Archive for May, 2009

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Council reviews graffiti policy after destroying mural

May 29, 2009

Bristol City Council has launched a review of its policy on street art, after contractors mistakenly painted over a legal mural on Stokes Croft.

The painting of an angel by artists Cheo and 3Dom was valued at over £5,000 until workmen painted over it with black paint two weeks ago.The owner of the building it was on had given them permission to paint it.

Community groups reacted angrily and the council has since issued an apology, saying “The mural was removed following a complaint to the council from a member of the public.

“However, as this mural was on a privately owned building, the council should have made contact with the owner first to seek permission before removing it and this was unfortunately not done.”

Now, officers have begun the first stages of a policy review, looking into the way they deal with street art and graffiti.

Community activist Chris Chalkley welcomed the review, saying: “I think it’s high time they did look again at their policy. I’m sure it was a failure to communicate on this one.

“We did tell the council arts department that it was a legal site, and yet somehow the piece got painted over. It isn’tthe first time there’s been massive failure in communication.”

He also called for the council to consult local groups in different parts of Bristol as no one policy would work for the whole city.

He said: “For the last few years we’ve had a vaguely laissez-faire attitude in Stokes Croft from the council which has allowed a flowering of local artists beautifying an area which has been shockingly run-down.”

“It’s going to be difficult to have laws that will enshrine that. That entails a change of attitude on an area-by-area basis.

“I’m not suggesting this would apply to Clifton or Stoke Bishop because people there may want something different.”

A council spokesman told Original they could not comment because the policy review was at a very early stage.

Pictured: The blacked-out mural at the corner of Stokes Croft and Hillgrove St.

Blacked out mural on Stokes Croft

Blacked out mural on Stokes Croft

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Greens aim to “become political party” in council vote

May 29, 2009

Bristol’s single Green councillor says the June 4th council elections give his party a real chance to become a proper political party on the city council.

Charlie Bolton, who represents Southville, is currently the only Green on the council. But his party are hopeful of winning in a number of other wards, particularly Ashley and Easton.

Getting a second councillor would make a big difference to the party. Charlie Bolton said: “If we have more than one councillor, we become a group, we can sit on committees and can second our own motions. Basically, we’re treated as a political party rather than me being treated as an independent.”

His other hope is that the election produces a hung council. He said: “We might end up holding the balance of power and we would use that to get significant concessions, particularly on the budget.”

Green priorities are, as you would expect, environmental. They want to see more action on tackling climate change and improving public transport in the city.

On transport, Charlie wants to see a big local transport authority, similar to the capital’s Transport for London body. The council voted to set one up some months ago, but Charlie is concerned the plan is grinding to a halt.

But given that the other parties all cite transport as the number one issue in the city, and the Lib Dems also put climate change near the top of their agenda, is there any point voting Green?

Charlie Bolton is adamant there is. He said: “I’ve been doing politics for about 20 years ago. I started when the Greens got a huge vote in the European election in 1989. All the other parties rushed along and adopted green policies.”

“But then I look at what has happened to climate change in the UK and emissions have slowly trundled up. The other parties talk the talk but they need to walk the walk.”

“That’s why we need Green councillors and that’s why people should vote Green: to force them into action.”


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Labour expects “difficult” Bristol council vote

May 28, 2009

The third in my series of pieces about the council elections. This time, Labour:

Bristol’s Labour leader Helen Holland expects the June 4 council elections to be “difficult” for her party.

Labour is significantly behind in the national polls and many traditional voters are expected to stay at home, or even vote for minor parties as a protest at the MPs’ expenses scandal.

But she dismisses talk of a “meltdown” in the Labour vote in Bristol, saying: “Overall we expect to stay about the same in this election, and we would be happy with that.”

Labour currently has 24 seats on the council, compared to 32 Lib dems, 13 Conservatives and 1 Green. Labour ran the city council with support from the Tories for nearly 2 years, until a row over school closures caused the Conservatives to switch support to the Lib Dems in February.

She admits though, the expenses scandal and the general unpopularity of the government will hit the Labour vote.

She said: “We have heard that some people don’t feel like coming out and we’ve been talking to them about why they should. One of them is the threat from the BNP.

“Personally, I am digusted at the actions of some MPs of all parties. We don’t know what the effect of that will be on the voting public.”

But she blames the “cyclical nature” of British politics for some of the problems faced by Labour in Bristol: “We are in the third term of a Labour government and that has never happened before.

“You could say the same thing happened during the Tories’ 18 years in power in the 1990s. They completely lost their base in Bristol and were down to 6 seats. Whatever happens in these elections, the maths mean it can’t be that bad for us.”

Labour is basing its campaign on their achievements during their 21 months in power, citing transport policies like the £1 ‘travel anywhere’ bus fare, their pledge to make Bristol the safest city in the world, and their handling of the city’s finances.

But with the prospect of a collapse in their vote a real possibility, Helen Holland is understandably keen for this campaign to be over.

She said: “I always look forward to elections. For political people it’s our lifeblood. This one has been a hard slog, partly because it’s been such a long campaign. So I am looking forward to it, but I’m also looking forward to it being over.”

Audio: Original is talking to the leaders of all the main parties on the city council this week. Today, Martin Jones interviews Labour leader Helen Holland.


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Bedminster groups “alarmed” and “disappointed” by Tesco plans

May 28, 2009

Community groups in Bedminster say they’re “disappointed” and “alarmed” by Bristol City’s plans to sell its Ashton Gate stadium to Tesco.

The club could raise as much as £20m towards its new Ashton Vale stadium by selling the ground to the supermarket giant for redevelopment.

Tesco claims the plan could generate as many as 1000 jobs in the area, and it could also enable Bristol to host football World Cup games. Yet there is expected to be strong local opposition to the plans.

Ben Barker from the Greater Bedminster Community Partnership told Original he was “alarmed” by the proposal.

He said: “One of the things about the Bedminster area is that it has a lot of character. There are a lot of small shops.

“They’re likely to be driven out of business by a big thing like Tesco: it’s happened elsewhere. Then our area will look like every other area of the country.

“It will have the same shops, the same dominant food outlets and it will lose all character and interest. That’s not good for the community.”

He also says Tesco’s claim of creating 1000 jobs should be offset against the number of local jobs destroyed by the plans.

One trader on North Street, who didn’t wish to be named, told Original he was “deeply disappointed” by the plans but it was something they “would have to work with”.

The club is expected to put its planning application to Bristol City Council within the next few months.

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Bristol Lib Dems “confident” of council majority

May 27, 2009

Bristol’s Lib Dem leader says she is “confident” her party is on course for an outright majority on the city council after the council elections on June 4.

Barbara Janke told Original 106.5 she has high hopes of getting the four additional seats needed to run the council without support from any of the other parties.

The Lib Dems currently have 32 councillors, compared to 24 for Labour, 13 Conservatives and 1 Green. The figures mean no party can run the city on its own.

Barbara Janke said: “I think people are going to give us a chance this time to show what we can do and give us a working majority.”

She also claims the Lib Dems will not be as badly damaged by the MPs’ expenses scandal as the other two main parties.

She said: “On the performance of our local MP, Stephen Williams, people are satisfied that he is not one of the people who has been abusing the system.

“The wrath does not seem as much against the Liberal Democrats as against the other parties, particularly the party in government. A lot of Labour voters who have stuck with the party through thick and thin are not going to do so after this.”

The two main issues the Lib Dems are campaigning on are the economy and the environment. On green issues, she says she is confident voters will back her record of improving waste and recycling services in Bristol.

On the economy, she told Original 106.5:”Want to be confident that we have a strategy not just for supporting people who are unemployed and limiting the damage across the city. What they want is to be confident that we are attracting investment to the city and that there will be jobs in new technologies when we emerge from recession.

“Bristol is very well-placed to do this but it needs leadership and it needs confidence from the outside that however well the city is performing the city council is there leading.”

However, she claimed there was no magic bullet either to improve Bristol’s public transport or to reduce council tax.

On transport, she claims Bristol has few options to improve things as central government policy means the city is unable to borrow money for long-term plans or to raise its own revenue.

“I would be very much a champion for greater financial powers for Bristol to determine its own investment in transport. However, we’re not likely to get that so we will make the best of the funding allocation we have at the moment and make sure the new schemes – like Rapid Transit – are delivered on time.”

And she could make no promises on council tax, because of fears the government is storing up unpopular tax rises until after a general election.

She said: “Our policy is to cut the rate of increase in council tax. We did that by 5% when we were last in power and at the moment that is our policy.

“However, we don’t know what these big cuts are going to look like. The public sector spend is going to be hit very hard in future years.

“I think people are aware of that and that if we are frank and honest with them about the council’s finances we will get the co-operation we need to make the best of whatever the circumstances are.”

Audio: Original 106.5 is talking to the leaders of all the main parties on the city council this week. Today, Martin Jones interviews Lib Dem leader Barbara Janke.


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Tories aim to become Bristol’s second party

May 26, 2009

I’m previewing the council elections on June 4 and profiling the main parties on the council for Original. Today, it’s the Conservatives:

The Conservatives say they aim to become the second biggest party in Bristol after the council elections on June 4th.

Leader Richard Eddy predicts a big increase in the Tory vote, claiming they have had a good response on the doorstep while out campaigning in Bristol.

He claims their policies on education, crime, value for money and transport are being well-received, saying: “These are the things people want to see something done about, not the faffing around the council has become known for.”

The Tories currently have just 13 councillors, compared to 24 for Labour, 32 for the Liberal Democrats and 1 Green. This has put them in the role of ‘kingmaker’ on the council, as their support provides a majority for either the Lib Dems or Labour, allowing them to run the council.

They’ve used that power a number of times recently, switching their support from the Lib Dems to Labour and back again in the last few years. This has led to accusations of “game-playing”.

But Richard Eddy defended his policy as “responsible”, saying: “We have to work with what the electorate give us. They’ve been quite clear that they do not have sufficient confidence in any of the three main parties.”

He also claims the Tories can shake off their reputation as only representing traditional white, middle-class Tory voters in areas like Stoke Bishop, Horfield and Westbury on Trym.

He said: “We’re already representing the whole breadth of the city of Bristol. I represent a seat in Bishopsworth which contains part of the Withywood council estate. We also represent places as diverse as Avonmouth and Stockwood.

“Our candidates reflect that diversity. For the first time in the last council elections, one fifth of our candidates were from black or ethnic minority backgrounds. Half of them were under 35. So I think things have changed.”

He admits the MPs’ expenses row has hit support for his party, and other mainstream politicians. But he pleaded for voters not to take it out on local politicians.

He said: “People are fed up with the parliamentary expenses row and that will affect the turnout.

“There are many councillors up and down the country of all political colours who frankly do deserve people’s support. They’re not in it for money.

There are many of us who have not got jobs or been otherwise out of pocket as a result of wanting to get involved in local politics.

“But all of us on the doorstep are finding that people are more cynical about it. What I’ve sought to do is to say this is about you and your community, and about gettign a better deal for your part of the city – and for the city overall.”


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Former curator claims Bristol heritage ‘threatened’

May 19, 2009

A former curator at the Bristol’s City Museum and Art Gallery claims Bristol could be left unable to look after its own history, unless new plans for the city’s museum service are scrapped.

The city council is currently discussing major changes to the way the city’s museum service is run and staffed. They could mean the numbers of conservation staff cut by 3/4 and curators cut by 1/3rd.

Former geology curator Dr Tim Ewin claims this would mean Bristol is no longer able to look after geology collections and natural history exhibits such as dinosaurs.

He said: “They’re absolving themselves of their responsibility to maintain the current world heritage of Bristol. It really will culminate in irreparable damage to Bristol’s heritage.”

The new plans were formed by senior museum managers towards the end of last year, partly because of the Museum of Bristol project, currently being built on the site of the old industrial museum.

Managers want a radical shift in the way the service works, changing from collections of historical objects to community history and visual art. This requires fewer expert staff.

The loss of those staff is what most concerns Dr Ewin. He claims it would mean Bristol being unable to house a major dinosaur find if one were made near the city, and it would have to go elsewhere.

He denies art is more popular than natural history, saying: “Let’s not do natural history and archaeology down. They’re some of the most popular television programmes. When you look at visitor numbers at other museums, the Natural History museum has something like 3.6m visitors a year, so you can’t say people aren’t interested.

“And when you look at the global media interest that accompanied Bristol’s acquisition of the Scelidosaurus, Britain’s best-preserved dinosaur, that far outweighed the publicity for any of the arts initiatives to date.

“The people of Bristol have just as much right to see dinosaurs, Alfred the gorilla, and their archaeological and industrial heritage as well as art.”

The plans have been vigorously opposed by current staff at the museum, with over 80% signing a complaint letter to the council committee set up to discuss the plans.

It’s also thought that opening hours at most of the city museums, including the Red Lodge and Blaise, could be cut in a bid to save money. It’s believed the Museum of Bristol project is over budget and has created a need for extra savings elsewhere in the service.

Original asked Bristol City Council to comment, but a spokesman said they would not do so until the committee examining the plans has published its report. This is expected by the end of June.

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Campaigners demand faster Cabot Tower repairs

May 18, 2009

A Bristol campaign group is demanding the council do more to get Cabot Tower reopened.

Friends of Brandon Hill Hill claim the council has been too slow to organise repairs to the tower, which has been closed since October 2007.

It was sealed off after cracks were found in parts of the tower, leading to fears the structure would be unsafe for the public to climb.

Disagreements between the council and English Heritage have led to long delays in repairing and reopening the tower, with work not scheduled to finish until December 2009.

Recent inspections have discovered that metal supports inside the stonework of the tower are corroded, leading to stones at the bottom of the tower bearing too much weight and being forced to bow out.

But, as the tower is a listed building, the council is unable to repair it alone and must get the approval of English Heritage for any work.

Disagreements between the two, including mutual allegations of delays, have led to the tower being closed for so long. When first shut, it was intended to be reopened within a few weeks. Work is not now due to start until June, and not be finished until the end of the year.

Helen Lambert’s group, Friends of Brandon Hill, was formed at the end of last year in response to the delay in reopening Cabot Tower.

She said: “People are mainly both puzzled and saddened to find that this is still closed and it is very difficult to find out why.

“Had we been aware just what was going on we could have put more pressure on the council to try and get on with it. There has been some recent publicity about it and as a result of that things may be moving a little more quickly.

“I can only hope that the council will now start moving on with this on a scale of days or – as in the past year – on a scale of months, and put it much higher on their list of priorities.”

In a statement, Bristol City Council said: “Initial investigation works have identified structural defects, which need to be properly addressed by specialist contractors.

“In addition, we want to be absolutely sure that any works carried out will deal the underlying cause of the structural defects and prevent any further damage.

“Cabot tower is a listed building and any programme of works must be agreed in advanced with English Heritage.

“We are currently working with English Heritage to ensure works undertaken to repair and secure Cabot Tower for future generations to enjoy are appropriate.”

English Heritage told Original it had no direct involvement in repairing Cabot Tower and were merely consultants to a council process.

Audio: Martin Jones interviews Helen Lambert from the Friends of Brandon Hill


Download: the full report about Cabot Tower Cabot Tower (4)

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Stokes Croft street drinking needs “radical solution”

May 13, 2009

A community activist from Stokes Croft has attacked current police and council policy on street drinking as a “merry go round”.

Jamie Pike manages Hamilton House, one of the main buildings on Stokes Croft and the former Lloyds-Bowmaker building. He has called for an end to the current policy of moving alcoholics on, calling for a wider-reaching solution.

Avon and Somerset Police last week complained they were unable to move street drinkers on from the steps of Hamilton House because they were there with permission.

They said in a statement: “Concern has been expressed by people who live, work and commute through Stokes Croft regarding the street drinkers congregating on the steps of Hamilton House which is in a non drinking zone.

“Unfortunately the police have not been able to enforce the zone as this area is private land and they were there with permission.”

However, Jamie Pike has defended his policy, saying: “[The police] usually confiscate their alcohol and ask them to move. They tend to just wander up the street and sit down somewhere else and carry on drinking. It just moves the problem somewhere else.

“That was one of the reasons we said unless you are going to give them a better solution or find a real way to tackle this problem, just leave them there.”

He wants to see a ‘wet house’ in the area, where drinkers are allowed to drink but also have access to health and detoxification services if they want them. Most hostels do not allow alcoholics to drink, forcing them out on to the streets.

He said: “There are ideas in the pipeline but it’s a very slow-moving and ineffective beast, Bristol City Council. I don’t hold outmuch hope. The merry-go-round will continue in Stokes Croft.”

Original contacted Safer Bristol Partnership, the umbrella organisation for the police and council, but they declined to comment.

Coexist is holding a meeting with Safer Bristol Partnership next week to discuss solutions.

The front of Hamilton House will be boarded up next week while renovation work on the building takes place.

Audio: Martin Jones talks to Jamie Pike from Coexist


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Bristol City Council paints over £5k street art

May 12, 2009

Community activists in Stokes Croft say they’re “gutted” after council workmen painted over a piece of street art valued at £5,000.

The painting of an angel by Bristol artists Cheo and 3Dom had been sprayed on boards covering a building at the corner of Stokes Croft and Hillgrove St.

The artists are described as Bristol “graffiti royalty” and both recently had work shown in the Crimes of Passion exhibition at the Royal West of England Academy.

The building was privately owned and the landlord, who lives in London, had given permission for the mural to be sprayed on it.

Chris Chalkley from community group The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft told Original: “We heard last Thursday that the council were going to paint it out.

“We informed the council on Friday that it was not an illegal piece of graffiti and had been sanctioned by the landowner. But council contractors SITA painted it out on Monday.”

Chris also claims the council’s destruction of the work could be regarded as criminal damage, because the painting had permission from the owner.

He said: “In a word, people around here are gutted. But, there is also a resignation, which is even more sad.

“People expect the council to behave in this manner. They are not surprised and that has got to change. It has got to change that we have such low expectations of the people who are put in power to serve us.”

Chris is calling on people to email the council’s Chief Executive Jan Ormondroyd directly to complain.

Bristol City Council said: “The council will investigate and review the circumstances once all the facts are known.”

Audio: Martin Jones interviews Chris Chalkley from the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft


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