Saturday, 27 February 2010

Friday, 26 February 2010

The Fabian Society's View of Bristol


Published by




MAY, 1891.

To be obtained at the Office of the Fabian Society, 276 Strand, London, W.C.; of the Secretary of the Clifton and Bristol Fabian Society, 18 Cotham Road, Bristol; or of Mr. Rydill, Bookseller, Union Street, Bristol.

I found the a copy of the above document whilst searching out some background information for a presentation that I am due to deliver.
One of the key features that stands out is how Bristol even then, and in contrast to most other British cities of the time, had put many of its key public services into the hands of private business - essentially Bristol was an example of early privatisation - and it is apparent from the Fabian Society study (who, of course, may not have been entirely neutral on the matter) that the results were not entirely satisfactory;
"BRISTOL is in many respects the most backward of English municipalities. Most important towns in England own their own waterworks: Bristol leaves this vital public service in the hands of a monopolist company earning a dividend of eight and a half per cent. Two-thirds of the gas-consumers in the United Kingdom are supplied by municipal enterprise: Bristol depends for light on a company earning ten per cent. More than a quarter of the tramways in this country are owned by public authorities: Bristol allows private adventurers to earn five per cent, by running cars through the public streets. Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, and many other places keep all three of these public services under public control for public profit. Bristol enjoys the bad pre-eminence of being the largest provincial municipality which allows all three to remain in private hands for private advantage. Bristol can borrow capital at three and a half per cent: if the capital of these companies had been municipal stock at three and a half per cent, instead of private investments at an average of six per cent., the inhabitants of Bristol would be saving £50,000 per annum, representing a rate of one shilling in the pound."
Other issues of concern to them was the confusion caused by different parts of the city being under different administrations, and the multiplicity of local elections leading to a lack of public interest in local governance;
"Public administration in Bristol is a confused and perplexing tangle of uncoordinated authorities, exercising diverse and ill-defined powers over varying and over-lapping areas, elected on different franchises, at different dates, with different qualifications for membership. One public body spends money in opposing the projects of another.....During three years, 1881-4, no fewer than 16 elections to one public body or another have taken place.......Lack of public spirit, due largely to lack of knowledge of public affairs, is the inevitable result of this confusion. "
Later in the pamphlett, the Fabian Society says;
"The times and method of election, and the qualifications of candidates for these bodies, are in almost in each case different, and it is obvious that under such conditions, there must be waste of power, of money, and lack of interest and of harmony, and an unnecessary multiplication of officials. At present there are some 180 elected members of the various governing bodies, and with ex officio members, about 250 in all."
the study then goes on to describe how the city is divided up into four parliamentary constituencies, with a population of approximately 300,000. It estimated that there was an adult male population of about 65,000 with about a third of those being ineligible to vote (along with women, the poorest men did not get the vote until 1918). At the previous general election only 25,422 had voted, about two-thirds of those eligible.
The Fabian Society than cover in some detail, various aspects of living in Bristol in 1891.
"it is practically certain that one in three of the wage-earners ends his or her life in a bed provided by public charity. Over a third, indeed, of these deaths were those of indoor paupers in the three workhouses."
"the people of Bristol are crowded together more closely than the inhabitants of any of the 27 largest provincial towns in the United Kingdom, with the exception of Liverpool, Birmingham and Plymouth."
The density in the city proper was estimated to be even higher, with a rate of 71.5 persons per acre, and in the 600 or so "courts" which the Fabian Society considered "mostly unfit for human habitation" they were living at a density of 4 per room.
"Notwithstanding these facts no action has been taken by the Town Council under the Artisans' Dwellings Acts to provide decent accommodation for the poorer citizens! Other municipalities have been less backward in this respect."
"About two-thirds of Bristol's children attend schools over which the citizens have no control"
"Bristol compares badly with other cities with respect to the number of children at school"
"If the water works had been constructed by the Town Council, the annual interest payable upon their cost would have been, at 3 per cent, only two thirds of the amount annually received by the shareholders"
"Why should not Bristol imitate Bradford, for instance, and, taking over its gas-works, reduce the price to the consumer, secure fair treatment of the gas-workers, improve the lighting of its streets, courts and common stairways, and make an annual surplus in aid of the rates? "
Public Transport
"The internal communications of Bristol are mainly in the hands of the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company, which makes a profit out of its gratuitous use of Bristol streets, and pays its ordinary shareholders five per cent......To earn this profit for the tramway shareholders, the tramway workers are kept on duty over 14 hours per day."
"Much additional public provision for the sick is needed before the ideal is attained of a hospital bed available for every case of serious illness in the city"
The Fabian Society also looks at the city's finances.  It estimates that rental values had grown by some 50% in the two decades between 1870 and 1890 and that as "the city proper has long been entirely covered with buildings" this rental growth was an "unearned increment" which over a 15-year purchase period "represents a capital sum of nearly £2,000,000" and was "a gratuitous present from the people of Bristol to the proprietors of their homes".
"Bristolians pay every two years to the proprietors of their city, for the mere privilege of inhabiting it, as much as the whole outstanding cost of the docks, schools, public buildings, and street improvements"
It later adds;
"It is impossible to avoid the suggestion that the Bristol authorities have been less active than those of other municipalities in those departments of collective expenditure such as public sanitation, the re-housing of the people, and the common provision for the needs of crowded urban life, which, though not pecuniarily remunerative, are of such inestimable public advantage."
The final conclusion of the study still rings true, at least for me,  today;
"The two signs of a free and self-governing community for which Bristol burgesses contended in the earliest days were popular elective government and municipal control of the revenues from city land and from profitable public services. A free city, in the view of our forefathers, should not be beholden to any landlord — not even a royal landlord — nor subject to any monopoly. The plain duty of the commonalty at the present moment does not differ one jot from the principles which constituted the life and breath of the patriotism of free Bristolians six hundred years ago. By a strange irony of fate, the Socialist who appears to himself, no less than to others, to be the advocate of brand-new revolutionary changes, has only to search the annals of the past to find that in his principles of municipal reform he is, after all, in truth, a most consistent Conservative. If the large income from its city property proves the wisdom of the city fathers of the past, the deficits on the Dock account prove the folly of those of the present day in allowing private competition to usurp the field and to spoil the game, when, in the end, the city was forced to step in at the eleventh hour. But, in the case of the Docks, it was the private self-interest of a number of merchants and others which forced the city into the policy of undertaking their management. This is a very one-sided application of municipal Socialism, if the city should only deal with concerns that will least pay. The public self-interest of the mass of citizens must be aroused to overcome any opposition of landholders and shareholders, and to acquire for the profit of the community those monopolies which the municipality can manage. "

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Multi-million-pound stadium questions Bristol must face

Liberal Democrat cabinet set to face multi-million pound decisions on public funding contributions to new stadium.

Article by yours truly on Bristol 24-7 website.  Link from here

Friday, 12 February 2010

Does this building have Bristol's largest carbon footprint?

A recent freedom of information request by the BBC has produced a list of the carbon emissions for some 28,000 public buildings in the UK including 280 in the Bristol area.

Standing proud(!) at the top of Bristol's list is Bristol University's Senate House which, according to the data, produces a staggering 25,107 tonnes of carbon emissions per annum.

To put this into perspective, second on the list is the MOD's Abbey Wood complex which produces 15,459 tonnes per annum.

What can Bristol University be doing in the Senate House that causes them to emit 60% more greenhouse gases than the entire Abbey Wood complex?

Can we expect to see soldiers, sailors, and pilots protesting outside the Senate House at the way students are destroying our planet?

Othe public buildings in the Bristol area that produce more than 10,000 tonnes of carbon per year are;
North Bristol NHS Trust, Southmead Hospital = 15,420 tonnes per annum
University of the West of England, Blocks A-N, Frenchay Campus = 13,066 tonnes
Southmead Health Services NHS Trust, Southmead Hospital = 12,128 tonnes
Bristol Royal Infirmary, Marlborough Street = 10,915 tonnes
and two buildiings at Frenchay Hospital which produce 10,766 and 10512 tonnes.

We then drop down to 5,557 tonnes for Bristol Uni's Churchill Hall on Stoke Park Road.

Other selected buildings include;
11, Bristol Mail Centre at Gloucester Road North = 3,946
14, Her Majesty's Prison in Cambridge Road = 2,831
26, The Council House, College Green = 1,159
30, Bradley Stoke Leisure Centre = 1,068
34, Bristol Crown Courts, Small St = 947
38, Gov Office for SW, 2 Rivergate = 904
40, Natural England, Burghill Road, WoT = 848
47, Arnolfini, Narrow Quay = 660
60, Monks Park School, Filton Road = 518

Meanwhile, I'm off to get the Royal Marines to organise a protest march on the University!

photo credit: Chris Bertram at

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Anglo-Saxon Democracy

A more light-hearted post today.

During a bit of spring-cleaning, I came across some notes I made several years ago (for an aborted article) about early Anglo-Saxon local democracy, and given the level of discussion at the moment about devolving responsibilites to local communities, or improving the system for how we elect our representatives, it is interesting to see how local democracy worked a thousand years ago and to compare how we’ve progressed – or not.

Essentially the notes looked at how local administration worked via "local authorities" known as “hundreds” each consisting of a hundred households (it’s a bit more complex than that but that will do for the purpose of this post). Those households were sub-divided into groups of ten (a tithe) who then selected a representative to attend a “hundred-moot”, where they would meet up every four weeks with the representatives of the other tithes and the king’s financial officers to settle matters of taxation, law and order and legal disputes within the hundred. The representative of the king could offer advice but the decisions were made by the local people.

The neck of land that would see the birth of the Saxon town of Brigstowe was part of the hundred of Swinehead, which had its hundred moot on a small hill just outside Bitton and formed a triangle with Clifton and Winterbourne at the other corners. Other hundreds in the area included Brenty to the north west, Brislington* to the south east, and the hundred of Hartcliffe and Bedminster (which held its court on a hillside called Hareclive at the end of Dundry Hill overlooking Ashton Vale).

For matters of greater import, groups of hundreds were collected into shires and a shire-moot was held once or twice a year where representatives from the hundreds met with higher level representatives of the king such as the earldorman (from whence Alderman) and the shire reeve (from whence Sheriff). North of the Avon, this was held at Gloucester, whilst southerners had to go to Somerton.

This surprising level of local democracy was soon undermined, first by the rise of towns and their merchants, and later increasingly by the Norman aristocracy, aided and abetted by the church.

The rising town of Bristol, or rather its merchants or burgesses (literally city-dwellers), were unhappy with the restrictions placed upon them by this system and thus began their long campaign for increasing independence from the surrounding hundred so it could set its own rules independent of the local democratic process and for the benefit of business. The story of Bristol from its origins up until at least 1835, is that of an oligarchy consisting of the burgesses (from the same root as bourgeoisie) establishing greater and greater control in order to promote their commercial interests.

The Bristol merchants were aided in their objectives by the new Norman rulers keen for money to aid their extraterritorial ambitions – first to conquer Wales and Ireland, and later to finance wars of aggression with Scotland and France. The wealthy Bristol merchants provided the finance, and the Norman nobles returned the favour by providing the merchants with the legal rights to run their businesses as they saw fit, free of outside influence – it is no coincidence that the longest running non-Royal English dynastic line is that of the Saxon Bristol merchant Robert fitz Harding, who was awarded the lands and title of the Norman Berkeleys (including the manor of Bedminster, where he promoted and invested in a speculative mixed use development now known as Redcliffe) in return for his financial aid to Henry II. Examples of the privileges gained include, in 1172, the merchants of Bristol being given the rights to control Dublin turning it into Bristol’s very own medieval version of Hong Kong, and the 1373 grant by Edward III that freed Bristol’s merchants from the worries of the county courts that were beyond their influence by the simple expedient of making Bristol a county in its own right, and thus entitled to its own county court.

Meanwhile, for the Bristol peasantry, the only available source of protection from the worst deprivations was the church. Unfortunately despite repeated declarations that they were there to represent the needs of the poor, the church instead increasingly radiated towards establishing commercial relationships with the merchants, especially as the merchants saw donations to religion as a way of offsetting any sins they committed in the present against any future reckoning - one example of this is Robert fitz Harding founding a major development on green field land just outside the city known as St Augustine's. As a result the church became very wealthy indeed (in the end too wealthy, and having betrayed its natural consituents, the poor, was effectively privatised for the benefit of the very richest, with St Augustine's becoming Bristol's Cathedral).  National government was also jealous of the power of the Bristol merchants, at one point establishing a separate development corporation in the east of the city outside the control of the local merchants. Temple Fee, as the area was called, was controlled by an unaccountable body with few connections to the city itself, the Knights Templar.

So, in the end a system that allowed local communities to have a decisive say in the decision-making that affected their own neighbourhoods was transformed into one where business interests had the decisive say on local events, supported by a wealthy elite who controlled most of the decision-making bodies at national level, whilst those who purported to represent the general public were more interested in establishing good relations with business and feathering their own nest eventually leading to their own demise.

Aren’t you glad we don’t live in a system like that anymore?

*Edit: Oops, they say write in haste, repent at leisure.  The hundred that covered what is now south east Bristol was, of course, the hundred of Keynsham not Brislington.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and Transport Assessment Statistics

(chart legend; orange colums are % fans arriving by car, purple columns are % fans driving to stadium)

What the chart above shows are the results of four surveys. The surveys asked football fans how they travel to watch football; from left to right they are;

1) a survey completed in 2006/07 of supporters in the Premier League,
2) a survey completed in 2008 of supporters in the Football League,
3) a survey completed in 2008 of Bristol City fans.
4) the figures taken from the 2009 Transport Assessment provided to support Bristol City's application for a new stadium at Ashton Vale.

In the chart above the orange columns show the total number of people who will travel by car (i.e both drivers and passengers) whilst the purple columns show car drivers only (and thus the number of cars that need to find parking).

You can see that for the first three columns the ratio between the number of cars and the number of people travelling by car is consistent. The pattern is that the more people who travel by car, the more cars there are - which is simple common sense. It also shows that, just as in many other situations, most of the cars are occupied only by a driver, with every third or fourth car also carrying a passenger - this is shown more clearly in the chart below which shows the ratio between car drivers and car passengers.

(ratio of car passengers to car drivers)

It is only when you get to the final set of figures that we see a totally different pattern. In this scenario, even through an even higher percentage of people are predicted to travel to the new Ashton Vale stadium by car, the number of car drivers (and thus cars) will apparently drop by about 40% in terms of share because every car driver will be taking 1.6 passengers compared to to a ratio of 3 or 4 drivers to every passenger in the other surveys.

The Transport Officers responsible for determining whether the Transport Assessment provided by the developers was robust concluded that the disparity between it and the other fans survey was explained by the fact that "the survey of existing fans would have overestimated the number of drivers relative to passengers who in many cases will be children".

For this statement to be valid, you will have to accept the premise that most of the difference in passenger numbers between the fans surveys and the transport assessment is made up of children. This adds up to almost a third of all supporters. In fact the percentage that are children would have to be even higher because 7% of the Football League Fan Survey responses (despite the officer comment above) were actually from U-16s, and thus are already represented. In other words the contention is that roughly 40% of those who attend football matches are under-16 - yet the Football League Fan Survey indicates that less than 25% of fans attend matches with their children or grandchildren.

Having already accepted that the number of cars will constitute a much lower proportion than common sense and regular experience for those living in the Ashton Gate area implies, the transport officers then go further and say that if a robust travel plan is implemented the number of fans driving their own cars will drop to 26%. This will be done by generating a greater use of public transport so that the percentage of fans using public transport will jump from 8% to 13% - oh, and each car driver will now deliver 2 passengers so that the ratio of drivers to passengers becomes even further removed from the results of the fan surveys.

To put this claim into perspective, let's review the evidence from the city of Dortmund in Germany. Dortmund was chosen as a host city for World Cup 2006. As a host city it committed (as Bristol has done at an estimated cost of approx £2m) to providing free public transport for all ticket holders attending matches in the 65,000 seat local stadium. The result was a great success with 55% of fans using public transport to get to the stadium (compared to the 13% target mentioned above). As a result of this the number of cars driven to the stadium was reduced to just 13,500 - or to put it another way, 21% of fans, despite being offered free public transport, still drove. Yet here in Bristol despite a "robust" travel plan that will only increase public transport use to 13%, we nonetheless expect only 26% of fans to drive, only 5 percentage points difference.

I am not the only one with concerns regarding the transport assessment.

Bob Cole, a director of eo consulting ltd with over 30 years of transport planning and civil engineering experience, was requested by one of the local groups (AVHG) concerned about the impact of the new stadium to review the transport issues related to the new stadium proposal. He reviewed issues concerning car driver and passenger trips, stadium attendance, bus travel, and car parking and expressed significant concerns about the adequacy and robustness of the proposed traffic mitigation measures.

"The consequence of these inadequacies is a high level of risk in terms of matchday traffic management, which will fall mainly to the council to resolve"

going on to say that;

"Experience elsewhere suggests that unless substantive amendments are made to the current AGP proposal there are likely to be significant operational impacts on the transport network on matchdays, with a major impact on the local residential and business community."

and that even with the car figures used in the transport assessment that some 2,000 of the proposed off-street parking is not guaranteed and that even this figure is based only on an average attendance of 23,500 and thus liable to even further increase in uncontrolled parking for capacity attendances. As a result, some 7,000 cars could end up looking to park on-street in those areas not protected by a match-day residents parking zone - and this is based on a Transport Assessment which may well seriously underestimate the number of cars.

He concludes;

"The officer report of 4 November agrees that the ‘initial ideas’ set out in the Travel Plan ‘need further development, certainty and a broader scope’. Despite further discussions, the report for 10 February 2010 reinforces the view that these measures are not yet robust or certain, they remain ideas. This is not a sound basis for giving consent to a 30,000 seater stadium and could not realistically form enforceable planning conditions or be part of any Section 106 Agreement."

"Experience elsewhere shows that it will be the council that will be faced with having to rectify the matchday travel problems, to the disbenefit of local communities and other road users."

Update: I have been informed by my colleague from Dortmund that I had used the wrong figures for the stadium capacity and number of cars driven to the games held there - these have now been corrected from a 60,000 capacity and 9,000 cars to 65,000 capacity and 13,500 cars thus making the 21% figure sensible.