Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lib Dem fix for Bristol???

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Can we fix it? Yes we can! So say both Bob the Builder and US President Barack Obama – and now that they have at last won overall control of Bristol City Council Bristol’s Liberal Democrats have a clear opportunity to fix Bristol. Their manifesto, called ‘Six to Fix’ gives what are in some cases pretty specific benchmarks against which we will all be able to assess their progress, though these most often relate to small scale change in the city not tackling a bigger or general problem and timescales for changes are, with one exception, absent.

To give them credit, Bristol’s Liberal Democrats have performed extremely well in order to get into this position. They know how to fight elections very well indeed. They took four seats from Labour in the recent local elections in addition to successfully defending all eleven of the seats they previously held, including a threat to their Ashley seat from the Green Party. They were helped by the very poor Labour performance – they lost eight out of the ten seats they defended (four to Tories, four to the Lib Dems) and only narrowly held on to the two seats they won. Thus ended years of a ‘hung’ council where no party had overall control, which featured see-saw politics and two parties always ganging up on the other through unholy alliance – this is a very good opportunity to give Bristol some firm direction and leadership.

There are some tough problems to solve. The Lib Dems have said they want to ‘Cut congestion and get better transport for all’ (including backing suburban rail; more money for road safety, pedestrians and cyclists; introducing a cashless ‘Oyster Card’ for Bristol buses). Under the transport heading issues like residents parking and air quality wont go away. The key benchmark of progress here is congestion.

Lib Dem policy two is ‘A clean and green city’ (which includes more money for street cleaning, getting tough on flytipping; a ‘parkie’ in every major park and more play areas for children; fighting the green belt grab and preserving our green spaces). It will be very interesting indeed to see the extent to which the Lib Dems oppose building on Bristol’s green belt, particularly since Bristol City Football Club propose to build a new stadium on green land in Ashton Vale, where many houses are also proposed and at least part of which is green belt. All party leaders except the Greens have given public and enthusiastic support to the proposed new City stadium in principle and they are backing a bid to bring World Cup football to Bristol, which a new stadium would be necessary for. Amount of green belt and other green space built on is a key indicator here. I’d also add that the total carbon emissions of the city are a key indicator because everyone recognises that low carbon emissions are a key feature of being green – and the connection with cutting congestion is obvious.

‘Boost Bristol’s Bobbies’ says policy three (including a fair share of police; campaign against ID cards; new crime reduction schemes on repeat offenders and violent partners). Police and Community Support Officer numbers are easily counted and tracked but this does not necessarily mean more peaceful, orderly, lower crime neighbourhoods, so the benchmark is not so straightforward. Real, effective leadership would give us less crime and more peace and order.

The Lib Dems get very specific about policy 4, which promises ‘Three new libraries, a new school [North Bristol] and a new pool [East Bristol]’. This policy includes a promise to ‘fix Labours school places mess’. This year saw chaos for parents and pupils trying to find the school place they need and want for their child and so this pledge to ensure that 2010 sees no repeat of the previous fiasco. The local press has described this as a poisoned chalice!! We will all be able to see whether the various facilities are built and whether school places – but there is no promise on an overall improvement in the quality of education and it looks like the Lib Dems will implement most if not all of the plans to create bigger primary schools which wont be popular in many places and is seen by some as going against the quality of the educational experience. Real, effective leadership would improve the quality of education, not that this is straightforward to assess!

The pledges in policy five ‘Beat Gordon Brown’s recession in Bristol’ (including keeping the council tax as low as possible and campaigning for it to be scrapped; extra help on debt for small businesses and individuals; investment in training and apprenticeships) are more nebulous and designed to pick up votes during a time of recession. We all know that the council cannot make Bristol a recession-free zone and everybody would subscribe to the other policies under this heading the way they are worded!

Policy six ‘50% recycling by 2010 and no incinerator’ (which includes switching from a large, dirty incinerator to clean and cheap new technology; free corn starch brown bin liner bags; reversing the recycling rate drop under Labour) really should be under the ‘clean and green city’ heading. Mass incineration has already been abandoned, though putting alternative approaches into practice within a decent budget is doable but not straightforward. ‘Free’ corn starch bags will need to show that they can more than make up for the carbon cost of producing and consuming them and for their financial cost to the council but its uncertain that all the required data to make the assessments was sought by the council beforehand. Improving Labour’s recycling record wont be difficult because their work on this was poor – achieving a 50% [household waste] recycling rate by 2010 would be great (and a target with a timescale makes a change!). We still need to push on a lot from there if we are to have a low waste city though and someone (central govt??) needs to get a grip on total waste, most of which is not generated in households of course.

Council Leader Janke backs new stadium and world cup bid

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Stories relating to the proposed new Bristol City stadium and the possibility of World Cup football coming to Bristol abound - the Bristol Evening Post is really going to town on this one. Here (and here) are a few more stories in todays paper about Council Leader Barbara Janke support for the bid and new stadium and the support of a local publican (yesterday they had a story about support from 'Germany' as the Post exaggeratedly put it). My reaction to Barbara Janke's big involvement in the online comments is below.

Lib Dem Council Leader Barbara Janke is not the person who grants planning permission to BCFC. Permission is given or denied by the relevant planning committee following input from officers and members of the public etc. Planning committees are statutory not political in nature, at least they are supposed to be!! Whilst I hope that councillors also use their good sense when making judegments on planning applications they have to apply certain criteria - and world cup or premiership football aspirations are not amongst these (and in any case they are transient, uncertain factors).