Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


These pages, recording the laws in the West Indies in 1763, were in volumes on display in the library a few years back.     

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Welcome to Bristol!

Hallo, and welcome to Bristol!

Here's your indispensible free guidebook for 2014, brought to you courtesy of Destination Bristol and the generosity of local residents and businesses.
With the authority of Visit England and our own 'travelwest' brand behind it, it will tell you just what you need to know.....

Like how to catch a 75 bus to North Street and the Tobacco Factory …...(p49)
or our wonderful railway stations at Easton, Gloucester Road and Stokes Croft..... (p77)

or if you want a break from the city in one of North Somerset's seaside resorts, you can visit them all by direct train from Bristol (p58)

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Austerity? Let's buy an Arena !

Stockwood Pete isn't too fussed about an Arena. Having clicked through the programmes and the prices now on offer at other Arenas – Cardiff, Newcastle, Sheffield, Leeds, Coventry, (not much on here), and Birmingham, it's clear that Stockwood Pete's bum is unlikely to occupy any of the Bristol Arena's 10,000 seats.

But on Thursday, the Mayor, with the support of his chosen Cabinet, will certainly commit Bristol residents to borrowing – and repaying - many millions of pounds, just to make sure that I and my fellow Bristolians have the opportunity.

It won't be a business decision (no business would touch it); it will be populist and political.

Most Bristolians will probably never go to our Arena (in the absence of naming rights, lets call it the Red Trousers Arena) just as they don't feel the need to go to professional football matches. Even so, it's been elevated to a matter of civic pride, and political pragmatism, that we should have one, just like every other self-respecting city. If we don't, the others will laugh at us. It's also a useful distraction from more serious matters.

Original nicked from Dru Marland.  Trousers by Stockwood Pete

In pursuit of the dream, many public servants and quite a few consultants have for years been fully occupied trying to find a business rationale for building an Arena. Back in 2003, the now defunct South West Regional Development Agency had a head start with it, and poured £9 million into acquiring the site, the heavily contaminated 'Diesel Depot' alongside Temple Meads. Then they spent a few million more on remediation. They even got as far as committing another £14 million to build a bridge from Cattle Market Road, giving not just access but essential services too. They found a global corporate arena operator, SMG Europe, plus other developers ready to make maximum use of the site. Then, in 2007, it went pear shaped. The operator argued (as private sector partners tend to do) that their own investment couldn't be justified without further effective public subsidy. SWRDA quickly backed off. As they explained at the time
the Bristol Arena will not be able to go ahead. Following a thorough look at the scheme, rising costs for the project mean it would simply not be a good use of public money. The amount of public cash needed for the scheme would have been £86m, including the £15m we've already spent.
Of course, SWRDA never had to depend on votes. They were more dependent on government imposed financial targets and on shrinking budgets. Your average elector, not to mention the Bristol Evening Post, didn't matter too much to them. Their days were numbered anyway, so they could afford to take this unpopular, but commercially sound, decision.

Enter the mayoral system. The Arena Promise was thought to be an essential part of any winning electoral strategy, and the Red Trousers Arena won. Back came the consultants and the development teams. Plus the new boys on the block, the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership – a powerful mix of elected members and businessmen self-appointed in backroom deals. By this time SWRDA had been dissolved, and its assets, including the now 'clean' diesel depot, transferred to the government's Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

On Thursday, the Mayor and Cabinet will – after an earlier item about cutting £90 million from the city's public services – agree to borrow £90 million for an Arena. (That's before they've actually found the cash to buy the land it will stand on from the HCA.)

It's called, in the language of council finance, 'prudential borrowing'. The security – and the repayments - on the loan will rely on three funding streams : 
  • Rent paid by the Arena operator over 25 years
  • Car parking fees
  • Anticipated income from new business rates in the Enterprise Zone.
    The first two are 'new' money – they won't happen unless, and until, the Arena's built. Reliance on car parking revenue suggests that (in spite of the rhetoric) this will be a very heavily car-dependent venture, because it's based on a projection of 1,000 new nearby parking spaces (ie one car to every ten Arena seats) at £6 a throw and each occupied a hundred times a year. That would bring in £600K and a whole load of traffic on Cattle Market Road, while giving the customers every opportunity to drive back home without getting round to spending anything off-site. (The notion of a proper city public transport hub at Temple Meads gets its customary mention in the blurb around the Arena, but in truth it remains as woolly and opaque as ever)

    The last income stream to cover the Arena debt and repayments – the hoped-for business rate income from the Enterprise Zone – covers the bulk of it, at £53 million. But that's not guaranteed, and more important, if it wasn't used for the Arena it would be available (the LEP permitting) for other things. So in effect it's far from being a new income, it's a massive new cost to the public purse.

    Nobody pretends the city coffers will end up in the black from all this. It's much more about trying not to be too much in the red when it's all over.

    On Thursday, will we really see the Mayor, backed by his Cabinet, within a few minutes of imposing a budget of £90 million in cuts, decide to commit a similar amount to what, in a time of austerity, can only be a vanity project?

    Sadly, yes. And will we see any protests from the business elite, the people whose commercial nous has put them in the LEP driving seat to manage these public funds ?  Like hell we will.