Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Contradiction Bristol

A little over a week ago this blog asked the rhetorical question "is there not a contradiction in Bristol's image as an international luxury shopping destination and its Green Capital aspirations?". It seems that the question was noticed by our ever positive tourism bosses because just 8 days later a new piece of visit-bristol PR guff wends its way across the web, proudly touting Bristol as "a contradiction of consumerism and environmentalism".

You can't win, can you. You deliver what you naively think is the killer blow, pointing out the admittedly obvious contradiction between Bristol's parallel promotion of consumerism and environmentalism, and what do they do? They don't see problems, merely opportunities, and it seems that I did no more than supply them with Bristol's USP in the global tourism market place - we are to be promoted as a 'contradiction'.

In the amoral world of PR and marketing anything goes if it delivers the bottom line, in this case tourist Euros. Cuba has long been successfully promoted as a land of contradictions so why not Bristol? It taps into a fundamental of human nature - we all want to have our cake and eat it. A living contradiction offers the cake both ways while relieving the recipient of the moral dilemma - just blame it on your host's contradictory nature.

Fly over to Bristol, indulge in some luxury shopping (now the £ is so cheap), balance it with a bit of green gesturing, preferably by hiring a bike to pootle around Harbourside, popping into various trendy bars and cafes en route, and then put the perversity of it all down to Bristol's quaintly contradictory nature. Guilt-free self indulgence - just what the modern world craves (and not just the modern world - from the days of pilgrimages and crusades, tourism has always been tied up with assuaging our sense of guilt about our own contradictions).

A few more contradictory gems from the same PR puffery
  • "Transport is eco-friendly with the bicycle a popular choice..."
  • "Bristol Airport is fast expanding, flying to more than 70 destinations.."
  • "Bristol is becoming one of Europe's darlings and the mot du jour for 2009."
So it seems that contradiction is Bristol's mot du jour for 2009.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Parking inspires eloquence

Yet another blogger dips into the well of Bristol's car parking idiosyncrasies for inspiration. Who'd have thought that such a mundane business as parking cars should inspire such witty and eloquent writing? I suppose it's a mark of good writing that an everyday event can be described in engaging and thought provoking terms.

Setting a fine example by blocking the footway outside a local school

We welcome Dru Marland to the band of bloggers who have been developing this new literary genre here in Bristol (could this be the new trip hop?). The seminal Bristol Traffic (from where I nicked the Dru Marland link) continues to be very inventive, while Southville Roads has been quiet recently, although he must be given credit for a more confrontational approach to the malparkers (I'm trying to do my bit by inventing some apposite vocabulary - remember you saw it here first).

Meanwhile N609 SBD deals with the other entrance to the school.....

Anyway this seems a good moment to post a few pics from my own ever expanding database. I've decided to focus on the malparking of those in authority for 2009, so let them be warned. We can hardly expect Joe Public to obey traffic rules that are routinely flouted by the Police, local authorities and other guardians of civic standards (unless Joe Public is riding a bike of course, when such blatant hypocrisy seems to be in order).

...right next to this notice. Is illiteracy an excuse?

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Brunel Bridge plan dropped

Plans for a Festival Way cycling and walking route from Hotwells to Ashton Court and on to Nailsea were intended to bring back into use Brunel's 160 year old swing bridge that crossed the entrance lock at the western end of the Cumberland Basin. The bridge ceased to be used in 1968 after the new flyover system was built but remains in situ in the 'open' (to navigation) position in the shadow of the high level swing bridge and flyover system.

But a recent press release from Sustrans says "The path will cross new lock gates at Brunel's old swing bridge in the Cumberland Basin before going under the flyover". The use of the word "at" rather than "on" (Brunel's bridge) is much more significant than a quick reading would suggest, although the word "near" would be more honest. This confirms suspicions that Bristol City Council are reluctant to restore the historic bridge to working order and will come as a great disappointment to those Bristolians who have pressed for this over many years.

The weasel worded press release goes on to quote Bristol's so-called "Cycling Champion" Cllr Terry Cook as saying "A new crossing will soon run across the top of the existing lock gates in Bristol's Floating Harbour, offering walkers and cyclists a three-metre wide path as a quick and convenient crossing through the harbour. The route will pass beside Brunel's forgotten bridge, which will not be forgotten again, as it will form a unique attraction on the route, and will become a focal point, providing a convenient spot and resting place with a bench bearing Brunel's iconic image."

So the high hopes of those who long dreamt of seeing Brunel's 1849 swing bridge restored to good use are to be answered with a bench! Anyone familiar with the site will know that notions of the historic bridge becoming a "focal point" or a "convenient spot" are disingenuous. In its open position the bridge is partly hidden under the modern swing bridge and the area around is blighted by the noise and shadow of the massive concrete flyover. Only swinging the bridge across the entrance lock would enable it to be properly viewed and appreciated once again.

It may be that the renovation involved in restoring the bridge to operation would have proved too costly, although the plans allowed for £150k to cover this work which seems realistic, given that the bridge remains in fundamentally sound condition. Besides, should we not be giving more recognition than ever to the value of the industrial heritage embodied in the old docks?

What may prove most depressing about this regretable news is the way it has been 'slipped out' under cover of a news story based around the more welcome news of the development of a cycle and walking route from Hotwells to Ashton Court, Long Ashton and Nailsea. We are used to such devious tactics form Bristol City Council's PR staff but it seems that the Council's new 'partner' Sustrans is now playing the same game. Don't those who have invested so much in this project deserve to be informed of the demise of their dream in a more honourable way?

Pictures courtesy of

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.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Greenwash Works

You have to hand it to those orchestrating the Greenwashing of Bristol, it's certainly good for tourism. Bristol has just been named as one of the world's Top Ten cities to visit by leading travel guide publisher DK Eyewitness Travel. DK is part of the Penguin Group which is in turn part of the Pearson publishing empire. The DK press release says of Bristol -

Dita Von Teese recently opened a new Harvey Nichols store alongside a Cinema de Lux and a wealth of luxury apartments at Cabot Circus - a long awaited boost to the Broadmead shopping district. Not long after, Bristol’s robust eco-appeal got stronger as it was named the ‘most sustainable city in Britain’. Luxury consumerism and environmental sustainability look set to coexist in 2009.

Needless to say and destination bristol are cockahoop at the news, rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of all those tourists flying in from around the world and spending their now so much more valuable Euros, Dollars and Renminbi in our earnestly green themed restaurants and hotels. And with our traditional economic base fast going down the pan, the rest of us had better get on board too, if we want a share in the spoils.

But is there not a contradiction in Bristol's image as an international luxury shopping destination and its Green Capital aspirations? Is the inevitable growth in international flights necessary to feed the tourist economy difficult to reconcile with the need to cut our carbon footprint? Is it green to travel thousands of miles to indulge in a supposedly sustainable week-end of pottering around Bristol on a bicycle consuming locally sourced produce?

I'm sure you can guess my answer to those disingenuous questions so I won't bore you with it. But I'm genuinely curious to know the response of the likes of Alastair Sawday, Chair of the secretive Green Capital Momentum Group (a sub-group of the Bristol Partnership), who has long combined promoting international tourism with green pretensions. How do these people expect us to buy into this nonsense? Or perhaps they have some other strategy for dealing with those who insist on pointing out that the emperor has no clothes?

Friday, 19 December 2008

Police Raid PR Archives

Avon & Somerset Police appear to be quite concerned about suggestions that they are carrying out a purge against cyclists following their high profile attempts to enforce traffic regulations being breached by cyclists over the last week. Media attention has been intense with hundreds commenting via the Evening Post's online edition.

Claims of discrimination against cyclists are based on the fact that most traffic offenses perpetrated by motorists continue to be almost entirely ignored. However on Wednesday a story appeared in the Evening Post giving details of 'Operation Safer Bristol' which uses Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to detect vehicles that are stolen or not taxed and insured. More than 1,000 vehicles have been stopped, 93 people arrested and 200 vehicles seized.

Good news, but just how 'new' is it? Much the same story had appeared in the Post the previous day and that in turn was a rehash of the original story that appeared back in October, when the bulk of the enforcement was actually carried out. So why has this old story suddenly reappeared twice in quick succession, just as some cyclists are asking why only they are expected to obey road traffic regulations?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Bristol City Council Driving Strategy

As revealed by our guest contributor Green Tomato

Bristol City Council is committed to finding travel solutions that are right for everyone and we recognise that most people choose driving as their preferred option for getting to work.
  • We have addressed the needs of a very vocal minority, cyclists, through ‘Cycling City’
  • We have invested millions on developing our award winning Showcase Bus Lanes for those who can’t afford a car
  • We have launched our ‘walking strategy’ for those who cannot afford bus fares either.
  • Now let's sort out driving!
Manchester city recently voted 4 to 1 against having a congestion charge to pay for significant public transport improvements. This clearly shows that people do not want restrictions on driving and aren’t interested in public transport. We believe that similar sentiments exist in Bristol and as a democratically elected council, we must respond to the will of the people.

This is our most important consultation to date as it affects everyone, even those without cars. You may think ‘I haven't even got a car and don’t go out much, it won’t affect me’. In fact, even the bed bound are affected as without decent car parking and cheap fuel, how will the district nurse and Home Care Team reach them?

Our strategy is divided into 4 areas

Rethinking BRT – keep the greenways green

In the absence of congestion charging, there will be no government money for bus rapid transit. We have to find a new use for the corridors intended for BRT, such as the Railway Path and the Malago.

The most time pressured group in the morning rush hour are school run mums and builders in pick ups, so we propose using these ‘greenways’ for the exclusive use of those with 4wd vehicles. This has the huge advantage that no alterations are required to the greenways at all – no need for millions of tons of concrete, new bridges, just a few light controlled crossings for the kids. Even better – minimal cost to the council taxpayer!

Can we afford not to let 'off road' vehicles share this space?


Availability of parking at the end of a car journey is a key factor in its success as a travel strategy. To this end, we will free up space by allowing drivers to park anywhere they think is safe. Many pavements are unnecessarily wide, or simply underused, and these will be designated 4x4 parking spaces, in recognition that currently these vehicles are discriminated against as normal spaces are not large enough.

Bristol City Council’s ‘Parking Services’ Division generate £3 million a year from legal parking charges but currently make a loss on illegal parking work, so this will be abandoned.

Parking Services: we're not sure what they do either

The fleet of parking services vans will continue to be deployed, however, but in a role similar to UN peacekeepers, to observe parking and street scenes but not interfere or issue tickets.

This policy has in fact, been undertaken on a trial basis throughout the city for the last 5 years.

Fastest User Carriageway Utilisation’ (FUCU) Scheme

why put the slowies at the front?

‘Advance Stop lines’ at junctions were introduced some years ago at the insistence of the very vocal minority, cyclists. Most motorists however are unaware of their purpose and it is illogical to put the slowest users at the front of the queue. Grand Prix don’t do it and neither will Bristol City Council!

Under the Fastest User Carriageway Utilisation’ Scheme, we will redesignate them as space for the fastest vehicles only, and mark the road accordingly.

The current red/ red&amber/green/amber/red light sequence has remained unchanged for decades, and is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. We will change this in recognition of the need to maximise the number of vehicles passing through on each phase.

The sequence now will be
  • Red: stop, as far forward into the junction as possible
  • Red and amber :Go
  • Green with black tyre marks: accelerate away as quickly as possible, before slow traffic (eg bikes) get in the way
  • Amber: Quick, floor it
  • Red: keep going
  • Very Red: alright 2 more vehicles then


Pedestrians and cars do not mix well, and most economically useful pedestrians are either on their way from or to their vehicle. Therefore it makes sense to limit crossings in order to keep the traffic flowing, especially near global award winning shopping centres.

Busy Crossings will be altered to tell pedestrians to wait until the lights change then cross quickly, especially on dual carriageways. Less popular crossings will have sensors to detect the number of people waiting, and will only be triggered when more than 20 people (or 30 school children) are waiting.

Zebra crossings, like this one on Blackboy Hill, will be phased out as surely as zebras themselves, as they sometimes hold up cars for seconds and encourage 'spontaneous crossing' by pedestrians who haven't considered fully whether they really need to cross.

They will be replaced by new light controlled crossings, named ‘Pigeon Crossings’. This nomenclature recognises that pedestrians are too numerous, often wear grey clothing and irritate drivers by remaining in the road until the last possible minute.

Pigeon: inspired council crossing policy

We want to hear your views - we are bored with the same old comments on the evening post website . What changes would you like to see us make to protect your right to drive and park wherever you want?

To read more vehicular satire, click this link.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

You're being framed

In the politics and PR fields there is a technique known as 'framing', which seeks to influence public opinion by describing issues in a manner that predisposes the public towards a particular opinion. In the field of Public Consultation it might take the form of choosing a set of questions to lead towards the desired response on the key question. Each question may be fair in isolation, but with each response the subject becomes more disposed towards the desired response on the subsequent questions. Here's an amateurish example that I've just made up.
Question 1. Should punishment fit the crime?

Question 2. Should punishment act as a clear deterrent to others?

Question 3. Should the death penalty be an option in the worst cases of serial murder?
Many might answer 'yes' to questions 1 and 2 (it's hard to say 'no') but in so doing they would find it much more difficult to say 'no' to question 3 than if asked that question in isolation. The results of such a public consultation on the reintroduction of the death penalty would clearly be of dubious value, especially if the answers to question 3 were presented out of the context of the previous questions.

In fact it's such an obvious perversion of the consultative process that one wouldn't expect any self-respecting organisation to have anything to do with it. But Bristol City Council appear to have no such qualms when it comes trying to justify their illegal decision to sell off a strip of the Bristol & Bath Railway Path to developers Squarepeg to expand on their Chocolate Factory development at Greenbank.

As covered extensively here and on other blogs over recent months, the sale of the Council owned land was agreed in a private meeting between 'Strategic Director of City Development' David Bishop and local entrepreneur, architect and general grandstander George Ferguson, acting for Squarepeg, despite the previous carefully considered decision by council officers not to sell the land.

For months the council insisted that everything was kosher but the release of emails following an FoI request blew that claim out of the water. At long last they have been forced to concede that the decision was improper (but absolutely no apologies of course) and are belatedly trying to legitimise it by hiring a national lobbying and PR company, PPS, to do the dirty. To give you some idea of how outfits like PPS operate, here's a little extract from their website under the 'What We Do' tab:-
  • Grass-Roots Campaigning

    Vocal minorities can be very effective in influencing politicians, but do not represent the wider community. Mobilising the ‘silent’ majority can be extremely difficult. Since 1990, PPS has been securing demonstrable support for planning applications from those that might not normally bother to express their views.

So we bloggers and local activists are to be dismissed as a 'vocal minority' who do not represent the wider community (and just who does then?) while they bamboozle the 'silent majority' (and why have they been so silent despite all the efforts of Squarepeg's pisspoor PR performers Interface?) into supporting the land sale. And how will they bamboozle the silent majority? How about this for a classic piece of framing?
Question 1. Do you believe the area should remain as it is, or receive further investment?

Question 2. Is regeneration important for Easton?

Question 3. Do you believe a balance can be struck between regeneration and green spaces?

Question 4. What would you like to see happen to the two plots of land?
Subtle or what? First imply that the future regeneration of the 'whole area' hangs on the sale of a relatively small pocket of land (the left bank below - about 25 car parking spaces worth according to Squarepeg), then elicit a yes to the question for which there is only one answer and finally challenge the respondent to come up with an alternative development proposal if they don't agree to that put forward! No mention of just leaving the land as it is, which is of course what we are asking for. The detailed questionnaire, while more complicated, uses the same tricks of the trade and some.

But the most serious deceit is that the land sale is conflated with the redevelopment of the Chocolate Factory, yet Squarepeg bought the main Chocolate Factory site in January at a time (before Ferguson nobbled Bishop) when the council were indicating that the Railway Path land would not be available. So at that time Squarepeg were quite happy to to hand over £5 million and proceed with the development on the basis of it being confined to the factory site. If the profitability of the development has since gone down the toilet that's just tough and is no justification for going around grabbing neighbouring land to try to compensate.

(I must give credit to bristol greengage for getting in first on this, and for expressing his/her contempt more eloquently and succinctly. All I can hope is that I have added something to the public's awareness of the CONsultation travesties conducted by Bristol City Council in our name.)

For a follow-up post click here.

Friday, 12 December 2008

BRT Bendy-bus in the Balance

The people of Manchester have voted overwhelmingly against proposals for the introduction of a Congestion Charge. According to commentators this throws into disarray the Governments hopes of getting Congestion Charging accepted on the back of major investment in public transport, as is also proposed for Bristol.

Bristol's proposals, fronted by the West of England Partnership, revolve around a number of 'BRT' bus routes with bendy-buses made to look like trams. The Council were hoping that the public would accept this 'sham-tram' as symbolic of the substantial improvement in public transport promised as a precursor to the introduction of Congestion Charging.

But Government money was to be provided through Transport Innovation Funding (TIF) which relied on congestion Charging to deliver the 'modal shift' from car to public transport. Without the Congestion Charge the public transport improvements would be largely ineffectual and the economic justification for the investment invalid.

It seems likely that most of the money earmarked for TIF will now be diverted towards road building to try to accommodate some of the excess road traffic. Under normal circumstances this might be expected to generate even more traffic, but during a recession traffic levels may decline anyway so road building might appear for a while to offer some relief.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

First they came for the cyclists....

First they came for the cyclists who jumped the red lights, but I was not a red light jumper so I said nothing.

Then they came for the cyclists who rode on the pavements, but I was not a pavement cyclist so I said nothing.

Then they came for the cyclists who used the road instead of the cycle facilities, but I always used the cycle facilities so said nothing.

Then they converted the cycle facilities into bendy-bus routes and I had nowhere to go.

So I went to the cycle campaign group but there was nobody left to speak for me.

Cycling at Christmas - that's a £30 fine

As I write Mark Bradshaw, Bristol City Council's executive member for transport, is speaking on Radio Bristol and seems intent on making himself loathed by another section of Bristol's traveling public by fronting a joint Council and Police purge against cyclists who are trying to cope with Bristol's notoriously cycle-hostile streets by sometimes cycling on pavements. The hapless Bradshaw, who is not even a cyclist, presumes to tell us how we should conduct ourselves when he has little understanding of the issues.

For at least 30 years cyclists' groups have been pleading with Bristol City Council (and its precursor Avon) to make the road infrastructure safe and convenient for cyclists and pedestrians. We have even promoted, on our own initiative and at our own expense, a wide variety of ideas to address this including traffic calming, 20 mph speed limits, contra-flow cycle lanes and home zones, yet little of this has been implemented and the highway network remains overwhelmingly dedicated to giving priority to speeding motor traffic.

The manifest failure of the Council to heed the warnings has resulted in them being ill-prepared to accommodate the growing popularity of cycling. Their fumbling and bungling approach to Cycling City illustrates this very well. Is not the fundamental purpose of Cycling City to 'encourage' cycling? So what is one of the Council's first Cycling City initiatives - the persecution of cyclists to appease a minority of reactionary Evening Post readers!

Cyclists, being a smallish minority group, have always been perceived as convenient scapegoats to blame for society's traffic ills, as I can attest from direct experience sitting on a road safety committee 25 years ago (when cyclists did by and large obey traffic regulations but were nevertheless always cited as the greatest threat to road safety). So we now see that Bristol City Council's approach to Cycling City includes the encouragement and legitimisation of the scapegoating of cyclists!

Famous Jewish joke. A Nazi asked a Jew who is to blame for society's ills. The Jew says "the Jews and the cyclists". The Nazi says "Why the cyclists?". The Jew says "why the Jews?".

New Cycling City joke. Bradshaw asks a cyclist who is to blame for the traffic problems. The cyclist says "the cyclists and the Somalis." Bradshaw says "why the Somalis?".

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

From the Land of the Free

Freedom of Choice - Free Markets - Survival of the Fattest.

Thanks to SteveL for the link (click on pic to see full width).

But this is really making Americans think about a bunch of things they've long taken for granted. Here's nice an example (although he seems to confuse millions with billions at one point).

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Sustrans sups with Devil

Cycling England (whose 'partners' include Sustrans, whose board includes Malcolm Shepherd, head of Sustrans, and who now employ John Grimshaw, founder and president of Sustrans) have awarded the contract for the monitoring of cycling levels in the 17 Cycling Towns and the Cycling City (Bristol) to ..... Sustrans (surprise, surprise) and their new 'partners', the University of Bolton. The monitoring of cycling will extend over three years and will use methods developed over 10 years of monitoring the National Cycle Network. The information, we are told, will be central to monitoring how the Cycling City is working.

The University of Bolton (pic above), eh? Not some new blood in the incestuous old relationships, surely? Perhaps we should have a look at the 'green credentials of this new 'partner' in the drive to promote cycling. Here are the University of Bolton's 'visitors' guide and their how to find us guide, telling you everything you need to know to visit, car - just turn left off the A666 (really!) just past ToysRUs and Burger King (other local landmarks include McDonalds, Kwikfit, Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casino - classy!) - and naturally there's plenty of highly subsidised parking.

There's even a few hints if you're coming to Bolton by coach, train or plane (but nothing whatsoever about local buses). Even those reduced to walking through this benighted environment get some indication of pedestrian routes (which of course fail to show a direct link into the university campus), but nothing, absolutely nothing, on cycling, not even an indication as to whether there might be any cycle parking available on site.

So it seems that Sustrans has no scruples about who it teams up with these days (unless they happen to be genuinely passionate about cycling, in which case they can take a hike). There was a time when one or two people at Sustrans might have cared enough to make a few elementary checks on any prospective 'partners' (and the 'how to find us' check really is elementary) but today we have just another self-serving quangocracy intent on empire building at whatever cost to any principles it might once have had.

Friday, 5 December 2008

The Jet Set (1)

Just a quick update on the tireless efforts of some of Bristol's leading environmentalists to keep the world on track for ecological meltdown this century.

First off we have our old friend George Ferguson jetting off to Bangalore, India, to speak at a conference. That's a round trip of more than 10,000 miles, producing over 2.6 tonnes of CO2 per passenger (business class) plus a lot of other environmental nasties. No doubt he'll approve of much that he sees in India, where there is very little "completely pointless" open space in the cities and most people live with a very minimal carbon footprint. Even the streets serve as accommodation ('walking houses'?) for countless thousands, so good 'high density' (tick), 'mixed use' (tick) with a 'vibrant street life' (tick). Who knows, it could become his model for the future of Bristol.

Also good news about Vala Ragnarsdottir. Although she is returning to her native Iceland, she will apparently be 'popping back' on a regular basis. That's 2,354 miles producing 310 kilos of CO2 for a return trip (economy class). No doubt she'll offset her carbon, so that's all right then, as long as the hoi polloi don't get it into their heads that they can behave the same way. Perhaps Bristol International Airport ought to be looking to establish direct flights to Reykjavik to keep their expansion plans on track during these difficult times.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Castle Green or Castle Grey?

The public inquiry has started into the claimed 'Town Green' status of Castle Park, a claim made to defend the green space from development such as that proposed by Deeley Freed for the western end of the park (pictured below) around St Mary le Port and St Peter's churches, along with the old Bank of England, Lloyds Bank and Norwich Union buildings. Although the public inquiry will be dealing with legal technicalities (does Castle Park qualify as a Town Green which cannot be developed), the underlying issues are very important and apply to a wide range of potential developments around the city.

The case for the developers is very ably put, as is usual these days, by professional PR consultants. They argue that including some of the park in the development will allow a better quality development overall with more benefits to the public, in much the same way as Squarepeg argue for the inclusion of green space from the Railway Path in their Chocolate Factory development. There can be little doubt that in principle at least including areas of green space in developments allows for the more profitable elements to cross-subsidise less profitable or unprofitable elements that otherwise couldn't be included.

But that leaves some fundamental questions. Firstly should we trust the developers and Bristol City Council when they claim that they are incorporating the green space in question for the greater public good? Well the developers would say that, wouldn't they. But can we trust the Council not to 'go native' and increasingly see things from the developers' perspective? Once I would have been inclined to give the the Council the benefit of the doubt on that. But now, after the Council pushed so hard for turning the Railway Path into a bus route?

The second question is 'if developing green space is potentially to the greater public good, what is to stop every single piece of green space in the city being developed on the same basis? What's true for one acre of green space is equally true for 10 acres or 100 acres. Although we all feel that green space has some value, it is very hard to quantify it and therefore give it sufficient weight to protect it from development.

At the Chocolate Factory in Greenbank George Ferguson, acting for the developers, famously called the green space of the Railway Path embankment, including 150 metres of mature hedgerow, "completely pointless", but others have taken a different view. Likewise at Castle Park we find that the same ploy of proposing 'cycle house' on green space (the green bank shown above) alongside the cycle route may be used, following developer 'consultations' with Sustrans, who appear to be happy to accept the wholesale urbanisation of cycle paths.

In the end the only protection for green space in the city will be ordinary citizens acting individually or collectively to assert the value of each piece of green space as it is threatened, as happened so spectacularly this year in relation to the Railway Path in east Bristol (above). Until such time as we can trust our own City Council to act in the interests of the public (which they manifestly failed to do with the bus route plan for the Railway Path) what other option is there but popular opposition to each and every proposal to develop green space?

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.