Thursday, 25 September 2008

Cabot Circus, Consumerism, Capitalism

If having a huge new shopping centre like Cabot Circus helped us to live happier, healthier, fairer, greener lives I’d be all for it but the opposite is the truth! I'm one of the people the Bristol Evening Post Comment of 26 Sept, 'Thanks due for our new retail centre', called 'cynics, doubters and critics' but far from 'sneering and carping' as the comment said, my case against developments like this is a perfectly rational and reasonable one.The celebration and advocacy of mass consumerism, the belief that the more we consume the better off we are, from all Bristol’s mainstream politicians and the media is remarkable, particularly in these pretty unprecedented times of credit crunch, economic downturn, resource depletion and environmental degradation. The system, with its short-termist banking, sleeping regulators and politicians who have sucked-up and basked in the glow of short-term ‘success’, allows a small number of people to take the profit whilst society pays the costs. As I write I’m watching news of crisis meetings in America between Bush, McCain and Obama, some of which have ended in shouting matches, about an absolutely massive $700 billion (£380 billion) bailout plan to save the US and thus the world economy! There are doubts about this plan and whether we have the leadership and the mechanisms needed to solve this problem.

Debt-funded mass consumption around the globe is causing extremely serious and urgent economic and environmental problems. So what do we do in Bristol? Build a massive shopping centre, including one of Europes biggest car parks!! Mass consumerist societies eat up resources (sparking oil price rises) like there is no tomorrow and spew out vast amounts of climate change causing carbon and very large amounts of all kinds of wastes, though some consumers are in denial about the effects of their high consumption. Cabot Circus fights against Bristol's 'green capital' ambition. It raises the city environmental footprint, already several times what it should be for sustainability, even further. This just adds fuel to the fire of economic downturn, social division and environmental decline. Its like being beaten on the head continually with a stick and asking for more, instead of ducking and doing something to stop the beating!!


Despite this Bristol's media has been in a positive frenzy for days now about the opening of Cabot Circus, producing some great reactions on local blogs (in particular the Bristol Blogger and the Green Bristol Blog). The BBC have given a great deal of free advertising to shops, playing their part in getting people to identify strongly with the products or services they consume, especially those commercial brand names with obvious status-enhancing appeal, even though they are not supposed to advertise (see Bristol Blogger). Often luxuries and unnecessary consumer products are social messages, all about keeping up with the Joneses. Any substitution of healthy human relationships, often lacking in our communities, for relationships with products or brand names is very unhealthy. Some say mass consumerism is a social control process, part of cultural leadership in modern society.

The Bristol Evening Post produced page after page of coverage, demonstrating how our culture is thoroughly permeated by mass consumerism. Bizarrely it has simultaneously published stories of shops and consumers in trouble due to the credit crunch (example here)! You could not make it up! They have painted a picture of optimism and happiness about the Cabot Circus launch over several editions but the evidence shows that mass consumption make us less happy!

It is satisfaction, security, stability and fulfillment that makes us happy but product advertisers and marketers (helped massively by the BBC, Bristol Evening Post and mainstream politicians...) have no interest in these things. It’s in their interest to see that needs become wants and that the wants are perpetuated. Thus mass consumerism favours selling products that wear out or break, instead of being made to last. Ever-changing fashion is similarly favoured because purchases in a nearly-new and good condition ‘must’ be replaced or you ‘wont be trendy’. This maintains sales and maximises profits, from which a small number of people gain. Fostering obsession with super-rich celebrities helps here (they feature in many ads, often dominate the media and are courted by politicians).

Local councillors and MPs have enthused about shops too. Bristol City Council Leader Helen Holland said that Cabot Circus 'is a quantum leap' beyond anyone's wildest dreams! Cant she dream any wilder than shops? There must be socialists from Labour's past turning in their graves! My MP Kerry McCarthy described Cabot Circus as ‘pretty stunning’ and sparked quite a hot debate on her blog.

All I seem to have succeeded in doing by persistently arguing the green case with my MP is annoying her. Cabot Circus wont prominently feature local products, quite the opposite. People will not on the whole walk or cycle there, the focus is on driving to the very large car park (see Green Bristol Blog on poor cycle access). Genuinely green items like recycled products or second-hand goods are very far from what it’s about. Plastic bags will be given out left right and centre!! The focus of Cabot Circus is more global economy than local economy, more about a small number of people getting rich than local people meeting their needs. Would it not have been much more valuable to individuals, neighbourhoods and communities in Bristol to get together a proper strategy to maintain and develop shops, services and jobs in each locality? We need development to be localised. Cabot Circus is a million miles from local production for local needs yet this is the pattern of development we need for a happier, healthier, fairer, greener and more convivial city!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Treasure nature, then vote to build on it - Labour Councillor Colin Smith

I was saddened and angered at the report that local conservationists failed to save a nature site in Bedminster. The local paper reports that the site is '...in a conservation area and a Site of Nature Conservation Interest' (see what these land designations are supposed to mean here and here). Such sites enhance the quality and wellbeing of our lives.

Malago Valley Conservation Group spoke of badger disturbance, bird-nesting habitat loss... Badgers are a species protected by law, including their own Act of Parliament.

These two comments in the local paper from Bedminster Labour Councillor Colin Smith got to me most of all. After visiting the site he said,

'It is a green lung for South Bristol to be treasured and it is almost secret.'

Despite, apparently, treasuring the nature site ie valuing as precious, Cllr Smith said,

'I'm going to have to support the employment issue' to attempt to justify the fact that he had just voted in favour of building over the green space as someone who sits on the relevant planning committee. Sheer hypocrisy!!

And what is the evidence that allowing the nature site to be cleared, hard-surfaced, fenced and lit will produce more jobs? All we have is the word of James Hennessy speaking on behalf of demolition group Wring, who indicated: that the company had employed many people locally over a long time [including a significant period co-existing with the wildlife!]; current jobs would be secured and the prospect of new jobs would be created. Not exactly detailed hard and fast evidence is it and no indication of the scale/size of any job creation.

How far and for how long can we and should we go down this 'treasuring of nature but then building over it' road? What are the limits? What do the terms conservation area, site of nature conservation interest and protected species actually mean in practice?

Conditions attached to the planning permission are better than nothing but far from solving any fundamental problems they may well mean people continue to permit developments that they should not. In this case conditions include ecological management and wildlife protection measures and landscaping. However, the area occupied by nature will be vastly cut and so there will be a very high net loss of habitat and food supply, resulting in loss of wildlife.

The local paper reports that 'If any badger setts are found on the site [they did not look beforehand then!] Wring will have to make arrangements for the animals to be accomodated nearby' . Moving badgers would no doubt distress them and no doubt they will be both stressed and have their survival threatened once 'accomodated nearby'. It may well be that the area of habitat and the food supply will be smaller.

Planning Bill: ungreen; undemocratic

Very happy to support Friends of the Earth's campaign on the new Planning Bill. That the Bill currently makes no mention of climate change and would thus allow major road, airport or power station developments to proceed without considering this major environmental impact speaks volumes about the Govt approach to tackling - or rather not tackling - this issue. Their thinking is just not joined up. I've just sent the message below, produced by Friends of the Earth, to my MP Kerry McCarthy, who I've been very critical of in several debates on her blog eg here. I will blog about any reply I receive.

I believe it is vital for our Government to protect the right to be involved in decisions that affect our community, and ensure we consider climate change when deciding major infrastructure projects such as roads, airports and power stations.

In a recent opinion poll, 95% of people surveyed believed that climate change should be considered in decisions on major projects.

The Planning Bill creates a new Infrastructure Planning Commission that is undemocratic and unaccountable. It also creates a system of national policy statements which outline separate rather than integrated policy on major infrastructure.

I believe that the elected Government should take the big decisions on major infrastructure and should consider climate change.

Please speak in support of an amendment to the Planning Bill which states the need to consider climate change on the face of the Bill.

BBC report on previous opposition to the Planning Bill here.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Make the right energy choices!

Green energy policy is first about efficiency and conservation, including funding free insulation for all homes (details here) which has the major advantages of avoiding means testing and maximising energy (and money) saving. The health, security, comfort and quality of our lives would all be much better for it - and the energy security of our country! We of course favour renewable energy sources like wind, solar and tidal power in general terms too. Getting a proper overall energy strategy is vital if we are to have the right emphasis on the right kinds of technologies in the right places eg Greens reject a Barrage across the Severn in favour of other tidal energy technologies like tidal lagoons and tidal stream turbines. Greens in the South West and in Wales are supporting the Stop the Barrage Now campaign, which has launched recently, and I'm very happy to be doing the liaison with this campaign for the party.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Change these plans to stop harm to wildlife

I understand why George Ferguson wants to emphasise what he sees as the upside of the 'cycle houses' development planned on/near the Bristol to Bath Railway Path (see report on plans in today's local paper). He is of course not an independent, dispassionate voice in relation to it though as he is Chairman of the architects of the plans (Acanthus Ferguson Mann)! He has apparently been intimately involved in discussions with the council about land purchase according to local blogs and has talked up how innovative the ideas behind the plans are! He would emphasise the positive wouldn't he.

A balanced, dispassionate, analytical approach would also consider the downside of the plans, in particular the impacts on wildlife, including protected species such as badgers and slow worms due to the loss of 150 metres of mature hedgerow on part of the site under current designs. Attempting to compensate for habitat loss, as is proposed, is highly problematic and inadequate. Will the council, developers and architects respond to significant public concerns and react to ensure that the plans are modified so that hedgerow and wildlife impacts are removed? This would also contribute significantly to retaining some of the user amenity value of the site due to its current green and pleasant character. I thought Bristol City Council had a Parks and Green Spaces Strategy to safeguard high quality greenery though its obviously not being applied to this area!!

I'll try to contact George direct about this and copy in someone at the council and at the developers. I will be objecting to the current plans on the basis outlined here and will also complain to the council that they have not carried out an environmental impact assessment and not followed the procedure on green spaces in their own strategy.

Monday, 15 September 2008

What place for legitimate nature conservation, environmental and amenity concerns in the face of high development pressures?

My MP, Bristol East's Kerry McCarthy, has been cajoled by myself and other local bloggers (here), into debating the sell-off of biodiverse green space on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path and the pros and cons of the proposed development on/near this land (see planning application details and form to submit comments, objections etc here). I was distinctly unimpressed with her initial unwillingness to engage in discussing the issue (she tried using her blog rules to try to avoid discussion at first but then engaged after further pressure from both the Bristol Blogger and Green Bristol Blog author Chris Hutt).

At least we have discussion somewhere now, thanks to bloggers and concerned locals. Bristol City Council has not consulted on the land sale, though the planning process now has to be gone through. I've not had a reply from Cllr Rosalie Walker (see here) on why this land is, apparently, not covered by the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy and have written to Kerry expressing concern about procedures and asking her to look into it.

I strongly disagree with the views my MP was pressed into giving on her blog, which appear to favour development on this high value green space which is home to such protected wildlife as badgers and sloworms (see Kerry's comments in italics below). What priority is Kerry giving to legitimate nature conservation, environmental and amenity value issues? Wouldn't we just build, on a small scale if its just a matter of scale*, anywhere eg Bristol's Downs, Leigh Woods, Ashton Court... if we shared Kerry's apparent attitude? The plans could and should in my view be scaled back and/or modified in the eastern portion at least, as the Railway Path is one of Bristol East's few good quality green spaces. This would address some of these issues whilst not impacting the development as a whole that much. Is this too much to ask??

MP Kerry McCarthy's view '...I've seen the Bloggers site, the Green Bristol site and others. I've looked at Square Peg's plans for the 'cycle houses' and am now following it up with various people (although I think I'm right in saying that no constituent has contacted me directly). I just haven't chosen to blog about it, and I'm not going to let other people dictate to me what I do and don't blog about. My initial view is that it doesn't look as if very much land is involved*, but I want to see for myself how the land is currently being used and whether the development would have a detrimental effect on the enjoyment/ use of the cycle path, or mean a significant loss of green space*. From the plans, it doesn't look as if that would be the case, but I take on board people's comments that the plans may be misleading.As for Kevin - several campaign leaflets have gone out to everyone in SGW and he's replying to everyone who has written back. If anyone raises this issue - and it hasn't come up on the doorsteps so far, not that I know - I'm sure he'll respond to them with his views.'
_____________________________________________________________


And more of her views '....And as for the railway path, as I've said it's a very small section* (100 metres acc to Chris) and I'm not opposed either to building upwards (I think it's overstating it a bit to call it a tower block) - how else would you suggest we find space for homes for the 19,000 people on the council waiting list? Obviously brownfield sites must be the priority, but it's not the entire solution. I'm also concerned about the number of houses being turned into flats, with associated problems re parking, and often anti-social behaviour from the people who rent them. We need family homes - but they've got to be built somewhere. Where do you suggest?'



Well, her own party's policy in Bristol says not on high quality green spaces !!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Flogging of Bristol green space: why no consultation?

Letter to the appropriate Executive Member of Bristol City Council's Cabinet seeking views and clarifications about the Bristol to Bath Railway Path land sell-off.


Dear Cllr Rosalie Walker


Please see the letter below I've just sent to the Bristol Evening Post [an adaptation of this blog post]. As the Executive Member for Culture and Healthy Communities I'd appreciate a response from you on the issues raised.


I'd be particularly grateful if you could clarify the status and designation of the land due to be sold on the Bristol to Path Railway Path. What are the council's 'stringent procedures' (according to the council's Pete Webb) on land selling that mean public consultation beforehand is not a requirement?


Does the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy not apply to this land? If not then could you please explain why? The strategy certainly mentions the Bristol to Path Railway Path as an example of an important green corridor so the lack of consultation before selling is most puzzling.


In your letter to me (dated 30 July), responding to my e-petition on the flogging of green spaces, you were at pains to empasise public consultation via the production of Area Green Space Plans. You also indicated that land outside the marginal, low value and surplus category would not be sold and yet land on the Railway Path is to be sold.


I look forward to your response.

___________________________________________________________________
Interesting link between this local issue and what new Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MEP has posted on her blog today (extract below):

Participation, co-operation and community ownership are the solutions to creating sustainable urban environments, Green Party leader and MEP for the South East will say at a panel debate in London today (11 September).


In a session entitled ‘Rethinking sustainability’ at the Stephen Lawrence 8th Annual Memorial Lecture, Dr Lucas will attack the ‘bricks and mortar’ approach of mainstream models of regeneration which prioritise quick profits over the need to empower community residents.


At the event hosted by the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, Dr Lucas will say:
“Plentiful green space, access to good public services and improved safety all lie at the heart of successful and sustainable communities. But in order to create neighbourhoods that really ‘work’ – economically, socially, culturally and environmentally – we also need to give people a stake in their communities.


“Reducing crime, improving prosperity, and ensuring access to services like a GP, good schools or just somewhere to kick a ball around are hugely important. Most of all though, a sense of community is crucial. Residents must be given genuine opportunities to participate in decision-making regarding their homes and areas.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Bristol to Bath Railway Path land sell-off: council response to my objection letter

I've today received a reply from Bristol City Council (below) to my letter objecting to the sell-off of Brstol to Bath Railway Path land owned by the public. My response, point by point, is in italics.




Dear Mr Vowles,

Further to your e-mail dated the 4th September, I respond to your concerns with regard to the potential sale of the land as follows:

The potential loss of the green corridor along side the Railway Path was raised as a concern by Bristol City Council's Nature Conservation officer. As such, if this sale proceeds it will be on the condition that Squarepeg engage in dialogue with this officer to ensure that proposals provide the necessary compensatory measures for any loss of habitat and vegetation.

*Attempting to compensate for loss of habitat and vegetation is highly problematic and sometimes controversial. ‘Nature knows best’ is a great guideline for conservation. The council’s Nature Conservation Officer will know that a potentially big compromise has been made. We may be getting better at compensation but measuring the full value of the land before development is in itself an issue. Then you cant simply and easily ‘put back’ mature, fully functioning ecosystems and so there is likely to be a loss of quality for some time and quality may never return to its best. When land is back to an ‘equivalent value’, if at all, is often very hard to say.

Some say that habitat compensation is based on an economists view of nature not an ecologists. It thus serves to accommodate development interests not those of sustainability, attempting to legitimize damaging economic growth.


With regard to the lack of consultation over the potential sale of the land adjacent to the railway path. Bristol City Council has stringent procedures which it must follow when disposing of land, these procedures do not require the council to carry out public consultation prior to disposing of this land.


*I had the opportunity to object to the land sale only because of what I read online in various blogs (here and here). This means that very many members of the public locally, who own the land via the council, have not had the same chance. This is unjust and undemocratic. Please could you reply outlining the ‘stringent procedures’ you refer to as I’d like to see exactly why they mean public consultation is not required. Even if technically not required under current procedures I am dismayed that the council does not take the view that consultation is desirable on grounds that openness and public participation is to be valued (I note that developers Squarepeg are keen to stress that they value an open approach in the report on this issue in the Bristol Evening Post).

I can confirm this sale is not a 'done deal' and that whilst discussions have taken place with Squarepeg over the potential sale. No terms have been agreed, when seeking authority to proceed with this sale your objection will be presented along with the proposed terms.

*Not a ‘done deal’??? But today’s Bristol Evening Post story refers to a spokesman for the council saying: "The developer of the chocolate factory is negotiating with the council, which is finalising an in-principle agreement to sell a small strip of land…’ Sounds to me like a deal is virtually done - what else does 'finalising an in-principle agreement' mean!?!?

If you wish to discuss this matter any further please do not hesitate to contact me on 0117 9224028.

*Please pass on my further objections along with my first letter. I'd appreciate a response to my points about the highly problematic nature of habitat compensation, what council 'stringent procedures' are, the lack of opting in to full and open participation of the public on the land sale and when exactly a deal is or is not done.

Yours sincerely


Peter Webb



Peter Webb
Portfolio Management Officer
Valuation Practice
Floor 6, B Bond
Smeaton Road
Bristol
BS1 6EE
Tel: 0117 922 4028
Fax: 0117 922 4676

Photo of land near the area concerned, by Martyn Whitelock. Lots of great photos of the path on his site http://railwaypath.blogspot.com/ well illustrating its green quality.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Vote for Knowle West !!

Please consider voting for the Knowle West Media Centre in the Royal Institute of British Architects (South West) Community Building Awards. Its very green and a massive amount of valuable work for the neighbourhood, community and city is centred there. '...the region's community buildings often play an unsung, understated yet undoubtably vital role in West Country life. Now, the Western Daily Press has joined forces with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) South West to today launch a brand new award recognising the value of these buildings and the unstinting effort put in by those supporting them.' (full story here).

You need to click on this link: http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/wdp/business/riba, then scroll down the bottom of the page to find the vote button. Deadline for voting is Thurs 11 Sept, 12 noon. You can also vote by txt message! To vote by text send message with the words: Wdp riba b for Knowle West Media Centre to the special text number 65100.

Party Conference: selection of policy motions passed

A selection of the motions passed at the recent Green Party Conference (below) shows the broad position and appeal of the party (full details of all party policies here). I'm particularly pleased to see the policies on: higher minimum wage; the right to rent if unable to pay your mortgage; zero carbon new houses by 2012; decent treatment for service personnel; a fair deal for Gurkhas; support for the Green New Deal; marine reserves.



* Support for the right of trade unions to establishworkplace
environmental representatives (a cause being supported by the TUC and many
unions).



* A call for an immediate end to the British opt-out of the European
Working Time Directive, and for the national minimum wage to be increased
to be in line with the Council of Europe Decency Threshold (60% of net
national earnings). This would currently mean a minimum of £8.17 per hour.



* A "right to rent" policy so that homeowners unable to meet mortgage
payments and under threat of repossession could transfer ownership of the
home, at less than market value, to the council, and then remain in the
home as council tenants.



* Policy was clarified to make it clear that the party is in favour of the
universal provision of a free lunch in all state schools in England and
Wales on every school day.



* A call for a plan to licence and purchase the Afghan opium crop, to be
processed into morphine and heroin for free or low-cost distribution in
developing countries for the use of pain relief in palliative care and for
other medically approved purposes.



* A call for building regulations to be tightened, and additional training
of architects and builders arranged, so that new buildings, extensions or
conversions meet tougher standards than those now applicable, and so that
all new dwellings are zero-carbon by 2012. (As a result of the workshop on
this motion a new housing email list is to be formed – contact internal
communications if you would like to join it.)



* A motion was passed stating that "Members should at all times, including
when proposing and implementing policy, be sensitive to the fact that the
Green Party does not and will not endorse or tolerate antisemitism, or
discrimination of any form."



* A call for a new contract between service personnel and the state
promising decent living standards to those injured, and to the dependants
of those killed, while asking them to sign a pledge to follow international
law, and to disobey any order requiring them to fire on unarmed civilians.



* Policy committee was asked to develop a new crime policy, and to
establish a crime and policing policy working group...



EMERGENCY MOTIONS




a. A call for Gurkhas and their families to be given fast track eligibility
for either the right to remain or citizenship in the UK, given their
exceptional service..



b. A call for Westminster MPs, who have control over the issue, to grant
the same access to abortion in Northern Ireland (where it is now almost
totally banned) as is available to women in England, Scotland and Wales.



c. A call for a full enquiry into the problems with policing the Climate
Camp at Kingsnorth.



d. A call for extensive highly protected marine reserves around the coast
of Britain to cover 30% of UK waters to 200 nautical miles by 2015.



e. Offering support for the Green New Deal (which was outline in a panel
session chaired by Caroline Lucas at which Tony Juniper, Jeremy Leggett,
Colin Hines and Ann Pettifor spoke).



f. Condemning plans by the Home Office to launch a central database of all
so-called "communications data" as a violation of civil liberties.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Pete Postlethwaite in 'The Age of Stupid'

According to Green Home (the very recently developed '...hub for Green Party bloggers, promoting the idea of a green blogosphere or community...') the film 'The Age of Stupid' was shown at the Green Party conference (on Saturday I think). It sounds great and I do like the work of Pete Postlethwaite who stars in it. I look forward to seeing it shown in Bristol (it will be released here early next year I'm told).



More news/bckground on this here.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

New Green Leader, "Energy companies robbing poor to give to the rich"

Great Peter Sissons BBC News interview with the new (and first ever) leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MEP here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7602163.stm

The BBC reports that,

In her speech to the London conference she called for a windfall tax on energy companies and a "Green new deal" of investment in energy efficiency.
Ms Lucas branded bosses of energy companies energy "robber barons".
She told the conference: "Just three companies - BP, Centrica and Shell - together made £1,000 profit every second over the first six months of this year.
"These corporations are robbing from the poor to give to the rich and they know it. And it's about time they learned that, in a progressive democracy, there is no place for robber barons."






For more information about Caroline Lucas and the Green Party leadership move:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7602202.stm
http://www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_Lucas
http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/carolinelucas
http://www.carolinelucas.org.uk/

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Bristol to Bath Railway Path land sell-off

Letter objecting to sell-off of land near/on Bristol to Bath Railway Path sent this morning to Bristol City Council Pete.Webb@bristol.gov.uk and Chanelle.Brodie@bristol.gov.uk . I urge others to object in writing too. Acanthus Ferguson Mann (see image) are the architects retained by developer Squarepeg. See the Green Bristol Blog and Bristol Blogger sites for more infromation on the issue, especially the lack of openness and public participation.


Dear Sir/Madam,

Railway Path land sell-off, Greenbank

I'm very concerned about the proposed Railway Path land sell-off at Greenbank, Bristol, linked with the planned development of the former chocolate factory. I'd like to register an objection to the sale of this land.

I dont want any of the green corridor of the Railway Path lost. The mature vegetation supports a wide range of biodiversity which would be adversely affected by the plans. In addition the greenery absorbs carbon from the air and the area would be less effective at doing so if developed. Users of the path are likely to experience a loss of visual amenity and the feel of the place will change negatively if developed as suggested.

I'm dismayed and unhappy that consultation on the land sell-off is completely lacking. The City Council are breaking at least the spirit of their stated openness and participation policies. One cant help but feel that behind the scenes its all a 'done deal' before it eventually reaches the public domain via planning processes.

I'd appreciate a response telling me exactly what the current situation is and how the council and developers respond to accusations of cutting biodiversity, reducing the carbon sink effect and reducing visual amenity with their plans.

Yours sincerely

Glenn Vowles
http://vowlesthegreen.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Rosy outlook for Bristol green spaces??

Bristol City Council Cabinet letter of response to my green spaces petition is below. I should first point out a number of things in response to the letter (bit of a rant coming I'm afraid as I found the letter patronising and infuriating, as scrolling down and scanning through it will quickly demonstrate to you!!).

I've made no statements at all that indicate that I recognise the importance of the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, except in the negative sense that it legitimises flogging land, though you could be forgiven for thinking I had looking at the letter's beginning. I have read all the relevant documents and understand them at least as well as, if not better than, Cllr Rosalie Walker. Its always a useful argument tactic to just tell your opponent they simply dont understand or are not aware (too stupid, too lazy...not labels that stick well to an academic egghead like me), though its not aimed at genuine debate (which would have involved Rosalie in the very hard task of explaining for instance how flogging off land to be covered in concrete helps rainwater management...).

I'm much more interested in what the council actually has done and is doing than what some documents say (though she fails to comment on the councils past record). I'm at a loss to see how flogging land can be consistent with council policies on health and wellbeing, climate change, rainwater management, biodiversity...none of which are likely to be improved due to green land becoming tarmac/concrete...

I simply dont believe that no-one at the council has looked at where land might be sold off - how did they come up with figures like 90 acres or the previous 200 acres if they have not looked and estimated? How genuine is the Area Green Space Plans process if the council already has a very good idea what it wants to flog and where?

As for being committed to not selling higher value land, what about planning to flog off strips of green space near/on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path for housing development, using technicalities as an excuse?

As for the Parks and Green Spaces strategy being popular, well I seriously doubt that the council has measured this fairly via its 'consultation' processes - I'm sure that investment in parks is something people want but I'm also confident that people dont want land flogged off to a sales target!

____________________________________________________________________


Dear Mr Vowles


E-petition – Protect and enhance green spaces instead of flogging 90 acres to developers


Thank you for using the council’s e-petition processes to contribute to the debate about the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy. I am pleased that you and fellow petitioners recognise the vital importance of this new policy framework for the city’s green spaces, which was adopted by the Cabinet in February this year. It would appear however that you have not read the strategy, or indeed if you have, not understood how the council intends to approach the admittedly complex issues over land disposal. Indeed you do not appear to have read nor understood the wider green space policy imperatives around health, climate change, biodiversity etc which underpin the proposed 20 year investment programme – and where the council, yourself and most of the petitioners are fully in agreement. I am of course assuming you are aware that the approved strategy and numerous background documents are available at http://www.bristol.gov.uk.parkstrategy/.


Regarding your concern over the lack of evidence to justify land disposals in the form of maps, lists and debate, I refer you to page 36 of the adopted strategy which explains how the council is interpreting value and states that this will drive any future decision on the potential disposal of ‘low value green space’. This page includes the following…….


“…value will, therefore, be assessed at the stage when Area Green Space Plans are being drawn up and sites are being identified as possible candidates for change of use/type or disposal.”


Page 44 further explains the process of producing Area Green Space Plans and includes the following….


“…This strategy document is not the end of the decision making process or to community involvement in what happens at the local level. We will develop “Area Green Space Plans” in consultation with local people and ward councillors, making specific proposals to improve quality and facilities and provide the parks people need in their local area……..Part of the analysis for producing Area Green Space Plans will be an assessment of value of those spaces identified as candidates for change of use or disposal.”


Further information on value assessment can also be found in appendix 5 of the strategy. If you would like to know more about the programme to produce Area Green Space Plans please email richard.fletcher@bristol.gov.uk who would be pleased to send you more information.


With regard to your concerns that the council will keep selling higher value green space to raise funding, the strategy also covers this in some detail. On page 42 concerning ‘resources’, this section summarises the ambitious investment plans for the city’s parks and green spaces which by the way attracted overwhelming support during last summer’s comprehensive public consultation.With an estimated £87m needing to be raised over the next 20 years to bring the green spaces up to a ‘good’ standard, an estimated £41m of this would be raised from property disposals, with 70% of the capital receipts reinvested in the strategy. This section goes on to state…..


“…The achievement of the strategy will be geared to the pace at which capital can be generated; this is why disposal of some land is essential if its ambitious quality improvements are to be realised. It is important to emphasise that it is not the intention of the council to keep selling land until the funding requirements of the strategy are achieved, irrespective of the importance and ‘value’ of the space to the community. On the contrary, should there be insufficient ‘low value’, marginal land available once the area planning process has been concluded, the council will review the ambitions of the strategy and consider alternative funding sources.”


This means that if the Area Green Space Plans do not identify 90 acres of ‘low value’ space that higher value land will not be sold to achieve any area or funding targets.

I hope that this to some extent eases your concerns over the way the strategy is going to be delivered. We appreciate that some residents feel that every square metre of green space needs to be protected at all costs – however our research and consultation has demonstrated that a large majority are more concerned to see the quality of our parks and green spaces improved and that a small loss of quantity to help raise funding for this purpose, and to release land for essential needs such as affordable housing, is a compromise worth making and in the wider public interest.


Yours sincerely


Councillor Rosalie Walker

Executive Member for Culture and Healthy Communities

Darling, you need to do much more

Chancellor Alistair Darling's moves to help the economy eg homes under £175,000 exempt from 1% tax (for a year) are very unlikely help much, both in terms of numbers of people and the extent of help. The scale of his action is basically much too small and narrow. One article in The Guardian says,

'But if Gordon Brown and his beleaguered chancellor were hoping their £600m initiative would reinvigorate the moribund housing market - and kickstart Labour's much-trailed autumn economic "relaunch" - observers yesterday gave a muted response to the measure they predicted would have only a minimal impact on the housing crisis.'
I think he should look at all the proposals in the 'Green New Deal' and take on a much bolder and bigger approach, addressing the whole range of very pressing economic issues. This would eg include 'Reining in reckless aspects of the finance sector - but making low-cost capital available to fund the UK's green economic shift'.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

No to merging Ilminster and Connaught Schools; reject the approach of the Primary School Review


Two very clear and strong reasons why I am vigorously opposed to the merger of Ilminster School, where I went, and Connaught School, where my mum went, in Knowle/Knowle West and have from the beginning been opposed to the whole approach, creating fewer and bigger schools outlined in the current Primary School review being done by Bristol City Council. First, the letter above from today's Bristol Evening Post ' Why smaller schools are better', written by Gil Osman, which outlines why, educationally and socially, smaller schools are better.
Second, this story from the same paper on the same day 'Failing Bristol schools should be closed' which begins, 'A Government official has recommended Bristol City Council closes all its poor-performing primary schools.' This is an apalling and outrageous statement from a remote and anonymous official - what does this person really know about the needs and wishes of the local children, their families and communities and of the schools and their employees?? How is this approach supposed to motivate and support those teaching and those taught? The story goes on to illustrate well just how tightly central govt controls and directs what councils can do by attaching strict criteria to be met when applying for govt money. We need to stand up for local democracy and local communities and oppose diktats.

Green space flog off: so it goes...

Great post over on the Green Bristol Blog about the flogging off of strips green land next to/on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. Further commented upon on the Bristol Blogger site. I dont trust the city council one bit with the future of city green spaces.