Saturday, 12 September 2009

Shock News; I Agree With The Lib Dems!

Two Press Releases from Bristol City Council caught my eye this week.

The first one, released on Tuesday, announced plans to give Bristolians a bigger say in decisions affecting their local communities. Council leader Barbara Janke is quoted saying “We believe local people know what is best for their needs and that better decisions will be taken with better services as a result."

The second, released the day after, announced that a major new scheme for building council housing in Bristol had been given the green light after receiving funding from the Homes and Community Agency. Mark Wright, Cabinet Member for Housing and Service Improvement; "Despite the property crash we are still very short of affordable housing in Bristol, and these new council houses will, I hope, be the first of many”.

I had to pinch myself, two statements by members of the Liberal Democrat executive that, taken at face value, I find myself in full agreement with – “local people know what is best for their needs” and that we are “short of affordable housing in Bristol”. I have made a note in my diary of the date and time so that I can record it for posterity.

I am sure that the above news will be welcomed by the residents of Southville and Bedminster wards which together make up a Neighbourhood Partnership Network for Greater Bedminster, one of the local community organisations through which local residents will be given the opportunity to have a bigger say in the decisions affecting their own communities.

Similarly, given the length of housing waiting lists, the news that funding is available to build housing that the majority of local residents can actually afford is equally very welcome. The average house price in Bristol is over 7 times the average earnings, approaching 8 times for first-time buyers (A New Housing Strategy for Bristol, Paper 3: Housing Demand and Supply, figs 11 and 12 on page 13). Those most in need in Bristol simply cannot afford the overpriced houses that private developers want to build on the Green Belt.

Of course, in order to build the council houses welcomed by Councillor Wright, it is vital that Bristol City Council makes efficient use of any urban or brown-field sites that it currently owns so that it avoids the pressure to build on Green Belt land – after all, this is the same Liberal Democrat party that promised during the election campaign to “Fight Labour’s Green Belt grab and preserve our green spaces”. In the same context, in order to meet the objectives set by Councillor Janke of involving local people more fully in the local decision-making process, it will be important that the council directly consult local residents on the future use of any council-owned or managed land before they offer it to private developers.

In fact, if the Lib Dems are serious about their promises to involve local people in decisions and to build more council houses whilst protecting the Green Belt and preserving green spaces, they have an opportunity to demonstrate this on Tuesday at the full council meeting.

I have put in a number of questions regarding the future use of the council owned land adjacent to the Ashton Gate stadium, of which the last one is;

d) Does Bristol City Council intend to consult directly with local residents regarding the future use of this land prior to the 5th November when planning application 09/03208/P is scheduled to be determined?

If the Lib Dems want their promises about involving local people to be taken seriously then the only answer to the above has to be Yes. And when this direct consultation takes place, one of the questions asked should be whether, if the land is to be developed, the Council should seek a further slice of the funding from the Homes and Communities Agency to build affordable housing on that land – which at housing densities similar to those for Southville as a whole could provide another 45 affordable houses.

Let’s be blunt – many commenters have been critical of the performance of previous Labour-led council administrations, accusing them of ignoring local communities, making decisions behind closed doors, and “greenwashing” environmental issues. Many of those at the forefront of the criticisms are councillors in the Liberal Democrat party which now has majority control of the City Council. It is time for those same councillors to either deliver on their promises or to be guilty of hypocritically doing the very same things they were so loudly accusing their political opponents of doing less than 12 months ago.

September 15th, 2009 may see another entry go in to my diary for posterity. It is up to the Bristol Liberal Democrats to determine whether it will be for positive reasons or negative ones.


  1. Thanks Tony

    Glad you approve of Bristol Lib Dem policy. The City will be changed for the better by our administration and stewardship.

    You ask if the council will "consult directly with local residents regarding the future use of this land prior to the 5th November when planning application 09/03208/P is scheduled to be determined?"

    Are you suggesting that local residents have not had an opportunity to feedback on the application?

    What additional steps are you suggesting as being necessary?

    I have seen a lot of views, comments and discussions on the topic, and don't think we need to have "CONsultations" on every issue.

    In fact, our administration is trying hard to avoid the meaningless consultations of our predecessors.

    Happy to hear other viewpoints.


  2. Jon,

    You're talking complete bollocks.

    I'll expand on this tomorrow.

  3. Looking forward to more of your incisive and reasoned rhetoric and analysis.

  4. Jon

    I asked quite clearly "Does Bristol City Council intend to consult directly with local residents regarding the future use of this land?"

    Are you saying that the council has already done so? When did this happen? Can we see a copy of the report on the response to this consultation?

    Let me be clear, I am not asking for any "additional steps" by the council, I am asking for a "first step" of the council consulting directly with the local residents of the two wards closest to the store because, as your party leader said "local people know what is best for their needs"

  5. You seem to be implying that only formal consultation will enable residents to express their views.

    Surely there are many other ways to assess resident opinion?

  6. Jon

    1. You are conflating two separate issues: the planning application and the land sale. We know from the Chocolate Factory fiasco - that you are now personally overseeing - that they are separate issues that must be dealt with separately (You must have a short memory Jon. Remember: a land sale is not a "material consideration" at planning?)


    2. Whether or not residents have "had an opportunity to feedback on the application" is neither here nor there. Tony is talking about the land sale not the planning application. The land sale should have been resolved before this went anywhere near planning - and you know it.

    3. This conflation of controversial land sales with planning applications for the benefit of wealthy local businessmen is the modus operandi of the man who really does your job, David Bishop. He did it successfully with the Chocolate Factory, leaving you to act as his political mouthpiece and apologist, now we're getting it all over again at Ashton Gate.

    4. Bishop has known about the ownership of this land since January. He's deliberately kept it quiet and allowed a planning application to go in.

    5. You've been stitched up haven't you Jon? By your own employee. Do you find that embarrassing or as a local politician are you used to being humiliated by your own officers?

    6. As for your pathetic party political claims. Labour and the Lib Dems appear exactly the same. Instead of Bishop having his hand shoved up glove puppet Bradshaw's arse. He's now got a new Jon Rogers puppet hasn't he?

    Lib Dem or Labour, it's business exactly the same as usual at the Council House. If you think you represent a change, you are a deeply deluded man.

  7. No intention to conflate planning application and land sale. My comments were about mechanisms of seeking feedback.

  8. I'm confused. Surely this land has been in council ownership since the old football club went skint in 1982, so why would this be a surprise to our councillors. Also, would it be an issue if the ground was used for housing/school set out in the local plan. Surely it's selling to Tesco that is the problem! At what point did Tesco come on the scene? What I would like to know is what happens if the houses at Ashton Vale next to the proposed stadium get turned down, as is pretty certain under delegated powers. Will the stadium still go ahead? Houses on greenbelt; council promises to protect greenbelt; council supports World Cup; World Cup needs new stadiun; new stadiun needs houses and Tesco; Tesco needs council land.....

  9. Jon,

    In recent weeks, individuals have made unsubstantiated claims that within the two wards most affected there exists a "silent majority" in favour of a specific proposal for Ashton Gate - and therefore in favour of the redevelopment and, presumably, the selling (donating?) of the council-owned land we are discussing here.

    This “silent majority in favour” opinion is one which some senior figures within your own party and senior officers within the council appear to have accepted as valid when discussing the planning application.

    Another body of opinion is that the reverse is true. That the overwhelming majority of those living in the area see no need for a development of the type proposed, and that the land should remain in public ownership, and if developed, be used to provide those much needed council houses described by your cabinet colleague Cllr Wright.

    The only definite conclusion that we can draw from the above is that there are considerable differences of opinion as to the real views of the residents of the two wards that will be most affected by any development of council owned land at Ashton Gate. Is it not reasonable to suggest that a process needs to be implemented to gain, in as impartial a manner as possible, a better understanding of the views of the local residents?

    Whatever terminology you wish to use to describe the process, the fact remains that the City Council has, through the mechanism of the Neighbourhood Network Partnerships (which is an independent organisation with no specific political or commercial allegiance) a framework which can, with the council’s assistance, organise and conduct a more effective and impartial survey of the true opinions of those living in the area. Whether that will entail a "formal consultation" or some other method of allowing local residents to express their opinions should be decided by the Neighbourhood Network Partnership as part of that process.

    I repeat, your own party leader has said that ""local people know what is best for their needs" so let a non-politically aligned, non-commercially incentivised, local organisation work out the best way for the City Council to ask local people what form of, if any, development of the council owned land at Ashton Gate will best meet their needs, and whether this public asset should, if required, be sold to private interests. Surely this is what “openness and transparency” really means when it is applied to the real world rather than to the somewhat abstract world of party electioneering.

    The question, therefore, remains;

    "Does Bristol City Council intend to consult directly with local residents regarding the future use of this land?"

  10. "I'm confused. Surely this land has been in council ownership since the old football club went skint in 1982"

    It predates that. But I think the recent history is that Council granted a 125 year lease to the Club in 1985 to use the land as a car park.

    It seems a bit much, though, that in order to be informed in this city we all have to remember - off the top of our heads - events from 25 years ago.

    Instead we pay David Bishop and his planning team handsomely to inform us of these things. Why haven't they?

    As far as I'm concerned this matter should have been at the top of Jon's inbox when he walked into office in March.

    As a city we should have spent the last 6 months consulting and debating on the various complex issues involved here in order to reach the best long term solution available.

    We've been denied that. I think - although I know it won't happen - there should be a full investigation into what the Head of Planning is up to here.

    Why did the Executive Member only learn about this issue from my blog last week? Why weren't the ward councillors informed 8 months ago? Why has the Neighbourhood Partnership not been involved? Why weren't residents CONsulted months ago?

    Why has over 6 months been wasted, leaving only 6 weeks to resolve this issue?

  11. I recently wrote to Dawn with my view that consultations are "basically a waste of time". This was provoked by her government ignoring the massive response to the RSS.She obviously disagreed and quoted examples where consultations have made a difference hear in Bristol. Cycling improve road network.First on splitting 75/76/77 bus service. Closure of Marksbury Rd library. With all due respect to these schemes, surely selling council land for a Tesco is far more contentious, so why no official consultation?

  12. I see that Simon Cook is quoted last Friday on Original FM explaining the situation...

    But council Deputy Leader Simon Cook told Original 106.5 it was "absolutely wrong" to suggest the council could not make an independent decision.

    He said: "On the face of it, it looks like the city council is stitching up its own planning wishes. But it is not, and it would be entirely illegal if that were to happen. We don't do it.

    "The city council owns 40% of the land in the city so we have to grant planning permission for our own projects all the time. We did it with the Colston Hall, the Museum of Bristol, a raft of schools in the area and several leisure centres."

    Mr Cook also again insisted the planning decision would be made independently of political considerations.

    He said: "It's a planning decision pure and simple. It will be considered under planning law, and will be entirely independent. It is not the intention of the city council to influence that. That would be illegal."

  13. Planning decisions are by their nature political. When the decision is not delegated to officers (as in this case) it is made by a committee of elected politicians on the advice of officers. Decisions are made within a legal and policy framework and take account of material considerations, however, they are political in that elected politicians do not have to accept officer advice. Only when a decision goes to appeal to be determined by the Planning Inspectorate are they really independent.

  14. Only when a decision goes to appeal to be determined by the Planning Inspectorate are they really independent.

    Qui custodet custodes?

    Who controls the planning inspectorate?

  15. In my experience, the local politicians are the least political people in the whole system.

    I find the idea that local planning officers and government civil servants are objective and independent utterly laughable.

  16. Jon

    Regardless of what spin Cllr Cook wishes to put on the planning permission situation, the planning application he refers to assumes ownership or control of the land by the applicants.

    My question is not about the merits or otherwise of that planning application.

    My question is about the potential sale of specific publicly owned assets in the form of land, land which has a valuation considerably above £500,000 - and thus of a value that makes it a decision that must be made by the executive.

    The question remains;

    "Does Bristol City Council intend to consult directly with local residents regarding the future use of this land?"

  17. The City Council paid out more than £500,000.00 of our money to buy and refurbish a very small piece of land at the end of South Liberty Lane to be used as a Travellers site. That should tell you what a big car park on prime land is worth. I agree with a lot of other City fans, refurbish our Home. Oh by the way Tony, dont be silly, BCC have always done what they want not what the people of the area want, giving planning on Green belt land (our Childrens Heritage or in my case, Grand Childrens), doesnt worry them in the least its all about money not us underlings.