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".


green lung said...

Imagine our surprise when 'local' Clifton knob Chris Hutt told us to stop making a fuss about trees being felled on the cyclepath verge, because he had his own much more important campaign and clever friends to back him up. Get over yourself ...

Chris Hutt said...

"So nat'ralists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller fleas that bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum."

Swift 1733.

Anonymous said...

You look like Geoffrey Archer but are less plausible.

Anonymous said...

Does this Hut bloke fancy this Ferguson geezer ?
All sounds like a lover's tiff to me.

Chris Hutt said...

Anonymous, smart move withholding your name.

Glenn Vowles said...

Any feedback on the meeting and who said what to whom and why??

Rob Rickey said...

I attended the seminar at the Watershed yesterday. My impression is that there was a great effort made by local residents, the developer and the architect to regenerate a derelict industrial site in a neighborhood that needs new houses and jobs; what has the Green Bristol Blog done to contribute to this neighborhood? Carping about a few meters of land, with a use that celebrates cycling seems narrow-minded.

Chris Hutt said...

"What has Green Bristol Blog done to contribute to this neighbourhood?"

How about helping to get the Railway Path built in the first place, then defending it against a whole series of threats from road and transit schemes like BRT?

What have you done Rob, to justify expressing an opinion (since you seem to think only those who've contributed are entitled to an opinion)?

And how does a row of terraced houses, a block of flats and a 7 storey tower "celebrate cycling"? I see such intensive development springing up all over Bristol, yet it has never occurred to me that this "celebrates cycling".

Perhaps it's having the words 'Cycle Dock' emblazoned on the tower that makes the difference for you? I've afraid it doesn't cut any ice with me.

We are arguing for honesty and transparency, which we haven't had. If the developers had been up-front about their intentions and Path users had a real opportunity to debate the proposals then I would have to accept their majority verdict, but the whole thing has been spun in an arrogant and cynical fashion.

Glenn Vowles said...

Rob are you happy that the council's own policy on parks and green spaces has been circumvented? You may not be aware but my complaint to the council on this went all the way through the complaints procedure without a satisfactory set of answers being produced and is about to be referred to the Local Govt Ombudsman...

Are you happy that the developers have not even responded to my requests to modify the bits of the plans that destroy over 100 metres of mature hedgerow and completely changes the green character, feel and appearance of the area?

Anonymous said...

'This Green and Pleasant Land ...?' conference, Bristol 11 November.

Feedback from conference presentation 'Community shaped development', on the redevelopment of the chocolate factory, with George Ferguson; Steve Storey and Jenny Gee from developers Squarepeg; and Sarah Eagle of Chocolate Box community group.

'You may have seen some bloggers having a pot shot at me about it', said George Ferguson on the cycle houses. 'It's too easy for bloggers sitting behind their screens to take up a single issue. .. I take it on the chin', he said, adding that planners in the future might not be so open to consultation at a result. 'Out there in the ether people are able to say things that are pretty libelous and get away with it.'

He said of the original factory, 'you can't replace it with like. You replace it in a way that gives ... new culture.' The development will be 'embedded in this community and make it a thoroughly honest place as a result.' Taking this theme and sprinting, he said of the consultation, 'It's got to be challenging, but its also got to be enjoyable and clean and decent.' There was also his interesting use of the words 'cycle path surveillance' attached to the cycle house proposal.

On the price of the new dwellings, Steve Storey said a flat would be in the region on 100K, a three bed 'family house' 220K, but prevaricated a bit, before concluding 'market conditions will drive that.' A thoroughly green bit of property speculation.

Well done, you agitators, you certainly made an impression. At the end of the session, Sarah Eagle said about the blogging 'It's four or five highly articulate people and they're having a fantastic time because they're making people jump.'

Simon Fairlie then rose to 'put the other side', and after a bit of general heckling from the panel, quoted some of the leaked email from Ferguson to the BCC senior planner, saying that it demonstrated a 'cosiness with planners that developers have but ordinary people don't have.' Before being ushered off because there was no time and apparently people wanted their tea break. Well, this was an away day from work for most, paid for by work, and a chance to network. (Interestingly, the next session was titled 'regeneration through heritage' on the redevelopment of Harvey's Foundry in Hayle, Cornwall, and featured the same theme of trendifying a victorian industrial site). Ferguson stayed the whole day, and I get the impression that he left with a very clean bumhole.

Those red trousers were fabulous, though. Gosh. What a shade or crimson. If only I could get find lipstick in that colour. Apart from that, the general feeling from the panel was smug, self-satisfied, and self-congratulatory. Why? Architects have been making a fortune from creating 'challenging, orginal architecture' out of old buildings for decades. Nowadays all you have to do is add a few artists workshops and you have the 'mixed use' manna from heaven. Developers can assuage any niggling pangs of middle class guilt and get on with making some money.

Is it what the 'local community' want? (the blogging was criticised as being from people who 'don't live in the local area'). Yes, I think it is. A lot of the local Greenbank streets are made up of (highly articulate) single owner occupiers in 3 bed 'family houses'. Combine 'new culture' borgeousification of the inner city, with industry moving overseas to cheap labour, cheap rents and more pollution opportunities, you can be as green as you like in your own back yard. As long as it doesn't mean having to give up your (car club) car.

Beanie said...

Proper off the fence like.

green eye said...

Leave it out hut, he's my crush.

phlegm hunter said...

stop this now
this is the sort of
reactionary and
intolerant rubbish
you might find
on blindymedia

Anonymous said...

There's some great stuff here, like the way being articulate is considered suspect in this town. But then I suppose it is in a place run entirely on crude PR techniques, management jargon and sustainability waffle.

Then there's "pretty libelous". Are there degrees of libel? Is 'pretty libelous' more libelous than 'almost libelous' but not as libelous as 'completely libelous'?

Love the Sinner said...

Another amusing detail is the way "Chocolatebox" keep appearing and disappearing, like the Cheshire Cat, and grinning all the while too.

Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart = nastenag


SteveL said...

I think anonymous is actually right that the development is what a lot of the local people want. It is nice, it is progress. But that doesn't mean we have to let the council officers give away bits of parkland after a quick meeting. If you look at the emails, the developers wanted fences right up to the tarmac. That's not just the wildlife that suffer there, its the dog walkers, its the kids, and the mountain bikers. There's been a bit of backing off, but we don't need to libel with those emails.

Also: I didn't snipe from behind a screen. I came down to say hello. Yet Grumpy George wasn't that pleased to see me. I think he needs more coffee in the mornings or something.

greeengage said...

Yes, some local people want the development. But has been noted in comments on this blog, there was also a significant number of sceptical local people at the most recent "consultation" event. Unfortunately Squarepeg/their PR agents have chosen to ignore their views.

Tommy said...

Talking of grey. Carboot Circus.

Some elderly people in the sheltered flats by there have been having a hell of a time with the building work, and are still suffering with light pollution.

Both Field Marshal Slim Court and Ropewalk residents are trying to obtain compensation from the "Bristol" Alliance.

The Evil Post ran a story on it yesterday, and it's brought the callous bastards out in force.

Is this parody? I just can't tell.
"It amazes me that these people think they are entitled to a peaceful silent life - move out of the city centre for god sake! Cabot Circus is massively important for the Bristol economy and has created countless jobs. So they have had to clear up a bit of dust in the flats paid for no doubt by Housing Benefit - put up or move out I say. I dont think cash settlements are right or deserved in this case, the city centre cant come to a stand still for these people."


I remember the Baths down there, the Phoenix pub and the chap with the way eccentric wall decorations. I suppose it's all gone now, but haven't got the heart to have a look.

These old dears need all the publicity they can get for their cause.

don't like it up em said...

"highly articulate people ... having a fantastic time because they're making people jump."

Yes it's tough for the decision-making classes when they come up against people like themselves, isn't it.

It's a lot tougher job than browbeating the usual victims; the disadvantaged, deprived and inarticulate of the city who can be effectively bamboozled and coerced into whatever their "betters" think is best for them this time around.

gap analysis said...

On the other hand, do the powerful ever pay any attention - or even notice - the great numbers of inarticulate people, their views and wishes.

Almost by definition.

Bit of a circular argument on the part of the Squarepeg advocate then, eh.

Anonymous said...

Completely omitted from my earlier report, below. It shockingly slipped my mind, probably due to being completely unsurprised that property developers are able to stoop to such a thing:

For the record. 2 additional (not verbatim) comments from tuesday's conference:
1 made my Jenny Gee of Squarepeg relating to 'cycle houses'
- that the plans had been available since the consultation process started in January and why didn't people take it up earlier, instead of now, when there was a week to go before final approval.

2, poss the aformentioned Gee, but poss other member of the panel:
that the cycle houses were within the factory legal boundary.

No members of the audience challenged, or asked any questions on this.

thoughts on being articulate: no one likes a smart-arse if they're not on your side. Particularly if they're supposed to have been dumbed down already.


Chris Hutt said...

Thank you very much Anonymous , for that and for your earlier excellent report. Your observations ring true in so many ways that I've no doubt that your report is trustworthy.

I propose to return to parts of your report shortly, at least to answer some of GF's and JG's comments, which are disingenuous. There's still more to come out so watch this and other spaces.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous reporter,

May I add to Chris's my gratitude for your report of proceedings within the Watershed on the 11th November. It's very interesting to hear what went on inside this conference, from which we local residents of Easton and Greenbank (save one privileged one only) were all excluded - on ticket price alone.

As usual, we are mere subjects to be discussed and dealt with as others richer and more influential than ourselves see fit.

Cheers midear, and hope you find that lipstick ...