Friday, April 27, 2012

Democracy or ochlocracy?

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Those who want a town green in Ashton Vale and not a new Bristol City football stadium have again been called NIMBYs (see comments here). Using the term implies that those accused hold narrow, selfish, short-sighted views in opposing change. I've found that people labelled in this way, including those in Ashton Vale, usually don’t hold such views and often have a well developed case with a range of reasons.

For example: if the stadium is built green belt land, which is finite in supply, will be lost; carbon emissions will rise; natural flood drainage space will go; land with food production potential will go; wildlife habitats will be smaller in area; green space important to human health and wellbeing will be cut. Our current system has warm green words but little or no green action - which is why planning permission for the Bristol City stadium was given.

A key feature of the UK democracy is the rule of law. The UK is not a straightforward ochlocracy, where there is dictatorship of the majority or rule of the mob. Protection of the law for individuals, minorities and society as a whole has some value here. The law around town greens is one small part of this.  

On another note: it was always a big mistake to assuming that building this stadium will have a net positive effect on jobs and investment. To my knowledge no-one has done the research sums to see if total benefits exceed total costs, taking into account all factors, including those I've mentioned above. Mostly what we’ve heard about the proposed stadium is simplistic benefits - my point is ok but what about the complexities and the costs?? This means trying to account for the impacts both on current generations and the generations of people to come - once green land is built over its nigh on impossible to get it back again.

The planning process very often has no objective evidence whatsoever that total benefits outweigh total costs - and a decision taken on the basis of little or no evidence is irrational. Could it not be argued that the stadium proposal is an inappropriate development based on outmoded, old-fashioned, discredited economic thinking and that therefore pursuing it would be unwise? Bristol is supposed to have 'green capital' ambitions after all. Wouldn't giving the land town green status mean that it would be maintain our ability to: fight climate change; increase wildlife; manage flooding; keep people healthy...If you built a stadium the opposite might happen and therefore shouldn't someone estimate the costs/benefits of all this in order for a rational decision to be made?

The law should help prevent locals from being bullied into a situation they don’t want. The law on town greens does empower people to apply for green spaces to be protected. A real and proper democracy rightly has legal processes to protect a community and its space and the process is being gone through.

Sustainable Societies

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Here's an interesting story about a Royal Society report which states that tackling over-consumption in rich countries and high population growth in the poorest are key to building sustainable societies. I'm very glad to hear this from an authoritative organisation but it is something I have been advocating for 30 years! Many others have been doing the same. Examples of my blog posts on this here.

I note that this Royal Society report says we need to go 'beyond GDP' as a measure of progress. This is also something I, along with others, have been advocating for 30 years (and in fact was the subject the dissertation I researched and wrote for my MSc in 1998/99). See examples here

Friday, April 20, 2012

Asphyxiating air

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Air pollution has rightly entered the London mayoral election debate (see here). Air pollution kills. Each year tens of thousands of people in the UK die prematurely because of polluted air.


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On the desirability, necessity and inevitability of sustainable living. The images in this screencast are from Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED), Brenda and Robert Vale's autonomous, off-grid house (the first built in the UK) and Hockerton Housing Project.

Planning policy test

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Another excellent blog post from Stockwood Pete. Take a look - and follow the link Pete gives to tell the inspector what you think. Pete begins First, the progressive loss of chunks of the Green Belt in Ashton Vale, abandoned by the authorities who should be protecting it. Now the battle moves east, into BaNES territory between Stockwood and Whitchurch Village...full story here.
Stockwood Pete: Border Wars

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


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The Post reports that Bristol has been shortlisted to become a flagship European city which could trigger a financial bonanza worth millions of pounds.

We are one of just three cities – together with Copenhagen and Frankfurt – which have reached the final stage in the selection process to become European Green Capital in 2014...(more)

In terms of outcomes Bristol is in no sense green. Its ecological footprint is several times the land area it occupies, which means the city is parasitic and has impacts far and wide. In terms of carbon emissions, on average the annual total carbon emissions equivalent (direct + indirect) per person is around 12 tonnes - a sustainable level is thought to be 2 tonnes. This puts the nature of this competition in some perspective.

None of the cities in the competition is sustainable, though some are less unsustainable than others. Its always been about the least un-green rather than being genuinely green cities.

If Bristol wins and additional investment is attracted and this is well directed into strengthening the local economy, empowering local communities, adding to energy and food security, establishing a decent integrated transport system, protecting what's best about the city, such as its green spaces...then that will certainly be welcome. Lots of ifs here though!