Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

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.