoral Question Times and phone ins don't even start to do it.

The overall picture, from the promise list and the rest of the battery of propaganda coming from Labour's national electoral machine, is very much one of an autocratic all-powerful 'city mayor'; just the thing I voted against earlier this year.

My own first preference vote is, of course, committed. But - just in case that doesn't deliver - it would have been nice to cast a second preference vote for a socialist with a chance of winning. Pity there's no-one fits the bill.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Fox and Goose?

Here's a screenshot from the Post's online news this morning.  Sadly, the picture was replaced soon afterwards.   

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Further Downhill in NP14

The grouch-index rose several more points at this evening's quarterly meeting of the Neighbourhood 'Partnership' . That's the one where the big decisions are made.

Some big, controversial, and expensive issues – the Hengrove public arts project – dominated the agenda. Even so, there was a low turnout from residents (with less than half the resident 'partners' bothering to turn up), plus officers and the all-powerful committee of councillors. It was one of them, Jay Jethwa, who took the chair.

It didn't start well for Mr Grouchy when he asked why the Minutes don't get published in the promised six-days, but instead only come out (and then in skeletal form) after two or more months. The question was dismissed as irrelevant. He was even told that people who'd been at the meeting would know what had happened.

After more in the same vein, Mr Grouchy's big chance came when his public forum statement came up. He described the contemptuous way the Committee treats any initiative or opinion from the resident 'partners', offering several illustrations. He gave more examples of the several ways that officers and councillors get unwelcome issues kicked irretrievably into the long grass. He suggested that many resident 'partners' are getting, or have already got, so thoroughly pissed off with the whole charade that they've ceased to take any part. (The Chair intervened here, with the odd claim that it was irrelevant to how the neighbourhood partnership functions)

More positively – or maybe it was a memory lapse – Mr G didn't try to embarrass the committee by mentioning that this year's NP14 AGM had passed without any invitation to join or nominate, any nomination process, any check that people still wanted to be 'partners', or any vote – the previous membership was simply rubber-stamped.! 
Not did he mention that the agenda - which became a rule book - for this evening's meeting had been set by a small panel, sitting under another name, to which at least two 'resident' members had been told they need not come.    
And in more generous spirit, Mr Grouchy went on to offer a number of simple, practical things that could be done there and then to start putting things right.

The reaction of the committee was self-evidently pre-planned. Here was something else that needed kicking out of sight into the long grass.

Their answer....  the Committee will write to Mr Grouchy.    Next business.

Several resident partners' voices were raised to say that there should be discussion. The Chair would have none of it. She and officers were asked about a complaints procedure. Answer came there none.    Next business.

Mr Grouchy and one or two others left very soon afterwards, having remembered that there's a better life to be had out there. Looks like he, and they, will have to wait a couple of months to learn the official version of what happened.


Note to mayoral candidates: HELP! Where do you stand?
[added 24/10/12]

One week later, and little has happened. The promised response to Mr Grouchy from the councillor/committee remains somewhere in the long grass. 

There's been more reactions from other current and ex members of the NP, all expressing the same rejection of the way things are run in NP14. 

And now there's an officer initiative to set up a 'development meeting' (whatever that is) in response to concerns. Time, purpose, and invitation list t.b.a.   We'll see......

[added 1/11/12]

Another week later, and Mr Grouchy's still waiting for the promised response to his statement.  And the grass keeps on growing...

[added 8/11/12]   Yawn.....   where's that lawnmower?

[added 22/11/12]   .............zzzzz.......

[added 21/1/13]   It's arrived, three months and a day after being promised!   Jay Jethwa's 'answers', on behalf of the four Neighbourhood councillors, are reposted onto the HandS ON website here.    
Mr Grouchy doesn't think much of them.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A real First Preference? Or a Mayoral front-runner?

For many years I lived bordering two of the boroughs that first elected executive mayors.

In Middlesbrough it was an independent, Ray Mallon aka 'Robocop' or sometimes 'red braces', who won. Mallon had become a highly controversial figure, and a hero to some, in the everlasting scandals within the local police force.

Across the Tees in Hartlepool, to everyone's complete surprise, local MP Peter Mandelson's fury, and international hilarity, it was another independent, Stuart Drummond, who narrowly defeated the 'safe' labour candidate. Drummond had campaigned in the persona of the Hartlepool United mascot, 'H'angus the Monkey, on a platform promising free bananas to local school children. 
The day before the election - Mandelson and Drummond cosy up for the photographers. It was a brief romance!
Both elections were run under the first-past-the-post system. Mallon probably won on charisma and populist policy; for Drummond it was more likely a freak brought about by contempt for the tribalistic mainstream party political system.  Bristol councillors be warned.

But ten years later, both mayors are still there.  They've both been re-elected twice.  Neither has turned their town around (ignore the hype, mayors don't do that). But neither have they made any spectacular mistakes.  Whilst Mallon always had close links with Labour,  Drummond's strength does seem to lie in his independence, and his majority has increased dramatically. But while we're voting for our first Bristol mayor, Hartlepudlians will be holding a referendum on whether they want to revert to a 'council committee' structure.

If a rank outsider, a joke candidate, like Stuart Drummond could be elected in Hartlepool, and then repeat the victory twice as a 'sitting' mayor, all under the first-past-the-post system, is is possible that a much more serious outsider in Bristol could do the same under the more favourable Supplementary Vote system? Of course – but only if voters have the confidence and understanding to use their votes carefully.

This time, THERE IS NOTHING TO BE LOST BY GIVING THE FIRST PREFERENCE VOTE TO YOUR FIRST PREFERENCE, no matter what the hype – or the Post, or the bookies - might say about their prospects. With a big field and three 'favourites', it's very probable that no-one will get over 50% of those first preference votes, so all but the top two candidates will be eliminated. The 'losers' second preference votes will become the decider; the top two get their votes topped up by second preference votes from the others, and the new total decides the winner.

So - unless there's a 'H'angus moment (which, of course, there could be - imagine the MPs' faces!)  it's the second preference that counts. For once, at least with the first vote, there's no need to second guess the way other voters will behave. It should be what it says - a real first preference.

Monday, 15 October 2012

There is something rotten in the state of NP14

Mr Grouchy's at it again......

Public Forum Statement to Hengrove & Stockwood Neighbourhood Partnership, 17 October 2012

There is something rotten in the state of NP14

This Partnership is far from being either democratic or a Partnership. It carries a thin veneer of both; but there is nothing underneath.

There is an urgent need to put that right, but there is no sign of any interest from the committee or administration in making it happen.

Below are just three examples of recent continuing failings. All of them demonstrate the failure of the Partnership to allow its members to initiate debate and decision making, and how matters are shunted out of sight and off any record, if that is what the Committee and administrators want.

Town Green recommendations?

Late last year, the suggestion was raised that we should consider trying to securing our best green spaces against being for sold off, by getting the legal protection of Town Green status. This would involve: first, a decision in principle by the Partnership; second, consideration of which (if any) spaces would benefit; third, an application to the registration authority (the council) for voluntary registration; and fourth, a decision by the council. It's a long process, and in our January meeting we agreed at least to prepare the ground for the first step. Since then, nothing has been done to progress it, and it's drifted off the agenda despite requests it should be included.

Well-being Grant decisions

This is the controversy over how we decide which well-being grants deserve public funding. We thought we had it sorted, setting yardsticks to help us judge the quality of the bids, and establishing a panel to look at them in depth. But it was seriously tested at our most recent meeting (June) when the two councillors present overturned, without any explanation, a recommendation from the panel.

So for this meeting I asked for an item on this agenda under wellbeing (Item 6), that we should consider asking the councillor/committee to promise that, if in the future they should reject the advice of the panel, they should explain themselves. I thought it a very reasonable request that they should do us this courtesy; but as the only resident member present at the agenda-setting meeting, I was outnumbered four to one with an absolute refusal to even allow it to be raised on the agenda. So that one's been also kicked into the long grass without getting anywhere near any public debate

The Benches

Equally deep in the long grass is the third example. It's a small deal, but an important one both for this Partnership and for the less athletic people who attempt the steep path between lower and upper Stockwood to reach the main central amenities. It just involves installing a couple of cheap benches alongside the path. First proposed early in 2011, by June 2012 it had slowly progressed, and was already listed as one of our agreed priorities for green space improvements. That led to my request that the June NP meeting could consider giving it top priority as money becomes available, as its high benefits and low costs are self-evident. But we were told it could not be discussed; it wasn't on the agenda. So instead of a brief discussion and decision, it was referred back to our Environment Sub-Committee.

That committee met and agreed that it would be proper to give this particular proposal the priority it deserves. So you might expect it to be a recommendation for this full meeting (as a spending decision it must be made by councillors at a full NP meeting). It's not even on the agenda, despite a request being put at the Agenda setting meeting.


Given these three examples (and there are more, though virtually none of it is reflected in the record of the meetings) this evening's meeting will understand why to some of us the NP seems more concerned with frustrating progress than with making it; much more concerned with rubberstamping pre-selected 'one-choice' decisions than with allowing any real new input from local people.

Right now, I'd like to propose
  1.  that the three items above should be considered today. They've been taken through every conceivable procedural hoop already, and proper requests have been made to put them on the agenda.
  2.  that meetings should be set up to discuss, report, and make recommendations based on the recent Voscur study of the way Bristol's 'Partnerships' are functioning, and to bring proposals to the next NP meeting. 
  3. that this statement should be included in the on-line minutes of this meeting, there being no data protection issues involved.   

reluctantly submitted by
Pete Goodwin, current member of the Hengrove and Stockwood Neighbourhood Partnership.
15.10. 2012.
(added 16/10/12)
a second, quite independent, statement on similar themes has been posted on the 'HandS ON' thread      "Public Forum Statements - read them here if nowhere else!"  . Mr. Grouchy is not alone.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Project (mis)Management

This is Hollway Road, Stockwood, as it appears on Google's Streetview. Inevitably, it's not quite up-to-the minute, in fact it must be all of a couple of years old. It still shows Langton Court, the council's sheltered flat complex that has since been demolished.

A lot happened in those two years. With Cabinet agreement secured, the tenants were found alternative places to live, the buildings were razed, and in their place Housing 21 have built this VSH (very sheltered housing) complex. It's called Bluebell Gardens, and the first occupants are already in. Not bad going, in a recession!

This is Hollway Road from the same place today:

Spanning the same period, there was another, much smaller scale, bid to improve things for Stockwood's less athletic community. It didn't need anyone to be rehoused, no new buildings, no land transfers, no legal work, no planning permissions. Just a couple of simple benches like this.

They were to be placed beside the hillside path that provides the main pedestrian link between the lower and upper parts of Stockwood; just the job for people going up to the shops and library, or down to the school. Fairly steep, though; and the only way to take a breather is to get down on the grass. 
Here's what the path looked like while Langton Court was still up and running in 2010.

And here's what it looks like now.

No change there, then.

The bench project quickly became mired in a Neighbourhood Partnership process that isn't fit for purpose. There's no problem in principle, everyone agrees that these benches would be just the job; a few hundred quid very well spent, and ticking all the right boxes. We might have had them now if we'd let them stay in the 'wellbeing' lists' – after all, if Tory councillors can gift an over-55's group a Christmas meal and, later, a coach trip at public expense, anything is possible. But instead we played fair, switching the benches to be judged alongside other possible open space improvements, and now they can't escape that long, long process. Requests to get the Partnership to give them priority are rebuffed, even after the NPs own Environmental Panel recommended it; the question cannot even be put on the Agenda. 

The situation is ludicrous – but NP managers seem totally disinterested.

Meanwhile, locals will still have to struggle non-stop up the hill, or use a car. Or buy into the spanking new Bluebell Gardens, which somehow got built without local authority red tape getting in the way.

Stockwood and Hengrove's next NP meeting, the first since June, is on Wednesday 17th October at Counterslip Church on Wells Road. Starts 6.30, business from 7pm. Observers welcome, but participation will, on past records, be strictly controlled!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Pickles and Gollop

The 'Second Preference' dilemma

The prospect of casting a 'second preference' vote at next month's mayoral elections means looking beyond a preferred (but outsider) candidate to 'the men most likely to'.

The 'Supplementary Vote' is far from democratic (which is probably appropriate in an election that will concentrate public power in one pair of – probably masculine - hands) . But it does give the chance to cast a second vote, and that makes it possible to cast an honest first vote for a preferred 'outsider' candidate. If at the first count they don't make it into the first two, then the second vote will count toward the final result – so long as it happens to be for one of the two who top the list when first preference votes are counted.

The current bookie's favourites are listed here. Note that the LibDem's are now down to third in the betting – but don't expect a correction to appear in Jon Roger's hype now. And note that the chances of a female mayor are assessed at 66 to 1 !

According to the same bookies, Geoff Gollop falls between the outsider and favourite groups – embarrassingly behind Independent Spud Murphy, his one time colleague on the council's Tory benches.
photo- the Post
Geoff won't be helped, either, by being seen at a Fishponds photo-op alongside the much reviled Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who would (according to the Post) effectively be his line manager as Mayor. I'm sure that command line isn't what was wanted even by the 13% of the electorate who want a mayor for Bristol. Eric may be one of the few 'state grammar' plebs among the toffs in the Cabinet, but even that wins him few admirers. He despises local government, as his own record running Bradford shows.

Of course Geoff already has a line manager in the shape of local Tory leader Peter Abraham – the fellow who claims he can empty his own mind at will. Peter should have been the warm up act for Geoff at the last council meeting – but he spent so long indulging in an irrelevant party political waffle (the kind that's being used to prove a mayor will represent us better ) that there was no time for Geoff's promised demolition of the case for Quality Bus Contracts. We'll have to wait a bit longer for that, then.

Geoff Gollop's mayoral website doesn't contain anything resembling a manifesto – but among the lists of good (or bad) intentions, these are the only firm commitments:

  • Scale back the role of the LEA
  • Introduce a schools olympics
  • Extend the period for intake/acceptance
Green Policy: 
  • Install solar panels on council house roofs
  • Create and restore nature reserves
  • Open a community fund to create more allotments
  • Make Bristol physically green (I suspect that needs rephrasing!)
  • Go ahead with Bus Rapid Transit
  • Scrap some bus-only lanes
  • Continue the spread of a city-wide 20mph limit – but with exceptions

It doesn't tell us much else, though, even for those obligations for which any mayor must have a policy . Like how he'll face up to further deep cuts to the budget (or pay for the wish-list above). Or what he thinks about local (neighbourhood) democracy. Or anything about the care services.

Generally, Geoff Gollop is regarded as a decent, likeable man. But in the mayoral elections the balance tips away from him as a potential second preference vote.

There's his poor placing in the 'likely mayors' list, that would make the vote wasted.
There's the broad theme in his platform of outsourcing essential services
There's the failure to declare how he'd tackle the really big issues.
And there's the company he keeps.

Right, that's one ruled out.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Solar Tree Splendour

This is the latest arrival on the Nightingale Valley (Brislington) hillside that provides a home for EdibleFutures.

The SolarTree will provide a self-contained off-grid energy system to distribute rainwater gathered from Edible Future's polytunnels to irrigate the crops inside.

The project, and the enthusiasm that's turned it into reality, are seriously impressive.

It's one miniscule step toward making the food production cycle sustainable again, with an emphasis on perennial plants and on organic veg that are already being bought by some of Bristol's more discerning eateries. Congratulations to all concerned.

How this very local harnessing of solar power, using largely home-made kit, contrasts with what's planned (if we let them) a mile or two further down the Bath Road.  Around Hicks Gate, big international corporations are lining up to pour money and chemicals and huge amounts of water into the ground beneath us in an attempt to 'frack' more global warming gases out from the security of the coal measures.

All part of the farcical mismanagement by government of solar and other sustainable energy sources!   Instead of trying to boost the economy by extending homes - and upsetting the neighbours -  with red-tape-free uPVC conservatories, why on earth didn't the government kick-start the solar industry with more rigorous standards for new homes to be more self-sufficient in energy? 

The 'greenest government ever' could learn a thing or two from this little patch of Bristol hillside.

(The Brislington solar tree project has another open day tomorrow (Sat 27/9/2012) – with access through the allotments of Allison Road. After that, best contact the people behind the projects; this is not an easy place to reach!)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Essential Plumbing skills

When the plumber arrived to service the boiler this morning, only a brief 'Hello' on the doorstep interrupted his continuing call on his smart phone, wedged neatly between his shoulder and his ear.

By now, he knows his way round our boiler, and he managed to continue the same hands-free conversation without a word to us the whole way through the service. Once the boiler casing was back on, there was a brief inter-call period long enough to present the bill, write a cheque and even exchange thoughts on photography (the phone having a further role here). But by the time that was done and the tools being packed back, his head was again propping the phone and another conversation was in progress.

Do they teach them that at the Skills Academy?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Bears Brook

Between the back of West Town Lane school – sorry, Academy – and the incessant traffic of Callington Road, there's this 'meeting of the waters' of Brislington Brook.
The muddier looking one in the foreground rises in the fields between the village of Whitchurch and the Bristol ward of the same name, flowing north under the Wells Road at Saltwell viaduct, and continuing close by (though largely hidden from) Sturminster Road. A short tributary comes down from the Coots hillside, and forms the Knowle golf course boundary. Throughout, the stream is 'off-road' and provides a superb corridor for wildlife.

The more westerly branch, seen flowing (above) between concrete walls, has risen in Hengrove, around Briery Leaze.
Much of its Hengrove course is now underground, followed by an unloved stretch alongside Airport Road before it dives beneath Wells Road into the Imperial Ground.
On that final stretch it becomes far more attractive , insulated by trees and shrubs from the parallel flow of petrol-driven humans.

 I have seen kingfishers patrolling here – though not for a year or two now.

Combined, the two streams continue down through Brislington and St Anns in a deepening wooded valley to join the Avon a little upstream of Netham Lock.

On just about every map I can find that takes the trouble to name these streams, both the Whitchurch and the Hengrove branches are called 'Brislington Brook' – although they're separate watercourses. Only one map departs from that – and I can't find it anywhere!

However, where the Hengrove stream passes beneath the Wells Road, several maps name the bridge as Bears Bridge.

And just along Airport Road, the first house – a modern one, reached by its own driveway bridge over the stream – has the name 'Bears Brook Lodge'.  

Bears Brook is the name on the lost map, too.  (information welcome!)

Every stream has its distinctive identity, and should have a distinctive name. Let's get 'Bears Brook' back on the map.

While we're at it, maybe the major road junction at Bears Bridge should carry that name more obviously. It has no name now, and 'Bears Bridge' on the signs would be a nice reminder that beneath all that traffic engineering (and more to come to cope with the extra South Bristol Link traffic)  there's still a little bit of the real natural world. 

Probably still with kingfishers.
 Links:  lets you superimpose old maps over current ones (or vice versa).  Fascinating.  - Rowan M's Brislington Brook blog

Monday, 24 September 2012

Stockwood Blues

It was sad, though predictable, to see Stockwood's two councillors' kneejerk support for rest of the Tory group at Tuesday's council meeting. They were wanting to stop any progress toward running buses as a public service, instead of the (largely monopoly) private business it is now. All the other councillors wanted to look more closely at 'Quality Bus Contracts' as a means of bringing Bristol a quality bus network. Not the Tories, though.

Don't the Stockwood councillors, Jay Jethwa and David Morris, know that Bristol's bus network is not fit for purpose?. Even if they don't travel on buses themselves, they must know someone who does. Presumably they read the papers. Perhaps they had even read the lengthy report that officers had prepared for them, setting out the background and spelling out some of the huge problems that crop up when the biggest bus operator by far shows no interest in co-operating with the local authority or with other companies.

All we got from the Tories in a disappointing debate on the proposals (to examine the business case for Quality Bus Contracts) was a feeble, ill-informed, irrelevant and irrational rant from their leader, Peter Abraham. But if the blue ranks around him were embarrassed, they didn't show it, and they dutifully followed his lead when it came to voting. As always.

In the Neighbourhood Partnership, local councillors have the opportunity to test local opinion on issues like this. They never use it. Nor have they ever used the online resources, (provided at public expense with local voluntary support) like the HandS ON forum, to keep us informed, or to invite our views.

It's self evident that the our councillors believe the mandate they get on the day they're elected is to represent the Tory line, however absurd, in the council for the next four years. And they carry out that duty one hundred per cent.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Egged on by the Post, the mayoral candidates all seem desperate to confirm that they see an Arena as priority for Bristol under their mayoralty. Probably alongside bread and circuses.

So it's probably a heresy to suggest that an Arena isn't really all that vital. Except as a means of getting elected, anyway.

I admit that I'm unlikely to be a regular patron of a new Arena. I've just taken a look at the shows, and the kind of prices charged at Newcastle and Nottingham, and I know that if I lived in either of those cities I'd not be at the front of the queue for the hugely expensive tickets. Arenas are a stage for the most popular entertainers, the most expensive productions, and they have to be big enough to pull in crowds from far afield on a scale that will pay the bills and still deliver a profit. Me, I seem to get more out of smaller scale, and more original entertainment, so that will still get my custom.

It's clear, though, that an Arena visit to see a favourite entertainer is something special, whatever the price at the gate. That's why existing Arenas do bring in the crowds from far and wide. It's why Bristolians are prepared to travel over to Cardiff (not far) or up to London (maybe with an overnight stay) for a big event. Given the ticket prices, the travel is a minor cost – and arguably it adds to making the occasion special.

I'm guessing.... but if I was in the business of running an Arena, I'd be taking a very cautious look at the potential market in Bristol before I leapt in. That's why, reportedly, the SWRDA's plans fell through two or three years back. The developers just weren't interested, the sums didn't add up. If that was true then, it's hard to believe that things are any different now. Unless there are inducements.
The preferred Arena site is still the diesel depot site alongside Temple Meads. Now part of the Enterprise Zone, it's hemmed in by the A4 on one side, the tidal Avon on the other, without any public access. A bridge is to be built across the river from Cattle Market Road to allow first the construction access, and, later, the customers. Potentially, there's access from the Temple Meads platforms too.

As the site has already been given privileged planning freedoms, it's most unlikely that the elected council, or the mayor, will play much part in getting development kick-started. Of course, that won't stop them queueing up to be associated with any progress on the site.

Yesterday the Post published astory on the lines that (a) part of the site is being temporarily gifted to the Severn Project – an established food growing project that gives therapeutic training to people recovering from drug dependency, and that (b) we won't get an Arena tomorrow. The linking of these two facts was clearly intentional, and the Post's usual website commentators, not bothering to check the detail of the article, predictably found it proved (yet again) that the council, drug users and vegetarians are to blame for the international humiliation of our city.

The only sure thing is that an Arena, even before it is built, will provide a stage for political actors to read the lines they think the audience wants to hear. Pity, that. There really are many more important things that should occupy the minds of would-be mayors.