A successful council motion last night to preserve the city’s greenbelt and wildlife areas such as the Novers/Western Slopes from the Reverend’s looney housing developer mates really upset the developer-friendly Labour Group.
The Reverend, naturally, had one of his regular and embarrassing hissy fits in public at councillors after not getting his own way and being stopped from concreting over any more of our open spaces. But also joining him was our dear friend Tom “Plasticene Man” Renhard, the city’s new Cabinet member for housing, tasked with reading out crap speeches badly written for him by the Reverend’s PR sideman Kev “Slo” Slocombe.
After the Labour defeat, Plasticene Man, Labour’s latest ridiculous working class voice of the people, was heard privately dismissing campaigners, insisting that none of the Western Slopes campaigners lived locally and that they were all “posh nimbys”.
For starters, how can you live out of an area and be a Nimby?
Plans for the council to build housing on the Western Slopes on the fringes of Knowle West are causing a bit of a stir at this election.
Here’s a south Bristol resident’s letter to the Mayor and Cabinet on the issue after the Cabinet agreed in March to transfer this land to their housing company, Goram Homes, in preparation for building on this valued open space. There was very little debate or discussion about the transfer, which you can watch on YouTube, and green space/ecological issues weren’t mentioned. There was also an ambiguous comment about the planning process:
Dear Mayor and Cabinet Members
I understand the need for housing in Bristol and appreciate the difficulties involved in how to build enough council or affordable housing. I also recognise the difficulty in addressing this need whilst balancing it against the ecological and climate emergencies.
I’m writing to you about the Cabinet meeting held on 9 March 2021.I was disappointed by the lack of any meaningful debate on item 11, Goram Homes Land Disposal. I note that these meetings are public and agendas published, but most residents of Bristol do not follow these meetings at all and there seems very little effort to engage disadvantaged communities in understanding the implications of the items being discussed and the decisions being made.
The Mayor spoke about sustainability in building. That’s welcome but is really just the standard of building now.Councillor Shah, Cabinet Member with responsibility for climate, ecology and sustainable growth, made no comment about any environmental effects of transferring so much land to your housing company. I don’t know all of the 12 sites in detail and many do seem to be genuinely brownfield. However some of the sites are environmentally rich, semi wild spaces, or sites that are rewilding themselves (Western Slopes/Novers Hill), or perhaps were brownfield but could now commonly be thought of as a green space (New Fosseway), or unambiguously a green space that is in high use (Knowle West Health Park).
There was also no mention of the well being effects of green spaces, especially in poorer neighbourhoods and seemingly no recognition of the value of such spaces in reducing the need for costly use of NHS services.
As all but one of you in the register of interests lists your ‘land in the property of the authority’ as ‘sensitive interest’, it is impossible to see if your decisions are affected by self interest to any property you own that may increase in value if these sites are developed. Your land is classed as ‘sensitive interest’ or ‘confidential for reasons of security’, presumably because these are your home addresses.
I invite you to add more transparency to the decision. What is the mechanism to allow this to be looked at? Can council officers who are allowed to see your registered interests check the locations and review whether conflicts of interest should have been declared for this decision?
“Where we own the land we have greater influence in the planning system. The planning system has some teeth, but where you’re the landowner it can really kind of add value and get the outcomes that we’re looking for, so a combination of that sort of regen thinking and where we also have Goram Homes involved it makes me very positive about the future of some of those locations and so I really look forward to…. I’m so glad Gorham are going to have that certainty and now we can look forward to cracking on with those sites.”
I invite you to clarify what was meant, as there are possible different interpretations. On the one hand it could be a positive statement about the benefit to the council of achieving what it wants to on those sites, on the other it carries a threat of extra power in the planning process to push through whatever you want to build. Given the comment is ambiguous and unclear, I think some clarity is needed.
You seem to have created a tension between your housing aims and your ecological aims. The choice of housing or ecological richness. For some of these sites the ecological loss is just too great. All but one of you have wards in the north of the city, I’m very happy to meet you at the Western Slopes and show you around, so that you can actually experience the site for yourself.
Having had the grand global green sustainable smart city visions courtesy of the progressive parties, it’s time for the Tories to enter the election fray as their manifesto finally appears.
At just ten pages long, they’re doing us, at least, one massive favour. By way of comparison, the Green’s Squire Bufton-Tufton treated us to 36 pages of his Clifton drawing room progessive piffle. The Tories, in contrast, leave few populist cliches unturned in a short booklet that’s quite hard to find and called ‘Our plan to build back better in Bristol’.
Big ideas are thin on the ground here. Apart from wanting to scrap the mayor and save money by not pissing millions up the wall on energy companies, there’s nothing much in the way of grand schemes to catch the eye. Instead it’s just a list of local bugbears with a few law ‘n’ order shapes thrown in
The most noticeable of these is a clear threat of some social cleansing: “Use the Council’s powers to move van dwellers to permanent sites rather than allow informal sites to develop on local roads.”
They’re also quite keen on having an ongoing passive/aggressive conversation about your your safety. “We want people to be safe and feel safe where ever they live”; “We will listen to communities on how to make neighbourhoods safer for all” and “We will work with the Police Commissioner to ensure safer streets across Bristol.”
All of which actually makes you start wondering if you are safe? Especially when their seemingly endless safety concerns are washed down with a further mild threat/message from their thuggish looking ex-squaddie Police and Crime Commissioner candidate, Mark Shelford. He promises with menaces to “drive down crime and make our streets safer.”
Although judging by Mark’s general tone and demeanour, it seems highly unlikely that our streets will be safer for anyone who wants to protest on them. The rest of the manifesto is lists, dog whistles and mood music clearly aimed south of Southville where the progressive manifestoes abruptly stop.
In the Tories’s words it’s a manifesto that “delivers on the basics that matter to our residents, prioritises funding for our communities and doesn’t ignore the suburbs”!
This means public toilets will be reopened; libraries kept open; the Jubilee Pool saved; pavement parking tackled; “more will be done to preserve and improve our local amenity such as the Western Slopes in South Bristol”; “licensing for all ‘houses of multiple occupancy’ across the city not just in certain areas” introduced; an “end to over-development of some of our key sites such as the Cumberland Basin and Hengrove Park” and “we will fairly distribute money across the City so communities have a real chance to improve their area rather than fighting over funding scraps.”
Will the public find this thunderously low key and ordinary municipal vision with a blatantly populist edge that promises to preserve services and protect communities more appealing than the progressive ‘big project men’ and their weird ‘visions’ that can only be delivered through large faceless corporations seeking profit?
We’re overwhelmed with choice at this election aren’t we?