Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

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.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Ideology and the Chancellor

“there are people in the green movement who oppose the use of civil nuclear power for ideological reasons, if you like, when it is by definition a green source of energy generation”

photo credit

That's George Osborne, February 2014 in a speech that also described fracking as a 'green' technology that will reduce UK carbon emissions.

George, even apart from your attempt to rebrand 'green' to include nuclear power stations, you haven't a clue what you're talking about.

Why do you presume that ideology drives the opposition? Can't you even recognise that there is a real, evidence-based argument out there. The only 'ideology' here is the principle that we should leave this planet in as good, or better condition as we found it.   Assuming (ok, it's a bold assumption) that you go along with that, what further ideology have you identified that opposes civil nuclear power, as matter of principle and belief, as a 'world view', rather than as a rational position?

  • from the start nuclear power has been inextricably linked with nuclear warfare (the unthinkable)
  • sixty years on, we still don't know what to do with the waste – or how generations to come will cope with the poisonous legacy we leave
  • We've had more than enough of our own costly accidents, but worldwide there have been big scale disasters with huge health and economic impacts.
  • Every stage of the nuclear cycle from mine to waste dump is fraught with risk, both natural and man-made, to life.
  • (this one ought to appeal to you, George) you can't insure a nuclear power station – the cost/risk factor is untenable.
  • The timescales for bringing new nuclear on line make it largely irrelevant to the urgent need for greenhouse gas reduction.
  • 'New generation' nuclear relies on foreign direct investment, limiting essential regulation
  • While you promote nuclear, you're cutting back on energy conservation (the green levies)
  • While you promote nuclear, you're taking funding away from renewable energy development.
  • You're subsidising foreign investors from the public purse.

Any or all these things make for a reasoned case to reject nuclear power as an energy source. 
It's you, George, that's the ideologue.   We know that you're guided by more than one – the economic ideologies of exponential growth, the supremacy of the market, and the 'hidden hand' that will turn personal greed and ambition into a public 'good'. You certainly have a right wing 'small government' ideology. All these beliefs clearly guide your management of the national economy. Even your acceptance of man-made global warming is expressed as a 'belief (“I'm someone who believes climate change is happening, that it's caused by human beings”), not simply as an acceptance of the scientific consensus. 
You've not bothered to look at the whole picture, the whole balance of energy supply sources and consumption and how they serve the long term public interest. 
Maybe that's because you let your economic ideology, right or wrong, dictate your whole approach.

[Added 23/2/2014]   Forgive me for singling you out, George.  The other lot are doing their best to follow your bad example.   Caroline Flint, shadow energy secretary, seems to think the subsidy for Hinkley C is acceptable -  and that nuclear is renewable energy!

Monday, 10 February 2014

The weather that dare not speak its name

That homophobic  UKIP councillor in Henley-on-Thames may have had his own ideas about what's caused the ever-more-frequent extremes of weather. True, there is something apocalyptic about the floods and the storms that encourages that kind of irrational response .   As I write, every rail link between Devon and Cornwall and the mainland has been broken by the high seas or the unending rain – and even the urban areas of Torbay and Plymouth aren't going to reconnected to the rest of the country anytime soon. Who'd'a' thunk such a thing could happen?

 The rational explanation for the 'weather' is equally apocalyptic. It only gets mentioned in passing, though - and then only apologetically, anticipating a backlash.   Climate Change – a reality, and very probably a key contributory cause of our unprecedented extreme weather – scarcely dare speak its name in polite society. It's much too discomfiting. Following the abject failure of the world's politicians to tackle the causes, they now seem equally reluctant to acknowledge, let alone respond to, the effects that are already upon us. And we've barely started yet. It's going to get worse, far worse.
Yet right now, all we see is a localised blame game being played out among the politicians (who seem blind to the overriding science). And a grossly incompetent global warming sceptic (ie. 'Do Nothing' advocate) is still allowed to remain in post as Environment Secretary.
Meanwhile, I see that back in 2011, his predecessor Lord Henley (what is it about Henley?) dismissed the £100 million cost of restoring an alternative rail link to Plymouth as “far too expensive”.

Hell, you could build an Arena for that.