Friday, 12 December 2008

Hand in glove

Hallelujah! The long-awaited consultation on the sale/lease of public land to property developers Squarepeg has finally begun. And when some poor PhD student decides to write the history of dishonest and sham 'community consultation' excercises, I am sure it will be top of their list of case studies.

A casual reader of the consultation website might think that this excercise was being carried out by Bristol City Council themselves. After all, we are talking about the fate of the Bristol-Bath Railway Path, which the website claims is 'an outstanding urban escape route' (whatever that may be). OK, so they did try to turn it into a bus lane not so long ago, but we're a Cycling City now, doncha know? So you'd be forgiven for thinking that listening to local views would be something they'd want to do themselves, having cocked it up so spectacularly less than a year ago. The eagle-eyed, prepared to click through to a PDF file and scan the small print, will notice that the consultation is in fact being run by PPS. Sounds pretty innocous? The investigative blogger's friend reveals that they are in fact, drumroll, 'the UK's... foremost supplier of lobbying, communications and consultation advice to the property industry'. Oh.

Satisfied clients include Barratt Homes, George Wimpey, and Persimmon Homes. And no wonder. As PPS's website astutely notes:

Pre-application consultation on major schemes is fast becoming a fact of life for all involved in development...[We] have enormous experience of how to make the provisions of the 2004 Planning Act work for you. Get it right and you can bring the community with you. Get it wrong and you will face heightened local concerns.

So, you may ask, how exactly can legislation be 'made to work' for multi-million pound developers? What exactly does 'getting a consultation right' involve? The Bristol-Bath Railway Path consultation isn't a bad place for a masterclass.

1. Create the appearance of democratic legitimacy by giving the impression that the consultation is being run by a public body.

2. Prejudge the issue by praising the development as 'much needed' and listing its many virtues.

3. Include pictures of the derelict factory site rather than the historic hedgerow that the development will destroy.

4. Base the consultation around spurious, quasi-rhetorical questions such as:
  • Do you believe the area should remain as it is, or receive further investment?
  • Is regeneration important for Easton?
  • Do you believe development can co-exist alongside green spaces?
  • What would you like to see happen to the two plots of land?
It is important that you ignore the fact that it is perfectly possible to answer yes to the first three and still be against the development in its present form. The object of the exercise is to blackmail residents of a deprived area into giving up scarce green space for private profit.

5. Pretend that green space in Frome Vale is relevant to residents of Easton and Lawrence Hill.

6. Ensure that the consultation period falls over Christmas and New Year, effectively giving interested parties only three weeks to respond.

This consultation is biased beyond belief in favour of the developers. Pinch yourself and remember that it's being run on behalf of the council. And we're paying for it.

Friday, 14 November 2008

All power to the imagination

An excellent rabble-rousing post on the On The Level Blog on Bristol's Top Ten Traffic Debacles.
Depressingly, most of them seem to have happened in the last six months.

Also, news of the illegal destruction of a wood beside Eastville Park. It seems the owner of the land may be prosecuted, but we shall see. It will also be interesting to see whether this incident is taken into account if and when a planning application is made for this site.

Sometimes it feels as if things are going from bad to worse.

But luckily there are also clever people with good ideas to stand up to all the crap. Pete Goodwin's petition for a transport hub on Plot 6 at Temple Meads is far too useful and practical an idea to ever be championed by the likes of the West of England partnership. Likewise, Josh Hart's proposal for a Cycle Expressway from Clifton to Temple Meads would be a far better use of the Cycling City money than farting around with Princes Street Bridge.

Be realistic. Demand the impossible.

A nod and a wink

An interesting comment by Gary Hopkins over on Charlie's blog on what we all seem to be calling "Red Trouser Gate":

"I unlike the blogger or some others am not shocked that a developer,of whatever shade of green or none, should do his best to secure the best deal for his development.
It happens all the time and I would be suprised if any developer were not trying to lobby.It is the council officers job to act in line with council policy and in the interests of Bristol residents.
Three things though are being suggested
1 That council policy has not been followed.There is genuine concern here and whilst it has been common practice for many years at Bristol is not acceptable and it does undermine political accountability.It has been confirmed that the piece of land was part of the green space strategy and I have confirmation that no exceptions were written in to the plan. (This was in answer to queeries about Filwood park)
2 That the action is not in the interests of residents.The point of loss of accountability is that it becomes almost impossible to test this.
3 Something illegal has occured. I have seen no evidence of this but would support openness as a matter of principle.Getting basic information out of this administration is a real problem ,even for a determined questioner like myself, and a secretive administration will inevitably become a bad one even if it does not start that way."

So it seems Hopkins, former Cabinet member for sustainable environment and neighbourhoods, sees nothing wrong with developers energetically lobbying council officers.

But what is abundantly clear from the FoI emails is the power imbalance between middle-ranking council officers, feverishly pinging emails around the Council House as they try to negotiate the procedural labyrinth, and exuberant local bigwigs who are able to breeze in between trips abroad and charm the (hopefully metaphorical) pants off off-the-pay-scale council executives over cafe ristretto at Goldbrick House.

(Please note: the preceding scenario is a mere figment of Greengage's fevered imagination and any resemblance to actual events or personages is entirely accidental.)

Council policy is never going to be followed under these conditions, and the idea of any kind of genuine accountability to the people of Bristol is a complete joke.

Friday, 7 November 2008


War is Peace...

Freedom is Slavery...

Ignorance is Strength...

And Bristol is one of the greenest cities in Europe.

Doubleplusgood! Bristol has been shortlisted as a possible 'role model' for other 'green capitals' across Europe.

As others have already pointed out, this is quite some achievement for a city where the powers-that-be are intent on tarmacking over its premier cycle route, whilst pissing £11 million up the wall on a 'Cycling City' project that can charitably be described as 'ill-thought-out' (or uncharitably described as unwanted, undemocratic and a criminal waste of public money).

In fact, I can only conclude that this has all been a terrible mistake, and there must be another Bristol somewhere in Europe. A Bristol with cheap reliable public transport and safe cycle routes, where walking is easy and enjoyable. In this Bristol, politicians probably contribute more than meaningless gestures and populist campaigns. And it's hard to imagine that their senior public servants would sell off public land to the best-connected bidder.

Sounds nice. Shall we move there?

(In the meantime, please sign Pete Goodwin's petition for a transport hub at Temple Meads. It would let you get from one side of the city to the other by bus, and you might even be able to get a bus from your house to the train station. I know, it's a crazy plan, but what the hell? It might catch on. They've probably got one in the other Bristol already.)

Friday, 31 October 2008

No but no but yes but....

Great story over at the Bristol Blogger about the council's secret sell-off of bits of the railway path to property developers Squarepeg. The Freedom of Information documents are an object lesson for would-be property moguls. Want to get your mitts on some public land? If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again.

Knocked back once? Put in another request. Still foiled by pesky council officers wanting to protect an important wildlife site/keep their options open for BRT (delete as applicable)? Nil desperandum! Get a self-important red-trousered architect to go right to the top, then get your laywers to inform said hapless bureaucrats that the sale is in fact going ahead.


New kids on the block

Two new blogs from stalwart Bristol Greens:

Stockwood Pete, from Peter Goodwin (who has a splash on the Temple Meads transport hub in the Evening Post this very day), and Rosso-Verde, by Nick Foster, St. George West candidate.

Both have a shaming (for me) feature on the blogrolls where the most neglected blogs sink to the bottom. If that's not an incentive to post more, I don't know what is...

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Trams not jams

Bristol City Council and the West of England Partnership Arse Things Up (Again)

See also: Buses Down the Railway Path, 'Cycling City' status

Coming soon: Congestion charge

So, the consultation for the South Bristol Ring Road commences. Clearly inspired by all the M32 has done for Easton and St. Pauls, it will cut through Hartcliffe, Highridge and Bishopsworth. As a sop, the WOE are offering a Bus Rapid Transport route which will serve the houses due to be built on greenbelt land between Long Ashton and Dundry. (Shades of the "Railway Path BRT" to Emersons Green.) Whoopee!

The Transport for Greater Bristol Alliance think the money should be spent on a tram system instead. If you agree with this eminently sensible proposal, please sign their petition here.