Monday, 29 September 2008

Car park is "evil" - Ferguson

I have to admit that sometimes George Ferguson hits the nail on the head. So it is in his latest By George column in the Evening Post. Talking about the new Carboot Circus development Ferguson refers to the giant 2,600 space car park as "the necessary evil" to make the shopping centre work.

I'd have hesitated to go so far as calling a mass of steel and concrete "evil" myself, but then I'm not a famous architect. So thanks to George for reminding us what it's all about. Forget about Park & Ride, buses, walking and cycling - it's all about the 7-days-a-week influx of thousands of cars and having a really flash place to park them all.

2,600 is a hell of a lot of parking spaces (over 10 times what George manages to cram into his Chocolate Factory development). Even so my own casual observations suggest that for every car parked at some expense in the state-of-the-art multistorey car park there will be another parked for free in the streets of St Jude's and St Paul's. Residents of River Street are particularly hard hit, having the monstrous car park looming over them (below) and all the extra traffic noise and pollution blighting their lives, but also finding that they and their visitors will be lucky to find a place to park within walking distance.

Similarly cyclists find that places to park and securely lock their bicycles are few and far between at Carboot Circus. It seems that since they won't be able to carry as much useless, overpriced tat away with them compared to motorists they are not to be made welcome at the Cathedral of Commerce. Nevertheless some appear to be visiting (perhaps taking a break from the futile search for a safe and convenient way of cycling through or around a development which has obliterated so many formerly useful cycle routes) and have had to improvise when it comes to cycle parking.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Is Nothing Sacred?

It's one thing for our new Big Brother organisation Carboot Circus, who've taken over control of some of Bristol's most historic public open spaces, to boot out riff-raff like smokers and bygone religious nutters, but now things have really gone too far. It seems that even Zombies are persona non grata down at Carboot Circus.

Yesterday morning a group of Zombies, who surely have as much right to enjoy the delights of Carboot Circus as anyone else, gathered in Castle Park (not yet under the auspices of Big Brother) and wandered down to the new Mecca* but were prevented from entering by "the men in dark suits" who normally lurk discretely but ominously in the background.

Presumably "the management" took the view that nothing should distract from the prescribed form of Mammon worship, although the Zombies own moral vacuity would seem to make them natural co-religionists. But such intolerance of even the slightest deviation from religious orthodoxy has always been the hallmark of religious sects reveling in their supremacy.

Thanks to Perlmonger for the pics.

(* just to be equally offensive to all religions. No discrimination here.)

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Quakers expelled from Quakers Friars

Just picked this up from a video link on Indymedia. Apparently some of Bristol's Quakers were distributing leaflets in Quakers Friars, where for 200 years they used to hold their meetings, to publicise a public meeting that they are organising to debate the impact of the new Cabot Circus shopping mall. This former public space has been privatised and is now owned by the mall developers who obviously took a dim view of freedom of thought being promoted in their private realm and "turfed" the Quakers out. Welcome to Carboot Circus.

Friday, 26 September 2008

The Mall Mentality

I came, I saw and I concurred - with most of what I and other bloggers had already written about Cabot Circus. It is indeed impressive in its scale and inspired in its design (but what do I know about architecture?*). I liked the way the middle street arrives at the circus at a higher level to the side streets, the way that the multiple levels give you so many different viewpoints and the way that it tries to blend in with the old Broadmead. It could easily have been worse.

Comments liking it to a Cathedral of Commerce were closer to the mark than I expected. In scale it is very cathedral like, and in the way that its aisles are lined with chapels to the various saints (saint starbucks, saint next, santa costa, saint yo sushi). Worshipers can make their votive offerings to their favoured saint, donating a few pounds here and there, very much in the Catholic tradition. Of course the major deities Jesus of Fraser and Harvey Virgin Mary take centre stage but most worshipers will feel that they have a more personal relationship with their own patron saint.

As I walked back home I was struck by how run down and neglected the older part of Broadmead now looked. And not just Broadmead but much of central Bristol now appeared tacky and uncared for by comparison. That worried me, because I've always felt that we should focus our efforts on making the public realm, particularly our main streets, more attractive as places to be, less dominated by traffic and better cared for. Yet the initial impact of Cabot Circus seems to be to make the public realm look even more squalid.

Cabot Circus is essentially a shopping mall, albeit with a more porous perimeter in the Broadmead direction. The essence of a mall is that within it you walk in a pleasant environment, weather free, traffic free, noise and pollution free, untroubled by undesirables like beggars and muggers. But outside the environment is actually degraded by the mall. Not only are vast areas and/or resources given over to car parking but the traffic generated by the mall dictates that the surrounding area must be dedicated to accommodating that traffic.

Contrast this with the traditional shopping street like Gloucester Road or Whiteladies Road. Such streets are multifunctional and messy but organic. They have grown without any significant planning as a result of thousands of individual actions. Small local businesses can flourish because within the unplanned complexity they can find a niche that suits their scale. There's no place for such small businesses in Cabot Circus and the future prospects of traditional shopping streets can hardly be improved by the arrival of the brash big brother down the road.

Cabot Circus, we are told, has created 4,000 "new" jobs. Does that include jobs with House of Fraser and others already based in Bristol who have merely moved eastwards? Even those jobs that are genuinely new to Bristol may well be at the expense of other jobs in existing businesses that fail or have to scale back as a result of the competition from Cabot Circus. Or are we all suddenly going to spend so much more money, in the teeth of a recession, that the 4,000 jobs really will be in addition to what already exists?

According to the Evening Post the "greatest threat to Bristol's new city centre appears to come from ... a small minority who appear to have a perverse desire to see Cabot Circus fail". Something of an overstatement I think, but they are clearly referring to bloggers such as me and the Bristol Blogger. In an emotional piece worthy of Churchill railing against the nazi bombers of 194o, the Post refers to our "doom-laden cynicism". Fair comment, but in the end we need a rational debate about the impact of Cabot Circus, not the Spanish Inquisition headed by Mike Norton.

(*answer - about as much as George Ferguson knows about planning for cyclists.)

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Circus comes to Cycling City

There's no question that Cabot Circus is having a profound affect on Bristol. The sheer scale of it is impressive and its prominent location at end of the M32 will mean that it is the first major building complex that most visitors to the city will see. Above all it will change the image of Bristol, although whether for good or ill is, of course, debatable.

It defines Bristol as a centre for conspicuous consumption, inviting the wealthy denizens of the the west country to drive in on the M32, sweeping majestically over the impoverished masses of Bristol's east end, and into what must be one of the world's most inviting multi-storey car parks, to choose from no less than 2,600 parking bays. From there it is but a short stroll via a private bridge (still hermetically sealed against the edgy urban environment below) straight into the heart of the new cathedral of commerce.

Once inside our wealthy visitors will of course find themselves rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi, to give that authentically urban experience, but they can rest assured that these "streets" remain in the private realm, closely monitored to exclude any undesirables. As they saunter towards Harvey Nicks they will briefly have to cross a real public street, with real traffic, before reaching another privately controlled enclave at Quakers Friars. Perhaps that brief exposure to reality will give them the confidence to proceed further into the city, perhaps not.

So much for the wealthy, but how will Cabot Circus impact on the rest of us, on Bristol's growing band of cyclists for example, who once enjoyed some useful links through this area before all was swept aside for the new consumer complex. Has the massive investment of £500 million, including a complete reworking of the local highway network, resulted in some outstanding new cycle paths, allowing us our share of "sweeping majestically" past the congested traffic?

Sadly not. Admittedly there is a solitary cycle lane in one direction down Bond Street to lead unsuspecting cyclists towards the new gyratory system called Newfoundland Circus, but just when you really need to have a well defined safe route through the chaos of conflicting traffic movements the cycle lane, in typically Bristol fashion, ends abruptly (above). Cyclists then find themselves 'merging' with the adjacent traffic lane (below) without any indication of who should have priority. In short a death trap.

Cyclists are left in limbo, some struggling on trying to weave their way through the multiple traffic lanes, others opting to take to the pavements where pedestrians will inevitably be made uncomfortable, to put it mildly, by the presence of cyclists without any provision being made for segregation. Shared use is fine in principle but in confined spaces with heavy and conflicting flows of both pedestrians and cyclists it really isn't suitable.

Even the planners seem to have been unable to make up their minds where cyclists should be taking their chances. Odd fragments of cycle lane and advanced stop lines suggest cyclists should be on the road, but very small, almost apologetic blue signs on the pavement lampposts confirm that cycling on them is not actually illegal and the pedestrian crossings are all shared use. The result is that cyclists (and other road users) remain unsure of their status whichever option they choose. The worst of both worlds.

Cynics like me will not be in the least surprised by any of the above, but Newfoundland Circus must be a bitter pill to swallow for those who still cling to the notion that Cycling City status is going to transform things in favour of cycling. The same bunch of anal inadequates behind the pathetic "cycle provision" around Newfoundland Circus are now formulating the measures designed to supposedly boost cycling to double the number of journeys. Welcome to Cabot Circus.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Interfering Interface

It seems that Squarepeg's greenwash and marketing consultants, Interface, fronted by Jenny Gee, didn't like their products being given free publicity on this blog yesterday.

My last blog post revealed the type of marketing products more commonly produced by Interface, who've recently been putting on a very plausible green face for the purposes of selling the idea of building houses along the embankment of the Railway Path at Greenbank.

My blog post included several links to images on web pages included in the Portfolio section of Interface's website. But this evening I find that all the links have been cut by Interface, presumably in a fit of pique. It seems they'd rather you didn't know that their run of the mill products are glossy brochures, junk mail and excess packaging of the sort that we all so roundly despise.

So let the web wars commence. My retaliation is to copy these images to an independent site where, hopefully, they won't be able to get their coffee stained little fingers on them. So once again you can feast your eyes on the products of the creativity of Interface. I can't imagine what they were so ashamed of, can you?

Of course declaring web war on a company that claims to specialise in software development might seem rather rash, but if their software competence is anything like their PR competence then I reckon I'm on safe ground.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

The two faces of Interface

Followers of this blog will be all too familiar with Squarepeg's plans for the Chocolate Factory in Greenbank and of course their urban and alternative looking website. The firm behind the website and other promotional material like the newsletters (printed on recycled paper, naturally) is Interface, also known somewhat cringingly as "The Gee Factor" after boss Jenny Gee.

(Picture link deleted by Interface)

I have to say that Interface have done a good job promoting Squarepeg as a benign developer and the Chocolate Factory scheme as the best thing to come to Greenbank since, well, the Railway Path in 1985 I suppose. No mean achievement to have persuaded a bunch of Easton radicals and environmentalists to keep stum over plans to destroy a substantial section of the green corridor of the Railway Path just months after the same people were literally taking to the streets in protest at an earlier scheme to do the same thing.

(Picture link deleted by Interface)

Interface's website is strangely difficult to find, considering that they specialise in "design, marketing and software development" but persistence payed off and then another facet of Interface's activities was revealed. It seems that their more usual product is those piles of glossy brochures, junk mail and surplus packaging (all links deleted by Interface) that help fill our recycling boxes.

It seems that in the world of Interface, whether it's whitewash or greenwash, business is business.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Politics puzzles Pegasus

It seems that Pegasus Planning Group, who represent many of the countries most rapacious developers, including Tesco, Starbucks, Persimmon, Crest Nicholson and of course our old friends Squarepeg, are having some difficulty understanding the intricacies of our parliamentary system.

PPG are acting for Squarepeg to progress the redevelopment of the Chocolate Factory in Greenbank - yes, that can of worms. In order to smooth the planning process still further, PPG have negotiated a Planning Performance Agreement (about which much more later!) with Bristol City Council. This places particular responsibilities on Squarepeg to commit to high standards of consultation (yes, that's right!) which of course must include recognised "stakeholders" and in particular local councillors and MPs.

So PPG have produced a list (section 3.1) of those "key stakeholders" which naturally includes the councillors for Easton ward and the MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy (above, who also happens to be one of Bristol's more entertaining bloggers). But Easton is due to become part of the Bristol West constituency come the next election and so it is appropriate to include the MP for Bristol West in the list too.

And so the list includes "Standing Labour MP for Bristol West - Paul Smith". Er, just a moment, isn't the MP for Bristol West a Liberal Democrat, one Stephen Williams, and isn't Paul Smith merely the Labour PPC for Bristol West? What's more there is no sign of Stephen William's name anywhere on the list of "key stakeholders". Nor the names any of the other PPCs - Green, Conservative or whatever. So why do Labour get such favoured status?

A minor error you might think (unless you happen to be Stephen Williams MP (above, on the Railway Path) or one of the 22,000 voters who chose him to represent them) and one easily made even by such a politically savvy bunch as Pegasus Planning Group, with offices in, er, Whiteladies Road, in the heart of Bristol West constituency. Meanwhile we await news as to whether Stephen Williams was ever consulted in the end. If not this blogger for one will not be too surprised.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Egregious Greenwash

It can be a solitary business being a blogger. You dig here and there on the internet, extracting little nuggets of information to bolster your cynical observations on the ways of the world, but you rarely talk things through with real people. So when you finally click on the publish post tab extreme emotions are experienced for a few seconds. Are you making a valued contribution to human understanding - or a complete arse of yourself?

So it's very gratifying to get some positive feedback from time to time (hint), especially from such a respected source as Venue's Severn Bore column (well I'm a fan anyway). For those of you who have already read it and who have arrived here to find out more, I suggest you follow this link to run through the emerging story of "cycle" houses, clandestine land sales, deception and greenwash surrounding the proposed redevelopment of the Chocolate Factory site in Greenbank.

For the benefit of those who have not yet read the Venue piece, here it is -

If you're one of the 20 or so Bristolians who lurks in the local ishoos blogosphere, occasionally breaking cover to post comments ("Too right, m8, them counsellers are takin the piss"), you'll know that we've been pretty taken with an egregious bit of greenwash lately.

Briefly, Bristol (a Cycling City, don'tcha know) hopes to sell off penny packets of landholdings here and there to make ends meet. Meanwhile, a property development firm called Squarepeg, which proposes turning the former Greenbank chocs factory into flats, also unveiled plans for 'cycle houses' next to our famous and much-loved Railway Path. These would be on a thin strip of council-owned land between the chocolate factory and the path.

All this was uncovered by Chris Hutt in his Green Bristol Blog ( Not just the potential intrusion on to the path and the attendant grubbing up of a hedgerow, but he also took a close look at the designs of these trendy cycle houses put forward by Acanthus Ferguson Mann, whose ranks include the famously red-trousered George Ferguson, Bristol's patron saint of sustainable urban design.

Seems each cycle house would access the railway path via a set of steps - very handy if you've gotten home with a load of shopping. Not only that, but on the other side, they have garages as well. For cars!

As we go to press, nothing has yet had planning permission, a petition's been gotten up opposing the sale of the land by the path to developers, and there are now sketches of the proposed cycle houses, this time with ramps. Score one to some careful digging by an amateur, score no to greenwash.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Cabot Cacophony

Bristolians are being subjected to unprecedented levels of hype in advance of the opening of the new shopping mall at Broadmead, or rather Cabot Circus as all loyal Bristolians must now call it. The Evening Post can barely contain its enthusiasm for this £500 million development, complete with car parking for over 2,600 cars, due to open its doors in just a week's time.

But the timing could be better. The recession is really biting and people are cutting down on non-essential expenditure. Up market stores are losing sales to those with a reputation for the keenest pricing. Restaurants, bars and cafes are closing down. What prospect for the likes of House of Fraser, Raymond Blanc and Harvey Nichols?

But we must be upbeat and optimistic, now more than ever, for the sake of our proud city and the unstinting efforts of our entrepreneurs to promote it. Here for example is an extract from a brochure published by Viceroy Invest, who are desperately trying to flog off apartments over the shop (that's Harvey Nicks of course), under the heading Bristol - an Economic Dynamo.

More than 160 companies have their UK headquarters (in Bristol) including Lloyds TSB and HBOS....40% of Bristol employees work in the financial services sector. Think bonuses and their effect on premium city centre apartments! Bristol International Airport is constantly expanding its routes to destinations worldwide.

Er, will you tell them or shall I?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

More Fergie Balls

I'd always assumed that George Ferguson must be a very clever and talented all-round good bloke, trying to preserve something of the character and heritage of Bristol in the face of philistine commercial forces, but that image has taken a few hits of late. Now I'm even beginning to wonder about the clever bit.

His latest "By George" column in the Evening Post is emailed in from Venice where George is busy sipping a vino in a piazza whilst autonomously representing Bristol at the Architecture Biennale exhibition.

Venice, George tells us, "is wonderfully sustainable and dominated by pedestrians and water traffic". But of course Venice doesn't exist in isolation. George himself goes on to say that "it is now really little more than a glorious, inhabited tourist destination ...".

And where do all these tourists (15 million per year, apparently) come from, we might ask, and how do they get to Venice? Overwhelmingly they fly in from all the corners of the Earth, often thousands of miles.

Yes, flying, that "wonderfully sustainable" form of transport. Venice might not be the only tourist attraction in northern Italy but it is the outstanding one and must take it's share of the responsibility for the billions of air miles clocked up by those tourists.

So looked at in a global context (what other context can be valid?) Venice is probably, for its size, the most unsustainable city on Earth. To look at Venice in isolation, as George has done, suggests a lack of intellectual curiosity about issues like sustainability (which fits with his promotion of cycle houses as a front for his land grabbing, hedgerow destroying, 260 place car park development at Greenbank). Or perhaps he thinks that such an analysis is far too sophisticated for the average Evening Post reader.

His column gives us another hint of George's attitude to the hoi polloi. He proudly tells us that years ago he proposed charging every visitor £30 to enter Venice, the idea being to keep "the meanest grockles" away and presumably to restore Venice to being the preserve of the educated middle classes that it was in George's youth.

The "meanest grockles" (who, George was "staggered to learn", merely "come for part of a day and spend some pathetic amount like 3 Euros") include the likes of me and many thousands of Bristolians who of necessity make such trips on a carefully managed budget. £30 a head may be a mere bagatelle to George and his mates but for many, who cannot afford to stay in Venice itself but economise by staying on the mainland and commute in for the day, it could make a trip to Venice literally a once in a lifetime experience.

No doubt George feels that's as it should be, at least for the great unwashed. He of course needs to revisit the Architecture Biennale every other year and would prefer it if his view of the grandiose architecture wasn't marred by plebs sitting on the steps eating ice creams.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Second bite of the Cherry Trees

Poking into the background of Squarepeg's plans for the Chocolate Factory at Greenbank keeps throwing up new discoveries. Having highlighted the clandestine sale of part of the Railway Path land on the part of the Council, Squarepeg's dishonesty in declaring the status of the land purchase in their newsletter and the vacuity of George Ferguson's claims for his cycle houses, I now have more to reveal.

Back around the year 2000 there was a planning application for the construction of a row of what George Ferguson would have us call cycle houses, namely bog standard rabbit hutches, along the embankment slope of the Railway Path just to the east of the Chocolate Factory site facing onto Greenbank Road. The application was made on behalf of Greenbank Developments who had bought the land from British Rail Property Board (the City Council having declined to purchase the former railway land when it was originally offered to them for a peppercorn).

The land (the pale green and pale yellow sections of the embankment on the map above - click to expand) owned by Greenbank Developments included the Railway Path embankment slope as far southwest as the land now being sold by the Council to Squarepeg. The land included a mature hedgerow (an extension of the very same hedgerow now threatened by Squarepeg) which the Council's Nature Conservation and Landscape Officers were anxious to preserve. Concerns were also registered over the impact on slow worms and badgers, both protected species, which were both known to be present on the land.

In the event Greenbank Developments were only permitted to construct on the section of the embankment slope which ran directly alongside Greenbank Road, on condition that the hedgerow was preserved, and the remaining embankment slope land that continued alongside the Chocolate Factory car park was left undeveloped. This residual land included an area near the car park entrance which was specifically identified in the Planning Permission as to be preserved as a wildlife area (below) on account of its collection of mature trees.

All the residual land, including the designated wildlife reserve, has recently been purchased from Greenbank Developments by Squarepeg and now forms part of their development proposals. As with the land being sold to Squarepeg by the Council, the intensive development proposed will totally destroy the hedgerow and the designated wildlife area will be largely obliterated and replaced by two 4 storey blocks of flats!

Now it is inconceivable that Squarepeg did not already know about the planning history affecting their proposals. They will have had preliminary discussions with a variety of Council Officers, some of whom must have been aware of such recent planning decisions. Besides which the documents recording the planning decisions are easily found on the web (so much for my investigative prowess). Yet I can find nothing referring to this issue on the Chocolate Factory web site.

Perhaps Squarepeg thought the destruction of over 150 metres of mature hedgerow (above) and a designated wildlife site were obscure details that would not interest local residents. Or perhaps they deliberately kept quiet about this, as they have about the details of land purchases, in the now forlorn hope that nobody would notice until it was too late.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Welcome Evening Post readers

The Bristol Evening Post have finally published the story broken here 12 days ago and at Bristol Indymedia 18 days ago. (later edit - they've now followed up with this story, and later still this.)

Their report gives a fair outline of the land sale issue, but you'll find a lot more juicy detail, including the involvement of a prominent Merchant Venturer, here and on The Bristol Blogger and Keep the Bank Green, the last being a site recently set up by local people (not me as reported in the Post).

One important point that needs to be stressed is that the proposed development will replace around 100 metres of mature hedgerow with a 7 storey twin-tower block, a 4 storey block of flats and 14 houses, all just 4 metres from the tarmac path. The rural character of the Path will be lost.

If you want to follow the development of this story over the last 4 blog posts start here and then follow the link at the end of each post.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Step forward the Cycle Houses

All this Chocolate Factory fracas with George Ferguson started back in May when I dared to question his pet project by asking "what are cycle houses?". Well, it seems that at last we have an answer.

The developer, Squarepeg, have suddenly realised that some naive souls might have taken the previously published sketches (e.g. below) as indicative of the design of the cycle houses. Oh dear, how simple minded the common people are.

So "to put the record straight" they have produced some new sketches, with a lot more green on them. Now, don't be foolish and think these are "definitive designs" or anything like that, will you. They are just to "illustrate the idea" of the cycle houses, and can be changed willy-nilly any time Squarepeg feel like it. That's how public consultation works these days, apparently.

The first of the new sketches (above) shows a section through the 4 storey cycle house showing the ground floor garage (although they have somehow neglected to name this) and access from the 2nd floor cycle store to the Path, based on the 4 metres of clearance that will exist between the majority of the houses and tarmac path edge. One can see that the 2nd storey floor is about 2 metres above the Path level, so a "bridge" linking the two would have a slope of at least 1 in 2, or 50%.

Now a 50% slope is way too steep for a ramp (as shown in all their previous sketches and as described in their publicity as "a seam-free sloping pathway" ), so they've had to settle for steps, about 10 of them to conform to the building regulations. So our intrepid cyclist, returning from the supermarket with panniers (or even a trailer) filled with groceries, is expected to manoeuvre her heavily laden bicycle up a flight of 10 steps to reach the bicycle store.

Or she might just nip round via the parallel street to the other side of the house and have a level access into the integral garage.

So there we have it, a cycle house is a standard 3 bed family house with vehicular and bicycle access from the street where the generously proportioned garage will provide ample car and cycle storage, but with the option of nipping out the back door directly to the local path if you're walking somewhere. Undoubtedly a "groundbreaking" concept and "a world first" as George Ferguson so modestly proclaimed back in May.

(for a follow up post click here)

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

And now the truth is out

From time to time the curious blogger stumbles across some mysterious object buried in the shifting sands of bureaucratic verbiage. On poking and prodding a little the object slowly reveals itself, only to turn out to be a landmine that proceeds to blow up in the poor blogger's face.

At least that's how it feels today. This morning I decided that enough was known to register some formal objections about the land sell-off discussed in previous posts. So I sent this email to Bristol City Council.

Sale of Railway Path land, Greenbank

Further to enquiries made last week, I would like to register my concerns about the planned sale of Railway Path land at Greenbank, Bristol, in connection with the proposed development of the former chocolate factory. Having visited the site and discussed the matter with other concerned people, I feel that I must register an objection to the sale of this land to Squarepeg for the following reasons.

1. The land being sold forms an intrinsic part of the green corridor of the Railway Path. It is mainly the slope of the embankment on which the former railway was supported. Such structures are an integral part of the former railway and it now supports a continuous wall of mature vegetation, rising to over 5 metres above the Railway Path. The rural ambiance of the Railway Path, which is so highly valued by the majority of users and local residents, depends on such mature growth on the slopes of embankments and cuttings as well as that on the level margins of the Path

2. There does not appear to have been any consultation on whether the land should be sold. The City Council have apparently taken the view that they are not required to consult. This may be technically correct, but given the controversies that have arisen in relation to most previous attempts to develop elements of the Railway Path it would, I suggest, be prudent to consult before a final decision is taken.

3. Squarepeg, far from consulting on the planned sale, have stated in their Newsletter dated 1st July that the sale had already been completed (or words to that effect) when in fact the sale has not been concluded, so presenting the public with a fait accompli and preempting opportunities for objections to be made. I believe that this may be in breach of their responsibilities in this matter. Again in order to remedy this defect a period of consultation is required before the sale is finalised.

4. The proposed development of the sale land will include a substantial twin-tower block of, I believe, 7 or 8 storeys which will loom over the Railway Path. This proposal is likely to concern a great many path users who have not been involved with the local consultations carried out by Squarepeg and it may even prove to be extremely controversial. Although this matter will presumably be addressed by the consultations on the Planning Application, it would, I suggest, be more appropriate to address it initially as a separate matter along with consultations on the proposed land sale.

Chris Hutt.

Having then copied it to various interested parties, a crescendo of emails followed, including a call from the Evening Post, culminating in the following being copied to me. It is apparently a briefing from Council Officers sent to Councillors this afternoon
(my notes added in brackets and non-italics). It seems to be "cover your arses" time in the City Council.

Briefing Note - Land Adjacent to Former Elizabeth Shaw Chocolate Factory

Strip of land A (The embankment slope coloured blue - click on map to enlarge)

Squarepeg the owners of the Former Elizabeth Shaw Factory in Greenbank contacted the Council in December 2007 over the possible purchase of the land outlined in red on plan N5078b. This Council land is currently leased to the former owners of the Elizabeth Shaw Factory at a rent of £100 pa to be used for an access onto the cycle path and landscaping. Squarepeg's proposals are to incorporate the land within the redevelopment of the former chocolate factory site which is to be developed into a mixed use site of retail, business and residential units.

Several concerns were raised over the potential sale of the land by the Nature Conservation Officer and the Transport Development Control Manager. The initial response was that the Council would not wish to sell the land. Further discussions between chief officers in CLS (Culture and Leisure Services - Parks) and PTSD (Planning Transport and Sustainable Development) and George Ferguson from Squarepeg were held in May 2008. Instructions were subsequently given to Property Services to proceed with the possible sale of this land subject to the following conditions:

1. Squarepeg engage in dialogue with Council's Nature Conservation Officer to ensure the proposals provide necessary but reasonable compensating measures for the loss of vegetation and habitat.

2. The land sale will only be finalised if the developer receives planning permission and proceeds with the specific proposals.

3. Any structural changes to the bank will have to be agreed with the Council before works start. This is to protect BCC against works being carried out which undermine the cycle path.

4. The developer pay market value for the site.

The property was circulated as surplus in June 2008 with no department putting forward a operational requirement for the land within the four week circulation period. A formal offer from Squarepeg is awaited.

Strip of land b (The green verge of the Path along the boundary of the site, coloured green)

In July 2008 Squarepeg showed an interest in acquiring an easement or long lease of an additional strip of land outlined red on plan N5078c. This is required to access their development from the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path. They propose clearing land of vegetation and replacing with grass and landscaping. Squarepeg have confirmed that they would to maintain the site and continue to allow public access onto this land. Should the Council wish to proceed with a lease of the land it would need to advertise the proposal in the local newspaper and invite the public to comment. The matter may also need to be referred to the Parks & Green Spaces Board.

The Council is waiting for written proposals from Squarepeg as to the terms under which they will be looking to use this land.

David Bishop has indicated that he supports the grant of an easement (subject to certain conditions) as this development was referred to in the Cycle City bid application and is seen as a 'cycle friendly' development which will not compromise the future of the cycle path but could potentially improve it. David has indicated that he would be happy to discuss the development with any members should they have any issues with this proposal.

I've not had time to study this properly yet, but one section jumps out at me - "Several concerns were raised over the potential sale of the land by the Nature Conservation Officer and the Transport Development Control Manager. The initial response was that the Council would not wish to sell the land".

So it seems there was a real debate going on within the Council after all, as one would expect with such a contentious issue, but still they didn't see fit to put the matter out to consultation or even refer it to elected members of the Council, let alone inform the people of Bristol. Instead the matter appears to have been stitched up with a secret meeting between Merchant Venturer George Ferguson the Senior Officer David Bishop. That is how Bristol is run under our new £180k Chief Executive Jan Ormondroyd.

(for a follow up post click here)

Square Pegs and Round Holes

Since my previous post more details have emerged about the clandestine deal whereby one of the embankment slopes (pictured below) of the Railway Path is being sold off by Bristol City Council to a property developer, Squarepeg, to allow the construction of housing including a twin tower block which will loom over this section of the Path.

Contrary to the claim made by Squarepeg in their newsletter dated 1st July, the sale has not yet been completed (although now at an advanced stage), even two months later. So anyone concerned about the loss of parts of the Railway Path green corridor would have been under the impression that the sale was a done deal, a fait accompli, and would have concluded that it was too late to make objections to the sale.

And people are concerned. The land in question is an integral part of the former railway land and supports mature vegetation and bushes rising to at least 5 metres above Path, so providing a green wall (screening off the derelict car park beyond) and of course a valuable wildlife corridor. Despite the sale appearing to have gone through concerns are being expressed by those anxious to preserve the rural ambiance of the Path (running along the left edge of the sketch below).

The Squarepeg newsletter states "... the development area could be significantly improved with the inclusion of two small pockets of undeveloped land immediately adjacent to the site. .... negotiations to purchase both plots of land have been successful and the application now includes ... a strip of land that runs along the cycle path."

Now anyone reading "negotiations to purchase....have been successful" can only conclude that the deal has been done, yet we now know at that stage negotiations were far from complete. To compound this, er, economy with the actuality on the part of Squarepeg the other party to the deal, Bristol City Council, took the view that they had no obligation to consult with anyone whatsoever. That may conceivably be correct on a technicality, but, as noted elsewhere, it hardly sits well with the spirit of their policies relating to the sell-off of our parks and green spaces.

But returning to Squarepeg, they have made much of their willingness to consult in depth with local people and appear to have gone to some trouble to do so. No doubt the Planning Application due to be submitted any day now will make much of these consultations and the extent to which their proposals enjoy local support.

But in view of what appears to be a significant misrepresentation we must now look again at the legitimacy of those consultations and in the meantime the sale of the embankment slope should be put on hold until proper consultation has been carried out.

For follow up post click here.