Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

The British Disease

Flytipping.... first, here in Stockwood.

That's a heavy keyboard, and it's at least 300 yards off-road, beside Brislington Brook. Was there some cult ritual played out here?

And here at Ribblehead, Parker Knoll are proud to show us how to get rid of that old unmoded suite to make space at home for a new one. Yes, just like the most successful corporations, you too can externalise your costs, the British Way.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Cuts, Greens, and the Peoples Front of Judea

Some very nasty cuts are coming. They're not justified, they're vicious, they're counterproductive – and they're driven by ideology rather than any real economic rationale. That's the ideology of 'small government', or 'private good, public bad' that drives our political and financial elite and serves their own interests.

It might never have happened if Westminster's LibDem minority hadn't been seduced by half-promises of power-sharing, giving the Tories their chance to put the ideology into practice. There's a lesson in that for all small parties, even if it still seems lost on the LibDems. Meanwhile, the compliant media back up the cuts with superficial but persuasive economic cliches to keep people in line, and the main parliamentary opposition seems scared to risk challenging them .

What a mess we're in.

So it's not surprising that BADACA – the Bristol & District Anti Cuts Alliance – is one of many across the country trying to build an effective campaign to protect the public services on which so many people rely.

That's not an easy task. The law's been framed – and the funding managed – to make it impossible for the people we elect locally, of whatever party, to contemplate any refusal to implement the centrally-imposed budget cuts to essential council services. You can't win: the game's been fixed in advance.

In Bristol, thanks to those votes last year, all the power now lies with the mayor, George Ferguson. He can (and seems to) take advice all round, but when it comes to the budget, he too is just a player in a pre-rigged game with the government making the rules. His Cabinet are even less influential, and ward councillors – whatever rosettes they wore on election day – count for less still.

After a lot of discussion (and no little dissent), Bristol's Green Party members gave their backing to one of their councillors (Gus Hoyt) to take up Mayor Ferguson's offer of a 'Cabinet' position, offering perhaps some small influence over the cuts, but, more importantly, to help guide other key policies. It was a difficult decision, forced by a political structure that the Greens had opposed from the start.

What it did not mean was that the Greens are propping up a 'Cuts Cabinet'. This is not a coalition of convenience to secure power; Gus, or no Gus, Labour or no Labour, the mayor will be making the cuts, or else the government will step in with sanctions and impose its own cuts. You've heard the Pickles assessment. That's what they'd do.

This powerlessness at every local level is deeply frustrating for everyone who must watch the dismantling of public services – and it's beginning to show. Some elements of BADACA are expressing their own frustration by singling out the Greens as somehow being the 'villains', colluding with a common enemy. That's an awful pity at a time when solidarity is what's needed.

If the cuts are to be resisted, it can only be through Westminster. The LibDems, who could conceivably pull the rug out from the cuts programme, show not the slightest inclination. They're an integral part of the problem. Labour looks embarrassingly lame. Grass roots revolution looks as unlikely as ever, and it's hard to imagine the unions using their muscle.

That only leaves the big local authorities. If we think it's bad here in Bristol, it's even worse for the big northern cities. If only they could get together in effective opposition, conceivably the government would find itself unable to throw the legal book at all of them.

It's seriously unlikely to happen, of course, and still less likely that those Labour held councils would want to broaden their campaign by welcoming 'independent' Bristol into it.... but it's a more promising scenario than silly infighting within the anti-cuts movement. 


Friday, 18 January 2013

How to save us all (except the lawyers) a stash of cash, to spend on something useful instead.

The coalition puppeteers in London may be pulling the strings, but maybe we can guide the Mayor's knife-arm a little, using the budget consultation?

Here's one small suggestion. It's about Town Greens, and the work and income they provide for an often irrelevant bunch of lawyers.

At the moment the city council, at public expense, immediately calls in its own lawyers plus the inspectorate whenever anyone has the nerve to suggest a bit of council owned land deserves 'Town Green' protection.  All too often, it means getting the barristers in, too.  Top barristers

It doesn't actually have to be like that. They can simply take a look at the request, and agree to register. Just do it. Voluntarily.

True, registration means that the land in question immediately loses some of its 'book' value – because it won't attract premium development prices. But that's never a relevant factor unless the council is actually contemplating selling it. And it can, instead, recognise that public 'wellbeing' should come first, and consolidate that through registration.

Not all open spaces would deserve such preference – but it's not beyond the capability of the PROWG Committee, which adjudicates such things, to establish whether a particular open space merits voluntary registration, without first having to call in the lawyers and setting up a protracted legal fight with the applicants.

In fact, among the last four applications that have gone right through the process, the PROWG committee considered that two (Castle Park and Cotswold Road) may not fulfil the legal tests to the letter, but nonetheless merited voluntary registration.   (By the time they reached that conclusion, the lawyers had already taken their slice of the council's budget).

In a third case (Briery Leaze / Whitchurch Green) the council threw a six-figure sum at 'protecting' its asset against market devaluation and local residents, and still lost.   The public benefit of that futile and costly exercise is that Hengrove people now have a much valued 'Town Green'.

Whitchurch Green

I don't know the sums involved (it would probably need a persistent and long-winded FoI request to get anywhere near the truth), but they're obviously substantial, and could be used to offset some of the unkinder cuts to more sensitive parts of the council's body.

Any change would, I'm sure, be strongly resisted by the main beneficiaries of the present system, the City Hall lawyers and bean counters. But it only needs a small change to the present procedure, and, crucially,  an acknowledgement by the mayor that (as PROWG already knows) sometimes voluntary registration is the right thing to do. 

I've put it in the budget consultation, anyway.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

1883 and all that

From the Bristol Mercury, 12th May 1883 . Printed here because I'm indebted to Robert Rogers, the 'villain' of the first case . Not that he'd ever have known it of course.

In 1883 Robert Rogers was just 31 years old, and anything but wealthy. But he carried the can for the others, and paid the very heavy fine imposed for illegally moving cattle across the city boundary into the fields south of Bedminster (perhaps even the Ashton Vale TG site?).

We know that he died eight years later in the general hospital, of heart failure; family legend has it that he had been gored by a bull. We know that he was buried in an unmarked grave in the paupers' plot at Arnos Vale, presumably at civic expense, leaving a widow and a two-year old daughter. And we know that Mrs StockwoodPete owes her being to the three of them!

Then, as now, cattle movements did need to be regulated; the coming of railways must have encouraged a surge in shifting the animals to distant markets, heightening the risk of fast spreading virulent disease, while reducing the work available for the drovers who used to drive the beasts across the country. But a 45/- fine?

But the pages of newspapers – even the same short article - are full of heavy court sentences for the most minor of crimes. A ten year old birched for his part in the theft of oranges.... others fined 3/9d (or 7 days inside) for taking rhubarb. Along with reports of industrial accidents and fatalities, not to mention the most lurid of crimes, these old papers make compulsive reading. This one was found through – but they can also be read for nothing in the central reference library!

Saturday, 12 January 2013


Life after Rovers
.....though that time it wasn't all Rovers' fault!

Glamping comes to Stockwood