Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Pop-up Play Park

Kids get  the best from a slide, paddling pool, goalposts, and a trampoline at this instant play park set up by their mums.

It's at the Sturminster Close Open Space (the one that the council prioritised for sell off as a 'low community value' site, although it met none of the criteria).

Friday, 27 July 2012

Stalled. By the Men who would be Mayor.

Both requests should have been easy and straightforward. But it's more like pulling deeply embedded teeth.  Is it just council habit?  Or is there something more sinister?

At this evening's Cabinet, I'd tabled a question to Jon Rogers about the suppression of 'public forum statements' from the on-line record of council meetings. They've been doing it for over a year now.

Yeah, I know, it sounds (and is) pretty dull. Until, that is, you read the powerful and well-informed Statements submitted to the same meeting, in a last ditch attempt to dissuade the Cabinet from selling off old peoples' homes and the like, while contracting out the whole range of 'care' services to the private sector. By tomorrow, those statements, part of the decision making process, will be all but invisible. The only 'evidence' for the Cabinet's decision will be the barely comprehensible reports from officers, in the language of officers.

I was told that the Statements are 'disappeared' because there have been occasional complaints from their authors, or from people named in them, that they never wanted them to go on record. When I suggested that maybe they could be redacted (they wouldn't be the first council papers with heavily blacked out details!) Jon Rogers agreed to look at that possibility. Presumably it hadn't occurred to whoever decided to suppress the whole documents in the first place.

My trump card should have been a test sentence in a Public Forum statement made to a recent Neighbourhood Partnership meeting – it included a request to be be kept on the public on-line record. An easy decision, you might think - but Jon Rogers ducked it (and he's a wannabe Mayor?) For some reason the Head of Legal Services had not given Jon the benefit of his advice on this part of my questions, so instead of an answer, the buck just got passed back to the Head of Legal Services to consider and reply.

So.... simple matter, still waiting.

I have checked with the law, and I have checked Standards, and I have checked with our officers, and it is perfectly in order for me to be the Chair” 

So said Cllr Peter Abrahams (another aspirant mayor) as he dismissed any question of his own prejudice, at the start of the PROWG meeting last year that decided to split the Ashton Vale site into part Town Green, part stadium/development site. The rest is history. The Committee's decision is now thoroughly discredited, and we're all back at square one - and a few thousand quid worse off.

Wondering whether the advice was that he was relying on was as flawed as the meeting he chaired, I put in an FoIrequest for the advice that he cited. On the last of the 20 statutory days for reply, I got a response of sorts. It invokes 'Legal Professional Privilege” as a barrier to disclosure. To a lay mind, that might not make much sense – after all, what on earth could the problem be, the advice has already been summed up in a public meeting ?

I'm promised a clearer reply in a few days. I won't hold my breath. In Bristol, The Road to FoI responses is paved with emptypromises .

So.... simple matter, still waiting.

[The FoI request (though little else!) is in the public domain here  . If you'd like to follow it, there's an option to be emailed about any developments]

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Learning from Cardiff's transport mistakes

Cardiff (under its temporary branding, Coca-Cola) is welcoming international guests to the only Welsh Olympic venue, hosting some of the football events,

On the face of it, visitors to the city should have no trouble getting around when the delights of the city centre and the Millenium Stadium begin to fade. The 'valley lines' provide a local rail network far more comprehensive than we have this side of the water.

On the roads, there's a publicly run bus company providing most of the city services. Oh joy!

Crucially, there's a central 'hub' of bus station and train station right by the city centre and the stadium.
The sort of thing that Plot 6 at Temple Meads could provide here, along with an extra bonus of access to the ferry network too.

As in Bristol, Cardiff's buses are hooked into a real time tracking and display system, so passengers get the great benefit of knowing when the bus is coming. And, better than Bristol, there are various day tickets covering the city and beyond, valid across different bus and rail operators (not the sort of thing that FirstBus encourages here..... ). Cardiff buses are 'exact fare', which reduces dwell time at bus stops.

Seamless movement, you'd think. But in spite of a head start, Cardiff has messed up, and Bristol can learn from that before it makes the same mistakes at Temple Meads.

Truth is, Cardiff doesn't actually have a hub. It has two, next door to each other, but divided by a rather bare no-man's-land decorated with artificial trees. There's nowhere where you can get a readout of bus departure times, let alone do it under cover!

The 'information' display is very difficult for any visitor, uncertain of the city's geaography but wanting to explore, to make any sense of. Within 12 hours we twice found ourselves boarding city centre buses, with the right destination, heading off on wide city centre loops before coming back to the same place for the real journey.

Lessons for Bristol:
Put it under cover.... share the ticket/information/amenity services that go with a major exchange between the different modes. One hall can provide the departure boards, the directions, the fare and ticket information. That's what 'seamless' interchange is all about. And it really does provide the step change in the quality of using public transport that might actually make it more attractive to more people than using the car.

It was (maybe still is) an option in Cardiff; it's certainly there for the taking at Temple Meads. If, that is, a new mayor can go beyond the tokenism of previous administrations and landowners and really make it happen

Buses – and this time it's good news!

Destination Hengrove: It's finally happened!  The 515 has started – an hourly daytime (Mon-Sat) service from Stockwood serving the new hospital at Hengrove (not to mention the Leisure Centre, the Skills Academy, and the shops at Whitchurch and at Imperial Park. From the hospital, it's also a short walk to the 'destination' playpark and the cinema. The newly contracted service is run by Wessex, so First's Dayrider tickets won't be valid (a fine illustration of how competition provides a public good!), but it's good news anyway. The time table's here.  

Family First Day SouthWest for a tenner: Through the summer holidays, First Bus are offering a familyticket for up to 5 people (max 2 adults) on all their off-peak services in SouthWest England for a mere ten pounds.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Come back Barbara, all is forgiven

Has temporary council leader Simon Cook done it again? *

After the very public embarrassment of getting it totally wrong in his pronouncements about the Ashton Vale Town Green and the stadium project, our stand-in leader seems to be doing the same in the aftermath of the European Green Capital decisions.

The Post reportedMr Cook immediately announced that the council would back a repeat of this year's Big Green Week of environmental events, put together in support of the green capital bid, for 2013.
But the city will not enter the competition for the 2015 European award, which has already opened.
Meanwhile, back in Bristol's Green Capital Partnership office, manager Darren Hall is starting a public discussion on going for the 2015 award – suggesting that “entering for 2015 might make the issues unavoidable – keeping them high on prospective decision makers agenda for some years to come” .
It does look like Clifton East councillor Simon Cook was, once again, simply taking his own kneejerk view of how he would like things to be, and, without sounding anyone else out, presenting it as an absolute truth to the media. That's a bad habit for anybody. In the leader of a major city, it's unforgivable.

(added 28/7/2012)
Sure enough, the council has now confirmed that Bristol WILL go for the 2015 bid.    So even while Cllr Cook was putting his name forward as a would-be mayoral candidate, he was jumping the gun and getting it completely wrong.  Again.  

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Bristol 'City Deal'

A flyer drops through the door, from “Stockwood Gold”. It offers money in a hurry. All I have to do is take my unwanted jewellery, gold, silver and platinum – or anything else of value - and turn it into cash at the shop that's just opened up the road. Recession generates its own economic intiatives. It's an ill wind....

Much the same seems to be happening to the city as a whole. Bristol needs money in a hurry if it's to turn all those ambitions for transport and education into reality. The desperately needed Bristol Metro, for instance, to bring the rail network into something resembling a decent transport system.

It's that Metro, along with the magic figure of £1 billion, that features in the Post's headline for the 'City Deal' package, as dreamed up by Government ministers and the Local Enterprise Partnership, and faithfully relayed with the same spin to the public by unquestioning media. Just like the flyer for the pawnshop, it's strong on promise, but weak on detail of what the City Deal is really about.

What is clear, though, is that that no new money is on offer. What Bristol gets is the chance to borrow, on the strength of hoped for future income. That income will (local, national, and global economies permitting) come from the extra growth in business rates from the enterprise zones, generated by adopting policies that favour business above all else; planning concessions, land release, deregulation etc. If business still doesn't deliver, it's the people who pay the bill.

The announcement comes within 24hrs of a further £50billion being created out of nothing to hand to the banks, on the unlikely premise that they in turn will give the economy a boost by lending it on. You'd think the Bank of England might have handed 2% of it direct to Bristol and Network Rail to get on with the job. But you probably don't understand the financial system.

The publicity around the City Deal is thorough enough to name every possible reopened railway station in and around Bristol - but it doesn't actually say who manages all the change, who makes all the decisions, or how they demonstrate public support. There are vague references to 'Greater Bristol' and to the Local Enterprise Partnership, even to the elected council (or, in future, the City Mayor). Whether your vote (in Bristol or its neighbours) makes any difference to the city's progress looks less likely than ever. A new mayor, whoever it might be, will find it very hard to resist the invitation to borrow enormous sums, even if it commits the public into a high risk enterprise. Taking risks is not what local authorities are supposed to do. Conventional wisdom leaves that to the private sector.

It does look like part of the price of Bristol's £1 billion 'right to borrow' will be a fire sale of public assets. The City Deal establishes a “Bristol Public Property Boardto manage “up to £1 billion of Bristol City Council assets and an estimated 180 land and property assets in the ownership of a range of other public sector partners. Integrated management of the portfolio will help to unlock more land for economic growth or housing, use assets to lever in other public and private sector investment and generate operational efficiencies by co-locating services.”

Selling the family silver, in other words. I dare say “Stockwood Gold” would buy it.