Saturday, November 15, 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

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.


  1. Great post on the Bristol Blogger about answers given to Cllr Fox:

  2. In response to my 4 questions the council responded saying that they dont accept my premise, that the process of establishing Area Green Space Plans has now begun and that consultations of some sort will take place wherever these plans are not ready in time.

    But there is an in-principle agreement to sel land on the cycle path and this was formed with no proper consultation !!


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