Wednesday, 29 April 2009
The Liberal Democrats proposed the motion to reverse Gordon Brown's policy of excluding Gurkhas from settling in the UK. With the support of the Conservatives and twenty-odd Labour rebels, this was passed by 267 votes to 246. Needless to say, Bristol West MP Stephen Williams (seen here this afternoon with two Gurkha veterans) voted in favour of letting people who fought to protect Britain come to live here after their service.
These days I sometimes have to pinch myself when I find that our policies are supported (albeit sometimes through gritted teeth) by the Tories, against the Labour Party. Locally, their Damacene conversion on the incinerator was one shock and this was another. Credit is due to those Labour MPs who rebelled and even to those who simply abstained. It appears that none of the Bristol Labour MPs were on the list - what a surprise!
Gordon Brown's position as Prime Minister has never looked more shaky. With the embarrassment recently over MPs' expenses, criticism from colleagues over the new 50% tax rate and now a significant rebellion by his one party, his days must surely be numbered. The question has to be whether it is the Labour Party or the electorate who will do it first!
Monday, 27 April 2009
Bristol is really rather good on quality. We have focused on getting recycled materials that have high value and so we haven't been hit by the recession as badly as other councils. It is salutory to understand how much 'the market' has in the environmental business.
The other focus of this afternoon has ben about how foolish long-term incinerator PFI projects are. All the expertise is now pointing that tieing a city's waste down for 25 years is a collosal risk and likely to backfire on taxpayers. It's also useful to hear the Danish experience of incineration has worked to limit recycling and reuse. Bristol made the right decision to ditch the incinerator - I've never been more sure.
In reality, what they are doing isn't so different to Bristol. The main addition is variable charging to reward good recyclers. Unlike the UK, there hasn't been a negative press about this and it appears largely popular. The other difference is a more positive framework from government. They have a tax system that rewards recycling and penalises landfill, plus a system that makes retailers responsible for their packaging waste. Bristol can't do these solo - national government needs to act. But remember that Labour and the Tories blocked our modest proposal to cut plastic bag use in the city.
It is just coming up to a year since the service on the Line was increased from hourly to roughly every 40 minutes. I am an irregular user of the service, hopping on perhaps a couple of times a month. I am certainly using it more now that it is more likely to connect with trains on to London. And all the signs are that I am not alone - usage appears to be up around 30%.
Labour constantly try to take credit for the improvements, but the reality is that they were simply lucky to have it come to pass on their watch. They were implementing a Lib Dem budget from a year before, which had made the money available. Some of this sort of credit-taking is inevitable in politics, but they do seem to go to extreme lengths to make hay on this one, without taking any responsibility for the 20 years or so that they were in charge without improving it! The truth is that this became a consensus issue and all parties deserve a share of the credit, along with others.
The Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways (FoSBR), of which Cotham Lib Dems are members, are holding a birthday party for the service on 17th May at 3pm at Shirehampton Station.
I've just had a pre-application consultation document from Orange for a mast at the top of Whiteladies Road, on the island at the junction where it meets The Downs. They tried to get one put just around the corner a couple of months ago and this got refused, with strong objections from me and a petition of local residents organised by Anthony Negus.
The new proposal is again in a Conservation Area and on the edge of one of Bristol's centrepiece parks. I don't think it stands any chance of being accepted - and I will be writing to their agents to tell them so and that I will be objecting to it... AGAIN!
Friday, 24 April 2009
The pilot banks will now take Types 1 and 2 (as at present), plus Types 5 and 6. Among the pilots will be the one which is most convenient for Cotham residents by Roo Bar, behind Clifton Down station, just off Whiteladies Road. Just look for the the triangle mark (see left) and pop it down!
The main addition is Type 5 plastic - aka Polypropylene. This is what most of the plastic food containers from the supermarket (e.g. yoghurt pots) and most other commercial hard packaging is made from. This now makes up 80% of my black bags. In theory, this should mean that I can get down to one black bag of landfill every six months, instead of every six weeks at present. About all that cannot now be recycled in Bristol are soft plastics like cellophane.
It's great that this has finally happened and that the slide in recycling under Labour is now starting to be reversed. It would be churlish to claim credit for the new Lib Dem administration for making this happen given that I blogged about it coming a couple of months back. However, the question I have is why it took Labour so long to do anything after their pointless Citizens' Jury on waste. It just seems like they kicked the whole thing into the grass for two years. I'm glad Gary Hopkins has picked this one up by the scruff of the neck and is moving things along quickly again. Our budget amendments in February have ploughed significantly more money into this agenda and I am hopeful that we'll see some big leaps forward in coming months.
I'm off to London on Monday for a Friends of the Earth conference on waste reduction where I am hoping to pick up some hints from the continent where they still have better rates than we do in the UK...
Thursday, 16 April 2009
This is good news for local residents, who I have been helping to resist these applications. The Cumulative Impact Zone on Whiteladies Road is helping to ensure that public nuisance caused by bars doesn't get out of hand, partially by limiting the number of post-midnight licenses.
We still have a slight problem with how the Police are responding to license applications locally. There seems to be a communication issue between their on-the-street people and their licensing people. The result is that it isn't always clear whether 'The Police' are objecting to an application or not. I am working with the Council's licensing team and residents to try to make this clearer and more effective.
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
This is exactly the reason why, despite being a committed environmentalist since I was a teenager and a member of Friends of the Earth, I could never be in the Green Party. I believe that the way to protect and enhance our environment and to fight climate change is not by judging and condemning vast swathes of the population. It is by engaging with people, winning hearts and minds and helping them to change their behaviour. This sort of approach is counter-productive and switches people off.
The Green Party is somewhat like the Tories. Behind the soft facade of apparently well-meaning and acceptable people, they are actually driven by a fringe who hold dangerous and unpalatable views. Like the Tory MEP who has been banging on about the need to privatise the NHS. It is rare that the leader comes out with these wacky views in public though!
I do believe that we need to reduce air travel until I viable alternative fuel is found. I and the Lib Dems are against the expansion of Heathrow Airport and Bristol Airport. I believe that there needs to be a radical overhaul of the tax system for aviation fuel to put it on a par with other forms of transport. My personal view is that we need to be looking at some form of quota for air travel to rein in excesses and to keep that fuel we do have lasting for as long as possible.
But, unlike the Green Party, I don't believe that people who fly are evil and need to be judged like murderers. I believe that travel is a benefit to the global community and an essential part of challenging poverty and cultural misunderstanding. We just need to find sustainable ways of doing it. In particular, we need to see investment at a national and a European level for finding alternative fuels.
UPDATE (30/4/09) : Peter Goodwin from the Green Party has posted (in the comments) a semi-formal statement from their HQ clarifying their position. In good faith, I am happy to accept that Caroline Lucas 'misspoke' under pressure from an ill-informed and agressive UKIP person. This clarification draws a link between climate change and worldwide fatalities (which I am happy to agree with), but stops well short of branding flyers as killers.
However, it does not undermine my substantive point, which is that one of the dividing lines between the Lib Dems and the Green Party is that we strive to engage and change, not blame and alienate. Even if Caroline Lucas went too far this time, it is not something that a Lib Dem politician would ever (I hope!) think about saying, even under provocation.
Friday, 10 April 2009
I am looking into it urgently, though I presume nothing will happen over the Easter weekend. I have asked the Tree Planning Officer to visit the site and contact me early on Tuesday morning.
UPDATE : The planning officer who dealt with the application agrees that the trees appear to have been felled without permission. He has halted further work and is getting a meeting with the contractors to find out what has happened.
Thursday, 2 April 2009
It concerns access for disabled people to the main culture venues in the City Centre. I have had complaints about both the Colston Hall and the Watershed and the difficulties with parking nearby for those who don't have an alternative.
The Colston Hall used to have its own spaces, but these have been lost as a result of the building works. They should be coming back at some point, but at the moment Trenchard Street is the closest parking and this has long queues to pay at weekends.
The Watershed has two spaces at the back (see photo), but these are often full as they serve the whole of that side of the waterfront. They are also sadly abused by people who are not disabled - as I have seen myself on a number of occasions.
I am asking for an audit to be undertaken to look at the scale of the problem and whether other venues like the Hippodrome and the Old Vic are affected too. We can't have a situation where a portion of society are effectively excluded from the city's cultural highlights.