Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Ivory Tower strikes back

Back in July I wrote a piece about Bristol's most boring blogger, one Professor K Vala Ragnarsdottir of the University of Bristol, whose blog "Sustainability" (then hosted by I mercilessly exposed. The pic below is just to prove that blonde nordic looks don't cut any ice with me.

I was rather surprised at the time that no one commented, but all things come to he who waits and the bright intellects of Bristol university finally responded last week. Of course the comments, languishing in the backwaters of this blog, have gone largely unnoticed so I thought it would be fair to give them due prominence by copying them forward to this post.

First to post a comment was Matt Fortnam (above), a Bristol University research assistant and founder, no less, of the ecojam website, a vapid piece of pale greenery trying to insinuate itself into some pole position amongst Bristol's green websites. Matt writes -
Dear Chris,

I was upset to read this blog post. I have often enjoyed your postings but I feel this was entirely unnecessary.

Ecojam has only publicly been launched in the last month. The blog postings you refer to were included as test entries and in fact the date June 9th has no relevance to the posting. I accept full responsibility for that.

Ecojam is a new endeavour and as such the blogs are in their early stages of development. I'm not sure if lampooning new, inexperienced bloggers is an appropriate tactic. You will certainly alienate others from getting involved.

To view this, only weeks before Vala leaves for her homeland of Iceland is deplorable. Vala has been a huge inspiration and force behind the sustainability agenda in Bristol, dedicating tireless hours to the city. After years of campaigning she has finally made the University of Bristol stand up to the sustainability challenge. Only on Wednesday, the cross departmental BRITE initiative began; research that could lead to real change in Bristol and beyond. In the city, she established the Bristol Sustainability Cafes which has engaged several hundred citizens, academics, business people and decision makers. This vision has been adopted by the Bristol Partnership's Green Capital initiative. Ecojam owes a huge debt of gratitude to Vala for her continued support, as do countless other initiatives in the city. In the Department of Earth Sciences, through her sustainable futures course, many students have become enthused by environmental issues. Another legacy she is leaving.

I could go on and on.

If anyone is to blame for a boring blog it is me. I have now closed her blog.

Kind regards,

Then Vala Ragnarsdottir herself posted. Vala, as mentioned by Matt, is shortly returning to Iceland to teach her kinfolk about sustainability (just what they need right now) and is anxious to flog off her £240,000 trendy loft apartment (below) down at George Ferguson's Paintworks (another Ferguson link - don't you just love serendipity?).

Vala, I should add, is, like George Ferguson, another of Bristol's 'Greenerati', that bunch of mainly ex public school types who have carved out their comfortable little environmental niches over the decades, busily scratching each other's backs with awards and honours.
Vala wrote-
Wow, to be singled out as the most boing blogger in Bristol is in itself an achievement!

I agree that environmentalists are an easy target to attack when it comes to flying. But I assure you that every flight I book is only done I feel that my presence at whatever meeting I´m invited to will make a difference. When traveling in Europe I take the train, even to Venice.

Earlier this year I attempted to turn down an invitation to Sweden on the account that my carbon footprint was too large - to which my colleague responded: Your work on soil sustainability and creating sustainable communities is so important that you should never worry about your carbon footprint...

That comment can of course be debated.

I do not take holidays that need flights.

I´m about to move to Iceland where I will attempt to influence the local community to live more sustainably - based on the success of the Sustainability Cafes that I have organised in Bristol since 2006.

These outcomes have been adopted by the Green Capital Momentum Group (of which I am a member) as the vision for sustainable Bristol.

The Bristol Sustainability Networks was also founded as a result of these cafes and after that was developed by my research assistant Matt Fortnam, linking over a thousand ´green´activists and companies in the city.

Ideas developed in the Sustainability Cafes were also included in the Bristol Green EU Capital bid this September, for which Bristol now has been short-listed along with 7 other European cities.

Bristol has now been deemed to be the most sustainble city in the UK.

I do not claim these successes personally, but I have been involved with a large number of fantastic people in Bristol that have worked hard to green the image of the city and increase the well-being of its citizen.

Lastly, this week a BriTE Futures Institute was launched at the University of Bristol - which will work on finding sustainability solutions for the 21st century.

Good luck Bristol in your green quests in the future!
So now we know who was behind Bristol's risible designation as Britain's Greenest City and its shortlisting for European Green Crapital. And she really believes all that bull-shit! I guess that comes of an academic career where you never have to engage with the real world.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Chocolate Factory Pollution Incident

A reports has just come in of an air pollution incident arising from the yard area of the Chocolate Factory in Greenbank. It seems that waste including plastic was being burned in the yard and the resulting toxic fumes were blowing into adjacent housing. One resident reported feeling "a burning in my chest and itching throat". Some types of plastic can produce highly toxic and carcinogenic dioxins when burnt.

The Chocolate Factory is now owned by Squarepeg who plan a supposedly green development, with much emphasis being given to minimising malign environmental impacts. George Ferguson and others have made much of the 'green credentials' of the development. This pollution incident will come as a serious embarrassment to Ferguson and Squarepeg.

Once Squarepeg obtain planning permission they will be able to begin with some fairly extensive demolition and stripping out of existing structures which will inevitably produce a lot of waste material, possibly including asbestos which was used extensively in industrial buildings during the last century. Greenbank residents must be hoping that stronger environmental controls are applied than appears to be the case at present.

Bristol Green Crapital

Hot off the virtual press from Travel Daily News, the daily travel and tourism news portal for the international travel trade market, we have a gushing piece extolling the virtues of Bristol as one of Europe’s greenest destinations, "having been chosen as the only city in the UK to be short-listed for the European Green Capital Award" (er, actually it was the only city in the UK with the brass-necked shamelessness to enter in the first place).

But enough cynicism already, let's suspend disbelief for a moment and enter into the green-tinted, up-beat world of our glorious leaders on Bristol City Council in their selfless quest to bring all those lovely Euros (Europeans, surely? ed) flying in to our wonderfully green International Airport (it's going to have a wind turbine, don't you know, just like that other famously green icon, Carboot Circus) to grace our tills (streets, surely? ed) with their presence.

Here's a few choice extracts from Bristol short-listed as First European Green Capital, just to get you in a positive, mood...
Visitors to Bristol are already enjoying this ‘green city’ experience.... With an abundance of environmentally friendly and sustainable visitor experiences to choose from, the city is a wonderfully dynamic destination to visit at any time of the year...The city has a strong commitment to sustainability and is home to the Soil Association and Sustrans...

Transportation around the city is easy and convenient. Leave the car behind and explore Bristol in a sustainable manor (sic). Hop on an open top city sightseeing bus, take a ferry boat trip around the harbourside, adventure by foot ... or hire a bike and sample the city’s cycle network - Bristol was chosen as the UKs first Cycling City earlier this year.

There are also amazing savings to be had, as well as reasons to leave your car at home, if you travel to Bristol with First Great Western trains... Bristol’s residents are doing their bit to make the city an attractive place for visitors too.... Bristol was the first city in the UK to introduce a comprehensive weekly kerbside collection for cardboard, green and kitchen waste. Bristol businesses, charities and communities are working hard to keep the city at the forefront and to fly the flag for sustainability.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it.

We must be grateful to Sustrans and the Soil Association for lending their green credentials to bolster such Bristol Green Capital promotions. Without their endorsement some people might suspect there was an element of greenwash in the above.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

We shall fight on the parking places....

I'm not a great fan of council meetings, least of all the more obscure meetings like the Sustainable Development and Transport Scrutiny Commission, but last night's 'extraordinary' meeting proved quite dramatic. The main agenda item was the report on last summer's consultations on the proposed Residents’ Parking Schemes and so the chamber was packed with angry, placard waving objectors apparently organised by Bernie Cooke's keep parking free campaign.

Commission chairman Lib-Dem Alex Woodman found himself fronting for the council when the proposals are in reality being pushed through by the Labour Cabinet, a finer point of democratic accountability evidently lost on many of the baying mob. Alex did his best under the very difficult circumstances, but his youth and inexperience told against him. Whenever he tried to assert his authority as Chair he was teased mercilessly by the crowd - “ooooooooooh”. The man who will have to confront the mob at Thursday's Cabinet meeting, Mark Bradshaw, sat at the back, grinning Cheshire cat like.

A few pro-RPS residents braved the sea of NO placards and spoke forcefully in support of the scheme but the general mood was antagonistic. A few spoke coherently against the Scheme, notably councillor Peter Abrahams, whose eloquence had Churchillian overtones. His political savvy and rhetorical skills showed through as he positioned himself to be the motorists champion.

The essence of the debate is interesting. On the one hand there are some areas on the fringe of the existing central Bristol CPZ, notably Kingsdown (above) and south-east Clifton (below) where a clear majority of residents (as disclosed here ten days ago) want an RPS, even if they have to pay the cost of running it themselves, such is their desperation. So why shouldn't they have what they manifestly want? Is that not the democratic way?

On the other hand it is argued that if those areas are allowed to have RPS then the parking problem will be displaced to the adjacent areas, who will in turn require an RPS to resolve it, displacing the problem again until ultimately the whole of the inner city has to be covered. And the overall view of the inner city, as evidenced by the consultation, is that the overwhelming majority don't want RPS. Those who support this argument are saying in effect that areas like Kingsdown and Clifton must continue to suffer so that the rest do not inherit the parking problem.

It's a bit like saying that your neighbours shouldn't be allowed to have cars so that you can continue to have one yourself without suffering the consequences of your actions (and that is often said, isn't it, when the neighbours are students). In other words sheer, unadulterated hypocrisy. Fortunately the Lib-Dems are supporting the rights of those areas that want RPS so it should get through the political process intact. Nevertheless it will be a bumpy ride over the next weeks as the RPS proposals go to Cabinet on Thursday and then Full Council.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Who's "Completely Pointless"?

George Ferguson has responded in a typically bullish fashion to the belated reporting in the Evening Post of the questions to Cabinet tabled by Tory councillor Ashley Fox referring to the city council's sale of Railway Path land to Squarepeg. Ferguson dismissed the land as "a completely pointless bit of scrub land".

As can be seen from the picture below the embankment slope earmarked for development by Squarepeg supports 150 metres of mature hawthorn hedge which dates back to the days of steam railway operations. This type of hedgerow is very characteristic of former railways and provides a prominent landscape feature and valuable wildlife corridor, as evidenced by the designation of the Railway path as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI).

Prior to Ferguson's involvement, the hedgerow and embankment slope had been cited as worthy of preservation by Bristol City Council itself in 2002 in connection with the housing development along Greenbank Road affecting an eastward extension of the same land. The council's Nature Conservation Officer then said "the hedge adjacent to the cycleway should be retained......The area of more mature trees at the Famous Names end of the site should be retained for wildlife purposes".

In the same report the council's Landscape Officer said "the mature hedge is of merit in landscape terms and also forms a valuable part of the Citywide Site of Nature Conservation Interest covered by NE5, represented by this section of the cyclepath. It is imperative that it be retained. Its root zone should be protected. The 'garden area' at the Famous Names end of the site which had scrub and small trees on it ... should be fenced off completely during the development period to protect the existing flora and fauna".

More recently in the case of the previous planning application for the Chocolate Factory site by Persimmon (which did not include any railway path land) the council were keen to stress that measures should be taken "to ensure that vegetation along the cycle track be protected during construction", the same vegetation that they are now happy to see condemned as "completely pointless". As for the "garden area" of "more mature trees" referred to by both officers in the 2002 report (pictured below), that is now to be largely destroyed for a 4 storey block of flats just 4 metres from the tarmac path.

Ferguson goes on to claim that "the sale of (the "completely pointless" land) enables what will be one of the most interesting, mixed-use regeneration schemes in the country". Not true, since the development would have been more or less as viable without the extra land. indeed Squarepeg went ahead and bought the Chocolate Factory land for £5 million in January of this year, at a time when the City Council were indicating quite clearly that the Railway Path land was not for sale.

Bristol City Council, not to be outdone even by the greenwash meister in the disinformation stakes, waded in with "(the council) is finalising an in-principle agreement to sell a small strip of land so that some houses could be accessed by bikes from the cycle track". Again not true. The land being sold is to accommodate a 7 storey tower and several houses. The Council spokesperson appears to be 'confusing' the land sale with a separate arrangement to allow 'easements' across a long strip of the grass verge of the Path for access purposes.

So Ferguson's "completely pointless" jibe may not find favour in many quarters, but such is his unassailable self-belief that he chooses to confront the concerns of ecologists and environmentalists head-on. It seems that every scrap of green space left in the city is only of value as a blank canvass for the works of our great architect.

Bath BRT in trouble

Proposals for a BRT route in Bath, running from Newbridge P&R in the west to a proposed P&R site at Bathampton Meadows in the east, have been running into determined public opposition according to reports in the Bath Chronicle and elsewhere. The Bath BRT scheme is being fronted by Bath & North East Somerset but is in fact another element of the BRT plans of the West of England Partnership which are so signally failing to arouse any public support in Bristol.

The latest of many blows to the Bath BRT promoters is the result of an online poll in the Bath Chronicle, with 81% of 2,310 people who voted being against the BRT scheme. Opposition is particularly strong in the west where a new bus road alignment along the former Midland railway line is planned, involving the compulsory purchase of parts of several back gardens and business premises. Objectors have formed a group called response2route which has proved doggedly determined not to be browbeaten into submission by the usual dubious tactics by the BRT promoters.

Bath Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster is backing the objectors, although he recognises that something radical needs to be done about transport and traffic in Bath. Lib-dem members of the council are also trying today to get the whole scheme reviewed. However others have not been so in tune with public opinion on this issue. Both the Bath Cycling Campaign and Sustrans have backed the most controversial element of the BRT proposals.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Bridges, Bikes and BRT

The Prince Street Bridge saga continues with a new exchange of fire last week. First the Bristol Cycling Campaign issued a Press Release which appeared in Wednesday's Evening Post under the headline "So who does want this bridge ban?". We (I'm one of them) pointed out that there were few benefits to cyclists in the proposed closure of half the bridge to motor traffic and some quite significant disbenefits like having to jostle for space with pedestrians and squeezing past queues of cars, engines running, waiting for the shuttle signals to change.

We also pointed out that the partial closure seemed to be inspired by the need to pave the way for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit route from Ashton Vale. This was supported by the simulation (now reissued with cars driving on left hand side of the road instead of the right!) and map issued by the BRT promoters themselves the previous week which showed the route passing over Prince Street Bridge and was further confirmed by the Council declining to take the opportunity to comment on why their original Press Release bizarrely referred to Prince Street Bridge having only one footway.

But last Thursday a response came from BRT promoters West of England Partnership (WoEP - who for practical purposes are Bristol City Council) with a story appearing in Friday's Evening Post headlined "New harbour bridge for Bristol's rapid transit bus route" and implying that the BRT buses might cross the Harbour on a new bridge alongside the existing swing bridge. However the WoEP spokesperson's quoted comments said no more than "... the city council is also looking at ways to cater for access over Prince Street bridge". Hmm, not exactly what it says on the tin.

We are told that the budget for the whole BRT route is just £26 million. This already has to cover the construction of new guided bus track work from the Long Ashton P&R site right through to Prince Street Bridge, including a new bridge over the Portbury railway line, a new foot/cycle bridge alongside the Ashton Avenue Bridge (old railway bridge), which itself will need renovation to take buses, and relaying the single track railway along the Cut. According to the WoEP spokesperson "...bridge works are expected to be almost a quarter of the costs at around six to seven million pounds".

Now bridges don't come cheap, especially not opening bridges capable of carrying bendy-buses (which weigh in at 16 tonnes each) in a 'heritage' area, where appearance will be hugely important. The current view of Prince Street Bridge from Harbourside is one of those iconic views of Bristol. If that view is to be obscured by a new bridge they're not going to get away with some utilitarian steel and concrete structure.

Even in the less environmentally sensitive area of Temple Quay the new, non-opening Cheesegrater footbridge came in at £2.4 million, so they'd be lucky to get a new opening BRT bridge for the whole of their bridge budget. And it looks as if a new bridge would have to span a much wider gap than the existing swing bridge. In any case wouldn't it be cheaper to build a new footbridge for walkers and cyclists, which could be raised higher to minimise the need to open it for navigation, and keep the existing bridge for the bendy-buses? The figures and the facts don't really stack up.

So it looks like WoEP (alias Bristol City Council) are hyping up the notion of a new BRT bridge just to take the heat off Bristol City Council (alias WoEP), who are looking increasingly out of step and isolated with their ill thought out plan for partial closure which they tried to pass off as a benefit to cyclists. The Council must be wondering why they're getting such poor advice on cycling matters from their Cycling City partners Sustrans.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Better in than out

The news that Bristol is set to go ahead with Residents Parking Schemes (RPS), which leaked out last week thanks to an injudicious blogger, is forcing car owners in Cotham and Clifton (see proposed RPS zone below) to have a serious rethink about their position. It's one thing to vote for or against RPS when none are in existence, quite another when you know that the streets near you are going to have one, displacing much of their parking in your direction!

The displacement of parking from RPS zones will be much greater than most people realise. Not only will there be the commuter/visitor parking targeted, but also all the illegal parking which is currently tolerated, including parking near corners and of course on pavements (at least we hope). Many streets which currently have parking on both sides by 'virtue' of pavement parking may find that they will only have designated parking on one side under RPS. Plus designated 'Pay & Display' places will be taken out of what's left for residents.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of that. But adjacent areas aren't going to know what hits them. And there's more. The areas selected for the first RPS zones contain a lot of houses converted to flats and Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), so it's unlikely that more than one permit will be available per household. So what will those households with second or third cars do? Why, park outside the RPS zone of course. In some cases these residents vehicles may not be used much more than once a week, but they will be parked permanently in the streets just outside the zone.

So the worst outcome for anyone with a vehicle to park on-street (which includes me) is to be outside but within half a mile of an RPS zone. I don't suppose I'm the only person in Clifton or Cotham (proposed RPS zone above) with enough brains to work that one out, so as the truth dawns we can expect a bit of a scramble to get included in the pilot schemes. It's also clear that enforcement of parking regulations is only going to happen in RPS zones so even non car owners have a vested interest in being in one.

To explore the reasoning behind this from a somewhat cynical perspective see James Barlow and The Prisoner's Dilemma and Salami Tactics. There are also interesting observations on RPS over at Bristol Traffic, who have kindly made the maps shown available for download. Long live the fraternity of bloggers.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

More Trousergate News

Things are moving fast on the Red Trousergate front as politicians emerge to take positions. Over on Charlie Bolton's Southville Blog prominent Lib-Dem councillor Gary Hopkins has left a comment on Charlie's "By George" post.

Hopkins seems to be saying that Ferguson's conduct was no different to what one would expect from any other developer trying to secure the best possible deal (so that's all right then?) but implying that Bishop's conduct looks dubious and may be symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the Council.

But I'll let you judge for yourselves. Here's (most of) Gary Hopkins' comment (plus my typographical corrections):

I unlike the blogger or some others am not shocked that a developer, of whatever shade of green or none, should do his best to secure the best deal for his development.

It happens all the time and I would be surprised if any developer were not trying to lobby. It is the council officers job to act in line with council policy and in the interests of Bristol residents.

Three things though are being suggested

1 That council policy has not been followed. There is genuine concern here and whilst it has been common practice for many years at Bristol CC it is not acceptable and it does undermine political accountability. It has been confirmed that the piece of land was part of the green space strategy and I have confirmation that no exceptions were written in to the plan. (This was in answer to queries about Filwood park)

2 That the action is not in the interests of residents. The point of loss of accountability is that it becomes almost impossible to test this.

3 Something illegal has occurred. I have seen no evidence of this but would support openness as a matter of principle. Getting basic information out of this administration is a real problem , even for a determined questioner like myself, and a secretive administration will inevitably become a bad one even if it does not start that way.

Basically sound points, but I don't think it fair to say that the suggestion is simply that something "illegal" occurred. The suggestion is that the way in which the decision to sell the land to Squarepeg was made was improper and clandestine. Would that constitute illegality? I don't know. But it does give rise to suspicions of something resembling bribery which is what Council procedures should always be at pains to avoid.

I think the root of the problem is the Council's obsession with working in Partnership with other interested parties which blurs the vitally important distinction between the Council itself and the variety of vested interests they have to deal with.

So in the Chocolate Factory example the developer, Squarepeg, through its agents Pegasus Planning Group et al, has entered into a Planning Performance Agreement with the council which seems to allow them to fast track through the system in a privileged way and which gives undue credibility to the 'public consultations' that they have carried out on their own account.

One manifestation of this was that the Squarepeg were invited to make an informal presentation to the Planning Committee well in advance of any Planning Application even being submitted, so ensuring that the Committee will be predisposed towards the Planning Application when they come to determine it. No such facility is offered to objectors of course.

Bristol Greengage also makes some pertinent comments about this, rather more wittily than I can manage, and BB has just posted on this too.

Friday, 14 November 2008

STOP PRESS - Red Trousergate

Fellow blogger James Barlow has just broken the news that Councillor Ashley Fox will be asking questions at the next full council meeting on December 2nd about the so-called Red Trousergate affair involving Squarepeg architect George Ferguson and Strategic Director of City Development David Bishop. Please check Jame's blog for more details - those key questions copied below.

Questions from Councillor Ashley Fox to Councillor Rosalie Walker, Cabinet Member for Culture and Healthy Communities.

Q1. Does the Cabinet Member agree with me that the Council should always consult with local residents before agreeing to the sale or lease of precious green space?

Q2 Does the Cabinet Member agree with me that the Council's recent sale of parts of the embankment of the Bristol-Bath Railway Path threatens to damage the character of one of the country's finest cycling routes in an Authority now designated a "Cycling City"?

Q3 Does the Cabinet Member agree with me that the apparent informal and unrecorded manner in which this property sale was transacted could leave the Council open to accusations of impropriety or favouritism?

Questions from Councillor Ashley Fox to Councillor John Bees, Cabinet Member for Transformation & Resources at the next meeting of Full Council, Tuesday, 2nd December 2008

Q1. Does the Cabinet Member agree with me that all decisions and meetings relating to the sale or disposal of land held by the Council should be open, properly recorded and fully transparent?

Q2 Does the Cabinet Member agree with me that the apparent manner in which the recent sale of parts of the embankment of the Bristol-Bath Railway Path was transacted warrants further investigation?

Q3. Does the Cabinet Member agree with me that it is important to ascertain the reason for conducting aspects of this transaction without a formal record or minutes taken at key meetings held?

Q4. Will the Cabinet Member undertake to remind all Officers engaged in the disposal of Council-owned assets of the importance of the principle of Integrity (within the Code of Conduct for Employees) that "holders of public office must not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties"?

Up to now the so-called local media were refusing to publish this story, although we know for a fact that there was interest in it. That didn't surprise anyone because the two individuals involved have very high public profiles, are well connected and wield considerable influence.

But thankfully one Conservative councillor, Ashley Fox, has recognised that there are issues of fundamental importance here which must be addressed. It is difficult to see how the media can continue to keep the lid on this story when a respected local councillor has tabled questions to the Full Council meeting due in two and a half weeks time.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Time to Pay to Park

The first nail in the coffin of "free" (i.e. subsidised) parking has been driven in with the publication of this summary of the results of the survey of support for Resident's Parking Schemes (RPS) carried out this summer. The map below (click on it to show full width) appeared on Bristol Dave's blog last Sunday morning but has only just been picked up by more, er, mainstream bloggers like Bristol Traffic (later edit - the post on Bristol Dave's blog has disappeared). It looks like it might be a leak since I've not noticed it appearing on any official sites. It's obviously hot stuff so I thought I'd better get in on the act too.

The survey results are amalgamated on the basis of Lower Layer Super Output Areas, or LSOAs. These are small subdivisions of Wards with equal populations designed to give a more area specific presentation of data (e.g. census results). Some of these LSOAs are rather odd shapes (e.g. the LSOA that embraces the Floating harbour which shows up as two red blobs at opposite ends joined by an umbilical chord along Cumberland road). Of course the data could be presented based on differently defined areas, including areas contrived to maximise support for RPSs, which would be the logical thing to do.

So how to interpret the figures. The basic pattern is that support for RPS is strongest on the margins of the existing CPZ and weakens as you move out, which is what everyone expected. But there are anomalies. Why for example is support so weak (less than 30%) in Southville, even just to the west of Goal Ferry Bridge? Why that pocket of quite high support (50%) in Redland? And is there really so little support in Barton Hill to justify a 0.0% score?

It looks like Kingsdown might be a candidate for a pilot project and the area of St Paul's nearest Carboot Circus, and perhaps the area of St Jude's to the east. St Jude's is interesting in that the overall figure for the LSOA is 50% but the LSOA extends right down through St Philips so the north western corner is where support for RPS will be strongest. Also the areas around Jacobs Wells Road and south of Redcliffe Parade show strong support, but some of these will be covered by the proposed extension of the CPZ..

But of course it's not that simple, since the creation of RPSs will tend to shift parking into adjacent areas, exacerbating their parking problems. So should areas adjacent to the chosen pilot project areas be asked again if they want to be included? And if they do, what about the areas adjacent to them? In this way RPS will spread, especially as people realise what incredibly good value it is to pay just £40 a year for spaces worth near £1,000!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Not green: grey

Back in March thousands of Bristolians were out making a public show of how much they loved the Bristol & Bath Railway Path. The most popular railway-to-path conversion in Britain, this path is said to attract 2.4 million trips a year on foot and on bike; walking to school, cycling to work, running for fitness, walking the dog, enjoying the greenery. The proposals to run Bus Rapid Transit down the path shocked everyone who used the path, who couldn't believe that their path, their park, was going to be taken away. Yes, a cycle lane would remain down the side of the path, but there would be little greenery, just concrete and buses.

We stopped it. Together, those thousands of people created the single largest on-line petition in Bristol's history, while the walk down the Path and College Green rally was one of the largest demonstrations the city has seen in the past decade -a friendly and peaceful day out for everyone involved. When the council leaders announced their change of heart, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

We breathed too soon. Because while the councillors were agreeing with us -the Railway Path is a special part of East Bristol- the council officers were talking to George Ferguson's architects and developer Squarepeg about building houses on the green margins of the Path up at the old Chocolate Factory site in Easton. This is a development where the community successfully prevented the previous developers from creating a featureless cul-de-sac of suburban houses, and we were all looking forward to the development. Imagine then, our surprise and disappointment when the proposal included building on the green margins of the path, with stairs to provide "bicycle access" to the path. Because as everyone knows: bikes and stairs are such a perfect combination.

Imagine our even greater surprise when the freedom of information requests gave us the email discussions going on behind the scenes, where we discovered that:
  1. Negotiations over use of the park land has been ongoing since March.
  2. Both the BRT planners and the Parks department said they needed the land
  3. One council officer, David Bishop, managed to fix things by overriding the other officers and the local Green Space strategy
Given that most of these 'cycle houses' will have steps to the path, they are more accessible by bicycle from the other side, from their garages. Why then has George Ferguson's team chosen to push anti-cycling houses onto the Bristol-Bath path? One email shows the reason: to add 25 more parking spaces.

For more information see:
Stop press....1.30 pm

Seeing red. George arriving late at the Watershed this morning for the 'this green and pleasant land' conference, only to be confronted by our leafletteer, publicising the Chocolate Factory controversy. His comment? "Go do something useful".

Monday, 10 November 2008

Barmy BRT

Our old friends the West of England Partnership (Bristol City Council and the three other local councils in what used to be Avon) have launched their proposals for the first of a network of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes in Bristol, running from Ashton Vale to Emerson's Green, only they're leaving a veil over the Temple Meads to Emerson's Green section for the very good reason that they still want to use the route of the popular Bristol & Bath Railway Path, despite the public outcry when this emerged at the beginning of this year.

So the current consultation is for Ashton Vale to Temple Meads, although from Prince Street Bridge onwards to Temple Meads the BRT bendy-buses will run as normal buses already do, using bus lanes and ordinary roads, so it's really the Ashton Vale to Prince Street Bridge section that is new, although for the most part it follows disused or little used railway trackbed, with only the link from Winterstoke road to the Ashton P&R site being a new transport corridor.

To help us visualise how wonderful the brave new world of BRT is going to be the West of England Partnership have produced a computer simulation (below) to show sleek tram-like bendy-buses gliding along pristine tracks and improbably wide streets, all remarkably clear of any other traffic other than a generous sprinkling of cyclists. Of course we're all expected to be duly impressed, especially at how cyclists will benefit from the BRT scheme.

But some cyclists will insist on looking a gift horse in the mouth and one in particular is remarkably vigilant when it comes to the kind of obscure details that most of us scan over. Step forward Terry, who noticed some strange anomalies along the Cumberland Road. Not only do the BRT buses magically switch from the conventional driving on the left to continental style driving on the right (possibly for sound technical reasons), but so too does the adjacent road traffic!

It seems that no one at the West of England Partnership has the attention for detail of our Terry and they've gone and issued a simulation with cars driving on the right through Bristol. This actually sits well with other 'oversights' in the simulation, like the grossly exaggerated widths of cycle paths and roads running alongside the BRT route and the strange 'ghost' station on Winterstoke Road. Once again we have a public consultation being carried out on the basis of misleading and unreliable information.

Thanks to James Barlow for setting up the You-tube video.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Ministry of Silly Walks

A few weeks ago the Evening Post reported the launch of a new web site,, giving walking routes between places in and around Bristol. You can choose the most direct route or a less 'busy' one to avoid traffic. It even tells you the distance, likely journey time and how many calories you burn up and how many kilograms of CO2 you 'save' in the process.

All the power of modern computing dedicated to making route finding a piece of cake. So much better than just pointing yourself in the right direction and hoping for the best. Err, actually no. The database is so sloppily prepared that it often dishes up the most absurd routes that even an inebriate staggering back from a pub crawl would be hard put to rival.

Many hours of amusement can be had putting the site to the test, so I've decided to launch a competition to find the most absurd walking routes. The prizes will be £10 vouchers for consumer goodies from a Clifton deli, one prize will be for the 'direct' walking route with the highest ratio between the walkit route and the real world direct route and the other prize will be for the most 'entertaining' walkit route in terms of its failure to identify the best available walking routes. Competition entries can be posted as a comment below.

Here's my entry for highest ratio of walkit distance compared to reality. It's a 2 km walk from Pill to Shirehampton, which of course can be made via the Avonmouth Bridge (above) in about 20 minutes. But not if you follow walkit, which will send you on a 3 hour, 14 km trek via the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which gives a walkit/reality distance ration of 7! That's good but not necessarily unbeatable. Remember it's the ratio that scores, not the distance differential, so quite short walks can and often do throw up equal absurdities.

And here's my entry for the most entertaining category. It's from Temple Meads station to Princess Street in the Dings, just the other side of the River Avon, and as we all know there's an almost perfectly straight link between the two using the Dings Railway Path (above) and the Cheesegrater Bridge, but walkit send us on a much more entertaining route around the houses, doubling the distance and of course the calories consumed, so they obviously have our best interests at heart.

But before you get carried away with the idea of calculating your annual calorie consumption and/or carbon savings you might like to compare a journey from say the bottom of Park Street to the top, and then the other way around. Yes, you guessed it - the calorie consumption figure is the same. In other words the site takes no account of gradients, which in a city like Bristol is quite a significant consideration.

I hear that the same bunch of incompetents who cobbled together the walkit site are now working on a cycling site, presumably to be called bikeit. This should be even more amusing if previous risible efforts are anything to go by.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

From Park to Parking

The mass of Bristol City Council emails released last week following a Freedom of Information request includes many insights into how a section of the Bristol & Bath Railway Path came to be promised to Squarepeg against the initial advice of officers following the personal intervention of George Ferguson.

An internal email to the Strategic Director of City Development, David Bishop, dated 26th June, reveals that at the time Squarepeg had two development plans, one including the city council owned land that they coveted and another excluding it, in case they didn't get their way. A Portfolio Management Officer in the Valuation Practice of the Council emailed as follows-

I'm dealing with the possible disposal of land along the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path to Squarepeg. I am aware that you wanted to go over the proposals that Squarepeg had for the strip of BCC land within their developments prior to making any final decision on the disposal.

The attached plans show their proposals both with and without the BCC land, you'll see that without the land they will lose 25 parking spaces, part of the block of flats marked B, and a large access directly onto the cycle path.

It seems that the main difference that having the Railway Path land made at the time of the decision was that they could accommodate 25 more parking places (accounting for perhaps 250 square metres)! By comparison the land take for part of the block of flats would have been very small (20 square metres?) and the access steps from the Railway Path must be considered of dubious value for access from a path mainly used by cyclists (but more on that later).

So in essence the decision to sell part of the Railway Path green corridor appears to have been made to accommodate extra car parking! I wonder how those who support the Squarepeg plans feel about that?

Saturday, 1 November 2008

By George, what an operator!

Being one of the awkward squad gives an occasional insight into how deals are done amongst the Great and the Good. Back in the summer I started to publicly question the benefits of plans for 'Cycle Houses' alongside the Bristol & Bath Railway Path as part of Squarepeg's Chocolate Factory development at Greenbank.

It became apparent that the 'cycle houses' were to be built on former railway land that currently forms part of the green corridor of the Path. I sought clarification about the relevant land acquisitions from Squarepeg (via Jenny Gee of Interface) and received the following email from George Ferguson, the architect for the scheme and major league mover and shaker in Bristol and beyond, dated 1st September.
Hi Chris – you may be surprised to receive this from me but Jenny has asked that I respond.

1. The land you refer to does not form part of the green corridor of the cycle path but is in line with the land that formed the ownership of Elizabeth Shaw which is built right up to with brick and concrete walls. The land you refer to is in effect land that by chance ‘took a chunk out of the Chocolate Factory site.

2. The development boundary will be between 4m and 7m back from the cycle path – a good distance but close enough to give some natural surveillance.

3. There are no ‘front gardens’ to the cycle houses – but roof terraces. The houses will stand behind the wide verges but with ‘bridge access’ on to the edge of the path for occupants.

4. I am very aware of your opposition which has been noted and has been taken fully into account.

I have known you for long enough not to expect to change your entrenched views but your implication of ‘secrecy’ is total invention. I would just like to say that I have been so impressed with our clients’ attitude to this project which they rescued from the disaster that would have resulted from Persimmon’s plans. They are determined to produce an exemplary and viable development that has good green credentials and like me are not interested in ‘Greener than Thou’ competition but in real results. We have engaged with the community for months, have had an excellent working relationship and nothing has been hidden.

Maybe we should meet up for a drink - where do you live nowadays?

All the best – George

I responded on September 3rd, correcting some of his assertions like the bizarre suggestion that the railway "took a chunk out of the factory site" (the railway was constructed in the 1830s, half a century before the factory). But I ignored the invitation to "meet up for a drink". I guessed how personable and persuasive he might be in a social context so decided to stay at arms length. Others might have been well advised to do the same.

Anyway, having had his overtures to me rejected and following further embarrassing revelations, George fired off the following email (just released following a FoI request) to David Bishop, Strategic Director for City Development at Bristol City Council.

From: George Ferguson
To: David Bishop
Date: Tue Sept 9, 2008. 5.22 pm
Subject:Chocolate Factory

David – I gather there is a bit of stirring going on re the cycle houses. I think you probably realise that it is a load of nonsense and that we have all been extremely open throughout a very thorough consultation exercise, and have received overwhelming support from the community. It seems that Chris Hutt, who I know of old, and who even manages to wind up John Grimshaw and Sustrans, has been busy on the net and that a minority are now trying to make political mischief. It would be good to have the opportunity to talk before I disappear tomorrow afternoon for the Venice Architecture Biennale. I am so convinced of the merits of this scheme and have been impressed by the support we have had from your planning team.

All the best – George

George Ferguson PPRIBA
Acanthus Ferguson Mann Architects

And we all know how accommodating David Bishop is being in ensuring that the Squarepeg Planning Application passes smoothly through the system, complete with a Planning Performance Agreement (which Squarepeg have cheerfully driven a coach and horses through) but without having to bother with anything as tedious as an Environmental Impact Assessment despite the obvious concerns about the development's environmental impact.

I shall be emailing John Grimshaw and Sustrans to see if they will confirm that I do indeed "wind them up" as claimed by George Ferguson.