Thursday, 26 March 2009
There are all sorts of reasons why this proposal was inappropriate. The site is tiny, it overlooks existing properties, it's right next to a noisy car mechanics business, but most of all, the plans were just plain ugly. It was designed as a red brick shoebox in an area which is full of light coloured soft and elegant buildings. I have not opposed this type of development before, but this one was just the wrong building in the wrong place.
I think that part of the reason it got rejected was the performance by the developer and their architect. I've never quite seen anything like it before - they came across as shockingly arrogant and completely confident in getting the right result in the face of significant local opposition. The real clincher was their argument that because they were allowing the garages to go to wrack and ruin, the Council should allow them to do everyone a favour and remove the eyesore!
This is, I think, the third time that they've made an application, so no doubt we will see them again...
At various points in the event, the expert presenters turned briefly to mass-burn incineration. Every single one dismissed it as a dirty alternative that had had its day. One slide that particular struck me is the one shown alongside. It's a bit blurry, but the line at the bottom says, "Mass-burn incineration is a blunt instrument and a major carbon emitter". Above it is a picture of a chimney belching out smoke. In fact, one presenter mentioned how, in environment terms, incineration is actually worse than landfill - not that we want to go back there. There was also discussion about incinerators binding the hands of local councils and making them unable to use new clean technologies as they emerge.
Remember that the Labour Council wanted desperately to build an incinerator in Avonmouth and stormed off and sulked when they were voted down by us and the Damacene Tories. They are now putting out bizarre leaflets saying that we are costing taxpayers millions by not building an incinerator. Absolute tripe! Since Labour left, the city has begun to be approached by companies keen to build new generation energy-from-waste plants. It's absoutely clear to me from the conference on Tuesday night that we did the right thing to oppose the incinerator.
Sunday, 22 March 2009
You'll notice my use of the word 'apparently' as I fear this will turn out to be a Daily Mail embellishment. The sad thing about the current government and its database state is that it is completely plausible. As Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty says, "1984 was intended as a warning, not an instruction manual."
P.S. Have a look at the Daily Mail-o-matic fake headline generator. It's great fun for coming up with a string of right-wing populist rhetoric. From a few years ago, the David Blunkett Policy Maker is also very funny. Strangely, they sometimes come up with the same things...
One of the first things in my diary is a Friends of the Earth conference in London on waste management, which I am looking forward to. One of the presentations is about how cities on the continent do so much better at recycling than we do in the UK.
It was well known that the Labour Government were against the Bill. A few Labour MPs defied the whip and turned up, alongside the token two whips who were there to vote against. Needless to say, none of Bristol's Labour MPs supported the Bill. Sadly, nothing like enough Tory MPs were willing to give up their Friday afternoons either. It comes to something when you're relying on the Tories for a social conscience issue!
Private Member's Bills need 100 MPs to be present to progress. Only 89 did, including Bristol West MP Stephen Williams. The vast majority of these were Lib Dems, with a smattering of nationlists and a few others. What a disgrace for the Labour Party!
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
The Bill is being backed by a broad coalition of charities and energy reduction organisation, including Consumer Focus, Association for the Conservation of Energy, Age Concern, Help the Aged, Child Poverty Action Group, Disability Alliance, Friends of the Earth, The Sustainable Energy Partnership, National Right to Fuel Campaign and the Centre for Sustainable Energy. There are clear gains for both the individuals and the environment.
The word on the street is that the Labour Government are going to try to 'talk the Bill out' on Friday. This is a parliamentary technique to make sure it fails without having to actually vote against it - basically, the debate runs out of time and so no vote is taken. It's a cynical ploy that they use when they want to dodge an issue.
Bristol West Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams has already pledged to vote for the Bill. But you might want to contact Bristol's Labour MPs to try to convince them that this is a vital step forwards for vulnerable people, the environment and job creation.
Monday, 16 March 2009
The current ones are for Sasparilla (formerly Henry Africa's) and Papaji's House of Tea (currently Tequilla Max). The former wants to be open til 2am at weekends and the latter wants 1am every night of the week.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not averse to a late night drink! The issue is that Whiteladies Road is fundamentally a residential area and you only have to step 50m off it to be where large numbers of people live. This is why I am against a widespread easing of the current midnight cut-off for alcohol sales. The area just can't sustain much more of a nighttime economy.
I have written to the houses near to the bars making the applications to draw their attention to it and I am getting a pretty strong response back. Objections (or, indeed, messages of support) need to be sent to email@example.com - the deadline was today for Papaji's and it's 23rd March for Sasparilla.
I have been working with the Police and the Council's licensing, planning and parking people to see what can be done about it and my next stop is Trading Standards. The problem seems to stem from the fact that Domino's no longer give out scooters for their delivery people, but expect them to use their own cars.
There are two problems with this. Firstly, there simply isn't room for 20+ cars to be whizzing constantly back and forwards around that site on the corner with Cotham Hill. It's blocking up the road and causing real danger. Secondly, I doubt that most of their deliverers know that they need special insurance to do this and are breaking the law quite seriously if they don't have it.
I am very conscious that the people apparently causing the problem are the deliverers. Some of them don't make it any better by frankly some very silly actions, like parking their cars wholly on the pavement (see the yellow car in the picture from this Saturday). It is them who are going to start getting parking tickets and nicked for lack of insurance.
However, it is their employers who are putting them in a difficult position in the first place. It seems like it's a cost-cutting measure for Domino's by not having scooters. I don't really want the deliverers (who are low wage and probably desperate for work at the moment) getting all of the rough end of the stick. Domino's need to shoulder a degree of the responsibility and we are looking for ways to make this happen. Nevertheless, the problem needs to be solved.
They have been working on this for a very long time and it is great to see it finally come to fruition. The tree will grow to be a great addition to the local area - a lovely focal point for an otherwise barren slab of tarmac.
Clive, Vassili and their colleagues have worked really hard to make this happen and have helped the Council to come to better understand street trees and the contribution that local community groups can have to this agenda. I have been happy to provide tiny bits of fire from the hills to help the process along and I very much hope it will now be easier for this sort of thing to happen in the future.
Friday, 13 March 2009
For those that didn't know him, Tony was lined up to be the Lib Dem candidate for Horfield ward at the elections in June. He died of a suspected heart attack while out campaigning - something he did a lot of. I can't claim to have known Tony very well, but I counted him as a friend and I will always be grateful to him and the impact he had on me.
The first time I met Tony was about three years ago. I was the then Lib Dem candidate in Horfield and he invited me to come over to his house and hear about some of the problems on the Manor Farm estate. Thinking back I probably expected to be there for maybe an hour to hear about general problems with anti-social behaviour that I would pass on to the Police.
I was there for four hours! I had taken my notepad like a keen campaigner and I got up to issue number 37 - a mixture of simple issues of Council neglect and huge structural problems affecting the city as a whole. I found my old notebook a while back and looking back over it, we sorted or made some progress on eleven of Tony's points before I moved to Cotham. Little things like getting stuff fixed around the estate to getting a skatepark built at Horfield Leisure Centre. Thanks to Tony (and others), I came within 19 votes of winning the election in 2006 having been a long way behind in third the year before. I guess the reason he wanted to become a councillor because he still wanted to sort out the other 26 issues from our first meeting!
Tony has been and will continue to be an inspiration to me about never giving up. He had clear ideas about how things should be and did all that he could to make them that way, sometimes in the face of fierce opposition from others. I didn't always agree with him, but he taught me as a politician that you don't have to accept things and that persistence does pay.
Despite what the other parties have said in their literature, Tony was no Lib Dem stooge. When I first met him, Tony was an independent-minded person who cared passionately about where he lived and the people he lived around. He had contacted me in the hope that I could help. Tony only became a Lib Dem much much later when he saw that our approach to communities was different and that our values came close to his own. Perhaps most strongly, he believed in a sense that communities should take decisions for themselves and he believed in young people.
I will miss Tony and so will Horfield. He would have been a great councillor - one of the awkward squad who would have pestered people until he got what he wanted for his area. I will try to find my notebook again and see if we can't still sort those other issues...
Monday, 9 March 2009
Sunday, 8 March 2009
Thursday, 5 March 2009
Perhaps it shouldn't be any surprise at all given the reliance that both parties have on large personal donations. This has always been a feature of Tory funding, perhaps most starkly illustrated by Lord Ashcroft - the Belize-based tax exile who pumps millions into the Conservative Party and almost singlehandedly keeps it afloat. It is a more recent feature of Labour funding, replacing the dwindling trade union donations that they were historically reliant on. Remember the Cash for Peerages scandal?
This is a system that has to change - if not now, then eventually. We can't have politics being dominated by the biggest wallets. Remember, even the US has limits on political donations!
(All Bristol's Labour MPs voted against a cap - Lib Dem Stephen Williams voted for).
This is a result of the national government's crazy obsession with building more homes. There is no doubt that more homes (and specifically affordable/social homes) are needed, but the number and pace that are being required by diktat are unreasonable. Bristol was originally slated to have 26,000 new homes over the next 20 years, but this was jumped up to 36,500 by Secretary of State, Hazel Blears (who also removed loads of the region's sustainability measures).
I don't believe that in the current economic climate that there is any way in which the city should be giving up 70 football pitches worth of Green Belt land when there are many 'brownfield' redevelopment sites available. These have to be used before we even start to think about expanding the city outwards.
The amendment was my idea and the small extra amount of money is specifically to enable the Service to increase the number of locations where courses are offered and to extend the range of courses to attract more people. You can see my speech in the clip below - and yes, I know, I rock around a lot while I am speaking!
There is an overarching problem with this sort of provision. Everyone agree that it is valuable, but no-one wants to put the money in to meet the demand. The government, for fairly good reasons, wants to focus its money on employability skills rather than courses that are 'for interest' only. This is a shame, but I see why they are doing it. Courses in the richer parts of town tend to pay for themselves, but those in the poorer parts are unfortunately less stable. I am hoping that this extra money will give the Service a bit of space to innovate, find new opportunities and collaborations, and help them to get things on a firmer footing.
(My speech also covers domestic violence and its impact on children on the edge of care, which was also part of the same amendment.)
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Monday, 2 March 2009
As part of his ten point plan for making progress, he made two points which rang true to me. The first was that we have to give politicians permission to act. Too often I feel hamstrung by the process of decision-making that grinds on for months. I have been campaiging for nearly two years for tougher sustainability rules for new building, but I am still being told that there are many months of consultation and consideration to go... despite cross-party support.
The second is to be strong in challenging national government where it is wrong on sustainability. At the moment, the big mistake waiting to happen is the Regional Spatial Strategy. Bristol needs to be strong in saying 'no' when it needs to. I will be commenting more on this soon.