Sunday, 30 November 2008

The more we buy the better off we are?????


The celebration and advocacy of mass consumerism, the belief that the more we consume the better off we are, in this weekend's Suzanne Savill column 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. How is continued mass consumption going to solve the problem of meeting the needs of the worlds people in a way that can be sustained Suzanne?? If consumerism helped us to live happier, healthier, fairer, greener lives I’d be all for it but the opposite is the truth!

See: http://www.buynothingday.co.uk/ and this BBC report about a local economics graduate beginning an experiment to live for a year without money:

Friday, 28 November 2008

Bristol City new stadium proposal: club obliged to compensate for large environmental impacts

'Bristol City Chairman Lansdown unveils vision for the future' says the headline. Its a development I'm very interested in, so I posted this comment on the newspaper website:

If this stadium is built surely the club should do their absolute utmost to compensate for the large scale loss of green land and other associated environmental impacts. Are they prepared to consider creating permanently protected natures reserves around the new ground and employing the latest energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable transport technologies...as part of their design?? Lets not forget that in this very same area there are also proposals for mass house building, new road construction and possibly an arena! We must not forget ecological footprint considerations!!

This drew a response from 'Dan, Downend', who said, 'the land is not restricted or protected, therefore City dont have to do anything that you suggest. I'm sure there will be considerations as with any major building, but there is no obligation nor should there be'

He forgets that it is green belt land!! Its not been mentioned much, if at all, in the press stories about the proposals for the new stadium. Green belt is a 'land use designation used in land use planning to retain areas of largely undeveloped, wild, or agricultural land surrounding or neighbouring urban areas.' (wiki). So there are supposed to be restrictions on development and there is supposed to be protection for land - therefore Bristol City can be considered to have an obligation. Seems fair to me.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Happy coincidences!!

What !? Yet another award for Bristol? Come on!!!

The local paper says,

'Bristol has been crowned "European city of the year" after scooping an urban environment award.

The city beat off competition from fellow finalists Manchester and Newcastle [/Gateshead] at the awards held in St George's Hall in Liverpool.

The occasion was the annual awards ceremony held by the Academy of Urbanism, whose 100 members include industry-leading architects, planners, engineers, developers and designers.... (http://www.academyofurbanism.org.uk/)

Can this recent glut of awards or consideration for awards for Bristol - European Green Capital shortlisting, top of Sustainable Cities Index, Cabot Circus shopping centre of the year, and now European City of the Year - possibly be considered well thought out, fair and objective assessments? No they can't, both for the reasons I've previously covered and because the same people and/or sort of people who have an interest and involvement in that being judged also have an interest or involvement in the organisation doing the judging !!

Now, to my knowledge there is no indication of anything underhand happening (lets call it 'happy coincidence') but some rather circular and self-congratulatory processes have occurred. Assessment cannot therefore be considered objective, unbiased and dispassionate. What the awards offer us then is just the subjective assessment of one narrow group of people.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Cabot Circus: best shopping centre in the world?!?!

This is getting beyond a joke. Good sense, common experience and well thought out honest assessment was recently defied: when Bristol was shortlisted to be European Green Capital; when the city came top of Forum for the Future's Sustainable Cities Index and was called the greenest city in the UK. Now there is yet more ridiculous and laughable hype as the local paper reports that 'Cabot Circus is"best in the world" ', stating:

Cabot Circus in Bristol has been named the best shopping centre of the year - despite being open just two months.

An international panel of expert judges selected Bristol's new £500m retail centre from a shortlist of three leading shopping centres, including Forum Mersin in Turkey and Zlote Tarasy in Poland.

Judges for the MAPIC EG Retail Awards praised the "seamless integration" of Cabot Circus into Bristol and the impact that the 1.5 million sq ft development has had on the rest of the city since it opened in September.

They said Cabot Circus had "changed the entire city and for one shopping centre to do that is quite an achievement".

Bristol City Council Leader Helen Holland yet again goes massively over the top with her 'wonderful' and 'stunning' judgements on this bunch of shops selling masses of imported goods and very inaccurately states that 'Bristol has the most powerful city economy in the UK outside London...'.

If Cabot Circus is so good that its changed the entire city where is the solid evidence, gathered over time? If its about Bristol where does it prominently feature local products? If it's consistent with the green city/capital ambition why the focus on driving to the very large car park? Where are the genuinely green products? Why are plastic bags given out left right and centre?? Why no mention of how it has increased Bristol's already very large and unsustainable footprint?

As I've emphasised before, '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!'

Keep Castle Park Green...

Received the details below from a friend and am passing them on:

Keep Castle Park Green. Come to the public inquiry

Bristol City Council and the developers Deeley Freed are still intent on building on our green space. In a bid to stop this, Castle Park User Group submitted an application to the council to register Castle Park as a Town Green. If successful, the green space will be permanently protected from development. The council and the developers constitute the main objectors to the proposal and the issue is going to a public inquiry.

Support the move to protect our green space for all time.

The public inquiry begins on 1st December 10.00 a.m. at the Old Council House, Corn Street, Bristol.

Assemble 9.15am outside the Old Council House bring banners and placards.

The inquiry is due to run for one week, with two evening sessions.

The times are 10.00am to 5.00pm each day, plus Monday & Wednesday 6.00pm to 8.00pm.

There is more information on the internet at:-
www.castlepark.org.uk

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Appeal to Bristol City Council's Chief Executive

Email sent to Bristol City Council Chief Executive Jan Ormondroyd this weekend appealing for her to review my complaint about the council not following its own green spaces policy:

I've been looking at the council complaints policy and conclude that Stage 3 involves a review by the Chief Executive. I asked Complaints Manager Tim Sheppard about this and was told that 'The CX will not have "reviewed" your complaint but she will have read it and will be aware of the issues.' Having pondered this I find myself somewhat confused.

Tim did confirm to me that the council complaints system had been exhausted (leaving me free to approach the Ombudsman) but I dont think this can be considered the case until you have reviewed it. Can you confirm that the council complaints policy involves, in Stage 3, a review by the Chief Executive?

Can you confirm a) that you have read my complaint and are aware of the issues b) that you will now review my complaint or do whatever is required to fully comply with council complaints policy?

Sorry to be a pain but I really must insist that you conduct a review, unless you can explain that its not a compulsory part of council policy of course. This is because I need to ensure that I've gone through the whole of the council complaints procedure before it can be considered exhausted. I dont want to go to the Ombudsman only to find that they reject what I send, telling me to get back on to you/the council. This would represent considerable waste of time and effort.

Many of the key issues are addressed in the most recent exchanges between Tim Sheppard and myself ( see below).
__________________________________________________________

In addition to a response to the above email I'm also awaiting a reply from Complaints Manager Tim Sheppard to the points I made in the post below. I'm also waiting for a response to my request for a meeting with David Bishop, Strategic Director for City Development and Regeneration at the council and Steven McNamara, Head of Legal Services at the council. I've also sent a message to George Ferguson asking if he is willing to meet with me to discuss modifying the cycle houses development plans and a range of other matters (I previously contacted him but had no ackowledgement).

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Council green spaces policy to classify land not needed - senior council officers on the council have done it for us!

The latest on my complaint to Bristol City Council about them not following their own policy on green spaces. My response to each point from Council Complaints Manager Tim Sheppard is in blue:


Dear Mr Vowles

David and I have now discussed this matter and for information, I have described below the Council's position.

Tim, the word you used in your email to me was that you would ‘investigate’ the matter (ie David Bishop's decisions in this instance). ‘Investigate’ means to search and examine – have you done any searching and examining outside of the discussion with senior officer David Bishop you refer to??

You will be aware that this development offers an opportunity for an innovative exercise in linking cycle houses with the Bristol to Bath cycle path. Difficulties initially emerged as the strip of land in question has some ecological merit. This prompted George Ferguson to contact David Bishop to discuss the merits of the scheme and ask him to examine the council's initial position on the sale of this stretch of land.

With respect, the merits or not of the proposed cycle houses is not the issue since the development that features them could easily go ahead without destroying the hedgerow and being built up close to the cycle path. It just needs shifting a short distance back from the path and a little redesign and/or scaling back as appropriate.

Interesting that officers within the council advised that the land has ecological merit, which is my view, whereas in a recent Bristol Evening Post story George Ferguson called it ‘pointless scrubland’. Interesting that George Ferguson a) gets to know of the view formed and advice then given within the council on land he has a significant interest in and b) easily and promptly has access to a senior council officer who has significant powers to make key decisions c) obviously has had considerable influence on decisions made given that ‘difficulties that initially emerged’ before contact are not difficulties after. How much did the public know, especially in the local area, and how much access to senior council officers could they easily get? How much influence on David Bishop would they have had? Council policy, the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy says about land value, on page 36,

"...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 of green space or disposal".

Clearly in this case this has not happened. The complex issue of total land value has been decided by senior officer David Bishop and a few other officers, following an intervention by the highly influential George Ferguson.

Given that the Council was on the cusp of becoming the first Cycle City, a proposition that used a small piece of the Council's land to enable such an innovative idea - almost a cycling service station on a flagship cycle route (notwithstanding the fact that planning permission still needed to be obtained and no-one could make any presumptions about that) - was very attractive. If such an idea came to fruition, Bristol would enhance its cycling/green capital reputation still further, and more people would be attracted to cycle and walk along the path in future. Bristol's residents would get healthier as a result and any traffic modal shift would make a contribution to reduced congestion and enhanced air quality, all aims the Council is vigorously pursuing.

Please see my previous comments about the merits or not of the proposed cycle houses not being the issue. There are many ifs in this third pragraph that I’d like to point out though: if Bristol became the first Cycle City (the decision had not then been made in Bristol’s favour); if any development successfully went through the planning process (official plans were not submitted at this time and so there was no public consultation on official plans); if the cycle houses enhance city cycling/green capital reputation significantly; if traffic modal shift is significant…

Promises are not a firm basis for a major decision that goes against advice and does not involve consultation with the public, stakeholder groups nor, so far as I know, elected councillors. The paragraph sounds to me more like someone’s sales pitch, based on imagery and inflated potential impacts, rather than solid ideas based on evidence.

There is more to a piece of land than its size, though we are talking about well over 100 metres of mature hawthorn hedgerow which officers judged to have ecological merit. Quality, value and significance of land are not a matter that can finally be decided completely objectively or should be decided by a small number of people – the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy acknowledges this and outlines a procedure (the drawing up, by agreement in localities, of Area Green Space Plans). My complaint also raised the issue of plans not being accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment - responses from you have not explained the council decision that an EIA was not needed. Is it the case that an EIA was deemed unnecessary just on the basis of the size of the land involved??

Bristol City Councils green capital reputation depends in part on the quality of and implementation of its policy on green spaces.
No doubt the city’s application to become the European Green Capital includes outlining the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy. However, the procedures it outlines clearly have not been applied.

A discussion about the proposed land sale and the questions that it raised, was had with Transport, Property and senior Culture & Leisure Services staff, which included the relative merits of cycle houses versus negative localised ecological impact. It was felt that because the eventual development control process could ensure that ecological mitigation measures were secured, on balance we should support the principle of the land sale, subject of course to the development progressing.

The fourth paragraph raises more questions than it answers. Just one discussion? Seems a cursory treatment to me. What laid down, publicly available criteria were used to judge the relative merits, so that accountability for decisions is built in? How does one objectively weigh up very different types of benefits/costs? Cycle house benefits are only promised whereas ecological loss due to habitat destruction is relatively easily established – was this accounted for? Were any elected representatives involved at any point? Were any stakeholders involved? Were the public involved? What reference was made to the letter and spirit of council green spaces policy and the principles and procedures it outlines? Was the option of promptly getting an Area Green Space Plan put in place for this land ever discussed? How/where does accountability come into play??

No ecological mitigation measure details were then available and so assessing the quality and potential success rate of these was not possible. In any case there is a serious debate about whether mitigation measures are often just a sop to developers, allowing their plans to proceed by requiring environmental action sufficient to appear to be full compensation when in fact it most often falls short.

Property Services staff were advised to progress their discussions with the developer accordingly, which we believe will have given them the necessary confidence to progress their scheme to the next stage, albeit of course the land sale will not be finalised until much later, if planning permission is secured and the development progresses.

The decision that the benefits of ‘cycle houses’ outweighs ecological losses and that therefore selling the land is ok in principle, is a big decision in favour of the plans now submitted. This decision by senior and powerful council figures puts massive pressure on any officers and councillors involved in processing the plans and making decision on them. The pressure is clearly favouring the granting of planning permission because if it was refused then all those supposed net benefits that some are convinced of are lost.

These sorts of balanced considerations, and resultant decision making, are the day to day function of senior managers such as David and I am satisfied that no policies or advice has been ignored or over ruled nor was it a hasty decision. I am also satisfied that the necessary checks and balances are in place to ensure the public have an opportunity to express their views.

Sorry but how do you expect me to be satisfied with your conclusion? If there were straightforward answers to my complaint why were they not made available within the initial 15 working day deadline? Two months have passed now since I complained. The appearance, at least, of the situation is that its taken the council all this time to agree a line of argument!!

It may well be that this sort of decision is within the remit of senior officers like David Bishop, though I will ensure that I ask he Ombudsman to look into this to check.

I see
little or no evidence that the procedures outlined in the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy have been followed – perhaps you can provide it for me??

Clearly the weight of initial officer advice about the ecological value of the land has not counted for much compared with David Bishops view after the intervention of George Ferguson followed by discussions you outline. The
key decisions on land selling appear to have been made within a timescale of less than two weeks - very short compared with the two months its taken for the council to reply to basic questions from me! It appears, at least, that Mr Ferguson's intervention speeded along the decision nicely.

You’ve still not provided me with any reference to documents showing arrangements/criteria used for making judgements if policies conflict (not that they should). Likewise you’ve not outlined any interim arrangements that were prepared in order to allow sufficient time for Area Green Space Plans to be put into place. Are there or have there been meetings since my complaint to outline criteria I refer to or to make interim arrangements? In short, how is the council building in accountability and participation of some sort? Does the council admit that David Bishop and other should have consulted more widely eg via stakeholders before deciding that a land sale was on and that further discussin with a buyer could proceed?

At present it seem perfectly clear that development pressures will most often win against the need to protect and conserve green spaces – I had this made pretty clear when attending recent initial meetings on establishing the Area Green Space Plan for Knowle, Filwood and Windmill Hill (discussion of Filwood’s green spaces was ruled out by officers running the meeting, who explained that this was because big ‘regeneration’ plans were due to be finalized in the coming months and they did not know what the ward might look like should plans go ahead!)

I believe this now brings all these matters to a close. Should you wish, you can now add this to your complaint to the Ombudsman.

I felt it was worth replying to this latest message even though your closing sentences sound very much like you want no further communication with me. Should I send off details of my complaint to the Ombudsman I believe your message and my reply will be valuable to them as a summary of some key issues. However, I’ve still not sent anything yet, in part because further freedom of information requests may help to clarify the situation and I am still hoping to be able to meet with David Bishop and Steven McNamara face to face and have copied them in to this reply so that it doubles as a request for a meeting. I’m not hopeful that they will agree to meet with me as I think they most probably view me as a stirrer and trouble-maker rather than the truth (someone who initially just asked a few questions and felt compelled to follow up from there because of lack of answers).

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Ashton Vale wildlife habitat vandalism update: questions to council Cabinet

As I've described previously I've been to Ashton Vale with a few green friends (see here and here), including Tess Green, and seen the environmental vandalism first hand. Tess has now submitted some excellent and authoritative questions (below) to the next meeting of the council's Cabinet. Its going to be a very interesting meeting with lots of tough, probing questions put!!

I should like to submit the following questions to Cllr. Rosalie Walker at the meeting of the Cabinet on 27th November 2008.

DESTRUCTION OF WILDLIFE HABITAT AT ASHTON VALE

The City Council will be aware of the destruction of mature hedgerow and damage to adjacent land, which took place on the mornings of 5th and 6th September 2008 at the west end of Ashton Drive and along Colliters Brook, to the distress of local people.

No permission for the destruction of hedgerow was sought by the owners of the land and as a result the City Council was denied the opportunity to survey the site beforehand or to offer advice on the legal protection afforded to wildlife there.

Local people were not consulted, breaching the Guidelines in Planning Policy Statement 9. If they had been consulted they would have been able to provide information about the wildlife species to be found in the area, which included foxes, deer, many varieties of water and hedgerow birds, amphibians, badgers and signs of otters and water voles as well as, of course,hedgerow, wetland and meadow plants.

Many species are of course protected under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the Habitats Directive, Conservation (Natural habitats etc.) Regulations 1994 and other regulations.

Otters, badgers, water voles and crested newts have specific protective legislation.
The City Council has a duty to have regard to the conservation of biodiversity and this is recognised in the Biodiversity Action Plan, which particularly mentions protection for water voles and otters.

What steps are being taken by the City Council to

a) prosecute those responsible for these breaches of the law and acts of environmental vandalism and

b) prevent further similar acts by irresponsible developers of land, which may be inhabited by important wildlife species?

Will the City Council offer assistance to the local people of Ashton Vale who want restoration of as much of the habitat as possible?

TESS GREEN, SOUTHVILLE

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Council green spaces policy to classify land not needed - land and property developer has done it for us!!

The controversy concerning the 'cycle houses' development and the council not following its own policy on green spaces has finally been reported, to a limited extent, by the local newspaper even though local bloggers (here, here, here and here for instance!) including me, have been banging on about it for months now!!!

Developer George Ferguson, Chairman of Architects AFM, is quoted as saying this, which is particularly infuriating as well as missing the point:

"This strip of land is a completely pointless bit of scrub land"

As a land and property developer its no surprise that George Ferguson speaks dismissively, contemptupusly even, about the quality of the land he wants to build over. Council officers advised against selling green land for this development due to its wildlife value and contribution to the green character of the area.

What Mr Ferguson needs to understand is that all land covered by the councils policy, the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, should according to that policy, have an Area Green Space Plan drawn up before it is disposed of or has its use changed in any way. This has not happened in this case. Its not for developers to classify land quality for us as if they know best!

It appears that some senior officers at the council have taken some very speedy and rather ad hoc decisions on selling land that do not accord with the principles, procedures and spirit of council policy at all.

I've been so concerned about this that as far back as Sept I submitted a formal complaint to the council via their system (See here for details and to track the lengthy history of the complaint).

They missed deadline after deadline for giving me a full and formal response and still have not answered all my queries satisfactorily. I've recently had it confirmed in writing by the Council's Corporate Complaints Manager that I have exhausted the complaints procedure and am free to take my complaint to the Local Govt Ombudsman for independent investigation. This has become a very serious issue indeed because if straightforward answers to my complaint existed they would have given them to me easily within the 15 working day deadline - but two months has now passed since I first complained !!

I emailed Mr Ferguson and others asking him to scale back the development in one small area, in order to stop the destruction of a mature hedgerow over 100 metres in length and to conserve the green character of this part of the Bristol to Bath Railway Path - he did not even acknowledge let alone respond to my appeal (recorded on my blog and in a letter published in the Post) even though he initiated some limited contact with other people who want his 'cycle houses' development.

Its no surprise at all to me that this issue has escalated to the point where Ashley Fox, a respected Tory Councillor is asking questions of the Labour run Bristol City Cabinet at its 27 Nov meeting, where I also have questions tabled.

We must establish that developers must not drive council policy or have any undue influence over it. We must establish that officers must follow council policy, which should be clear, coherent, consistent and open, so that people can be held to account. We must establish that council officers do not decide what to do on an ad hoc basis. Unfortuneately things look pretty bad at the council currently so the Ombudsman will have some work to do investigating the situation in the coming weeks and months.

Transport concerns in Knowle and elsewhere in Bristol

Questions to the Bristol City Council Cabinet meeting of 27 November submitted today – for Cllr Mark Bradshaw, Member for Sustainable Development (which encompasses transport and planning I believe). They relate both to Knowle and to wider issues.

Speeding concerns in Knowle
Residents in the Wootton Park, Callington Rd and Airport Rd area of Knowle have raised concerns with me about frequent speeding, road safety issues, and high levels of both air and noise pollution. This part of Knowle is included in an Air Quality Management Area and is a noise pollution hotspot according to the council’s excellent work on noise mapping. Cutting speed limits will cut the frequency and severity of road accidents and cut air and noise pollution.

1. Will the council commit to gathering further information on speeding, road safety, air and noise pollution in and around these three roads, including gathering information on accidents and near accidents from local residents?

2. As part of any review of speeds on A roads what consideration will the council give to

a)reducing the 40mph speed limit on Callington Rd and Airport Rd to 30mph
b)reducing the 30mph speed limit on Wootton Park to 20mph
c)cutting speed limits in general across the city wherever it is appropriate eg on M32 (or parts of it), in order to improve air quality, cut carbon emissions, cut noise and improve road safety

South Bristol Link: Road Traffic Impacts.

1. Given that the only reference in the consultation documents to altered traffic levels created by a 'road' option between Hengrove and Long Ashton, is that it "may increase traffic on King Georges Road", has any traffic modelling been done that might offer a bit more certainty to the West of England planners, and might give consultees a more realistic picture of what they’re invited to comment on?

2. If one of the road options is chosen, thus creating a de facto South Bristol Ring Road, what is its likely impact on

a) traffic levels along Airport Road/ Callington Rd/Wootton Park
b) total vehicle miles (compared with 'do nothing', or the public transport option)
c) air quality in the vicinity of Callington Rd, Wootton Park, Airport Rd and the South Bristol Sports Centre

Whitchurch to City Centre Cycleway

Can you confirm to what extent (if any) the Cycling City budget will be used to fund property acquisition along the line of the proposed Callington Road Link (the disused railway cutting between Tesco Brislington and Arnos Vale) as part of the proposed Whitchurch to Centre cycle route ?


I will report any responses received on this blog.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Population: a vital part of the sustainability picture

Excellent post over on Jonathon Porritt's blog about population, originally done for Greenpeace Business but refused because they felt it was too controversial. Below is a brief extract from it. Its well worth a read. We need to tackle population and related issues by reason, information, education and any changes we can establish a reasonable consensus on.



The governments of many of the poorest countries in the world are crying out for financial support for family planning, but are not getting it. The lives of countless millions of women are devastated by their inability to manage their own fertility, and hundreds of thousands die every year because of illegal abortions or complications from unwanted pregnancies. But their voices go largely unheard. On top of all that, every single one of the environmental problems we face today is exacerbated by population growth...


Being food secure, energy secure, and water secure...is very much harder the higher human population is and the faster it grows. Sex and relationships education the world over has never been more important.

Great campaigning work for primary schools in Knowle and Knowle West

'Stupid', 'ignorant' and 'inflammatory' remarks have indeed been made by some online commenters on this story about the great efforts of people in Knowle/Knowle West to stop the merger of Ilminster Avenue and Connaught Primary Schools. I strongly support locals, like Mil Lusk, who have done a great job of gathering hundreds of signatures on a petition against merger. There is a great deal of valuable community-strengthening work being done by many in Knowle West - why do people have to label and stereotype as these commenters have??

I commented online a few times as below, to support views expressed by Kerry and Melanie especially:
______________________________________________________
*I agree strongly with Kerry and Melanie. There are very strong educational reasons for stopping the creation of large primary schools - smaller schools can offer better quality -ask the private sector!! I think the Primary Schools Review that has decided on this merger has more to do with money and building houses on the old sites and their green spaces than the quality of education.
________________________________________________
**Brian, Claude and all those only interested in labelling and stereotyping. You seem to have forgotten the hundreds of people who signed the petition to save the schools and all the determined campaign organisers. All these people are concerned about their childrens education and the progress of their community. Its all too easy to snype and be cynical.

To Martin I would say that smaller schools are just what is needed in the Knowle and Knowle West communities, as in many others. Individuals dont get dwarfed in smaller schools and personalised learning is better fostered. Relationships between teachers, parents, guardians, and pupils, as well as the wider community tend to work better, as its easier for everyone to get to know each other well and develop productive links.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Questions to Bristol City Council Cabinet on green space flogging controversy

My complaint to Bristol City Council about them not following their own policy on green spaces (originally posted on here) and all the work done by the Bristol Blogger and by the Green Bristol Blog’s Chris Hutt has resulted in questions being submitted to the next meeting of Bristol’s Cabinet by Councillor Ashley Fox (details here). I will be submitting the questions below to the next Cabinet meeting as I think they fit in well with the excellent ones from Councillor Fox -

Parks and Green Spaces Policy not being followed:

1. Why have the procedures outlined in the Parks and Green Spaces policy not been applied, 10 months on from agreeing it, to all the land it covers ?

2. Area Green Space Plans should preceed any land selling or development - were interim, proper, clear and open arrangements (to allow for the establishment of Area Green Space Plans) made?

3. If no interim arrangements were made did this result in some ad hoc decisions on land sales being made by very small numbers of people?

4. Were any agreements to sell land entered into despite interim arrangements being made?

________________________________________________________________

I’ve posted on some of the (long) history of my complaint here but need to update this with recent communications (see below) for anyone that needs/wants to track developments. My apologies for the lengthy nature of all this but the council have dragged this out and appear to have delayed at all opportunities, right from the start. You’ll note that many of the specific points I raise are simply not addressed and that replies are hardly detailed or backed by references:

Tim Sheppard, Council Complaints Manager, writes: 11 Nov

I write in response to the recent emails we have exchanged. I can confirm that the complaint you raised with me in your email dated 18 Sept 2008 has now exhausted the Council’s complaints procedure and you are free to take the matter up with the Ombudsman.

I must point out the the the issue of the behaviour of David Bishop, that you raised with me in your email of 3 November, is something the Council would like the opportunity to respond to. However, this will not prevent you taking the matter up with the Ombudsman or prevent them making initial enquiries of us.

_____________________________________________________________
Glenn Vowles writes: 7 Nov

Can you supply me with written confirmation that the council complaints
procedure has been exhausted and that I no longer regard the council as a
full unbiased investigator in this instance. I will then proceed with the
Ombudsman form filling.

____________________________________________________________
Glenn Vowles writes: 6 Nov

I'm not at all happy with this, though I very much welcome further investigation of David Bishop's actions. The Parks and Green Spaces Strategy does not say that it is there to act as a framework for guidance - it lays down specific procedures to be followed. A Cabinet member has spelt this out clearly in a letter to me. I feel that there are people overruling council policy whenever they see fit.

I'm not convinced that all officers involved in decisions on green spaces and complaints relating to them will act and are acting objectively. I'm extremely concerned about bias and weak answers unsupported by references to laid down council positions so that the public can assess what their council is likely to be doing. Policies need to be consistent and coherent!! At the least if conflict occurs between policies then there should be a clear procedure for dealing with this laid down in writing so that the public can see what's going on.

I therefore seek your support in taking this to the Ombudsman and ask you to give me guidance on exactly how you can/will support me in this urgently.

________________________________________________________________
Tim Sheppard, Council Complaints Manager, writes: 6 Nov

I've now had the opportunity to discuss the situation with colleagues and write with my response.

I believe we now have two separate but related issues. The first is your original complaint and the second is contained in the third paragraph of your email below.

On the first issue, I am now satisfied that the response I provided in my email of 22 October does indeed address the issues you raised. The essence of the matter involves the purpose of Council policies. As I see it, they act as a framework to help guide progress, they are not rigid and absolute prescriptions. There will be times when there is a tension between differing policies and tension between desired actions and the aspirations of a policy. It is then for the Council to consider these competing needs and take a balanced view. This is what I believe has taken place and what lies behind the actions taken by David Bishop.

It is however, important we have the opportunity to fully address the issue of the actions of David Bishop. To this end, I propose to investigate and make a separate response to you. I would hope to complete this exercise by the end of next week.

As we have discussed, you are free to contact the Ombudsman if you are unhappy with the progress of this matter.

__________________________________________________________
Glenn Vowles writes: 3 Nov

Many thanks Tim, that's very clear and helpful. I look forward to the
reply in a few days (though see my comments below, which may impact on
how/whether you respond).

I must say that I do feel that the council has had a reasonable
opportunity to respond already. A lot of time has passed and several
people at all levels of seniority at the council have been involved to
some degree but still I dont have a fully satisfactory set of answers.

I think I have established that what the council is doing with green space
is not in accord with its policy on green space. It seems apparent, from
documents obtained within the last week or so by The Bristol Blogger using
freedom of information legislation, that David Bishop, the most senior
planning officer has ignored/overruled other depts and advice from other
officers and has made far reaching and speedy decisions on green space
disposal that go beyond council policies.


Given what I've said above my confidence that the council will/can address
the issues I have raised with objectivity is pretty low and getting lower
as more information is revealed. There may be several key people on the
council who are both involved in investigating my complaint and advising
you on what you should say to me who simultaneously have emerged as a key
part of my complaint because of the decisions they have taken - thus they
have a strong vested interest. I think ultimately the consequences
could/should seriously affect a highly paid career(s). In order for my
complaint to be investigated in an unbiased way and to be seen to be
investigated in this way it may be that Ombudsman involvment is essential
and indeed that you may prefer this. You may be able to reassure me about
the potential for bias however.

______________________________________________________
Tim Sheppard Council Complaints Manager writes: 3 Nov

I am not yet in a position to provide you with a comprehensive reply but
would hope to have something within the next couple of days.

The Local Government Ombudsman would expect a complainant to have
exhausted the Council's complaints procedure before they investigated the
matter. However, this is not as inflexible as it may sound and if a
complainant can show that the Council has had a reasonable opportunity to
respond or that the complainant has lost confidence in the Council to
investigate the matter in an unbiased way, they may agree to take the
complaint. What often happens in that case is that the Ombudsman will
contact the Council (me in the case of Bristol) and ask if we want a
further opportunity to settle the matter or are we happy to leave it to
the Ombudsman.

If I have had contact with the complainant and I am satisfied that
further investigation by the Council would be unproductive, I will agree
with them that they should now investigate. If however, we are on the
verge of settleing the matter, I will ask them to give us a little more
time.

Hope this answers you question. I shall be in touch as soon as possible
with a response to your complaint.

____________________________________________________
Glenn Vowles, back from holiday, writes: 3 Nov

Can you tell me when I'm likely to get a response to my reply to you Tim?
I guess that having had a week to work on it officers from parks/planning
etc (?) must have reached conclusions?? What's the latest?

Any news on the proposed further consultations? Can you expand on your
point that 'if you believe that there would be little value in continuing to pursue this matter with the Council, then I would support your approach to the Ombudsman'.

I'm of the opinion that I probably will have to go to the Ombudsman but
it may depend on what is said in any reply I get. If I dont get anything
or only get something brief then I'll need to talk to you about the
Ombudsman (can you give me a ring today/tomorrow about this?).

Many thanks for your time and efforts on this issue to date.

___________________________________________________
Glenn Vowles writes: 24 Oct

Thanks for the attachment and opinion on complaint stage Tim.

I'm happy for you to take next week for looking at this thoroughly as the
implications could be broad. I'm away on holiday until 31 Oct and wont be
able to respond to anything you send me in any case. If there are urgent
issues I can be reached via [ mobile phone number…].

I've put in an objection to the 'cycle houses' plans which includes
comments that this complaint is unresolved and that thus there should be
an appropriate delay until its sorted out - I hope this is what happens.

___________________________________________________
Tim Sheppard, Council Complaints Manager writes: 23 Oct

My apologies for not including the attachment I referred to, which is now
included below.

It is sometimes unhelpful in the resolution of a complaint to dwell on
exactly what stage the complaint is at. Fair Comment is flexible and can
be shaped to to suit the circumstances of each complaint. however, for
clarity, I would judge this to be at stage 2.

I would be grateful if you would allow me the time to discuss the other
matters you have raised with Richard Mond and Peter Wilkinson, before I
respond to you. I would hope to get back to you by early next week.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Bristol the greenest city? Or Norwich? Neither?

This news, 'Bristol is Britain's greenest city', is indeed 'ludicrous', as one commenter on the Bristol Evening Post website put it. Poor public transport, plans to build houses and roads over many green spaces, poor air quality in several places, plans to mass incinerate waste, promotion of mass consumption of imported goods via the new Cabot Circus, a large and growing ecological footprint...hardly a green city is it!! Bristol is not a sustainable city by any fair measure, though may be less unsustainable than some others - that, at best, is what we are talking about!! What are the people who shortlist Bristol to be a European Green Capital and judge Bristol as Britain's greenest city on? Whatever it is it distorts their grip on reality big time!! (More on Forum for the Future's thinking on green cities here).

My view is that there are several other UK cities that are, relative to Bristol, less unsustainable (** Norwich for example...??) though I would not describe any of these as green. The problem with all these sort of exercises is that:

a) the headlines may give people the impression that enough is being done to sort problems out when in fact they are at best just tinkering at the edges, and

b) its very sensitive to the list of criteria used to make the judgements - change those a bit and you change the outcome and get a list of cities in a different order ** !! Conclusion: its not a very objective exercise, certainly when conducted in this manner.

I was very interested to see that a green blogger in Cardiff has independently reached exactly the same conclusions about this issue.

** 16 April 2008 - For the second year running Norwich has been voted the Greenest city in the UK.

According to an annual survey by locallife.co.uk [as opposed to Forum for the Future], Norwich has more green businesses, organisations and representatives per capita than anywhere else. The research has found that Norwich has one recycling centre, Green councillor, farm shop, environmental consultant, insulation installer, organic food shop, double glazing business, asbestos removal service and conservation group for every 1,736 local people. (reported here)

Friday, 7 November 2008

Useful green links...

Some very useful links here: http://www.ecojam.org/ (added to my 'find out more about' list). I've just been looking over the green jobs section and there's also a green directory, free stuff trading section, and interactive section with blogs, news...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Support sport and healthy exercise on Knowle's green spaces!

I urge all readers of this blog to support sport and healthy exercise in local green spaces and sign the 'Save Newquay Rd Playing Fields' e-petition I've helped to organise (background to the issue here). Its supporters and promoters include Anita Pearce from the management committee of Eagle House Community Association, former Bristol City footballer Colston Gwyther who is running training sessions on the playing fields, and the kids, as represented by 10 yr old Kevin Pearce, in this part of Knowle and elsewhere who want to football train, get fit and enjoy green spaces. The petition reads:

We, the undersigned, petition Bristol City Council to abandon any plans to sell off the playing fields on Newquay Rd behind Ilminster School, taking them out of the education remit and Primary School Review process completely, recognizing that they are a valued, fully accessible public open space well used over many years, particularly for football and considering it as fully covered by the council’s Parks and Green Spaces Strategy.

I see that the appearance of the petition has already drawn this brief position statement from the council:

At present (6/11/08) there is no decision on the future of the Newquay Road playing field or the final impact of the primary review on the location of the new primary school to be created from the amalgamation of Illminster Avenue and Connaught. Any future plans will be subject to pre and statutory planning consultation.

Good to get noticed! I'm sure that many locals will strongly express their opinions about what should happen to these fields eg by signing the petition and I hope the council is listening.

European Green Capital Award: Bristol's shortlisting

Apparently 'Bristol has been chosen as the only city in the UK to be short-listed for the European Green Capital award.

The city has been pre-selected alongside seven other European cities from 35 initial applications.


The seven other cities are: Amsterdam in Holland, Copenhagen in Denmark, the German cities of Freiburg, Hamburg and Munster, Oslo in Norway and Stockholm in Sweden.' (more details here).

I really want to be positive about my city but the first step in a rational process of improvement is recognising the current state of affairs. A realistic assessment of how Green Bristol is reveals that it is miles away from deserving the title 'European Green Capital'. I cant agree with the city being on this shortlist. (more here)

It has very heavy traffic congestion and a very poor public transport system and has no plans which demonstrate they can bring about an absolute reduction in traffic. Air quality is thus unhealthy and contribution to climate change very high. (more here)

The much lauded Parks and Green Spaces strategy is not being followed by the council as they are selling off land on an ad hoc basis without Area Green Space Plans in place. This strategy in any case endorses the sell off of many acres of parks and green spaces, undermining policies on healthy activity outdoors, climate change and biodiversity, and making rainwater management and flood prevention harder.(more here)

Instead of focussing in on waste reduction, recycling and composting Bristol's current Labour Cabinet defends plans for the mass incineration of waste, an option with very poor economic and environmental credentials.(more here)

Many thousands of houses are supposed to be built within and around the city, vastly raising its already very high ecological footprint. (more here)

As for the pattern of regeneration, well that given us Cabot Circus which hardly promotes local production for local needs as its all about the mass consumption of goods imported from all over the globe at great social and environmental cost. (more here)



Saturday, 1 November 2008

Never mind the council policy it's the council officers you know that counts!!

I've only been away from Bristol for a week and just look at what has been revealed about the unethical practices occurring within Bristol City Council within respect to land selling! It seems that if you want to buy land you just need to have the right senior officer contacts and never mind official council policies!! Excellent investigation by the Bristol Blogger once again (also see the Green Bristol Blog and Bristol Greengage).

Now I'm back I'll be following up on my ongoing complaint to the council. This latest news certainly adds spice to the situation!

Joined up thinking needed for joined up transport modes at Temple Meads

The new Stockwood Pete blog strongly argues the case for 'a proper transport hub for Temple Meads' whilst making powerful points about lack of openness and local democracy with respect to the associated land. Its not just green land development that is driven by developers it seems! Good stuff - Pete is sure to be an influential blogger! Local paper report on the issue here.