Archive for June, 2009

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Bristol “should have free loop bus” in centre

June 29, 2009

The councillor in charge of Bristol’s transport system says we need to be “more ambitious” in improving the city’s transport system and should not rest on “old prejudices” about the way things work.

Jon Rogers is proposing to change the way buses run in the city, so that all routes go in to the centre, terminate there and turn back on themselves, returning via the same route.

He said: “We could have buses coming in to the centre and then going back out on the same route.

“You might have green buses coming down Whiteladies Rd, you might have red buses coming in and out on the Gloucester Rd and so on.

“Other cities do it and Bristol should be raising its sights and setting our ideas higher than we currently do.

“We tend to moan about our buses and moan about our buses. We should be looking for some solutions rather than focussing on the problems.”

This is different from the current system in which all buses go to the centre, but many routes then continue after a break and often a change of driver.

To make it work, he wants to see a free shuttle bus running in a loop between Cabot Circus and Queen Square to help people switch buses.

Jon Rogers proposes the free bus could be paid for by the council, or by local businesses who would benefit from shoppers being able to get around the centre more easily.

He also acknowleded the city’s bus system would remain poor while fares remained high. But he said the city faced difficulties reducing fares because of obscure government subsidy rules.

He said: “I’m looking for some innovative ideas in how we can reduce costs for the average passenger not just the concessionary passenger.

“My firm belief is that if off-peak fares were lower the buses would be fuller. If the buses were fuller there would be more profit for the bus companies but also a better service for the passengers.

Martin Jones interviews Jon Rogers

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Council sees red over f-word graffiti

June 26, 2009

Bristol City Council has told a community group in Stokes Croft to get rid of a piece of graffiti from a legal ‘practice wall’ because it contained the f-word.

The council’s ‘Clean and Green’ boss Denise James asked local activist Chris Chalkley to paint out the offending word as it was deemed “offensive” and the council has “a duty to remove the offensive wording.”

The boards were originally established by the council, but were given to community group the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC) as a practice wall for street artists.

The offensive graffiti

The offensive graffiti

PRSC founder Chris Chalkley said he did not believe local people were offended by it. He said: “I took a straw poll in the area and from an admittedly small sample, 73% said they did not find the f-word offensive.

“So it shows that people in Stokes Croft value freedom of expression over the sensibilities of what is a minority in the area.”

He also said that establishing the wall had reduced the amount of problem graffiti.

He told us: “Local residents all report that since the practice was was established, there has been a diminution in the tagging that has been a bit of a blight on the city.

“Having this medium for expression has meant that there has been less damage elsewhere.

“I don’t think the council need to be our moral guardians, but if they’ve had complaints what they’ve done was right in writing a polite letter.”

“We were preparing a witty response but in the event it all blew over because it was painted out by another piece of work, as happens on practice walls.”

In a statement, the council told #SITE_NAME#: “Bristol City Council is always keen to work positively with the local community and artists, which is why we gave permission for street artists to use these boards in the Stokes Croft Area.

“However a picture which heavily features a four letter word will undoubtedly be highly offensive to many people and will not enhance the area.  We therefore have a duty to see that it is removed.”

Pictured: (above) the graffiti the council objected to and (below) how it was covered over by another artist

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All Bristol schools sent abduction warning letter

June 25, 2009

Thousands of parents across Bristol are being asked to repeat the “stranger danger” message to their children.

The city council has sent a warning letter to every school in the city, after one attempted abduction in St George and reported cases in other areas.

It is not known how many schools have sent the letters out, but dozens including primary, secondary and nursery schools have already done so.

The letter urges parents to “repeat the warning” and “underline the seriousness of the incidents”.

The letter sent to Bristol parents

The letter sent to Bristol parents

It follows the attempted abduction of a 10 year old boy outside Air Balloon Junior School at 8.15am last Friday.

There have now been other reported cases in South Gloucestershire and in Windmill Hill. However police have not confirmed the details of these as they say they are still investigating whether they are genuine.

In each case, a red or silver BMW has been reported to be involved.

Its driver is believed to be an asian man in his thirties with long hair.

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Is cycling cash money well spent?

June 23, 2009

A team of researchers at the UWE is starting a major study to discover if money spent promoting cycling makes any difference to the number of people who cycle.

The result could make a big difference to the way projects such as Bristol’s Cycling City programme are seen. The city is to spend £23m on becoming the most bike-friendly in the UK.

The start of the project comes as Bristol’s Lib Dem transport boss makes one of the most radical pro-cycling proposals yet: closing the Portway to cars on Sundays.

Jon Rogers has suggested the idea based on the success of Bristol’s Biggest Bike Ride this weekend. He says he’ll consider closing the Portway and Ladies’ Mile to motorists on several Sundays each year.

UWE researcher Kieron Chattarjee told #SITE_NAME# information was vital in assessing the success or failure of projects like Cycling City.

He said: “These are crucial issues for society in general and it’s important we have some objective information to give a robust picture of how effective cycling investment can be.”

He also maintained the UWE study would be independent, despite being funded by Cycling England and the Department for Transport.

He said: “The Department for Transport represent all forms of transport. They’re concerned that investment in cycling stands up to scrutiny as opposed to other forms of transport.

“Should that money be spent better on walking or buses for example? We’re an independent team looking into this.”

As an example of the type of plan being considered for cycling city, Jon Rogers proposal to close the Portway and Ladies Mile for several Sundays each year is one of the most controversial yet.

He wants the section of the Portway running beneath the Suspension Bridge to Sylvan Way to be closed to cars – as it was for the Biggest Bike Ride this weekend.

He told us:  “Currently it’s closed twice a year, for the biggest Bike Ride and the Half Marathon. But I wanted to raise the question with people whether we should do it more often so people can enjoy what is a beautiful bit of Bristol.

“If it’s only closed in that section there are alternative routes. We need to strike a balance and on Sundays the traffic on the Portway is fairly light, and I think it’s something worth considering.”

Audio: Martin Jones interviews Jon Rogers

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Avonmouth roads “couldn’t cope” with new waste plant

June 22, 2009

An Avonmouth councillor claims the road system couldn’t cope if a new £40-million waste treatment and recycling plant is built in the area.

Conservative Spud Murphy has hit out at plans by New Earth Solutions to build the plant, claiming they are a “non-starter”.

New Earth has been given a multi-million pound contract by the four former Avon councils to process their wheelie bin waste.

Avonmouth

Avonmouth

Presently, everything in black bags gets sent to rot in landfill sites. This releases methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Instead, New Earth proposes to recycle and compost up to 80% of the area’s black bin waste by mechanically sifting it at a new plant, and then recycling recovered material as appropriate.

That could save the local councils and council tax payers as much as £44m, because they have to pay fines to the European Union for every tonne of waste that is landfilled.

Planning permission has not yet been granted for the facility, but it seems likely to meet strong local objection.

Avonmouth councillor Spud Murphy said: “Avonmouth does not have good road links. It can’t cope with the normal traffic, even before the recession. There are queues miles long.

“The recession means there are no containers coming in and out at the moment, but when it does pick up they just won’t be able to cope.”

He also expressed concern about possible pollution. He said: “These things start off nice, clean and tidy, but then you get rubbish blowing all over the place like any other waste depot. You’re also bound to get some pollution so I don’t think this one is a goer.”

But Peter Mills from New Earth claimed to #SITE_NAME# the site is appropriate. He said: We’ve chosen a location which is well fed from the motorway. And, as you know, Avonmouth is designated for industrial use.

“We are also located very close to Bristol City Council’s Avonmouth depot so a lot of the vehicles bringing waste to our facility will have been those returning to the depot anyway.

“We are hoping to build this depot with a marginal increase in traffic movements. Those movements will be controlled and they will only be using the industrial routes into the facuility and will not need to travel through housing areas.”

Audio: Martin Jones interviews Peter Mills of New Earth Solutions

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Lib dems defend bus fare increases

June 22, 2009

Both sides of the argument about fare increases on Bristol’s park and ride services. The Tories put out a press release criticising the increases as “ironic” given the Lib Dems pledges to promote public transport, but Jon Rogers defends the increase saying the prices are still low overall and represent good value.

Jon Rogers:

Barbara Lewis:

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What does a minister for the south west really do?

June 18, 2009

I interviewed Jim Knight, the new minister for the south west. Basically, he seemed to have very little power of influence. He was ostensibly here to promote the government’s new Digital Britain report, and was at the Watershed talking to Dick Penny about new creative and digital projects.

Jim Knight

Jim Knight

Understandably, he was keen to stress that there are new opportunities in digital media (which chimed with his message about the Digital Britain report). But he wasn’t really able to make any concrete statements on specific issues.

As you can hear in the audio below, he says he doesn’t have any influence over the BBC’s decision to rob Peter to pay Paul by moving Casualty to Cardiff. Nor is there anything he can do to reinstate regional ITV news, though he does say he lobbied hard to get the regional opt-out in the pan-South Western programme. He also says he won’t get involved in the planning decision to turn Ashton Gate into Tesco.

It did make me wonder what he really can do as minister for the SW.

My article for Original:

Jim Knight, the new minister for the South West, says Bristol’s media industry must “move on” from the loss of BBC show Casualty and embrace new opportunities.

However, on a visit to the city on Thursday, he pledged that the government would get the whole of the region into the digital fast lane.

His job is to represent Bristol in cabinet and in the government, but he says there is little he can do to influence the BBC’s decision to move the show to Cardiff .

Knight says he understands the affection Bristol has for Casualty, but is unable to pledge either to persuade the BBC to reverse its decision or to replace it with other shows.

He said: “”It’s a shame the show is going, and I understand the reaction it has had in Bristol, but there are other opportunities coming along. It is a decision the BBC need to make for themselves, and they will do that for their own reasons.

“I have some contact with Mark Thomson and the BBC and will talk the issues through with him. But we have to be able to move on and embrace these new converging technologies that are taking us forward into exciting new territory.”

He added that he would do what he could to bring new money to Bristol. He said: “We have proposals in the Digital Britain report to secure an element of the licence fee for regional news and children’s programming. If there are opportunities to bring those to the region I shall be chasing after them.”

He also pledged to do more to bring areas of the city suffering from slow internet speeds into the fast lane.

The plight of web users in Bradley Stoke has recently made national headlines. Many households there are unable to get high speed broadband access because it is located too far from the local telephone exchanges at Almondsbury and Filton.

Jim Knight claims the government’s new Digital Britain strategy – increased roll-out of broadband funded by a 50p tax on fixed phone lines – is the way to get the area connected.

He said: “We need to absolutely get universal access up to a certain level of broadband, but we need to get Bradley Stoke up to a connection speed of 2MBps which is what the report says. That would be a real step forward for the area and the report sets out a way to do that.”

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Striking bin men try to embarrass new Lib Dem council

June 5, 2009

Bristol’s striking bin men staged a protest on College Green on Friday to coincide with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s visit to the city.

They are continuing their series of one-day strikes in the long-running dispute over pay. They have rejected a pay offer of 2.75% and are believed to want around 3.5%.

About 100 refuse collectors, drivers and street cleaners belonging to the Unite union gathered outside the council house on Friday lunchtime.

They waved placards, sang protest songs and attempted to disrupt Clegg’s congratulatory speech to victorious councillors.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg congratulates Bristols Barbara Janke

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg congratulates Bristol's Barbara Janke

Union leader Pam Jennings also claimed the council’s tactic of bringing in temporary workers to cover those taking strike action would not work.

She said: “I understand that nobody had told the people drafted in that they were breaking a strike. So quite a few of them have turned round and gone home.

“We also believe some of them are agency workers. It’s illegal to fetch in agency workers in this way and we will be notifying the agency that they are breaking the law by being complicit in this action.”

The council’s current advice to householders is to put their waste and recycling out as normal on their usual day. They have said they will now prioritise collecting green and garden waste.

The council’s waste contractor SITA says it’s pay offer of 2.75% is “very fair” in the current economic climate. It has also agreed to further talks with arbitration.

The Unite union is currently balloting its members on whether to take part in the talks. The result should be known on Monday.

Friday’s protest was a reminder to council leader Barbara Janke that running the city council will not be easy, despite her new majority.

Speaking after her election victory, she said: “I don’t think we have hidden behind not having a majority in the past.

“When we were in power we delivered on swimming pools, on the budget, on reducing council tax, on waste disposal and recycling and that was in barely two years.

“We have a record and we just need the opportunity to deliver that.”

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Lib Dems take Bristol as Labour suffer meltdown

June 5, 2009

The Liberal Democrats have gained a working majority on Bristol City Council for the first time ever, after Thursday’s council elections in the city.

They now have 36 seats, compared to 17 Conservatives, 16 Labour and 1 Green. This gives them the power to run the city council without support from any of the other parties.

Bristol’s Lib dem leader Barbara Janke said: “It is absolutely fantastic. We’re really pleased and we’re privileged to be the first Liberal Democrat administration on Bristol City Council.”

“If you look over the last few years, the Liberal Democrats have been gaining seats across the city. We were the largest group across the city with 32. We’ve now gained the extra 4 for a majority.

“But this is something that has been going on for some time. I do believe that the city wants change. It’s had 20 years of Labour. Things have moved on now and we have the opportunity to deliver the things that the people of the city want.”

Labour’s vote collapsed on the night, as voters took their frustration with Gordon Brown’s government out on Bristol’s Labour candidates.

Labour were defending 10 seats and held only two, with four falling to the Conservatives and four to the Lib Dems.

They even lost the previously rock-solid Southmead ward to the Lib Dems. Deputy Labour leader Peter Hammond lost the seat by 20 votes to Jaqueline Bowles.

He put his defeat down squarely to a protest against Labour, and called on senior Labour politicians to stop the in-fighting and resignations of the last few days.

He said: “I’m amazed at what is going on at a national level. I think national politicians do need to go back to the grass roots of the party and find out what the party thinks.

“It cannot be helpful to a Labour government or the Labour party to have cabinet ministers behaving as they are, apparently without regard to what the rank and file of the party thinks.”

The Conservatives achieved their ambition of becoming the second party on the city council. They won an extra four seats and become the main opposition party.

Tory leader Richard Eddy said: “The people of Bristol and in councils up and down the country are rejecting Gordon Brown. They want clear leadership, they want change and they want a general election now.

“He and his government is increasingly discredited and do not represent the people of this country. We must have change now.”

The predicted flight of voters from the big three parties to minor ones such as the Greens and the BNP did not happen. Neither won any more seats.

A Green Party source told us they were searching for “crumbs of comfort” from the results.

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