Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Swings and Roundabouts

Whittock Road green space yesterday. By Christmas there should be a childrens playground here.

About time too. Apparently there used to be, in the wooded area far left, which is part of the Open Space Local Nature Reserve, an Adventure Playground. Very popular it was, by all accounts, with local youngsters and their parents. It even had staff - and a phone line. But that was a long time ago, when Stockwood was still young.

Five years ago, when the council launched its Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, this was one of the sites that a local group of residents wanted to prioritise for a playground. We'd toured exemplar sites round the city, held workshops and dicussions, and finally came up with a string of positive suggestions that somehow didn't materialise.

Three years later, out of the blue, the Cabinet decided it could afford a £3.5 million spend on the parks. No public consultation on this one, though – councillors were invited to suggest what was wanted in their wards. The Stockwood councillors' bid - probably on the back of an envelope - was for:
  • The Whittock Road play area
  • Some signs, bins and access barriers at Holsom Road
  • Benches or seats on the Showering Road hill path
  • More rails and paths at the Coots Meadow.
  • [South Bristol Sports Club wanted half a million, too. Dunno what that was for... to extend the car park, maybe?]
Stockwood got the first of these, the playground – which ticks all the right boxes and, at £100K, looks like a fair share of the £3.5 million split between 35 wards. This will fill a real gap in access to play for younger children in this part of Stockwood. 

I don't know who got Hengrove's share, though. Their councillors didn't even put in a bid.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Every Little Helps

Keeping Money in the City: a local levy on giant supermarkets

“a classic example of trendy politics colliding with reality “ according to Gary Hopkins, but his Evening Post comment was more like a classic case of party point-scoring colliding with reality.  Maybe he feels his role in the LibDem group is being challenged

Gary was dismissing the proposal brought to last Tuesday's council by the Green group – and, on the day, roundly rejected by the other parties .

Had the other councillors accepted it, and if broad support could be shown from other councils and civic groups across the country, it would have strengthened the chances of a request to government to let councils (if they think fit) impose an 8.5% levy on the business rates payable by certain large retailers on their patch – particularly supermarkets. Government could not reject the suggestion out of hand – it must first negotiate with the Local Government Association. All being well, it would ultimately lead to the law makers allowing councils this limited discretion to raise money for public use from some of the most destructive of retailers.

Complicated, that. Clearly too complicated for Gary's LibDems, for Labour, and, of course, for the Tories. Too complicated for the council officers charged with providing an objective report to the council. And far too complicated for the Bristol Post.

Together, they rewrote the story. It became, in their view, a proposal that Bristol should now impose an 8.5% levy on all its big shops. That would send out a message that Bristol is unfriendly to business. It would induce all such shops to abandon their lucrative trade in Bristol. The poor would be then unable to buy cheap food. Even if the shops remained, the poor would pick up the tab at the tills.

Only one small part of this gross distortion did have a rationale of sorts. The council cannot at present distinguish between the 'comparison' retailers like B&Q or Harvey Nichols (not that the poor would find they'd lost much there) and the prime target, the huge and profitable food supermarket businesses.

But anyone who'd looked at the real proposal (and 'Local Works', which had prompted it) would know that legislation would be needed. That's where a distinction between the business types could be written in. It was a non-objection. And the rest was pure invention.

Fortunately, not all councils, or parties, are as blinkered as Bristol's. In Gloucester and in Torbay, it's been the LibDems who are making the running (Gary please note). In Leeds, with an overwhelming Labour majority, a similar proposal was passed with cross-party support. In Liverpool, though, it was Labour who took the supermarkets' side and killed it off

Of course, there's no reason to think that the ill-informed debate at Tuesday's meeting, with councillors voting en bloc along with their parties, reflects public opinion. It doesn't even establish council policy. It's still within the mayor's powers to sound out real public opinion, and if he can show that people would like the option of a levy, he can join other councils in seeking powers from government. That's how the Sustainable Communities Act works – by encouraging initiatives from the grass roots, to complement the usual centralist 'top-down' legislative structures.

But how to show George that Bristolians think councils should be given this power?

Writing to Mayor Ferguson is one option – you can draw on the information on the Local Works pages.

The quickest way, though, is to sign up to Charlie Bolton's petition on the council website.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Artful Dodgers - how to bypass the local planning system.

No, this isn't about the Mem or Sainsburys. Strictly speaking, it's not even about Bristol, because the site is just 'over the border' in BaNES.

It's the three fields that lie between Stockwood and Whitchurch village. Normally used for grazing ponies, and criss-crossed by footpaths, the fields were bought a few years back by Robert Hitchins Ltd, a Cheltenham based developer specialising in commercial business parks.

Hitchins' ambitions for the three fields are a bit different, though. Up to 295 houses, pretty much filling up the remaining Green Belt open space between the two settlements. No shops, no schools, no health centre, no....... anything, really. Just an estate.

Twice they've put in planning applications to Bath and North East Somerset's development control committee. Twice, they've been unequivocally turned down, because their proposals break most of the rules in the planning book.

Now they're trying a new approach. They're appealing to the Planning Inspectorate against the most recent refusal, in the hope that Mr Pickles will override the considered views of local residents and councillors. But at the same time they're introducing a slightly scaled-down alternative version of the original proposal – with 200 houses instead of 295.

We have the opportunity to comment on this 'reduced' scheme – or at least, on the summary diagram that seems to provide the sole documentary foundation for it

But this version will skip the local scrutiny that was enough to see off the original plan. Instead, it will be for the government Planning Inspector to look at the evidence and make a recommendation to the boss – Eric Pickles, Localisation Hero.

Smart, eh?

The Planning Enquiry is expected next month. Deadline for comments is 15th September.

[added 19th Sept]   The public inquiry is scheduled for 22nd October, 10am, at the Bath City F.C. ground, Twerton Park BA2 1DB

Monday, 9 September 2013

Shop Ping at Stockwood

It arrived this morning!  Thanks, April R, for getting us one of the surplus 'Ping' tables up at the shops.   First to use it - StockwoodPete and BarberTom.   For the time being, bats will be available from the barbers or Steve's shop next door, or at the Library.

Friday, 6 September 2013

First Bus and the Wrath of Abraham

On Sunday, workers on behalf of the council were scurrying round the city's bus stops posting the new timetables that First Bus had introduced that very day. In some back office, similar changes had being made to on-line information, like the Travel Plus real-time pages and the Traveline South-West pages

Other essential changes to be made at public expense will be to update the city bus map, though for some considerable time yet passengers will have to make do with the outdated one (published as recently as July) 

First were just as quick to update their own website with the changes, and an explanation

Not too bad for those with web access, then. But a dead loss for those without. First Bus, the architects and decision makers behind the changes, had promised to distribute paper copies of the new timetables, but none were to be seen at the usual outlets – the Bus Station, Temple Meads, and the Tourist Information Centre (the last two checked today, Thursday!)

Most Stockwood bus users will have been surprised to see, instead of the familiar 54 bus, a newcomer with a 2 on the front plying the same route.  (In the 48 hours since, several 54's were spotted – presumably last week's buses running late).   The number change seems to be merely cosmetic, but it does mean quite disproportionate change in travel information services.   The new, more frequent, timetable is billed as providing an evenly spaced 5-minute frequency (together with the 1 Broomhill – Cribbs Causeway service) on the shared route between Temple Meads and the White Tree roundabout on the Downs.   Seeing will be believing.

But these minutiae are as nothing compared with the impact on Sneyd Park  (which is, of course, where Peter Abraham comes in to the story).   There, First have the effrontery to introduce a route change on the outbound no.40 route moving it a street away from its present course along the narrow Julian Road – where, they say, 'inconsiderate parking' affects the punctuality and reliability of services.

Cue outrage from Cllr Abraham, faithfully relayed by the Post.  Consultation on these changes was seriously limited.  (He's right on that).   Never mind that the changes on this particular route will provide late buses between Bristol and Avonmouth (the lack of which Cllr A has complained of volubly – and rightly – before).   Never mind that its purpose is to get buses running to time despite the best efforts of local car drivers to delay them.

Oddly, it's been left to Alderman Brenda Hugill, ex Labour councillor for Lawrence Hill, to try to get the Mayor to explain First's failure to consult the public over the route change at Sneyd Park.   Cllr Abraham has bigger fish to fry at Tuesday's full council meeting; he's moving a motion of no confidence in First.  It reads:
“This Council has ‘no confidence’ in the ability of First to run an affordable, comprehensive and reliable bus service for the benefit of the people of Bristol. Accordingly, as a matter of urgency, we call upon the Mayor and his Cabinet to consider every option available to them to remedy this situation, and finally deliver the kind of quality public transport provision this city deserves.”

Few could disagree with the sentiment, or the evidence – for as long as I can remember, successive council transport bosses have been struggling to get any significant co-operation from First.  But it is, as the BBC's Robin Markwell notes 

“a purely symbolic gesture by Bristol's Tories as the council does not control the buses “

Perhaps if the motion was phrased to put pressure on government to change the law that gives First it's disproportionate and self-serving powers, it would be a bit more relevant to the real problem.  

As it is, it's mere grandstanding, as self-serving as anything that the bus company does.

[The 'golden motion' on Tuesday, to be moved by Tess Green, is much more constructive – it's to make sure council contracts don't go to companies operating employment blacklists.   Might be interesting to see what the Tory line is* on that.....]

(added 10th Sept)
* No surprises there.  Tory councillors, including our two from Stockwood, followed like sheep behind their leader, who opposed the Green motion, dismissing it as a 'rentamotion' but otherwise offering no opinion on the companies who operate illegal blacklists, some of them being Tory funders.  Fortunately the rest of the council were a bit more principled and the motion was carried comfortably.

Meanwhile....The 1/2 timetable is out now on paper.   The delay must have been to get the proofreading  right.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Doubting Tessa

Tessa Coombes, until recently the Director of Marketing, Membership and Policy at Business West, has started her own blog, subtitled "policy & politics blog with a focus on place".  

She kicks off with a nicely balanced piece "The South Bristol Link – A Road to Nowhere?", about a project that, on behalf of her employers, she used to champion. 

In fact the name 'South Bristol Link' is attributable to Tessa, who advised in an internal 2006 briefing (now sadly removed from the Business West website) about what was then called the South Bristol Ring Road:

"Think about a new name for the road – it has a serious image problem! South Bristol Link Road, Bedminster Bypass – anything to get away from the idea of a ring road – “ring roads take people through places, not to them”.

The advice was heeded; even the word 'road' was removed from the project. On the ground, though, the road signs weren't changed. Now, the new road is even named in the North Somerset / Bristol joint working agreement as the 'SOUTH BRISTOL BUS LINK', although well under 1% of its users will be using buses or more sustainable transport.

On its present course, the Ring Road follows a circuitous line by way of the Parson Street gyratory and Winterstoke Road before it releases its load onto the A370, north towards the Portway or southwest into Somerset.   At its eastern end, the options are east on the A4 to Bath or continuing round the Avon Ring Road, or north to the St Philips Causeway for the M32 and the M4.

If the SBL is built, ring road traffic might get through South Bristol a few seconds quicker, and there'll be more of it. But it will still be a Ring Road.

The same Business West briefing acknowledged the lack of evidence for a new road doing anything to improve business development in South Bristol:

"The argument for the ring road suggests it will have a beneficial impact in access to existing employment sites (and may even open up new). If this is the case then these need to be clearly identified. If Cater Road and Hawkfield Business Parks will benefit, where is the evidence? Need facts and figures to support the economic development arguments particularly as more recent evidence on new road provision would not support this case.”

7 years later, and free to express a view outside Business West, Tessa still has doubts on this score:

Only time will tell whether or not such a road will create jobs and encourage business to locate in the area, but all my instincts tell me that providing improved road access to South Bristol is only a very minor part of the problem. Businesses will still not locate there if the office/business space is not attractive, the right skills are not available locally and the local environment doesn’t provide what their staff need. “

Surely, the business lobby should be making that case – the new road is an expensive, damaging, irrelevancy.