Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Castle Park - another view

Three weeks ago I posted a piece about the ongoing inquiry into the claimed Town Green status of Castle Park, concluding (for my part) that we couldn't trust the City Council to make decisions about the development of green space in the best interests of the people. Since then, under an unrelated topic, we have received a very interesting and comprehensive comment from Dean Danvers on the Castle Park issue.



I don't know who Dean Danvers is or what his particular interest is (although Google tells us that he posts on skyscraper city), but he sounds like someone who knows what he's talking about and not just spouting some corporate line, so I'm posting the comment (slightly edited) as a new post to encourage a bit of debate around the questions raised.

Dean Danvers said...

Come on....let's be a bit more honest about Greenwash in Bristol. The winner for the most greenwashy campaign in Bristol goes to....(drum roll)...the Campaign to Save Castle Park! Bravo, Cheers, Hurrah!

Special mention must be made to all those office workers who signed the petition against any development, it must have gave them a nice warm feeling as they drove home that evening in their single-occupancy cars, expelling noxious fumes and carbon gases. And special mention to the campaign leaders whose careful guardianship of the existing park was such that, just 8 years after plans were published highlighting the western end as a possible development site, they immediately sprang into action with the full breadth of disinformation. We don't deserve them! No, really, we don't. Or maybe we do.


The point I am trying to make is that what started out as a "green" campaign with support across the spectrum has become more about "political" point scoring which may in the end undermine efforts to make Bristol more sustainable.


As far I can see the background to the Castle Green affair is as follows;


In the Bristol City Centre Strategy and Action Plan 1998-2003, the Norwich Union/Bank of England buildings are marked as a key site. In the Neighbourhood Statements section the potential area for redevelopment is outlined in red; this boundary runs from where the cycle path meets the High Street, along the High Street and Wine Street to a point close to the Union Street junction, it then cuts across the park west of St Peter's before following the line of the diagonal path down to the cycle path and then back to High Street. The development area so marked includes several areas of green park. The incorporation of parts of Castle Park into the new development was reiterated in the 2003 Proposed Alterations to the Local Plan and again, in 2005 in the new City Centre Strategy and Action Plan 2005-2010.




Soon after, the developer (Deeply Flawed?) came out with a plan which extended the redevelopment site right up to St Peter's (on an alignment that roughly continues that of Union Street - see pic above). This exceeded the boundaries marked in the CC Strategy and opposition was mounted, both on-line, via the media, and at the developer's own consultation process. As a result of the pressure from those protests/complaints, the developer's eventually admitted defeat and came back with the proposal that would take up space considerably less than that proposed in the City Centre Strategy since 98 but would still involve building upon half and acre of green space.


This brings us to today and it is at this point that the protesters appear to be trying to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. Here was an opportunity to demonstrate to all Bristolians that "greens" are not just interested in plants and animals and short-term aesthetic environmentalism but really do care about the long-term effects of non-sustainable development on real people. They could have put the council and the developers on the back foot by saying; OK you still say you need half-acre from the 13 acre Castle Park, we will work with you on the following conditions;


  1. The boundaries of the development are drawn in a legally binding document before any development begins.
  2. All the land in the Castle Park area outside of that boundary is put in Trust to be administered by a democratically elected User Group as a Park.
  3. The half-acre taken from Castle Park is used to provide flats at above 200 dwellings per hectare which will be made available to key workers etc, at assisted rates.

200 dph on half-acre of land would provide 40 homes within walking distance of workplaces, retail and leisure facilities. At typical occupancy levels and travel patterns, this would remove some 275,000 car kms and their resulting emissions from the road network.

So why didn't the protesters do that? Why did they pursue the Town Green Application? Effectively an all-or-nothing proposal which if they lose could seriously undermine any further efforts to help shape the development to something more sustainable.


The reason, I believe, is because this campaign is "greenwash", a light covering of environmental concerns in order to fight political battles which are really about old Labour vs New Labour and not really anything to do with Castle Park which happens to be a convenient issue. The fact is that reading some of the things that have been written or said by the campaign leaders leads me with little trust in their honesty.

12 comments:

thebristolblogger said...

A couple of things jump out of this.

"[this is] really about old Labour vs New Labour and not really anything to do with Castle Park," is an odd piece of analysis that I can't recognise in what's happening.

And "200 dph on half-acre of land would provide 40 homes within walking distance of workplaces, retail and leisure facilities."

The housing need in Bristol is for cheap three and four bedroom homes for families. You could not fit 40 of these on 1/2 an acre. Mr Danvers is proposing more 1 bed flats for single people. There's an oversupply of these in town already.

Dean Danvers said...

The Bristol Blogger says “Mr Danvers is proposing more 1 bed flats for single people”

No, I’m not, although I predict that is what we will end up with at St Mary-le-Port.

Until a couple of years ago, I lived in Barcelona's Eixample district. Eixample is considered one of Barcelona's most successful residential districts not least because of its close grain blocks, lively street life, and active environments. It has a population of nearly 250,000 across all ages and most socio-economic groups living at densities of 150-200 dwellings per hectare, or, 300-360 residents per hectare. My own apartment, occupied by myself, my wife and my daughter, along with a spare double bedroom for visitors from England, covered two floors and had access to a private roof garden plus communal access to a large courtyard garden/park which was shared with our neighbours. There was also a larger public park a few blocks away. We rented our 3-bed apartment but most of the other apartments were owner-occupied and included 1-bed, 2-bed, 3-bed home and even one 8-bed home (formed by connecting two previously separate apartments) whilst the ground floor was entirely non-residential comprising retail and commercial units.

It is too easy to fall into the trap of associating higher densities with 1-bed flats. We tend to assume that this is the case and it usually in a developer's self-interest to have us believe this is so, as developers (particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries) tend to believe they can make a quicker and larger profit providing 1-bed flats at those densities. As in so many other things, we fall for the spin and the public will get what the developers want to sell. More fool us.

As for the political context, I have read Bristol Blogger’s blog since my return to Bristol and his knowledge of the city’s political scene is far, far superior to mine. My own observation about Labour in-fighting was based on the independent comments of several individuals who pointed out to me the fact that the council leadership is, of course, Labour whilst the active leadership of the campaign (or part of it) have strong links to the Labour Party (one of them apparently ran for election as a Labour councillor for Cabot ward in the significant year of 1998) and other socialist groups (SERA for example). If Bristol Blogger doesn’t believe that there is any old Labour-new Labour point-scoring going on, then I have to assume that it is just sheer stupidity that is preventing otherwise intelligent individuals who share a vaguely similar left-wing view playing brinkmanship over one of (if not the) key development sites in Bristol.

Chris Hutt said...

Dean, thanks again for your valuable comments (I've been reading your posts on skyscraper city too - very informative).

You talk about brinkmanship, presumably on the basis that if the Town Green status is granted there will be no development at all, or perhaps a much poorer quality development, of the existing site.

That is a line of thinking that the developer will obviously encourage, and BCC too since they appear to be supporting the developer (we have a similar situation at Greenbank which you may have noticed many bloggers commenting on).

But why should we believe such a line? How can we know whether that line is genuine or bluff? How do you know (perhaps you have professional expertise in these things)?

Chris Hutt said...

Another point. I've visited the Eixample a few times and appreciate what you're saying about densities and street life (although I found the regular grid geometry rather boring when walking long distances).

However it didn't strike me as having much in the way of a 'working class' population. Overwhelmingly middle class, white and professional I would have thought.

Dean Danvers said...

Chris Hutt said "You talk about brinkmanship, presumably on the basis that if the Town Green status is granted there will be no development at all, or perhaps a much poorer quality development, of the existing site"

It is the latter case. A much poorer quality development. Poorer quality in terms of what it contributes to the city rather than in quality of build.

The interesting thing about this game of brinkmanship is that the stakes are different for each side. The City Council will lose out whatever the outcome – whatever the result they are open and liable to criticism, and probably deserve to be criticized – they know full well what the financial situation was and is, and thus the viability of any proposed scheme. The Campaigners will also lose - although if they win the Town Green Application they will convince themselves (and many others) that they have won.

In the case of the developers they can't really lose. In 2008, a typical land value for residential development within Bristol might be between £3m and £3.75m per hectare, whilst I know of at least one small site within a mile of Castle Park which is currently for sale at an equivalent price of nearly £16m per hectare (admittedly with outline planning permission for flats).

I have been led to believe that Deeley Freed paid about £1m per hectare for the St Mary-le-Port site. Don't forget, this is a prime city centre site marked as a development zone with a waterfront location, next to a major city park, close to the "world's best" shopping district, in a city that has just been listed as the best European city and one of the top ten cities in the world to visit in 2009. Bargain? It's like going to the January sales and finding the Mona Lisa on sale for a tenner. Even if Deeley Freed walk away from the development they will almost certainly make a profit simply from reselling the land. However that would be like looking a gift horse in the mouth, because they will never ever again get land in such a location at such a rock-bottom price.

Are they bluffing about the development not being viable without the extra land? What do you think?

The question is not whether the development goes ahead but that what ensues will be something that really benefits individual Bristolians or, once again, merely the commercial interests of certain sections of the business community only. What level of influence we will have over the development?, and by we, I mean those of us who are considering what is going to be needed in our city centre in 15 years time, after peak oil has been reached.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason (I thought it was politics, but it may simple be narrowminded stupidity), the campaigners against the St Mary-le-Port development have allowed the campaign to be narrowed down to a concentration on the green space of Castle Park, effectively abandoning the content of the existing built area to the whims of the developer. It is, unfortunately, a fault that seems to affect many "greens", namely; grass is good, concrete and brick is bad, protect the grass, and neglect the rest. Thanks to this tunnel vision, the developers find themselves in a win-win situation. If the Town Green Application is successful, the developers can concentrate on a prime urban development without much pressure to contribute to the improvement and upkeep of Castle Park and with reduced interference from locals. If the Town Green Application fails, the developers may see this as an opportunity to return to their earlier policy involving greater encroachment on Castle Park land. Not a bad result for them, considering that prior to the Town Green Application, the developers had found themselves forced to totally revise their plans, reduce the amount of green space being redeveloped and with the possibility of as much public focus being placed on the development of the existing built-upon land as on the green space. I imagine that whoever proposed the Town Green Application will be the subject of many a Xmas toast in the Deeley Freed household.

Regarding your comments on the Eixample district, often it is difficult to distinguish in Spain between working class districts (except the really down-at-heel areas) and the more middle class districts. Partially this is down to a much greater emphasis on direct neighbourhood contributions to an area’s upkeep, as a result there tends to be much less evidence of the effects of graffiti and smallscale vandalism that so often seem to marr the public realm of similar areas here in England. Certainly, in our part of Eixample, our block had a real mixture of socio-economic groups; plumbers, solicitors, artists, the blocks vigilante, shopkeepers in live-over units, a book-keeper, and a couple of students spring to mind. However, having said that, Eixample is not some sort of utopia – there are some blocks that are less well maintained than others, and there are also some blocks which have problems with residential accommodation co-existing above late-night bars and/or heavy traffic. Finally, Eixample is becoming a victim of its own fame and success with a matching rise in residential values and this is gradually leading to a situation where, yes indeed, local working class people are indeed being replaced by middle-class professional couples who often buy the larger 3-bed units and subdivide them into 1-bed and 2-bed units. So I will say that Eixample provides an example of high density living that works but is not a complete solution and a more sustainable Bristolian version will need some form of tenancy model to ensure that larger 3-bed dwellings are preserved and are kept within the price range of locals.

DonaQixota said...

Mr Danvers, you clearly have a much deeper involvement in what’s going on at Castle Green than I have. Nevertheless, a few issues come to mind in response to what you write.

Firstly, what works on the Continent will not necessarily work in England. For a start we just can’t seem to do marvellous cities the way they do in Amsterdam say, or Berlin, or any other great city of Europe. It remains the great dream of the English to have a country cottage, or at the very least, our own garden. This is one reason why dwellings which, in Europe would be posh apartments, soon turn into disgusting slummy flats with dangerous, graffiti-covered and urine soaked stairways and lifts here in England. The authorities are then forced to either knock them down and rebuild or totally refurbish in the form of 2-up 2-down houses with gardens, as recently happened in St. Pauls, for example.

Secondly, the idea that dwellings can be permanently reserved for “key workers” or hived off from the rest of the housing market as “affordable” may be appealing, but seems very unlikely in reality.

Thirdly, as you say: “we … who are considering what is going to be needed in our city centre in 15 years time, after peak oil has been reached”. Now this is a very difficult question, as I don’t think anybody can really envisage how our addict society will ever be able to cope when the cheap energy that it has grown on is exhausted. It would seem a fairly reasonable likelihood, however, that large concentrated conurbations like ours will cease to be viable, and that we will have to decentralize again in order to be able to obtain necessities within non-fossil-fuel travelling distances. If this were the case then further intensification of development in the city centre would not be needed.

DD wrote: “all those office workers who signed the petition against any development, it must have gave them a nice warm feeling as they drove home that evening in their single-occupancy cars, expelling noxious fumes and carbon gases.”

It is a myth to make out that everybody drives in to work in the city centre. When I had to work in a centre office (ugh) I used to walk in, at half an hour each way excellent exercise, and really value every inch of space in Castle Park as a precious green island of sanity in the polluted and unhealthy sea of concrete, asphalt, metal and glass.

May I ask, have you put your suggestions to any of those campaigning to save Castle Park? I’d be interested to know how they respond.

Chris Hutt said...

I can see that including some green space land in a development site has the potential to produce a development with greater public benefits, but where do we draw the line?

If one hectare of sacrificial green space can deliver certain public benefits, then two hectares will deliver twice as much in the way of public benefits and ten hectares ten times as much.

The logical end is that all our green space is developed on the grounds that the net public benefit is greater. But most Bristolians would be horrified at such a prospect.

We have to recognise that green space is valued and that we need to quantify that value if we are to trade it off against other public benefits. Yet we have no agreed way of quantifying the value of green space.

Under such circumstances I think we can only insist that the status quo of green space provision is respected and losses are only considered in truly exceptional circumstances.

thebristolblogger said...

Briefly back to the subject of Old Labour/New Labour. It's no surprise that socialists and a few members/former members of the Labour Party are involved in the Castle Park campaign.

However there's no significant argument within the Bristol Labour Party over this development. There never has been over any development since, at least, the Lloyds TSB HQ on the docks.

The battle might better be characterised as establishment vs anti-establishment. Remember the development proposals actually came to light under the Lib Dems and are supported by the Tories, which means there's - as usual - an establishment consensus at the Council House led by planning officers.

As for the campaigners tactics, they might not be the right ones but tactics in campaigns tend to be devised on-the-hoof with the knowledge people have to hand and the time they have available.

Considering the campaigners are not planning professionals, cannot afford professional advice and will get no objective advice from the planning department they fund from their taxes then it's likely errors of judgment will be made.

Even so, I find the claim that they could have got 3 and 4 bedroom houses/apartments costing £70k - £100k (which are "affordable" prices) unbelievable.

There's no precedent for this anywhere in central Bristol; there's no political support for such a plan forthcoming in the city and the planning department have no interest in such mundane schemes. How could the campaigners possibly achieve this?

Dean Danvers said...

Dona Quixote said "Mr Danvers, you clearly have a much deeper involvement in what’s going on at Castle Green than I have. Nevertheless, a few issues come to mind in response to what you write."

Dona, my involvement is, I suspect, no deeper than many others. I am Bristol-born of a Bristol family. My personal connections with the Castle Park are that my maternal grandparents were both born in the area, my grandmother attended Castle School, my grandfather worked at the Bell-foundry in Castle Green and they were married at St Peter's Church before later being moved out to Knowle West. My direct involvement in the development consists of writing a letter back in 1998 to the council asking for more information regarding their “vision” for the Bank of England/Norwich Union site, several complaints when Deeley Freed expanded the area to be redeveloped, attending one of the consultations run by BCC/Deeley Freed and a couple of meetings/events hosted/involving the anti-development campaigners. Unfortunately any greater involvement has somewhat affected by the fact that I have only very recently returned to live in the Bristol area. I have been living overseas for the last 10 years with only occasional visits to family in the city.

DQ: "Firstly, what works on the Continent will not necessarily work in England. For a start we just can’t seem to do marvellous cities the way they do in Amsterdam say, or Berlin, or any other great city of Europe. It remains the great dream of the English to have a country cottage, or at the very least, our own garden."

I am sorry but this sounds like the sort of thing that Jan Gehl was told when he began his efforts to make Copenhagen more people-friendly; "We are Danes, not Italians, what works in Italy will not work in Denmark!" To say that we don't do "marvellous" cities like they do in Europe, and then selecting capital cities like Amsterdam or Berlin to illustrate is, in my opinion subjective and unfair. Why not compare an English provincial city like Bristol with equally provincial continental cities like Rotterdam and Dortmund? You may find that the comparison is less convincing for your argument that continental Europeans produce “marvelous” cities. The truth is the English are responsible for developing one of the most successful forms of city living ever implemented; the Georgian terrace, a form of urban residential development that has been copied and updated across the world and is seen by many as one of the best models for urban living, capable of delivering densities of up to, and beyond, 200 dwellings per hectare (dph). Examples include Belgravia, Notting Hill, Bloomsbury and Maida Vale in London, Edinburgh new town in Scotland, and of course Bath and Clifton.
As for "country cottage", my own personal (and therefore also subjective) impressions handed down to me by both sets of grandparents, are of them being moved out of well loved homes in "slum"-clearance programmes in Castle Green, Broadmead, St Judes, and Redcliff. These moves took them away from close-knitted communities, and on to 1930's and 1950's council estates built at 25-35 dph, with little local facilities and dwellings that at first seemed luxurious and spacious but later showed signs of incompetent construction, whilst the dispersed nature of the estates led to a breakdown in community links and an eventual over-reliance on the private motor car for those who could afford it. When my grandparents spoke of their "dream" it was of going back to the urban, high-density “extended family-like” communities that they had been uprooted from, not some mythologised “country cottage”. This idea that all English people want to live in country cottages can be traced back to the Romantic idealism sparked as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, but was perhaps given its strongest “spin” in Bristol as part of the campaign to convince city dwellers that moving to a house in the suburbs with its own garden was what they really wanted. This then allowed huge "slum"-clearance programmes to build the road-based infrastructure we have now become so addicted to.
DQ: "This is one reason why dwellings which, in Europe would be posh apartments, soon turn into disgusting slummy flats with dangerous, graffiti-covered and urine soaked stairways and lifts here in England. The authorities are then forced to either knock them down and rebuild or totally refurbish in the form of 2-up 2-down houses with gardens, as recently happened in St. Paul’s, for example."

The reason why apartments turn into disgusting slummy flats with dangerous, graffiti-covered and urine soaked stairways and lifts here in England are exactly the same as they are in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, Naples, Marseille, Rotterdam, Dortmund and so on. Bad design and lack of proper maintenance and supervision coupled with a certain class snobbery that working class people don’t know any better. There is not some “genetic” code unique to the English that somehow induces them to desecrate their environment more than the Spanish, Dutch, Italians or Germans. In reality the solution is simple, and has been described in design and planning literature for decades – bad design produces bad environments, good design can help produce good environments. This is irrespective of nationality or ethnicity.

DQ: "Secondly, the idea that dwellings can be permanently reserved for “key workers” or hived off from the rest of the housing market as “affordable” may be appealing, but seems very unlikely in reality."

Why? In fact, until the advent of Thatcherism and the “right to buy” there was a well-established, if less than perfect, method for creating affordable housing for key workers. It was called the council house.
Although it seems unlikely that there will ever be a return to a situation where a local authority looks after it’s key workers by providing accommodation to rent at a rate related to local conditions, several major investment institutions (mostly German or French) are looking at the building of residential developments targeted at the fast-growing rental market rather than the owner-occupier market. They are taking notice of the fact that many energy-efficient “clean” technologies, such as CHP, solar power and ground-sourced heat pumps work most efficiently when applied to “collectives” of similar dwellings rather than individual owner-occupied homes. In addition large-scale rental accommodation blocks offer asset stability during periods of economic depression and provide a secure asset valuation at a time when other assets are subject to wide fluctuations. From the point of view of residents the access to good-quality rented accommodation at prices that are linked to the local economy rather than the global one may increase in attractiveness. Especially when they realize that the alternative is to be offered the option to buy a mortgage for £400,000 over 25 years, at the end of which they will be the proud owners of a £200,000 home. The point of these new rental developments is that they are designed to utilise their asset value rather than their income value. Asset value is enhanced by occupation and thus it is in the institutions own self-interest to ensure that rents are affordable. The UK is in this case, miles behind what is happening in continental Europe.

DQ: "Thirdly, as you say: “we … who are considering what is going to be needed in our city centre in 15 years time, after peak oil has been reached”. Now this is a very difficult question, as I don’t think anybody can really envisage how our addict society will ever be able to cope when the cheap energy that it has grown on is exhausted. It would seem a fairly reasonable likelihood, however, that large concentrated conurbations like ours will cease to be viable, and that we will have to decentralize again in order to be able to obtain necessities within non-fossil-fuel travelling distances. If this were the case then further intensification of development in the city centre would not be needed."

“It is likely that the effect of a reduction in the availability of cheap fossil fuel will limit the availability of private motorised travel, in favour of walking/cycling or public transport based on “green” electricity. In this situation, large conurbations like our own will in fact become more concentrated, as public transport networks operate more efficiently at higher densities, whilst the compactness of higher density development also reduces the length required to travel to key destinations thus increasing the ability to walk those distances within a reasonable timeframe. At present, Bristol City has an overall density of 14 dwellings per hectare with a population density of 35 people per hectare. Public transport services operate most efficiently at densities of 40-45 dph with Tram systems needing 60 dph. Decentralising this population even further, and presumably that of other similar size cities, would have catastrophic effects on the rural landscape. Remember, the whole concept of the “Green Belt” was introduced to prevent the unchecked spread of urban development into the countryside and unless there is some major change in demographics the only way this can be achieved is by increasing the density of urban development or, alternatively, releasing even more green belt land for development. I vote for greater density.

DQ: "DD wrote: “all those office workers who signed the petition against any development, it must have gave them a nice warm feeling as they drove home that evening in their single-occupancy cars, expelling noxious fumes and carbon gases.”

It is a myth to make out that everybody drives in to work in the city centre. When I had to work in a centre office (ugh) I used to walk in, at half an hour each way excellent exercise, and really value every inch of space in Castle Park as a precious green island of sanity in the polluted and unhealthy sea of concrete, asphalt, metal and glass."

It is indeed wrong to imply that everybody drives to work in the city centre, and I apologise to those who signed the petition and did not drive in by car. The fact is however, that the MAJORITY of those who work in the city centre (60%) do travel to work by car. I am pleased that you made the effort to walk 30 minutes each way to get to your place of work – if only there were more like you. At an average commuting walking pace, 30 minutes walk equals about 2.5kms, and using Castle Park as a centre point would include the wards of Cabot, Lawrence Hill, Cotham, Clifton, Clifton East, Southville, Windmill Hill, Easton and Ashley and thus all the able-bodied workers in those wards. However, in a recent survey of commuters, only 20% indicated that they were willing to walk more than 20 minutes (just over 1.5km) whilst less than 50% were willing to walk more than 10 minutes (about 800m). The difficulty, of course, is that not all of the 100,000 workers in the city centre wards of Cabot and Lawrence Hill live even within 2.5km (let alone 1.5km or 800m). The more individuals that currently live outside what they perceive as a reasonable walking distance to work who are given the opportunity to move to inside that walking zone, the better for the environment – which is my point.

DQ: "May I ask, have you put your suggestions to any of those campaigning to save Castle Park? I’d be interested to know how they respond."

As I mentioned earlier I have attended a couple of events where the campaign leaders have presented their view and have even spoken to a few of those who are leading the campaign to stop the development at the St Mary-le-Port site. I have been left in no doubt that there is no room for compromise. When I suggested that the campaign group produce a map highlighting the boundaries of the Town Green Application so that Bristolians could see exactly what would be kept undeveloped, I was told that this would be playing into the hands of the council and the public didn’t need to know what the exact boundaries were…..it was at this point that I posted my response to Chris Hutt’s blog about Greenwash.

DonaQixota said...

Great attention to detail (I’m flattered) but can’t agree on many counts. The reason I mentioned Amsterdam and Berlin is because they are two Continental cities that I have spent time in. The first certainly compares reasonably well with Bristol; both have venerable mercantile histories and have thriven over a long period. Their size is in similar ballpark, Wikipedia saying that Bristol has an approximate population of 410,950, and urban area of 550,200, compared to Amsterdam’s population of 747,290. When I lived in Berlin it was not a capital, and had become quite provincial in relation to BRD. Bristol has also been at some fairly recent periods the biggest English city outside London, I believe, and it is certainly one of the richest and currently most rapidly expanding, now thanks to the M4 corridor.

Social habits have changed considerably since the Georgian terraces. If only English people would be content to cram sociably in fifteen or thirty to a room nowadays (irony) as in the Georgian and Victorian eras! But see how people “aspire” to live now? Today out of four houses immediately about me in the 2-up, 2-down row where I live, two whole houses have only ONE person per house, compared to when they were built, at which time they probably accommodated five, ten, twelve or more. In Cotham (and no doubt in gracious “so-green” Redland) you will find SINGLE wealthy people occupying an entire three storey mansion and garden. Need seek no further for reasons why others are under-housed, giving the authorities and developers excuse to slosh more concrete around.

Furthermore, despite all the recent attempts at homogenisation, the English still retain our character. This is borne out in many, many social statistics (cue copious hand-wringing from the cosmopolites) which mark us out quite distinctly from other peoples, never mind if that is seen as for good or ill, different we are.

With regard to the hiving off of dwellings, you ask why it won’t work? I think you have answered your own question here. “The UK is in this case, miles behind what is happening in continental Europe.” Indeed, and we may never be like the rest of Europe. Add to this the final death knell of secure Council housing as we knew it, to be replaced by new regimes where you get chucked out if you have stable work, thus dismantling what is left of “respectable” Council estates, and Housing Associations, which are far inferior to CH and segregate off the most disadvantaged. This is strangely against the thrust of what Labour has been trying to do over the last decade, ie trying to engineer a social mix in housing my building in mixed tenure. The culture in this country is very much towards a desire to own your own stable home free from officious landlords with their whims, and the last decade has, if anything, reinforced this, ensuring a sifting effect (very much as Michael Young explained in his book on “meritocracy”) whereby anyone who can afford to buy their own home will do so, leaving behind the less advantaged.

I cannot agree with you either on the subject of post-peak oil densities. Interesting to know if anybody has attempted to model this sort of thing? We are certainly going to need to CHANGE - big time!

I fear that you are misled about the Green Belt, as are most people. The reason that nice middle and upper class people wanted to enforce the Green Belt was actually to keep the hoi polloi out of their nice areas. They didn’t want horrid peasants or workers cluttering up their lovely views with “huts” and “hovels” (eg squatters in Kingswood) so they got it designated a Green Belt. This is the shameful motivation behind much Green Belt push. Quite the opposite of William Morris for example, who celebrated a working, living and peopled countryside in his “News from Nowhere”. I, and many others, feel that that will be the most eco-friendly and genuinely sustainable way to go. It’s certainly how I (and many others) actually want to live, not crammed into hutches in a concrete-metal-glass jungle. And we will vote with our feet, given half a chance.

You certainly read as though you have given Castle Park much careful thought, and I can but sympathise with the frustration you express with some “greens” - rest assured that you’re far from the only environmentally-concerned person to feel that!

DonaQixota said...

PS I am using "English" here as a purely cultural designation, innit.

Anonymous said...

What castle park needs is a multi million pound reconstruction of the medeival city and castle, built to modern safety, construction and fire standards underneath, but outwardly, medeival, with all the shops working shops and people in tudor stuart dress, with horse and cart taxis, cobbles, the lot. this could be the biggest shopping attraction in the land. time to sack the entire bristol city council planners and consultants, they have consistenly destroyed the railway trackbeds and structures and other historic landmarks and the corporation has bowed to mighty developers and the road lobby and made the region the most congested in england. time for a big kick up the backside to these wretched people and put some heritage back