Friday, June 29, 2012

Bank on bankers?

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To 'bank on' something means being able to expect or rely with confidence on it. Given that: bankers have lied to make them look more secure during the financial crisis and to make a profit (here); and have mis-sold specialist insurance to thousands of small businesses (here); on top of PPI insurance mis-selling, taking huge, fat, undeserved salaries and bonuses, and helping to take our economy and others to the brink...we clearly can't be confident that they operate within a decent ethical code. Our banking system's reputation, integrity and trustworthiness sinks even lower. Culture change is certainly needed if we are to build an economy capable of being sustainable (more here).

Diversity dividends

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"There's been a few incidents involving Islamic centres springing up around the city and also more mosques..." says Mickey Bayliss, on the English Defence League (EDL) decision to march in protest in Bristol this summer (see story and comments/debate here). What on Earth makes an Islamic centre springing up, or a few more mosques, 'incidents' ?? Just how does this add up to 'extreme Islamist terrorism' and 'preaching hate and terror' and 'Islamification' which is what the EDL are - apparently - opposed to?? Mr Bayliss reveals his prejudice and what he is really about in his own words, even though in the story he is doing his best to be guarded and 'reasonable'.

One of the defenders of the EDL (torysarecool) posted this comment on the Post story - "The fact is, the EDL simply don't like foreigners changing England and it makes them resent their presence. Who can blame them for thinking that? As others have mentioned, it often feels like foreign people, who speak little of our language and with whom we share few similarities are actively changing our home..."

This country has thousands of years worth of being a place where people from many different countries and of many different ethnic origins have come. Stone age people migrating from the Iberian peninsula and south west France, Celts, Scandinavians, Anglo Saxons, Normans, people from all over the Roman Empire, people from the Caribbean, India, Pakistan...Our home is what it is because of this and our home has always been one that changes over time. Whats the problem??

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Stockwood Pete: Disappearing Data: how to rewrite history

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Revisiting the webcast of the original meeting, I was surprised to see that it's just been wiped from the public record. It seems to have gone the way of many (but by no means all) BCC meeting webcasts over a year old. So the act of dodgy decision making is now kept from public gaze. Only the bare Minutes of the meeting are there – and of course they tell next to nothing of the whole story...

...It's not just webcasts that disappear from the record. For the last year or so, the 'Public Forum' Statements submitted to council meetings have been disappearing into a black hole – or, at best, a 'Minute Book' somewhere in the recesses of the council house.

Stockwood Pete: Disappearing Data: how to rewrite history

BRT = Busting relative tranquility

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More news from the public enquiry into bus rapid transit (full story here - and large extract below). Cycling expert Mike Ginger, the Civic Society and Sustrans former boss John Grimshaw are spot on with their comments.

Experts and representatives of cycling organisations have suggested that the buses would put off cyclists and many objectors have focussed on the harbourside as a key battleground.

In documents submitted to the enquiry, Mike Ginger, a former council Cycle Project team leader, said:

"The calm and uncluttered ambience of this unique and historic harbour setting will be shattered resulting in a qualitative reduction in traveller and visitor experience."

He also questioned the general effect on cycling that the new buses would cause.

He said: "It is reasonable to argue that some existing cycling and walking demand will be 'choked off' as conditions deteriorate.

"If cycling demand falls by say a quarter, this would represent a health benefit cost of £8 million euros [£6.5 million] over 30 years."

In a separate document produced by the Bristol Civic Society, objectors said:

"It is proposed that both dedicated BRT buses and regular buses run along the road that separates the new M Shed from the future Umberslade development on WappingWharf.

"We question the desirability of running large vehicles across the new southern entrance of the recently opened M shed."

Finally John Grimshaw, the former Sustrans boss who helped to found the Bristol to Bath cycle path, submitted his own suggestions.

He said: " The proposals cause severance and delay to existing routes, fail to enhance cycling or to provide a continuous route parallel to the BRT, and would, in my view, comprise a worse situation than walkers and cyclists experience at present.

"Overall the BRT provides almost no new benefits for cyclists, whilst at the same time causing considerable severance, delay and inconvenience to existing routes."

He added: "It cannot be desirable to promote an order, largely for the benefit of out-of-town travellers, at the expense of local people travelling by the most sustainable of methods - walking and cycling."

Council costs

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The city council could close more than 20 of its office buildings in a long-term plan to save £40 million. The shake-up could mean a new lease of life for a former bonded warehouse next to the River Avon, which could revitalise a neglected corner of Bristol near the Cumberland Basin. (see here). Councillors should be asking a large number of questions about the rather bold statement of claimed benefits of this proposal and they should especially scrutinise these kind of figures/estimates:

 "The cost of the offices shake-up would be an estimated £70 million, with money borrowed at preferential rates over many years. But the council's treasury officials believe that within 15 years they will have recouped all the costs. And within 25 years the scheme would deliver an overall saving of nearly £40 million."

Could you not radically change the way the council works and use far fewer buildings in many different ways? Have other options been fully explored? Is this the best option? My concern is the £70 million cost and whether this would stay at £70 million and whether it would be paid back as officials estimate.

Surely not a decision for the council but for the Mayor elected in November in any case.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Trains and planes

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Improving the local rail network - great (see story here) Very consistent with cutting carbon emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050, as outlined in the Climate Change Act. However, the Govt then faces in completely the opposite direction by supporting an expanding Bristol Airport - ten million passengers a year will increase not cut carbon emissions (as well as depriving our local and national economy of money and support for local businesses when people spend abroad instead of here).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

BBC News - Rio: Worth the effort?

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BBC News - Rio: Worth the effort?

Rio green summit dismissed as 'hoax that achieved nothing' - Green Living - Environment - The Independent

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Rio green summit dismissed as 'hoax that achieved nothing' - Green Living - Environment - The Independent

George Monbiot – How “Sustainability” Became “Sustained Growth”

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George Monbiot – How “Sustainability” Became “Sustained Growth”

Tackling transport

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Copy of my comment on this story, trying to bring Bristol City Council Cabinet Member and Cllr Gary Hopkins (pictured) back reality through proper transport performance indicators for our city:

@ gary_hopkins - can I remind you that we need to see positive transport outcomes in Bristol eg traffic reduction, significantly lower congestion and delay, much lower air pollution, carbon emissions falling in line with what best science says is needed and in line with the Climate Change Act...We simply aren't seeing significant improvements in the major performance indicators. I also remind you that part of the current transport plans includes building new roads - hardly likely to produce the transport outcomes I've indicated. If you have solid evidence to the contrary then I'd like to hear it.

Cllr Hopkins reply simply made no comments at all about traffic reduction - and no comments at all about carbon emissions. On congestion he said, rather lamely, ‘...conjestion [his spelling] and delays are down but not by as much as they should be because the dividends of these are for the time being being swallowed by First instead of being passed on to customers.’ This appears not to be about overall congestion and delays but in any case admits there is no significant reduction.
On air pollution he admits there is still a problem but that the European green capital assessment rates Bristol as best (!!!). In his words, ‘Air pollution is still a problem but it was interesting that the technical assesment for European green capital rated us best of any entrant on that area. The BRT will run on non fossil fuel and will make a significant contribution.’
Green capital assessment rates Bristol’s air pollution as best! This only goes to show how low their standards are. No evidence in his comment to back the claim that BRT will make a 'significant contribution'. It’s mere assertion therefore.

Cllr Hopkin’s denied it was mere assertion and gave some additional waffle and opinion but did not actually give any data or reference to data to back his assertions. It’s note-able that he simply did not comment at all on traffic reduction and on carbon emissions from transport which I specified along with air pollution and congestion as performance indicators. What forecasting/modelling has been done that shows that current transport plans will produce significant reductions in these? Does Cllr Hopkins have this data??
What Cllr Hopkins seems unwilling to recognise and acknowledge is that key transport outcomes such as overall traffic flow, air pollution, congestion and delay and carbon emissions are very unlikely to significantly improve under current transport plans such as GBBN and BRT with its associated road building. In fact some of them may well get worse. An RAC Foundation report in 2011 said there will be four million more cars will be on the roads in the next 25 years. It goes on to forecast a 43% rise in traffic volume by 2035. Department for Transport figures show that by 2035 traffic will rise by nearly 50% and delays more than 50%on average (more here). To make real and lasting improvements realities have first to be acknowledged.

Some useful information on transport in Bristol here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Decision before evidence?

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Bristol City Council rejected the chance to build a tram system despite figures showing it would be cheaper than the proposed new Bus Rapid Transit link, it has been claimed....Sustraco claimed that Mr Kent [Bristol City Council Cabinet Member for Transport, pictured left] announced at the end of the meeting that the council had already decided "before the meeting" that the bus option would be chosen. On returning from the meeting, Sustraco officials said they found they had been sent e-mails with a 34-page report attached. The report, which Sustraco said was written before the meeting, detailed the decision without considering evidence submitted in the meeting...(full story here)

Only one conclusion can be drawn from this, if what Sustraco say is true. Tim Kent and the Lib Dem Cabinet running Bristol made a decision involving many millions of pounds without considering the all the evidence. Kent met with Sustraco knowing that holding the meeting was pointless given that decisions had already been made! Unless Sustraco's description is shown to be wayward, this is irrational, unreasonable and deceptive behaviour whatever the merits or not of light rail vs BRT.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Marvin for Mayor??

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LABOUR have picked Marvin Rees to be the party's candidate in the race to become Bristol's first elected mayor, (see story here). Almost no indication, again, of any vision or policy positions however. Marvin Rees suffers from the disadvantages of: representing a party that has already referred to using the Mayor as a political weapon; having no national standing; and not much of a profile in Bristol.

He does have the advantage of not being Peter Hammond, Helen Holland, Dan Norris or Kelvin Blake! Bristol Labour members thought so much of their current leader, former leader, a former MP and former councillor that they – rightly in my view - rejected them. I've seen Marvin Rees is a few debates and he comes across quite personably, but has no gravitas and has so far expressed little or nothing on what he’d actually do.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sustainability summit sucks

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UN talks on sustainable development are encountering disputes, delays and diplomatic wrangling, days before world leaders arrive to sign a new agreement.

The talks, in Rio de Janeiro, are aimed at putting the world economy on a more sustainable path, helping people out of poverty while protecting nature.

Yet developing countries have walked out over money, and the presence of Palestinians has brought complications.

Campaigners say there is little hope of momentous changes being agreed here...(full story)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bendy buses

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I'm an opponent of the current Bus Rapid Transit plans but as a keen advocate of communal, public transport I'd like to see investment in BOTH the Bristol bus and rail system (in addition to walking and cycling) and in combining all of these smoothly (see story and comments here).

Light rail is just about the most energy efficient form of motorised transport and it is likely to be more successful in getting car drivers to switch modes. However, it should not be a matter of rail vs bus, though I acknowledge that there is only so much money being made available.

FOSBR are right to oppose BRT, not least because of unsuitable routes and new roads,  but I'm not so sure about all their reasoning. The case I'd make against bendy buses is that they have potential problems with: insufficient effective motive power; slower speed and acceleration due to the extra weight; overheating leading to stalling, or even a fire if diesel fuelled; in crowded areas with narrow streets and tight turns the accident rate may exceed than conventional buses. Bendy buses are supposed to be highly fuel efficient but this must be dependent on the city and the system they are running on and so in practice I have doubts that they will be more efficient in operation than double deckers here in Bristol. Mind you some parts of FOSBRs rail alternative are non-starters - a tunnel under St Mary Redcliffe is both impractical and likely to be far too costly.

There is a problem with money availability if we are to invest in both buses and rail. Yet we need to invest several times what is available for BRT if we are to make a serious dent in Bristol’s traffic and traffic-related problems. It will be interesting to see how the Mayor elected in November approaches this. There is a problem with our congested roads because we need to make the existing bus system more effective and efficient and extensive, if we are genuinely trying to meet targets such as absolute traffic reduction and significant lowering of pollution - so are we willing to make a decent number of existing roads car and lorry free?? And would a Mayor be willing to bite this bullet?

More thoughts on sustainable transport here:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Leadership logic???

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Bristol's elected Mayor would be one of the most powerful figures in Britain according to Cities Minister Greg Clark . I doubt that very much. (full story)

Never saw it as logical to have an election for a Mayor without knowing beforehand what powers exactly the office would have. If the Govt are saying the decision can be taken before the Mayor is elected this November why couldn't that have been done before the vote in May??

Arguably if you not going to annouunce the powers of the Mayoral office from the off then its logical to wait to hear the views and ideas of the person elected before finally deciding on them. The Govt argue that Bristol's current local council leadership is unsatisfactory but is quite happy to negotiate with them the powers of the person that will take leadership away from them! Huh???? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pure party politics

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"...make a successful Labour mayor a weapon in the party's battle to win back lost seats at the next general election..." (see report, Labour's contenders slug it out to be mayoral candidate)

It makes my heart sink to read this as one of the themes agreed on by Labour's mayoral candidates. The idea of the Mayor as an electoral weapon is repugnant. The focus should be on solving Bristol's problems and creating opportunities for Bristol, not maximising party advantage. Party advantage as a spin off of genuine success yes, but as something to be stated and sought from the beginning no.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Festival flim-flam

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"It demonstrates that Bristol has credibility in green issues....What the festival does is make it real for people." says Big Green Week organiser Darren Hall (here)
Bristol will have credibility on green issues (in fact all issues are green issues) when it can demonstrate significant progress on tackling the key issues: horrendous traffic congestion; ongoing air pollution problems; carbon footprint many times higher than is sustainable; ecological footprint that will grow with loss of green spaces and green belt, new road building, rising population...; poor public transport services; low level of economic self-reliance, especially food and energy security; high levels of inequality; poor levels of participation in key matters such as voting in local elections....

That it is thought that a festival is what will make Bristol's green credibility real speaks volumes. A festival on its own is mere flim-flam, nonsense and humbug. When are genuinely and significantly green outcomes going to happen in place of the tinkering and public relations ?? After all people have been burbling their greenwash for decades now.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Leadership lark

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Head of Big Green Week,Paul Rainger  has been quoted as saying, "Bristol is an incredible place. Whether it's grassroots environmentalism, or robust political leadership, Bristol's brand of sustainability is unlike any other."  (see the story 'Bristol's best place for green electricity, says power firm' here). However, Bristol's people dont generally think we have robust political leadership and the head of Big Green Week is therefore out of touch. Many have been critical of the council for years, the turnout in local elections is low - and we have just rejected the current council leadership in favour of an Elected Mayor, albeit on a low turnout.

Also,  its not going to be hard to be the 'greenest city in the country when it comes to environmentally-friendly electricity' because the general standard at the moment is very poor. Many cities simply dont have much green electricity generation at all.

By the way its not clear to me that a fair comparison has been made by Good Energy given the figures quoted in the story. They just give a raw figure for the postcode area not green electricity per head of population or similar.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Boxing clever?

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Encouraging children to take up boxing could prevent a repeat of last summer's riots, a Bristol MP says.
Charlotte Leslie...said hopping into the ring was "as close as you'll get to a silver bullet" for harnessing the pent-up frustration of teenagers...(full story)

I wouldn't go as far as to say its a silver bullet but I do think Tory MP Charlotte Leslie's argument that boxing is a good means of  personal development for young people is a sound one. Professional boxing is badly in need of a reforming shake up in terms of its safety, money involved, management and the behaviour of boxers. However, amateur boxing, like many other sporting activities, can if properly delivered be a good activity that people can do together in their community. It requires participants to respect and work within a set of rules. It means those taking part get into a routine for training and planning. It promotes physical health and a focussed mental attitude. Surely it is reasonable to assume that these things help to develop greater social responsibility?