Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Coming VERY soon - The Big Open Space Sell-off.

 Neighbourhood Committees (the councillors, that is) are already being invited to decide which open spaces targetted by the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy should be sold off. I listed the sites, by NP, in this previous post.

First to be asked are St George (NP9) and Filwood (NP11). It's already pencilled in to the agenda for our next Hengrove and Stockwood NP, at Counterslip Baptist Church Wells Road, 7pm on the 20th March. The report's not yet available, but it will be on the lines of this one already tabled for the St George NP

In spite of Mr Grouchy's efforts to get a debate going within NP14, this most controversial subject seems unlikely to get any formal airing until until a few minutes before decision time.

The two Stockwood councillors (Jay Jethwa and David Morris) have already declared their positions anyway, to oppose all sales whatever 'incentives' are introduced. What point debate then, you might wonder? But the two Hengrove councillors, Sylvia Doubell (who'll be in the Chair) and Barry Clark are uncommitted. Their ward can only gain by sales in Stockwood.

So there is a debate to be had, and it should be seen to be done if the NP is to keep any semblance of community credibility.

Mr Grouchy's suggestion – that whatever sites are saved should be considered for voluntary registration as Town Greens – should have been considered at the last NP meeting, but instead it was talked out by the chair, and even the public forum statement that proposed it has been airbrushed out of official public view by being 'contained in the Minute Book' instead of being included in the online Agenda and/or Minutes, as is customary.

A little bit of practical background;

First, the 'incentive scheme'. This is based on approximate (ie commercially unsensitive) valuations of the sites. Sell the lot, you get 70% back to spend in your own Neighbourhood Partnership parks. BUT... sell less, and you get back disproportionately less. This graph illustrates it rather better than the NP papers do. Well, I think so.

Second, the proposal to request the city to voluntarily register the land as a Town Green. The government guidance is here.  There's no 'burden of proof', such as was demanded for Brierley Leaze, or for the controversial Ashton Vale applications. The council can just do it, even defining who (eg local residents) acquires the right to enjoy the Green. For example, last year Lancashire CC (as registration authority) agreed to Pendle Town Council's request to register town centre open space as a Town Green at Barnoldswick.

If a site's worth protecting, it's worth protecting properly.

And finally, why the protection of these spaces isn't simply a self-interested NIMBY concern. What we have is a sale that's driven not by any desire to improve a neighbourhood, not to provide appropriate land for housing or other developments. This is to purely to raise money for the parks by selling off land that just happens, historically, to be on the parks landholdings list. If land nominally held by the housing or highway authorities was to be more suited to provide necessary development, it doesn't get considered here. In effect the parks land sale drives a coach and horses through long established good practice in urban planning.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Jackets for Goal Posts. Nectar Points for Stadia.

[Cllr Cook's appalling misrepresentation of developments in the Ashton Vale Town Green Saga, and the failure so far of the professional media to report it, won't be covered here. Other blogs (try Anthony Butcher, the Ashton Gate Blogger and Bristol Indymedia for instance, or even, I'm told, on the OTIB boards) have been filling the void left by journalists and city lawyers very well without my help. Here, I'll stick to this more reflective piece about stadiamania. There may well be more.... ]

My own upbringing in the exhilaration, and more often the frustration, of supporting a football club started at Grainger Road (greyhound) stadium, then at Roots Hall, successive homes of Southend United. During that time, I must have seen both Rovers and City on their travels.  A lasting memory is the strains of 'Goodnight Irene' from the stands, and I came across this lovely
Pathe report of the 1952 United - Rovers cup match
 I was there. Probably!
Away games were a rare excursion and although we made it to Bath and to Torquay for the cup, we never reached Bristol.

 Later, Middlesbrough became my home side, and for a long while Ayresome Park was a Saturday afternoon destination of choice. But once the game had priced itself out of reach, the only time I saw the inside of the north-east's spanking new stadia, was as a guest of Her Majesty when her civil servants hired the venues for conferences. But after forty years, the Boro habit got pretty ingrained, and it's always their result I check first.

So far as I know, Sainsbury's played no part at all in Boro's move to the Riverside Stadium; that was down an ambitious club owner and the public money poured into the regeneration of the largely derelict Ironmasters District, along with a the promise – still unfulfilled – that it would trigger squillions of new private inward investment. The artwork – and the stadium – look nice, though!

Meanwhile, back in both Southend and Bristol, it's Sainsburys commercial ambitions that are being relentlessly pursued on the back of fans' passion and owners expanding egos. Whilst the Sainsbury's interest in the City and Rovers relocation, freeing them up to build megastores on the old club sites, are familiar enough, it's interesting to see how a similar strategy is being followed over in Southend.

Roots Hall is within a comfortable walk of the town centre, but well detached from its amenities. A park, some pubs, and a suburban station are close, and plenty of buses go by too. The site is is in multiple ownership, and Sainsburys want the lot to accommodate a 7,000sq.m (net) megastore with parking below and offices above (at Ashton Gate they're going for 9,300sq.m). There are 270 homes too. The minor independent owners, are ready to sell if the price is right.

The club itself is owned by a property developer, Ron Martin, through his company Martin Dawn. But the ground itself, bought largely by those fifties fans, no longer belongs to the club; it had to be sold back in 1999 to clear debts, with very little of the capital left to use for the club itself. The new ground owner, Roots Hall Ltd., is simply another corporate embodiment of Ron Martin. So Roots Hall Ltd leases the ground back to Southend United (owner, Ron Martin, as Martin Dawn) for £400,000 a year – creating such a drain on its accounts that it couldn't possibly survive without further support. OK, it's actually much more complicated than that.

 Enter Sainsburys.

They reckon Roots Hall would make a great supermarket + filling station. To get hold of it, they've provided United's life support machine for years, paying off the tax bills in last minute court deals and allowing the team and the club to survive – just. Regularly. On credit, of course.

And down on Fossetts Farm – that idyllic sounding edge-of town greenfield location where SUFC believe their destiny lies, it's Sainsburys who've offered to pay for construction of three of the four stands. I say four, though the fourth one seems to have been dropped because of the financial pressures. Just like the Ashton Vale project, the big deal isn't the stadium itself but the linked greenfield developments; a retail park, including a giant B&Q, a big hotel, and the usual outlets. There was to be a casino, too; but the sea front operators managed to stop that one. There'll be more money spinning at the Roots Hall supermarket and the value of the 'released' Sainsbury store floorspace in the town centre.

So it's not really about sport – even the professional game has only a tiny part in the big project.

The council in Southend has always backed the scheme, but without going to such expensive lengths as Bristol Council has backed City's Ashton Vale bid. In Essex, no-one's successfully gone cap-in-hand to the Civic Centre to ask for special planning concessions; normal standards apply. If meetings have been fixed and councillors' have been threatened, the evidence in Southend  is very hard to find. No public land has been sold to the applicants below its true value. The council has, however, agreed to bring a Compulsory Purchase Order to secure any land at Roots Hall that can't be secured by negotiation. That's about it.

Progress in Southend is painfully slow, and wholly reliant on the continuing goodwill of the supermarket; who are now so deep in the club's affairs that it's hard to see them walking away. But, new ground or not, the long-suffering Southend fans do have some reason to be cheerful. On the pitch, they've come back from the dead and are riding high.

 It doesn't look as much fun as in 1952. But that doesn't matter to Sainsburys.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Rail down to Radstock

Just an afterthought to the previous post....

90 years ago, when the Whitchurch railway path along the Sturminster valley here was a real, GWR, railway, albeit mostly carrying coal trains, there was a through passenger branchline service from Temple Meads along much the same route as our spanking new GBBN buses will take.

The journey from BTM to Radstock, with 5 intermediate stops, took a few minutes short of an hour.   The trains continued on, to link with the main line at Frome.

There was an evening train, and even a couple of Sunday trains.

West Of England Partnership, be proud of your progress.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

379: Racing down to Radstock

I never quite understood why Radstock and Midsomer Norton are so badly connected by public transport to Bristol. Just one 'direct' (but in practice circuitous) bus route, taking well over an hour for the journey.

The good news is that the gap is about to be filled with the completion of Corridor 6 of the Greater Bristol Bus Network.

The 379 route, we're promised, will be an hourly service by way of the A37 through Pensford. It means, of course, that those of us living in Hengrove and Stockwood will be able to make the trip to Radstock (including its excellent Co-op, which – on our last visit, at least – was far better stocked that any of its CRS big brothers in the Bristol area) and without a change of buses, in around 45 minutes from Whitchurch village.

There's no evening service promised for the 379, though. According to the BaNES press release, if homegoing commuters miss the 5.35pm from Bristol, they're stuck with little choice but to head for Bath and try from there. I wonder if tickets will be valid on both routes.   That's the kind of detail that sometimes gets forgotten in the rush to present spanking new road layouts, buses, and shelters

The new service starts on April 2nd
(added 29/3/12)  New timetable is at

There'll be a knock-on effect on our own Bristol buses sharing the same route along the Wells Road. We should expect real-time information at (marginally) more comfortable stops, and a little bit more bus priority. Which can't be bad. I hope it doesn't get a 'Fishponds' reaction from the motorists.

And why is there still no sign of upgrading or re-equipping the miserable apology for a bus stop at Temple Meads?   Aah....  it must be  the imminent decision to turn Plot 6 into that city-wide transport interchange we've been promised.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Police Raids in South Bristol

There's a problem in parts of South Bristol.   Bikers tearing up the green spaces - sometimes on stolen bikes, sometimes not.  Strictly, policing parkland isn't down to the police, but if they don't tackle the problem no-one will.

Until now, they've been finding the cash (from the Parks budget, I think) to pay officers to put in extra hours to cover the task, and the results have been good, things are pretty well under control.   Except....  guess what; cutbacks, austerity, the money's no longer available.

So the helmet's being passed round.  It only needs about £500 to keep the problem down in each ward, at least for a while, so that's what the police are asking for. The Parks can't afford the keepers who should do it, and they can't now afford to pay the police.  So it's the Neighbourhood Partnerships' piggy-banks that are being raided to keep the service going.  In particular, their 'well-being' funds.

Usually, to get money from the well-being fund, each bid must be carefully documented, tested against different criteria and prioritised among other rival bids.

Not this one, though.  According to NP minutes, Insp Salmon first introduced the idea at the Filwood, Knowle and Windmill Hill NP on 10th January.  They thought about it...  and agreed to write to the other S. Bristol NP's suggesting we all chip in £500 per ward.

On the strength of that, the same request was raised on 23rd January in the Brislington NP, where a compliant Committee readily volunteered to pay the police overtime out of their well-being fund.

The next evening it was our turn in Hengrove and Stockwood, where the issue was sprung on us without notice, and we were told that other NPs in S. Bristol had already agreed.  There was general agreement that 'Operation Biker' is a worthwhile service, but it was questioned whether the well-being fund is the right and proper source of the cash. The Committee brushed over any doubts. Councillors Doubell and Clark proposed payment from the well-being funds, and fellow-councillors agreed.

So there's a snap decision, short cutting all the usual requirements of a well-being bid, that will skim £1,000 off the money available for community projects in Hengrove and Stockwood. All the councillors seem to be colluding in this abuse of process.  The same appears to have happened in Bris.

Next on Inspector Salmon's fundraising tour will be Dundry View, which meets on March 19th.  When the meeting papers are published, it will be interesting to see whether the Operation Biker bid has been through the usual assessment channels, or has even been mentioned in the agenda and reports.  After all, there's been plenty of time.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Passport to employment

If the worst had come to the worst, at least 'Arry might have found useful employment at the Identity and Passport Office.

This response came back after chasing up a failed on-line passport application:

Thank you for your enquiry

If you have received no barcode number's after submitting the applications then they have not went through. If not then you will need to go to the post office and get a form from their.

Thank you.
Customer service e-mail team

Friday, 3 February 2012

Wealth redistribution - Bristol style

Every time council officers need to explain what green spaces are being considered for sale, whoever carefully tabulates the data must take a holiday. The result is jumbled lists like this that won't mean much to anyone other than dedicated openspacewatchers.  And, maybe, watchful developers.

Crow Lane Open Space; Arnal Drive open space; Land at rear of Merrimans Drive; Muller Rd Rec / Downend Park Farm; Arnal Drive open space (north); Longcross Woodland; Lockleaze Open Space; Elderberry Walk; Moorend Gardens; Portway Tip (Daisy field); Plummers Hill open space; Moorgrove; Small land, Snowdon road open space; Sturminster Close; Napier Square Park; Bracey Drive open space; Gill Avenue; Sherrin Way (Billand Close); North Valley Walk; Delebare Avenue; Huntingham Road/ Keble Avenue (Four Acres?); South Valley Walk; Tranmere Road; Willmott Park North , Hartcliffe; Cook Street Open Space; Terrell Gardens; Willmott Park South, Hartcliffe; Withywood Park (Paybridge Rd); Fonthill Park; Ladman Road and Bus Terminus; Henacre Open Space; Belroyal Avenue; Gillebank Close; Broomhill Road/Emery Road; Furber Road; Ladman Road and Bagnell Road; Brentry Hill; Gladstone Street; Maple Close; Hazelbury Road Open Space; Trym valley; Duchess Way O/S; Bath Road (3 Lamps) Burnbush Close; Broomhill Park; Craydon Road Triangle, Stockwood; Bonville Rd Open Space; Allison Avenue; Newbridge Road, Open Space; Dovercourt Road Open Space; Salcombe Road.

That's the list as approved by Cabinet last month.  Barely comprehensible.

So, for clarity, here's a map - and a reshuffled list - showing which Neighbourhood Partnerships are being told to decide which of their green spaces to sell - and how many are on the hit-list in each.   Where there's no number, of course, there's nothing to be sold.

The whole unsustainable strategy of financing the parks by selling parkland was based on the illusion that this would be 'fair', helping all parts of Bristol achieve a common standard of access to parkland amenities.  Wealth redistribution in action - a rare thing from any Con-Dem administration.   But the map shows that with the parks, a loss of assets in poorer parts of the city will provide more in the wealthier wards. (OK, it's a generalisation, but it's broadly true).

That's what the outer Neighbourhood Partnerships are being asked to approve.  And the more they sell, the more open space they lose, and the more receipts go into the central pot. 

Here's the full list, by NP

Avonmouth & Kingsweston (NP01)
Land at rear of Merrimans Drive
Longcross Woodland
Moorend Gardens
Portway Tip (Daisyfield)
Napier Square Park
Cook Street Open Space
Henacre Open Space

Henbury & Southmead (NP02)
Crow Lane Open Space
Arnal Drive Open Space
Arnal Drive Open Space North
Elderberry Walk
Brentry Hill
Tranmere Road
Fonthill Park
Trym Valley

Horfield & Lockleaze (NP04)
Muller Road Rec/Downend Park Farm
Lockleaze Open Space
Dovercourt Road Open Space

Greater Fishponds Area - Eastville, Hillfields & Frome Vale (NP05)
Small land, Snowdon Road Open Space
Bracey Drive Open Space
Gill Avenue
Delebare Avenue
Duchess Road Open Space

St George East & West (NP09)
Plummers Hill Open Space
Terrell Gardens
Furber Road
Gladstone Street

Filwood, Knowle & Windmill Hill (NP11)
Bath Road (3 Lamps)
Salcombe Road

Brislington Community Partnership (NP12)
Broomhill Road/Emery Road
Newbridge Road Open Space
Belroyal Avenue
Bonville Road Open Space
Broomhill Park
Allison Avenue

Dundry View - Bishopsworth, Hartcliffe & Whitchurch Park (NP13)
Sherrin Way (Billand Close)
North Valley Walk
South Valley Walk
Huntingham Road/Keble Avenue (Four Acres?)
Withywood Park (Paybridge Road)
Willmott Park North
Willmott Park South

Hengrove & Stockwood (NP14)
Sturminster Close
Hazelbury Road Open Space
Craydon Road Triangle
Burnbush Close
Ladman Road Bus Terminus
Gillebank Close
Ladman Road/Bagnall Road
Maple Close

There's more about each site among the draft  Area Green Space Plans  and (most of them) in this FoI disclosure