Monday, 1 June 2009

Railway Path & BRT - Putting the Record Straight.

With electioneering in full swing and some marginal wards along the Railway Path corridor to be fought for, it's not surprising that Political Parties are playing up their involvement in stalling the plan to run Bus Rapid Transit down the Railway Path. The Greens are certainly entitled to do so, as are the Liberal Democrats who eventually came out against BRT on the Path despite their involvement in earlier stages of the plan's development.

But Labour have been trying to paint themselves as saviours of the Railway Path too, which might raise a few eyebrows amongst the hundreds involved in last year's hard fought campaign to persuade the Labour administration of Bristol City Council to drop the BRT plans. Mark Bradshaw, the Executive Member for transport from May 2007 until February 2009 has been prominent in making such claims and I've had a few run-ins with him on Twitter (see also my Tweets in the sidebar to the right).

But worst of all, as reported by the Bristol Blogger, was the leaflet distributed on behalf of Labour's candidate for Easton, Mohammed Arif. Apart from tastelessly using a picture of of a prominent local Green, Pete Taylor, who died recently, Labour were guilty of misrepresentation in that the petition being received by the Labour councillor in the picture was against the degradation of the Railway Path by the Chocolate Factory development and was nothing to do with the BRT plan.

Pete Taylor, supported by local campaigners including other Green Party activists, presents his Chocolate Factory petition to Labour Cllr Faruk Choudhury and Mohammed Arif (right) earlier this year.

So let's recap what happened over BRT and the Railway Path early last year.

From May 2007 Labour were running the council (with Tory support) and Mark Bradshaw was the Executive Member for transport and development. As such he also had a key role with the West of England Partnership. He 'inherited' a range of initiatives including the BRT plans to use the Railway Path.

Following widespread publicity from January 2008 onwards opposition to BRT on the Railway Path grew massively and the Green Party were early supporters of the campaign, although individual members of other parties were also prominent, for example Paul Smith, Labour's PPC for Bristol West.

Green Councillor Charlie Bolton submitted a motion to the April 1st 2008 Full Council meeting which was subsequently amended and supported by the Lib Dems to read (my emphasis) -
Council notes the strength of feeling expressed by citizens of Bristol against the proposed bus rapid transit route along the much loved Bristol-Bath railway path. Council further recognises that cycling is a more sustainable transport solution than the use of public transport, and that as well as a ‘commute route’ the railway path is a valuable resource for local people for walking, cycling and enjoying the countryside in the heart of the town.

As such, while recognising the vital importance of improving public transport in Bristol, council regards the use of the railway path for bus rapid transit as an inappropriate solution. Council demands that the railway path option is dropped and concentration is given to other routes.

Council calls on the Executive Member for Access and Transport to pass these views on to the West of England Partnership and to make clear to partners and government that this route is unacceptable.

Council further calls for extra investment in the path to enhance the experience of walkers and cyclists including measures to improve public safety and believes that this will enhance Bristol chances of becoming Britain’s first cycling city.
The strong wording - "inappropriate; council demands that option is dropped; unacceptable" is unequivocal and would have killed off the BRT on Path plan completely. However Labour, with Conservative support, defeated this motion by bringing in a 'wrecking amendment' which read as follows -
"Council notes the strength of feeling expressed by the citizens of Bristol against the possible shared use by rapid transit of the much loved Bristol-Bath cycle path."

"Council further recognises that walking and cycling are vital components of the strategy to encourage more sustainable and healthier travel behaviour in our city."

"While fully recognising the vital importance of improving public transport, Bristol City Council will oppose route proposals which undermine the current and future expansion of walking and cycling in Bristol, and, in particular, will oppose any threat to the current or future use of the Bristol to Bath cycle path."

"Council requires further information about the various route options, including those on roads and for these to be the subject of full public consultation."

"Council fully supports the Executive Member for Access & Environment in making these views known to the West of England Partnership."
There was a long debate on this on The Bristol Blogger but most commenters seemed to agree that the Labour motion consisted of weasel words which could be interpreted in whatever way suited the politicians and were basically meaningless, so keeping the threat from BRT to live another day.


SteveL said...

1. Can I give the Respect! party credit too.

They got strongly involved and did a lot of work on the ground, and never tried to turn this into a respect-vs-labour or other party-political subject. They were really good people to work with.

2. Similarly, labour party members in and around Easton were as active in defeating the BRT plans as everyone else in the area and across the city. Nobody said "Mark Bradshaw supports it so we shall toe the party line", they pushed hard to get that policy changed. Paul Smith was an early supporter.

The only party where we didn't get much in the way of active engagement was the conservative party -and even there we got their PPC for Bristol West to pop down to Barton Hill. It was a shame, therefore, that the conservative group in the council chose the old-tory party-of-the-motorised-suburbs viewpoint, rather than the Boris/Cameron new-conservative-with-a-tree-logo world view.

Anonymous said...

"... conservative-with-a-tree-logo world view"

Ever get the feeling that these are little more than figments of the imagination and in fact were only thin covering for the economic darwinists who comprise the majority of Con-party activists, members and voters.

Anonymous said...

"economic darwinists"

That is to say, the Whigs have taken over the whole asylum now.

Anonymous said...

So has the interesting idea for some kind of trust for the whole Greenway been progressing at all?

Any discussion in the relevant forums?

It would seem the only way of really safeguarding the Greenway in the long-term.

Can see that the multiple ownership issue is problematic, but it's amazing what can be achieved when enthusiasm, momentum and conducive mechanisms are in place ... just look at the history of the National Trust to see that!

SteveL said...

Dona, yes I do think the logo is a thin facade. And behind is Michael Howard.

Regarding a trust, you look at it and you come head-first into the wall that is funding. The only way it would work would be if it had money and people looking after it. Somehow the downs has this -and protection by act of parliament.

Anonymous said...

"Somehow the downs has this -and protection by act of parliament"

That somehow would be thanks to the indocilis pauperiem pati gang, and the Act of Parliament (1861) was down to when Parliament used to actually do something useful besides just feathering their own nests!

If funding is really the only thing stopping this then we have come to a very sad state. Bristol is one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries in one of the richest countries in the world. We should be able to protect this Greenway, which is one of our prime assets.

Maybe it's just that no individual or group with sufficient drive and clout has yet taken up the cause?

On a related note, reading through the comment thread Chris linked to reminded me of this statement by Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, the constituency within which a considerable part of the Bristol to Bath Railway Path actually lies:

"Let me be quite clear about my position on this: I told people from the West of England Partnership quite unequivocally that I would not be prepared to support any option which affected the current use and enjoyment of the cycle path in any way. That means not just if it physically impinges on the path, but also if it removes surrounding greenery, or destroys the tranquil atmosphere."

Excellent statement Kerry.

Only one problem.

Why isn't this protection extended to the whole of the Greenway, including the embankment by the Chocolate Factory in deprived Easton ward?

Jon Rogers said...

Other minor omissions Chris.

(1) "From May 2007 Labour were running the council (with Tory support)" should read,
"From May 2007 Labour were running the council (with Tory and Green Party support)"

(2) Stephen Williams MP was an early supporter of the campaign, with a YouTube video published on 28th February 2008

(3) Dr Steve Meek worked very hard to get the information out of the Council and the West of England using FoI. (That was before he decided to stand as a Green Party councillor candidate!)

(4) Despite Labour's protestations, it is clear that the West of England have not given up plans for a BRT down the route. If Labour don't see the problem, how can they solve it?


Anonymous said...

but Jon aren't you the Bristol cabinet member for transport, at least til thursday? why can't you stop the brt scheme or does it suit your campaign to keep this one running and running til polls close. am I a cynic?

Jon Rogers said...

It is not just about an individual Cabinet Member saying "no to BRT", we need to get a mandate. The current council make up voted against our amended motion.

Perhaps the electorate can decide in Easton whether they want more Labour fudge or Lib Dem certainty?

Gary Hopkins said...

A few points.
The origonal motion from Charlie was very well meant but lacked bite and clarity which was put in by the ammendment drafted by Jon R and myself.
Charlie's origonal motion also was rather too narrow in our view in that it concentrated on the path as a cycle route ONLY(although that is important I am sure to you and many others) whereas we appreciated the importance of the linear park and the wildlife corridor.
It is these last two parts that we are dealing with at the chocolate factory where ,whilst agreeing that the development of the site should happen and therefore selling the developers the small piece of land that was previously leased to the factory, we are re examining the lease of the path strip.
Our aim is to
Replace the reservation rights on this strip for possible BRT uase in future with a conservation requirement and
get the developer to submit alternative access arrangements to the path for on line consultation.
We intend then to take a decision in public on the matter.
As Jon said we need a mandate.

Chris Hutt said...

Gary, you're playing down the most crucial element, the land sale. The land is an integral part of the Railway Path green corridor and never formed a functional part of the factory site. The land sale was always the key issue here, not the access arrangements over the Path margins.

I can understand why you have little choice but to go ahead with the land sale under the circumstances. Your Strategic Director made promises to the developers and you're stuck with that. But why not just admit it rather playing political games that everyone can see through anyway?

The Bristol Blogger said...

"We intend then to take a decision in public on the matter."

"[we are] therefore selling the developers the small piece of land that was previously leased to the factory"

The decision's already been taken.You've announced it twice now. And it's the same utterly unconstitutional decision taken by Bishop last May. What's the point in making it again in public? This stitch up has been public since the autumn anyway.

Making the same decision over and over regardless of your own policies and officer advice doesn't make it alright

And why have you ignored that pricey public CONsultation Bishop did in January?

Anything to please George Ferguson isn't it Gary? Public schoolboy demands and Hopkins and Rogers their doff caps and act. Pathetic.

Glenn Vowles said...

Great points BB and Chris.

Gary Hopkins said, 'we appreciated the importance of the linear park and the wildlife corridor.'

Seems just a tad inconsistent with the fact that you've flogged green space, which means 150 metres of mature hawthorn hedgerow will be ripped up!!

Sheer hypocrisy!!