Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Railways Bill

[See update (added Jan 9) at end]

Come January 9th, the Railways Bill is scheduled for its Second Reading in Parliament. Bristol's MPs should be well-placed to support it – but will they?
The Bill, introduced by the Greens' Caroline Lucas with formal support from a number of Labour and Plaid Cymru MPs, has been hyped as renationalising the railways.
It doesn't do that though. This Bill is more modest and very much cheaper. It sets out to bring the passenger train operating franchises, the ones currently held by Virgin, Stagecoach, First, and a fistful of foreign owned companies, back into public control.
picture from
Instead of buying these companies out, it waits for the end of each contract, then awards the new operating contract to a publicly owned company – thus turning the trains back into a public service instead of the cash cow they've been for the private operators.
Test bed - East Coast Main Line
Of course, cash cows don't always cough up, and when franchisee National Express East Coast found that they couldn't fulfil their contract and show a profit, they walked away (very cheaply!) from their expensively negotiated franchise. To keep the trains running, a public company East Coast Main Line was created to fill the breach. They filled it very successfully from 2009 to date, increasing passenger numbers and revenue, and cutting the net subsidy to a mere 1% (the industry average is 32%, and a lot of that leaves the country!)
Even so, the current government has insisted on returning the route to the private sector.
Public Opinion
Very positive. A YouGov survey shows overall backing of three-to-one; even Tory voters were evenly divided. It's not unreasonable to think that Bristolians' opinions won't be much different.
Party policies.
MPs in this parliament aren't as enthusiastic as the general public, according to a recent Ipsos-MORI survey – as you'd expect given the make-up of the House. But in practice, few parties have a clear-cut policy - just Conservatives who are ideologically against, while Greens are strongly committed in favour. 
SNP have made positive noises, but where would that leave their funding from Brian Souter of Stagecoach? LibDem conference agreed that public bodies could enter the franchise bidding against the private sector – though, as Christian Wolmar points out, the franchise bidding system is hugely expensive and wasteful. Labour, while famously once espousing the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, now seems frightened of any formal endorsement of even having anyone but the private sector run the country's train services. That's in contrast with Labour's position in the Welsh Assembly, where they're looking at setting up a non-profit arms length company to run the Wales and Borders services, when the franchise enjoyed by Arriva (Deutsche Bahn) ends in 2018. That's a proposal backed by Plaid Cymru in the Wesh Assembly, but dismissed by the Welsh Tories as 'Marxist'!
As for UKIP, who knows?  Maybe, if he still reads this blog, Mike Frost could tell us?

On January 9th, the Railways Bill could be killed stone dead, or it could trigger a sea change in which passenger train services can run primarily for the benefit of the public. That depends on which MPs can find the time to be there to vote, and how they balance the pressures from their party whips, their constituents, and their consciences. We'll see.

[Added Jan 9:]   There was no time for the second reading today in the House of Commons, so it's been put back to February 27.   Meanwhile, not much enlightenment from local MPs about their voting intention.  Just Kerry McCarthy, who seems to be saying NO - she wants to keep the franchise bidding market going, but to allow a publicly owned company to join the bidders.   No word from Stephen Williams, while Dawn Primorolo still pretends her deputy speaker's role demands that she express no opinion on anything parliamentary!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Rendles of Bedminster

Until a couple of weeks ago, Stockwood Pete had never heard of Thomas Rendle VC, whose bravery a hundred years ago was being honoured at a ceremony in St John's churchyard, Bedminster.

But I had heard of his younger cousin Ellen who lived just two doors further down Victoria Place.   I actually met her once – and later married her grandaughter.   So reading the family name in the 'Post' reports gave us both special reason to find out more.

While Thomas and Ellen were Bristol-born, his father, her mother, and their five siblings had all been born in mid-Devon, and brought to Bedminster by their mother when she was prematurely widowed.  Other Rendles had already made the move, part of the mass escape from the market failures and grinding rural poverty of Victorian England that forced so many to migrate into the growing industrial cities.

Thomas's career, through reform school at Kingswood (where he learned his musicianship) to the army, through South Africa where he met his wife, and on into the horror of the First World War will be well documented elsewhere (though I'll add some links at the foot of this piece).   Here I'll stick to a couple of side-stories that have been turned up in the course of the research, and offer an insight into Bristol around the end of the Victorian era.

Wiliam Rendle

William Rendle would, had he survived childhood, have been Thomas's uncle.  Instead he was, literally, cut down at the age of ten.

His widowed mother had remarried in Bedminster when William was just seven.  Her new husband was Richard Davis, blind from birth, who eked out a living on the streets playing a harmonium – a sort of reed organ.   William was in the habit of being Richard's eyes, helping him – and the harmonium – around the city.

In the darkness of an early evening in January 1882, the two of them were making their way down Captain Carey's Lane, off Old Market Street.   You won't find it now, as it's become part of the Temple Way underpass, but it shows up very clearly on the excellent “Know Your Place” website.  Captain Carey's Lane was narrow, but it was much used by the carters who shifted goods to and from the railway goods yard on Midland Road.

That evening, as the harmonium was being trundled down the lane, William leading and Richard behind, two horse-drawn carts were making their way in the opposite direction. There should have been room enough to pass – but the impatient driver of the second cart attempted to overtake.

It was never clear whether he had control of his horses, or heard William's warning shouts, or even saw the child.   The cart hit the harmonium, crushing William against the wall. 

The boy was carried into a neighbouring warehouse and from there to the Infirmary, but he died within minutes of arriving.   The distraught driver of the cart briefly disappeared from the scene.

At the inquest, the evidence emerged that many of the rules of cartage were rarely observed, and that the driver had been all too aware of what he'd done, though he claimed to know nothing about it till later.

A verdict of accidental death was returned.  Several of the jury remarked that at present the street was very dangerous as a thoroughfare.    Just another death in Victorian Bristol.

Education, Education, Migration

Life was indeed hard for the children of the poor.   Thomas Edward Rendle VC, living in Bedminster with three younger sisters and two brothers, had lost his mother in 1898 when he was just 14.

Not long afterwards he was ordered to be detained at the Kingswood Reformatory.  Over a century later, S.Glos council is, for some reason, reluctant to release the school records for inspection at the Bristol Record Office, so it's not clear why he was sent there.   One thing's for sure; the motherless family was pretty chaotic and its members would have to live on their wits.

His younger sister Lottie was likewise sent to a reformatory school, in distant Exeter.  Later she returned to Bristol and married an Exeter man at St Mary Redcliffe in 1908, going on to live back in Exeter and later to emigrate to Canada.

A younger sister, Elizabeth, was brought before the courts in 1899.  The record shows that her offence was to be 'found wandering', and the court, in its wisdom, ordered that she be detained for four years at the Carlton House Industrial School for Girls, on St Michaels Hill.

Another sister, Maud, was sent to live with her married aunt's family in Coventry, but in 1904 was sent (along with the two younger brothers) to Canada by the Bristol Emigration Society to a very uncertain future.

All six children, then, were  'rescued' by the social reforms that were all too slowly supplanting the workhouse.   The powers of those rescuers, who seemed to have little or no accountability, over the children now seem unbelievable;  but they continued for a long time afterwards; even now charities like Fairbridge and Barnados are having to live with the shame of exporting children to the colonies as indentured labour, while knowingly hiding from them the fact they still had parents in Britain.  

I wonder if that's what happened to the younger Rendles.

Bristol Record Office for the news reports of William Rendle's death, and the Carlton House school registers – and help in using the archive.
Bristol Libraries for free access to Ancestry records.   FindmyPast (subscription) for censuses, news searches, and online reprints
General Booth of the Salvation Army for the pictures above – they're details from the frontispiece of his 'Darkest England and the Way Out', published in 1890.
No thanks to South Glos council, who've still not even acknowledged a request for access to the Kingswood Reformatory archive.  Why?

More on Thomas Rendle VC:  try
Great War VCs – a comprehensive description and CV, plus the pictures to go with it
Excerpt from Victoria Crosses on the Western Front – including more about Thomas's siblings.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Hydrogenesis – or hydrostasis? Remember, this is Bristol

Stasis, n. a state of inactivity in which no progress is made. 
Hydrostasis:  dead in the water

Let's start by looking beyond the harbour walls at the big wide world. (Feel free to skip this bit if you're already convinced of the need for hydrogen fuel)

The IPCC has just published yet another, ever more certain warning of man-made climate change bringing “severe, pervasive, and irreversible damage” to our world unless we stop emitting carbon. 

But how to get by without it? Britain's winds have managed to keep the lights on recently, with turbines even outperforming the baseload 5GW provided by the eight working reactors (of fifteen total) of the national stockpile of 
nuclear power stations. 

The CPRE in the southwest was dismissive. “It doesn’t matter how many wind turbines are built, if you don’t have wind you don’t have power” 

Which is true, of course. Fair enough, the more turbines there are, the more likely it is that some will be producing energy, but you wouldn't want to rely totally on their output at any given time. And so far as I know, no-one pretends that you could.  

That variability of supply is not just a problem wind energy. While consumer demand varies, it's hard to find any (non-carbon) fuel that can respond to that changing demand. Gas and (up to a point) coal and biomass power stations are quite demand-responsive; wind is anything but. Same goes for wave energy and the other generating sources that are equally ineffective at tracking the changing demand.

At the other end of the scale, nuclear energy provides fairly predictable outputs that bear little relationship to what consumers actually need at the time they need it. Solar has the advantages - and disadvantages - of both these extremes, while tidal needs big-scale civil engineering to even approach demand responsiveness. 

The big problem isn't finding renewable energy sources – it's finding ways to store the energy produced for where and when it's needed. That's where hydrogen comes in.

Back in Bristol a couple of weeks ago, while yet another trainload of Hinckley Point's radioactive waste was trundling through the city towards an uncertain future in Cumbria, a bunch of councillors at City Hall were discussing our innovative, but stalled, project involving hydrogen fuel. 

I think hydrogen is brilliant. As an energy store, it's just like coal, gas, and oil, available when needed. But unlike them it's emission-free, it's freely available anywhere there's water (no geopolitical energy security worries there, then).  Put it in a fuel cell, and all you get out is energy and water, with a conversion efficiency way above orthodox engines, and no climate change, no radioactive waste, no killer local air pollution. And you can make it at the times when power plants of every kind aren't having to meet immediate consumer demand. 


We've had just such a hydrogen system here in Bristol over the last couple of years. Hydrogenesis, the specially designed and built harbour ferry, wasn't a totally new technology, but it did require the enthusiasm and cooperation of the council, local designers and businesses, and at least one major corporation, each putting up some of the cash. That was the difficult bit – and it happened. It worked. Apparently there's even an official report to say so (though it's defeated my efforts to find it) 

But now Hydrogenesis is moored up without any role, without any known future, in the harbour. It's life support machine, the hydrogen fuelling station has been removed at the end of its hire term. 

The councillors, in the shape of the 'Place' Scrutiny Commission, couldn't find much cause for optimism.  Bristol might have introduced the the UK's first fuel-cell powered ferry, there might be every reason to think the initial investment had succeeded in showing it worked, but the human part of the whole project cannot get its act together. 

There's serious ill-will between rival ferry companies, certain councillors, and the mayor – so much that co-operation seems impossible. And without that co-operation, the whole project, the whole investment by all the parties, becomes a failure, a waste of money, a waste of a huge opportunity to kick start decarbonisation of local transport. 

What it needs is a commitment to a permanent hydrogen source; the £10k-a-month temporary unit served its purpose but clearly isn't a long term solution. 

Over in Swindon, Honda have just commissioned a commercial scale filling station where solar energy is used to separate the H2 from the O, and deliver it to vehicles. So it's perfectly possible. 

In Bristol, a harbourside production unit (why not at the Feeder Road basin,. in the TQ Enterprise Zone?) could provide not just for working craft like Hydrogenesis but for road vehicles too. Powered, perhaps, by renewable electricity from the Avonmouth wind turbines, from the tidal flows of the Avon, or the solar panels that will doubtless cover the new Arena. 

There's national funding on offer too, if the bid's right. Last month £11 million was allocated toward setting up as many as 15 hydrogen refuelling stations and for public sector fuel-cell powered vehicles. 

The brief report before 'Place' scrutiny did mention looking for funding – but it looked half-hearted and unconvincing. With the different parties only too ready to slag each other off (and there was some of that at the scrutiny meeting), it leaves the feeling that this terrific opportunity (the sort of thing that's essential if we're to respond to the threat of climate change) will be lost because the egos involved couldn't bring themselves to co-operate. 

George, do something.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Food Colouring – without the E numbers

The blue was produced from tubers bought at January's 'Potato Day' at the Southville Centre
 (the 2015 repeat is on 11th January). 
 It's a heritage variety called 'salad blue' and I'm told it also produces excellent blue chips. 
One to invest in again?
Just harvested, this is 'Inca Rainbow' which came from another of this year's seed swaps
[Added 21/10/14]
Appetising, eh?

Saturday, 28 June 2014

An undeserved rescue for HorseWorld ?

It looks like HorseWorld's bodged up attempt to sell off its visitor centre site in Whitchurch for development may not be totally dead – in spite of being turned down by BaNES councillors last November.

HorseWorld's MD and the charity's trustees used the whole costly fiasco as an excuse to close the popular visitor centre in February. It now lies idle, the income it generated is lost, and the charity admits to being in all sorts of financial difficulty.

The perpetrators may yet be rescued from the hole they dug themselves into. On 10th July BaNES will likely adopt a new 'Core Strategy' that takes the Visitor Centre land out of Green Belt and turns it into a development plot, providing up to 200 houses. See p.12 of this for a location map. The land was offered, under pressure to up the housebuilding land allocations, as a sacrifice to Mr Pickles, and has been gratefully accepted by his Inspector.

What next? It looks like going through.... so expect HorseWorld to make the most of the instant leap in land value by selling the land to one of the big developers. Perhaps to someone like Barratts, who are already turning the other side of the narrow rat-run Sleep Lane into an extension of clone village Britain

What HorseWorld would do with the windfall is anybody's guess. Would they revisit their expensively prepared scheme for a new Visitor Centre / Arena, with its dodgy business plan and its reliance on added road traffic? Would they give their MD a performance-linked pay rise? Would they go back to basics and do what the charity is supposed to do?

Only one thing's for sure. 200 new houses here will not provide affordable homes for those who really need them. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Little local difficulties

For most of us, this was the first sighting of The Man from Stoke Bishop in Hengrove. At centre stage, too, as it turned out to be his turn to chair the Neighbourhood Partnership meeting on Wednesday.

It didn't start well. After inviting the other councillors to introduce themselves to those residents who'd bothered to turn up in the lecture hall of the Oasis Academy, Mike Frost took his own turn.... “I'm Councillor Mike Frost, the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove....” To add a bit of emphasis, he then asked those present to raise their hands if they'd voted for him – and looked a bit crestfallen at the minimalist response. Evidently UKIP voters are rare among those who actually take part in local democracy.

It could only get better after that embarrassing intro, and it did, mostly because Cllr Frost generally deferred to the more experienced officers who really run the show in these parts.

There were a couple more fireworks in the box, though.

The threat of a new bus stop

Not just any old bus stop. This one, proposed for Fortfield Road, will not merely inconvenience those living nearby. Peeping toms (well, you know what bus passengers are like) will threaten privacy, walls will collapse under their weight, vandalism and rowdyism will be rife, road accidents will rocket, and civilisation as we know it will come to an abrupt end. ( Somehow Stockwood Pete hadn't realised this when he blogged about it over a year ago.)

Most of the residents present had come simply to alert us to this threat, so that we could act now to make sure it doesn't happen. And the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove made no secret whose side he was on. He brought the topic straight to the top of the agenda from its lowly spot in 'Any Other Business'

The objectors were quickly reassured that the whole issue will be revisited, this time with extensive consultation through a couple of widely advertised drop-in sessions. That wasn't enough for the objectors, though. After they'd offered some pretty broad ranging contributions from the floor, the newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove closed the discussion and moved to the next agenda item. Cue a mass exodus by most of the objectors, loudly complaining they'd not been listened to. The newly elected UKIP councillor for Hengrove looked perplexed. You could tell he's not been around for long.

The threat of a public forum

It was Stockwood Pete who lit the blue touch paper on the second firework. And did he really, as Stockwood Cllr Jay Jethwa claimed, twist her words? Or was he untwisting them when he said that at the last NP she'd rejected suggestions (broadly supported by the Hengrove councillors and most others present) to open up a new dialogue between councillors and residents. Whichever was true, neither was mentioned in the draft Minutes, so they could not be a true record.

Stockwood has long stood out as a ward where the councillors take pains avoid any kind of public forum where they can be held to account. And this new threat to their cosy position was a suggestion, put to the last NP meeting, that “we have a spot in the ward forum meetings...... in which councillors can report back on their activities and deal with any related questions from the floor?”

Whatever the truth of how she responded at the last meeting, this time Cllr Jethwa was unequivocal. She has NOT turned down the suggestion, and she told us so.

So maybe.... just maybe.... our next ward forum might see our Stockwood councillors tell us for the first time what they get up to at City Hall. They might even let us ask them about it. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Ballot Paper shockers – UKIPWars in Bris, while Stockwood's guaranteed two non-resident councillors

Instead of standing in the council election for Stockwood (of which more below) I'm the Green Party candidate in Brislington East this time round. It looks like being a colourful election, because there's another of those bizarre UKIP 'misunderstandings'.

One Phil Collins has been busy putting his 'independent' leaflet out, complete with the union flag, explaining that he's a UKIP member and intends to form a UKIP branch in the ward. But he's not just up against the usual electoral suspects, including me and the sitting councillor Mike Wollacott. There's also an 'official' UKIP candidate, John Langley, competing with him for whatever anti-European, anti immigrant votes the ward can muster.

The clash might be partly explained by this news item from last year. Collins used to be UKIP's branch chairman, but like so many of their spokesmen he was embarrassingly candid with his anti-immigrant opinions, so they dropped him. Or did they? A footnote to the Post story, added in an unusually sober style by regular 'Post' commenter/ranter UKIPBristol, said the ban had been withdrawn by the local UKIP branch.

You have to wonder whether they've managed to sort it out over the last year. Looks like they've not.

In Stockwood, May's ballot paper is looking remarkably different, with new faces – including Issica Baron for the Greens – filling the list. Except, that is, for long-time Tory councillor David Morris, who – much to many people's suprise – has decided to run for another term in spite of poor health. If David should be re-elected, we'll continue, as we have done for ten years and more, to have a couple of councillors who (presumably) quietly get on with whatever ward casework is required, but otherwise don't keep us informed, refuse to expose themselves to public debate, and who unfailingly vote with the Tory group on the council. You get what you vote for.  Or what you fail to vote against

One reason I've abandoned another stab at the Stockwood seat is that history shows I may well fail yet again. In itself that would be bearable - but by standing down I won't have to worry that the elected local councillors won't in future find cause to hamper and delay my every attempt to get improvements in the ward, in case I should turn it to electoral advantage. Such is the tribalism of party politics.

I hope that if elected in Bris E , I wouldn't fall into the same trap. But it's a big factor in taking my name off the Stockwood ballot paper. And I'm confident I could represent Brislington East every bit as well as Stockwood.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

May 22nd – sovereignty, democracy, or corporate dictatorship. You choose.

Way back, when the internet was young, the 34 countries of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) was secretively planning a bid to shift the balance of power away from states (which, at least in theory, act in the interests of their people) toward corporations (acting solely in the interests of their owners) . It was called the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI). Nominally in the cause of promoting economic growth, it set out to 'protect' foreign direct investment from interference from elected governments.

The internet killed the MAI. A copy of the draft text was leaked and people realised what it could mean. Although the mainstream media largely ignored it, the word spread around the world (I remember setting up pages on the North-East Green Party website describing what local impacts it could have). Eventually the resistance grew so strong that the French government listened to what the people were saying. France withdrew from the OECD negotiations, and no longer having a consensus there the whole project was dropped.

Until now, that is.

They're at it again – and this time it's the USA and Europe making the running. MAI v.2 comes packaged within the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Most of the mainstream commentary on the TTIP has been on breaking down tariff barriers to open up markets and encourage economic growth. It's fairly uncritical, disregarding even the loss of discretion for individual states to regulate on, for instance, safety, gm foods and organisms, financial services regulation, or environmental improvements. Such things are dismissed in the treaty as impediments to the 'supreme, inalienable fundamental freedom' to pursue economic competition. Outside the specialist press and the internet, there's been very little discussion about the provisions that encourage FDI (foreign direct investment) by giving investors more confidence in being able to produce what they like where they like and how they like without any risk that the public authorities might get in the way.

Thus, for instance, EDF could make a legal claim against the British government if its profits from Hinkley B were threatened by new safety or environmental regulation. Most of the train operating companies, major bus companies, and airlines could do the same thing. Tobacco companies could challenge legislation requiring plain packaging on cigarettes (in fact Philip Morris are already doing exactly that in a bizarre legal challenge designed to bypass Australian national law using the 1993 Hong Kong/Australia Investment Treaty)

Crucially, such cases would be not be decided in a domestic court under British law, or even a European Court under European law; they would be heard by an international court set up solely for this purpose, passing judgment solely on the basis of compliance (or not) with the terms of the TTIP. The public good has damn all to do with it.


The European Parliament's consent will be required before TTIP is ratified. They want to do that within a couple of years, so it'll be down to the MEPs we elect on May 22nd.

I really don't know (though I could make an informed guess) how Tory, Labour, or LibDem MEPs would vote. 
I do know* how the Greens would vote. 
And I should know how UKIP ought to vote (if they turn up), given the importance they attach to national sovereignty.  But I suspect they'd not object to this handover of power from elected governments, whether local, national, or European,  to international corporatism.

* best summed up in this report from the two UK Green MEPs  we already have

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Election Fever grips Stockwood

Yes, there's are elections coming up.  Three of them.  I'm a candidate in one.

But this time it's not in hope of representing Stockwood on the council, let alone becoming a Euro-MP. This one's for the ultimate in localisation, the Hengrove Stockwood and Whitchurch Neighbourhood Partnership.

Up to four residents can be elected, with voting open to all who live in the ward. Last chance to vote will be on the afternoon of Thursday 29th May at the Library (2.30 till 4), but the ballot box appears before that at the Ward Forum (Christ the Servant church, 7 till 8 on Thursday 8th May). That one's a bit special, because we'll also see whether our two city councillors will, for the first time ever, take up the challenge to 'report back' to residents on their activities at City Hall

There's more information (and probably nomination papers) at the Library, or online here

Meanwhile, here's my candidate's Statement. The electoral suicide note is at the end!

As a Stockwood resident of ten years standing, I joined the Neighbourhood Partnership when it was created, initially representing Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces, later as a 'resident' member. In both roles I think I have influenced the Partnership for the better, though I believe there's still plenty of room for improvement. Slowly (too slowly), the NP is moving toward being more democratic, more representative, and more influential, but it needs members who are ready to challenge the status quo as I have done in the past.

I'm proud to say that I've taken a significant part in most NP backed initiatives, not least establishing priorities on new open space amenities, (including suggesting the seats on the Showering Road path and the new bridge across the Saltwell Valley brook), taking part in community litter-picks, making the Stockwood Local Food Festival happen, and bringing the outdoor table tennis table to the shopping square. I've had a part, too, in proposing and improving public transport services. If re-elected, I aim to continue on the same lines. One priority is getting a community notice board at the shops.

I bring a generally 'green' approach to the Partnership. So (boy racers please note) if the Partnership is asked to take a view on the ward's speed limits being brought down to 20mph, I shall argue that greater safety and lower noise pollution outweigh any journey time losses.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Twenty is Plenty – the provincial tour starts

The roll-out of 20mph zones continues apace. And why not? In Stockwood, we're part of the 'Outer South' area where it's planned to go 20mph within twelve months. With the exception of chosen suburban arteries, of course. For Stockwood, that means Stockwood Lane, Sturminster Road/Craydon Road, and most of West Town Lane. The map's here

Cue all the same arguments. Time lost? Pollution caused? Fuel consumption? Unenforcibility? Er.... safety, even?

The Roadshow promoting all this will reach Stockwood Library on 12th April, but we won't get the chance to hear from, and comment to, council officers until they come along to our Ward Forum on 8th May – just six days after this 'informal consultation' closes!

Me, I'd go for a blanket 20mph for the ward. Here's why.

I fully accept the case for 20mph speed limits in residential streets. No argument there. Criminally irresponsible not do it, really.

As for the three Stockwood exceptions, what they have in common is that they're all rat runs.

Stockwood Lane has long been used as a de facto outer ring road by those heading between Wells Road and the Bath Road P&R, or on to the Ring Road at Hicks Gate. This traffic will increase in future as commuter parking becomes more difficult in the inner areas . Stockwood Lane wasn't built for this, and has become a barrier to pedestrians from the east side wanting reach the buses/schools/shops/health centre on the west side, though there's no single crossing point . All the more reason, then to limit the speeds to 20mph

Sturminster Road/Craydon seems like a simple uncluttered thoroughfare. But it too acts as a rat run – witness the number of heavy lorries using it. Like Stockwood Lane, it's hard to cross because it carries a lot of traffic, and at some points – like the bend where Sturminster Road morphs into Craydon Road – sight lines are poor and traffic is fast. Yet children from the west side of the road must cross to get to school; pensioners must cross to reach bus stops.

West Town Lane is the longest established east-west route between Bath Road and Wells Road, and although Callington Road was built to take the traffic off it, plenty still uses West Town Lane as a through route. That is likely to increase significantly once the South Bristol link turns Callington Road into a de facto South Bristol Ring Road, putting more pressure on West Town Lane as an alternative rat run. The 20mph plans recognise this in part by retaining the present (though advisory) restriction outside West Town Lane School – but that's hardly enough even now to discourage the through traffic. Better to 20mph the full Bath Road – Wells Road link.

If all three of the above 'spine' roads are embraced by the 20mph restriction, Stockwood becomes 20mph throughout. That not only makes it safer all round, it discourages through traffic and it removes the confusion caused to drivers who must otherwise constantly adjust to different speed limits.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Whatever isn't happening at Temple Meads?

Charlie Bolton's current petition (please sign it!) calling for direct bus links through Bedminster to Temple Meads, prompts a review of where we've got to on the need for a multimodal transport hub at the city's main station  instead of the tinpot links that we have now.

On Tuesday, Bristol's Cabinet is poised to give the nod to spending £21 million on improving transport access to, and within, the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone around the station. Well, Tuesday's Mardi Gras, isn't it? Spend it now, and pay back later..... from the expected business rates raised in the Zone. Same formula as the Arena.

This transport spend includes:  
  • straightening out Temple Gate/Temple Circus. At £11 million, this takes up the bulk of the cash. As it will leave a smaller road footprint, some development land should be released too.
  • A bit more (£6 million) goes toward access to the Arena site, 'to make the site more attractive to potential development', presumably the offices/apartments that are required to offset some of the Arena costs.
  • The remaining £4m chunk goes to 'improved cycling and walking infrastructure on key routes in and through the TQEZ, sustainably linking residents with job opportunities'. This appears to include some unexpected but welcome projects like (at last) a cycle route along the Callington Road Link and, odder still, the Conham Riverside bike route.
But it doesn't include a multi-modal transport hub

A Temple Meads public transport hub has surfaced occasionally in the politicians' rhetoric for years. Only the Greens have made it a priority. But now that the high spending, low benefit prestige projects - especially the Arena and the Metrobus - have been pushed through, can't we look at something that really would bring about a step-change in the quality of the city's public transport network?
Despite all the half-promises, NEVER has the Bristol administration come up with a clear proposal, or even an outline brief, for what an interchange should provide.

So let me float one....
The Objective:
Overall, to make travel quicker and easier for all.
In particular, to provide a public transport system that is good enough to tempt significant numbers to choose not to use cars – thus freeing up road space for all travellers

The problem:
Every journey by public transport involves waiting time – and many trips involve transfer time from one mode or route to another. By and large, these things are done under sufferance. They're not a good use of time, and bus stops or station platforms are none too welcoming. There's the weather; often the darkness and insecurity; the doubt about when or whether a bus will turn up; and for many ongoing trips, a walk between the relevant stops and the doubt about which is the best one to use.

Of course these discomforts aren't the only downside of using public transport, but together they're a very big one – and until they're alleviated public transport is going to be second choice to the car for most of those travellers who have the choice.

The Answer:
That's where an interchange comes in, because it tackles all these problems head on. It cuts journey times by much more, and for many more travellers, than any Metrobus route could hope for.   And it does it efficiently, comfortably, and safely.

Here I float my own idea about what the minimum on offer at the TM Hub should be: 
  • Public transport (bus, train, or ferry) to all parts of Bristol, daytime and evening.
  • A single covered, enclosed, waiting area with seating, within one minute of bus pick-up, three minutes of trains or ferry
  • Real time information displays for all servicesTicket sales (all modes) before boarding 
  • Good access on foot or by bike, with traffic-free signed access toward Arena, Bedminster, Brunel Mile, Castle Park, Railway path, St Philips cycleway 
  • Toilets
Those are absolute minima; highly desirable additions would be:
  • Public transport to outlying areas, not just those served by rail, eg Clevedon, Thornbury, Wells/Radstock.
  • Retail, refreshments and other amenity on-site
  • bike hire and storage
  • Left luggage
  • Wi-fi
  • a dedicated and very frequent service to the Centre and Broadmead
Would it work?
Who knows... the psychological bond between driver and car is very hard to break. But an interchange of this quality would certainly do the job to an order many times better than any other single project.
Is it do-able?

The space is there. Plot 6, alongside the Old Station, is ideally placed (though rail electrification looks like it will need two further tracks, either adjoining or through it). There's also the cleared space around Bristol and Exeter House, and (less viable) around the derelict shell of the Royal Mail building. All of these, individually or in combination, have the potential to provide a real hub. All are that rare thing in a city centre, undeveloped sites. And all are part of the Enterprise Zone, enabling a joined-up development plan that can – if the will is there - provide joined-up transport.

Who's involved?
Principally, the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (self-appointed business reps and local authority nominees, including our own dear Mayor), along with Network Rail. The HCA own part of the land, too. Note that redevelopment of the station itself will be a Network Rail task; it will be major, involving new public access beneath the station, and a new concourse. Although all these bodies have public responsibilities, the public themselves are not a party to the plans.

Will they do it?
The broad intention is enshrined in the official planning frameworks.
The Central Area Plan (p40) promises:
The development of sites adjacent to Temple Meads Station will be expected to deliver improved public transport interchange facilities and new and enhanced walking / cycle routes as part of the development of Bristol Temple Quarter.
7.14 The precise location and type of interchange facilities that will be sought will be explored in more detail in the Spatial Framework being prepared for Bristol Temple Quarter. It is likely however that the development of the sites adjoining the station to the north will be required to accommodate this enhanced interchange function. Facilities will need to be fully accessible. “ 
The Spatial Framework that excerpt refers to is (as customary in such documents) quite flowery in its description (p35):
A 21st Century transport interchange at the heart of a regenerated mixed use quarter. A destination, where people can meet their travelling needs, move easily and conveniently between transport modes and connect with the city centre and surrounding neighbourhoods.

And in the West of England's 'GVA of Major Transport Schemes' commissioned from Atkins, there's the advice (p35):

“...... given the large numbers of people commuting in future to Temple Quarter, a step change in the capacity of bus provision to the area will be required. This will require new services, with high frequencies and high levels of capacity, to address the access requirements of the area. Failure to deliver major improvements to bus access will substantially constrain the ability to unlock the development potential of the Enterprise Zone. “

The 'Simplified Planning Document' sums it all up (p2):

'At the heart of the zone will be a transformed multi-modal interchange at Temple Meads'

You'd think from all this that a major transport interchange at Temple Meads is a done deal.

You'd think it would go into the Enterprise Zone's infrastructure from the start, to be ready for the incoming workers. 

And you'd think that even before employers move in, the demand is there from the city's rail and bus passengers wanting a seamless journey.
So how come it's missing from the Cabinet's agenda on Tuesday?

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Man in Space: down to earth with a bump.

Another day, another bog standard unimaginative bid to pack in a few semis on a brownfield site.

This one's where the Man in Space pub now stands, closed and forlorn, in Stockwood, near a parade of run-down shops. This is no depressed area, though... like most of the Stockwood 'plateau', the immediate area is filled with decent, privately owned semis. In fact the developer is at pains to assure us that this “proposal is not for high density apartments. It is for 14 family sized homes with parking and garden.“ Four pairs of semis, plus two 'triple' units, according to the indicative plans. 

Much like the rest of the neighbourhood, then, except that on this one garages won't come as part of the package; it looks like the front 'gardens' will be paved over instead. There's a playpark over the road, and the bus stops for a frequent service to town (3 or 4 miles) are under two hundred metres away. The pub will be gone, though!

All in all an unremarkable development. If it goes ahead, Stockwood will be more Stockwood still. The development won't provide local employment, it won't reduce the need to travel, it won't provide any new amenity. It could - if the planning conditions are right - include some solar panels and even some better land drainage than the present use provides, but it's unlikely to give more than a nod to such progressive ideas. 
But it would be utterly amazing if it included such innovative (though proven) standards as Passivhaus , though many of us believe this must be the norm if we're to take climate change seriously. And it won't touch the demand for affordable housing in a market that virtually excludes low earners. Nor will begin to recognise that more cars are bad news... we might expect a good 20 to 30 extra just from this 'infill' development, even though shops, library, health centre, school, and public transport are all an easy flat walk away. The notion of a 'car-free', or even low car-dependency development, won't come into the planning process.

Why not? We know about climate change. We know about homelessness and unaffordability. We know traffic on our roads is expected to increase 30% by 2030 if we go on as we are.

It's mad to just carry on as before. Small sites like the Man in Space are the big opportunity, the low hanging fruit, that can lead the change. Leaving it to the speculative market delivers only the bland, the unadventurous, and a quick and easy profit, with all the real costs externalised.