Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Abraham's 'Empty Heads' Law.

It's always going to be difficult when elected councillors are asked to rule on planning applications from their own councils. When it happens, they're expected to exercise the same dispassionate and independent judgement as they apply to any other planning application. That includes, in particular, avoiding any possible charge that they have prejudged the decision.

That was the situation on Wednesday, when Bristol City Council sought the blessing of its own Development Control Comittee to construct the in-city leg of the South Bristol Link Road, attracting heavy traffic through Withywood and across Highridge Common to the A38. There it joins the North Somerset leg, already approved for construction, and primarily a route that opens up green belt for development while clipping as much as a minute off airport journey times. (It will also save busy commuters the embarrassment and inconvenience of running over Barrow Gurney villagers)

On the day, the Bristol councillors voted the Withywood leg through by 8 votes to 2.

One of the dissidents was the Greens' Daniella Radice, who found a host of reasons (reinforced by the transparent failure of officers to offer convincing answers to her questions) to vote against. The other was Labour's Sean Beynon, who could not reconcile the undoubted expense of a very dubious project with a cash-strapped council being forced into harsh austerity measures by a ruthlessly ideological government (my words, not Sean's!). It just doesn't add up.

Helen Holland would surely have joined them – but as a long-standing and very public objector to the project she did the decent thing and stood down from the Committee – only to be replaced by a Labour colleague, Afzhal Shah, who decided to go with the flow and approve the road.

Of course Helen should have invoked Abraham's Empty Heads Law. All she needed was a simple statement saying “But I wish to give an absolute assurance, and that assurance is, that I come to this with a completely open mind. That must be done, and that is what I shall do.” It worked for Peter Abraham on the Ashton Vale Town Green debacle.

At least two previously-declared cheerleaders for the Link Road weren't troubled by any suspicion that they might have formed a view before the meeting. 

Both Claire Campion-Smith and Mark Wright had been part of the LibDem Cabinet that unanimously agreed to bid for government support for the road back in March 2010. Mark Wright had, at that meeting, (and in comments on this blog) rehearsed some of the same pro-road arguments as he repeated on Wednesday before voting in favour of the new road.

Planning applicants..... planning committees...... sometimes they just seem to merge into one.

(more on the nosouthbristollink website)


between the lines said...

Good post Pete.

Sadly, like so many things these days though, it looked like a done deal. The webcast parade before the Council was only for show and going through the motions.

What do you reckon to Tessa Coombes piece in B247 describing the "dual carriageways and car parks, no relationship between the buildings and no sense of place – low density, poor quality development, focused around cars. Is that the best we can hope for?"

As Tim points out, sounds like almost any modern drive-in hutch development in England. Unfortunately, however, most of the public seem to go along with all this and the best they can do is moan about it only if ever it affects them directly.

Stockwood Pete said...

Thanks, btl. Yes, I read that piece, it's full of blinding common sense and asks the key questions that no-one's dared attempt to answer. I don't think they're really interested in South Bristol because there aren't any easy answers. SBL is, as several people have said, a route through, not a route to. I recollect asking a 'public forum' question at some point about what proportion of SBL trips would start or end in S.Bristol; the answer sugested it would be very small.

I think it's a big over-simplification, too, to speak of the thriving north of Bristol and the moribund, unambitious south. They've both got elements of both - and I can't say I've ever had any envy of those who live in the north of the city, most of which looks like south Bristol with added traffic!

Anonymous said...

Helen Holland got exactly the result she wanted. She appeared to be against the SBL(for the purposes of her next election manifesto) whilst she enabled it to go ahead by pulling out. I expect she was pressured by the business lobby which is behind the SBL. But she had no reason or justification to stand down.

On Twitter, she claims to have received legal advice to stand down. I expect this is false, but if it is true, then why did no one else apparently get this advice. It does not stack up, unless the council legal team is giving corrupt advice.


Stockwood Pete said...

Hallo Harry

It was Peter Abraham's claim to have got legal advice to allow him to chair the AVTG committee that inspired the title to this post – though it turned out to be far from the truth!

I can see there'd be benefits to Helen Holland to avoid taking part, but not so much in the outcome as in avoiding the political charge that she'd voted against the Ring Road. My guess is that anyone who hasn't looked closely at it would just assume the LEP promises are true.

Anonymous said...

I can see how having a financial interest in one outcome or the other is a conflict. But when did having a detailed knowledge of the facts and an informed opinion render you conflicted.


Stockwood Pete said...

It might depend whose side you're on!

But there's a convention (backed, I think, by precedents of decisions being challenged in law) that councillors should not vote on matters over which they've already expressed an opinion before weighing the evidence presented to a planning meeting.

paul bemmydown said...

Helen Holland has spoken against the road at every meeting that I have attended and I have no doubt those were her genuine views. Should she have stood down is debatable. My Cllr, Richard Eddy has always championed the road, yet he took part! This "no preconceptions" really is a farce. The Tories and Lib/Dems were always going to vote in favour, the Green against. My only doubt was Labour and they were divided. What surprised me were the lack of intrusive questioning. I suppose if you know you are going to get the result you want, you can't even bother to go through the motions!