Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Template Quarter

It was cock-up, not conspiracy. The clue's there. Bristol lost its state of the art multimodal transport interchange because someone behind the Temple Quarter initiative got a bit overconfident with the predictive texting.

'Bus' became 'business'. George O was hooked. In came the cash. And out went the bus station.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Bread, circuses.... and bus stops.

Today's long awaited launch of plans to transform the enterprise zone around Temple Meads – branded the 'Temple Quarter' - was heralded on the front page of the Post and on the Enterprise Partnership's pages. Both highlighted the half-promise of an Arena.

The big event was on Plot 3 – except for now it's to be known as 'Creative Common'. (Don't run away with any ideas that this is in any way a common, though. Bristol doesn't do commons). A (only slightly leaky) Big Top provided the venue.

First in were 200 invited businesses, to get a progress report on the Enterprise Zone's development and opportunies. The literature suggests they were subjected to a tidal wave of hype; I can't help wondering whether hard-headed businessmen are really vulnerable to this sort of thing, and if they are, what makes their judgement so much better than the rest of us can manage.

Then it was time for us plebs. We were treated instead to a sparky free display of entertaining skills much better suited to the venue. All credit to them, and the kids especially loved it. I gather that the Big Top is going to stay there through the summer, and maybe come back next season too.

But for us, there was little about what's going to happen in this key part of our city; just a few display boards mostly filled with artists' impressions of THE VISION. Those pictures were indeed visionary in much the same way as a dream is: they don't really hold together in the light of day, and raise many more questions than they answer.

One thing was clear, though. The display pictures, like the media hype beforehand, include NOTHING about the council's or the Enterprise Partnership's promise of a modern transport interchange – in fact the only indication of any 'onward' transport for arriving passengers was a BRT stop in the Friary. Here's one of the pics; make of it what you will.

It was mere chance, but immediately afterwards, a steam train pulled in to Temple Meads – headed by a locomotive that drew the crowds at the 1951 Festival of Britain - extending the general feeling of unreality

Then it was time to get the bus home.

No circuses here. Business as usual for the forseeable future.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Border Wars

First, the progressive loss of chunks of the Green Belt in Ashton Vale, abandoned by the authorities who should be protecting it. Now the battle moves east, into BaNES territory between Stockwood and Whitchurch Village.

Here, developer Robert Hitchins has come back with an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against BaNES' refusal to allow a housing development of close on 300 units across the green belt pastureland that separates the two communities on this south-eastern edge of Bristol. 

Big question now: is the new planning regime, with its much publicised presumption in favour of 'sustainable' development, strong enough to override the bid ?

It should be easy for the Inspector to say 'No', in spite of George Osborne's enthusiasm for removing anything that might get in the way of developers' ambitions.   The National Planning Policy that finally emerged from Whitehall last month does include (at p.19) continuing protection for Green Belt land like this. For that, we can thank intensive lobbying by a number of pressure groups in the run-up to publication.

What's more, in a widely reported interview on 'Today', Planning Minister Greg Clark assured listeners that
The word sustainable is very important, what it means is there is a test of whether it is in the public interest to approve an application. If there are reasons, it destroys the environment, if it builds on greenbelt, if it builds outside a town centre when it's a commercial premises when you want to keep a town centre thriving, that would not be sustainable, it would not be in the public interest and thereforce it would not go ahead

The site itself is a group of three fields, criss-crossed by four public footpaths*, mostly used for grazing ponies. It's an edge-of-town location, with the neighbouring built-up area almost entirely made up of houses, so this development would simply add to an 'urban monoculture' leaving others to provide essential infrastructure such as schools, transport, etc, which are already thin on the ground, while leaving the new residents to reach employment and entertainment at considerable distance from the new estate. Sustainable, eh?

The place to tell the Inspector what you think is:

*cue, a plug for the current local walks programme – especially the one on 30th April that includes a traverse of these meadows!

Friday, 6 April 2012

A bit of a dump

This little lot, hauled out from no more than 50m2 of the woodland edge behind it, was just one small part of the litter and flytipping recovered from the parts of Stockwood targetted in a litter-pick on April 1st.

Extracting it from the woods and open spaces certainly reinforces anyone's misanthropic leanings, but more positively it encourages reflection on the throwaway society, waste collection strategies, and how the hell we're going to manage when our planet acquires a new plasticised aluminised skin of snack food wrappers. (Maybe its reflective quality will compensate for the diminishing polar ice cover and we needn't worry about climate change after all? Or maybe not.)

So why do people throw it away? Not the casual thoughtless littering, but the more serious, calculated stuff, which can involve shifting heavy items a long way off-road. 

Like this stuff, dumped a good 100m along the path by Brislington Brook and slowly spread during the following week. Smaller than most fly-tips, but fairly typical of a partial house clearance, this was brought over from Withywood and just dropped, without any attempt at concealment. Possibly by the occupier named on the bills among the waste, more likely by the landlord, or maybe by white van man. I just hope the enforcement people make a better job of finding out than May Gurney made of clearing it.

One reason for the tipping must be that there's little risk of getting caught, and it would be good to see much more effective enforcement. Another's the sheer volume of stuff we're urged to throw away to make room for something else in an unsustainable economy that relies on ever increasing consumption. And another's the cost of disposing of it (especially commercial waste).

Ideally, disposal costs would be free at point of use, and met by a levy built into the price of goods to reflect their true costs. Can't see that happening though. Equally unlikely (and unfair too) would be a free 'bulk load' disposal service provided by the council at public expense. Maybe a compromise would be a mobile 'bring' site – meaning skips - on a regular rota, where residents could bring their excess property, then left awhile for those of us who might find a use for it, and the residue removed later.

No doubt Mr Pickles (whom Damien Hirst preserve) and the Daily Mail would put the whole problem down to the evil of fortnightly doorstep collection of residual waste, which, they claim, infringes the basic rights of every Englishman. Wasn't it good to see that Pickles' bribe to councils to revert to weekly residual waste collections was taken up by just one council (Gloucester city) ; all the other bidders have had the good sense to seek funding instead for such as segregated food waste collection.

Food waste recycling - that's an initiative which, I would argue, did more to demonstrate Bristol's status as a progressive modern city than any new stadium or arena could possibly have done.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Mayoral Referendum

Everybody has a bit of a moan about the way the council's run. Often, the citicism is well founded, but then democracy and consensus politics was never going to be as easy as sniping from the sidelines.

So along comes a bloke with a remedy, and a few 'wait and see' promises to persuade us to use it. Why not scrap the old system, he says, and have a nice Mayor instead?  You can even choose who it is.

He insists on an answer on May 3rd.

You look at local government and know it's one of those situations where, as they say, something must be done. The coalition government is proposing something. So why not do it?

In the past, there have been plenty of alternative 'somethings' suggested, not least by the Greens. Some of them are listed, with reasons, on this newly released leaflet.
Yes, there's lots that's wrong with what we have, and councillors themselves often have to struggle with it.

We could certainly have a fairer, more representative, voting system.

We could make our elected reps more accountable, with a 'recall' system such as the Greens have already signed up to on a voluntary basis (other parties found all sorts of excuses not to).

We could change council procedure, so that it's less easy to abuse simply to score cheap party points.

We could strengthen the local, neighbourhood, element of our democracy, which is woefully lacking at present.

Concentrating all the power in the hands of a single, perhaps more personally ambitious and charismatic, 'leader' figure seems to be going in completely the wrong direction.