Archive for July, 2009

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Park Street could become part-pedestrianised

July 30, 2009

Park Street and the Clifton Triangle could become partly-pedestrianised “shared space” under plans being considered by Bristol’s council bosses.

It would mean no form of transport having priority, with pedestrians and cyclists sharing the road equally with buses, cars and motorbikes.

A similar scheme operates in parts of Ashford in Kent; the forecourt of Temple Meads station is also largely shared.

Park Street: a shared space?

Park Street: a "shared space"?

Jon Rogers, the Lib Dem cabinet minister for transport, said: “If you have a shopping street like Park street, the idea of everybody going slowly down that street, all being careful of each other, has some attractions.

“A lot of the time, cars don’t travel more than 10-15mph round the city anyway. Journeys tend to be stop start and people don’t make much progress.

“If we could do away with all the traffic lights in that area and people just made a gentle and careful way through those areas, you may find the time it takes to get between the Victoria Rooms down to the St James Barton roundabout might be less than it currently is.”

But the idea has already come under fire from Conservative leader Richard Eddy. He told Jones The News: “All too often, as with Prince Street, we’ve seen the Lib Dems default position has been to make life even more difficult for those trying to work and shop in Bristol.

“We are not a city that can afford to take this heavy-handed approach to the motorist, particularly in recession.

“The Lib Dem administration seems to be making life much easier for cyclists, and that’s something I support, but not at the expense of every other road user.”

The report to be considered by the council cabinet on Thursday afternoon claims the idea would “truly reflect [Bristol's] Cycle City aspirations.”

The Park Street plan, along with other proposals for improvements to roads around the Colston Hall and East Street in Bedminster are being considered because money will shortly be available for infrastructure projects from the Department for Transport.

Council bosses are also considering building a new pedestrian bridge betwen the end of King Street and Redcliffe Street, to use money given by property developers.

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CIJ Conference

July 20, 2009

I’ve just come back from the Centre for Investigative Journalism conference in London.

I guess there were two dominating threads: firstly, the state of the investigative journalism trade (and how to fund it) and secondly the rise of Computer Assisted Reporting or CAR.

For non-journalism nerds, CAR is probably the least interesting of the two. Basically, it’s getting data through FOI requests and using spreadsheet and database software to analyse it to find patterns and stories.

It’s really big in the States and apparently, “J-school” grads (ugh) have to take CAR courses as part of their course. There are departments though at the New York Times and other big news organisations that really focus on it though, largely because it is easier to get public data over there than it is over here.

The repeated debates on the state of the industry made the same basic points.

1. Investigative journalism is in decline, newsrooms are shrinking, media outlets are going bust, we feel embattled. There is however, a strong sense of bonding among those who still care.

2. However there has been an explosion in non-profit, grant-maintained investigative journalism organisations in the US. Foundations and philanthropists give money to these organisations, who then research stories in the public interest. One talk explained how a deal had just been reached to syndicate these stories over AP which means their work will soon start to feature in mainstream news outlets.

3. A new foundation along the same lines has just (i.e. in the last few days) been set up at the CIJ itself. This is the first UK non-profit news organisation. However, life will be considerably tougher for them to get their work out. UK libel laws are so tough that the foundation cannot risk publishing its own work because one successful libel suit would bankrupt it.

Also, it doesn’t seem likely the philanthropically-funded news organisation will be replicated. UK tax laws and culture mean there is less money around for non-profit news organisations so it’s hard to see how similar things could work.

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Museum of Bristol – Simon Cook interview

July 15, 2009

A bit of discussion on Twitter today about the Museum of Bristol budget, after James Barlow’s FOI requests about the history of the project.

As it happens, I interviewed Council deputy leader Simon Cook about this and othe things today. Here’s the audio:

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Harbourside cranes to become tourist attraction

July 15, 2009

Four industrial cranes on Bristol’s harbourside are set to become working tourist attractions as part of new plans for the Museum of Bristol.

The cranes, on the dockside near the Prince Street bridge, last worked commercially in 1974.

They did not work again until restored by enthusiasts for the Bristol Old Vic’s 2001 play Up the Feeder, Down The Mouth and Back Again.

Council bosses have now revealed they will be used to hoist exhibits into the new museum, and will then be moved down the dockside to become visitor attractions.

They will be able to take six members of the public at a time for spectacular views of the city harbourside.

Martin Jones was given a preview of what tourists can see by crane volunteer and enthusiast Dave Cole, aka ‘Dave The Crane’. Hear the results below.

Bristol City Council Deputy Leader Simon Cook also moved to quash persistent rumours the Museum of Bristol project is over budget and behind schedule.

He said: “It’s not behind schedule and it’s in budget. There have been a lot of rumours and scare stories about this. I don’t know why.

“I’m very happy with the progress of the museum. It’s still on course to open in spring 2011. I don’t have any concerns about it.”

He also reassured Bristolians the project would not be hit further by the council’s current £30m shortfall in its budget.

He said: “That’s a revenue shortfall; this is a capital project. They are different pots of money. All the funding for this is secure and the business plan means that there are opportunities to raise a revenue stream once it is open.”

Sensational views of the harbourside

Sensational views of the harbourside

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Former private schools now most oversubscribed in Bristol

July 14, 2009

Two former private schools have been revealed as the most oversubscribed state schools in Bristol.

New council figures show there were over 5 applicants for every place at Bristol Cathedral School, and 4 applicants for every place at Colston’s Girls School.

Both became state-run academies from autumn 2008, having previously been fee-paying independent schools. Both had difficulties attracting enough pupils towards the end of their time as private schools.
Now the picture couldn’t be more different: 521 families applied for 104 places at Cathedral while 445 girls wanted the 112 places at Colston’s.

They join Cotham, Redland Green and St Mary Redcliffe as Bristol’s most popular state schools. Cotham and Redland Green get three applicants for every place; St Mary Redcliffe gets twice as many applicants as it has places.

Cathedral School Assistant Principal Simon Antwis agreed many parents believe they can get a private education at his school without paying fees.

He said: “I couldn’t argue with that. But I think our strengths as a school are that we are small, allowing us to focus more on the students and look after their pastoral needs.

“They also enjoy our faith-based ethos. Now we are a state school we can make that available to all. The ethos at the school has remained very much the same.

“We hope to retain what we do well as an independent school, but to take on board the things the state sector and the academy system can offer us to help us improve.”

Cathedral used to select pupils partly on academic results. Now as an academy specialising in music it admits 10 pupils a year on musical aptitude.

Pictured: Bristol Cathedral School

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Bristol police criticised for increased Taser training

July 13, 2009

Avon and Somerset police have been criticised by human rights campaigners after announcing plans to double the number of officers trained to use TASER stun guns.

Police plan to train an extra 150 officers to use the weapons, bringing the total number carrying them to 300.

The force claims the guns are a safe way to defuse violent incidents on the street and have led to a reduction in the number of officers injured.

Taser training criticised

Taser training criticised

Somerset East chief inspector Paul Richards said: “Tasers have proved a useful tactical option for officers faced with threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves or the offender.

“In many cases, the presence alone of a Taser can act as a deterrent to offenders, and so it is hoped that many future situations will be resolved without conflict.”

But human rights group Amnesty International says Tasers should only be used in very limited circumstances and having 300 officers carrying them suggests their use will be more widespread.

The group’s media director Mike Blakemore told #SITE_NAME#: “You have to question why having 300 officers trained to use Tasers is necessary, if they are only to be used in very limited circumstances. Does it mean that the force intends to use them in a wider range of circumstances?

“In the UK the police are very proud of policing by consent and we do not have a police force that is routinely armed.

“The wider rollout of Tasers means we are fundamentally changing the nature of UK policing by arming a wide variety of officers.”

A Taser works by firing two barbs which penetrate the skin and discharge 50,000 volts along two copper wires attached to the gun. It can also be held against a person and fired to temporarily incapacitate.

Despite the high voltage, police claim a Taser bolt is safe because of its low amperage. Police say it has no side effects and can even be used on people who have a pacemaker.

Yet Amnesty says the guns have been linked to the deaths of over 360 people in North America.

Mike Blakemore said: “Anyone who has been Tasered will tell you it is the most pain they have ever felt. It usually sends people to the floor, they lose control of their bodily functions and it is a horrible experience.

“We are now having officers walking around capable of deploying that amount of pain to someone. There is a risk that we are creating a divide between police and public.

“Police are effectively saying, ‘Do what I tell you or I will inflict this amount of pain upon you.’

“A simple YouTube search will show you the way these have been used in the US.”

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Colin Sexstone Interview 22nd June

July 7, 2009

I interviewed Colin Sexstone, Bristol City’s Chief Executive (i.e. business manager) on June 22nd, ahead of City’s first major exhibition of the Tesco plans.

I’ve included the full interview, but I think I can accurately summarise his position as saying that the Tesco plan is “crucial” to City being able to fund the new stadium, but he stops just short of saying that they can’t do it without Tesco.

Important part is after about 2 mins.

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Campaign to stop Ashton Gate Tesco plan begins

July 3, 2009

A campaign to stop Bristol City’s Ashton Gate stadium being redeveloped into a Tesco store begins this evening.

The inaugural meeting of BERATE, Bedminster Residents Against Tesco Expansion into Ashton Gate, will be held at the Southville Centre on Friday night.

The campaign aims to get the city council to refuse planning permission for a Tesco and propose instead a mixed use housing and sports development.

Bristol City bosses claim selling the ground to Tesco would generate £20m towards the cost of a new stadium at Ashton Vale, would create jobs and would enable them to be part of England’s bid to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022.

New Tesco plans

New Tesco plans

But BERATE founder Chris Uttley claims it is entirely possible to bring the World Cup to Bristol without selling Ashton Gate to Tesco.

He said: “We think that’s a cynical argument, to be honest. No-one I’ve spoken to is opposed to redevelopment at Ashton Gate.

“Lots of people are infavour of a new stadium and in favour of the World Cup bid. But cynically linking that to a Tesco is the wrong thing to do.”

The club had initially planned to sell the land to housing developers, but the recession means that is now less lucrative, and would generate only £5m, compared to the £20m Tesco would pay.

But for Chris, the price is irrelevant compared to the impact on the local community.

He said: “People in this area don’t want to be left with a superstore which could cause the closure of lots of local shops, cause more congestion and possibly have an impact on the nearby park that we all use.

“The cynical linking together of these things is done to create the impression that anyone who is against Tesco is against Bristol City and that is not the case.”

The meeting will be held at the Southville Centre at 7.30pm. BERATE can be contacted here.

Audio: Martin Jones interviews Chris Uttley from BERATE

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Bristolians die sooner than in other parts of England

July 2, 2009

A new NHS report shows Bristolians die sooner than average, and reveals massive differences in health between races and between rich and poor.

It shows Bristolians as a whole are likely to die earlier than people living in other parts of England.

It also reveals poor Bristolians are likely to die earlier than the rich, and black children are three times more likely to grow up poor than white children.

Health bosses put Bristol’s poor showing down to the problems common to all cities and that it is comparable to others such as Liverpool and Birmingham.

Lower life expectancy

Overall, average life expectancy for the city is lower than the national average. Men’s lives in Bristol are a year shorter on average than in the rest of the country; women’s lives 7 months shorter.

It also shows more Bristolians die early from heart disease and strokes than average, but this figure has fallen over recent years, in line with the national trend.

Other statistics are equally damning: Bristol has more problem drug users than almost any other part of the country, fares significantly worse than the national average for violent crime and has low GCSE achievement.

Class and race divisions

Most shocking however are the sharp divisions in health caused by poverty and ethnic origin.

The richest Bristolian men can expect to live nearly 9 years longer than the poorest; the richest women 6 years longer.

Among the most startling findings in the rport are that proportionally, three times as many black Bristol children are eligible for free school meals than white children. Being eligible for free school meals is often considered a key indicator of poverty.

Dr Gabriel Scally, the South West’s director of Public Health, said some of the figures were truly he shocking.

He said: “Those statistics about ethnicity are very difficult to look at and to absorb. Such levels of inequality are clearly issues of social justice that need to be tackled.”

He told us air pollution, poor housing and levels of exercise all significantly affected life expectancy and that the city’s history was partly to blame.

He said: “The legacy of Imperial Tobacco means that, especially in south Bristol, there are very high levels of smoking. Smoking, more than any other single factor, determines the health of a population. It just kills so many people.”

Problems “common to cities”

Health bosses told #SITE_NAME# Bristol fared badly against England as a whole because so much of England is rural and does not have the same problems with pollution, deprivation and drug use common to cities.

In a statement, NHS Bristol said: “Bristol compares unfavourably to the rest of the South West as it is very different socio-economically.

“However, when Bristol’s health outcomes are compared to similar cities such as Liverpool, Nottingham & Birmingham, Bristol is one of the leaders in areas such as breast feeding, smoking during pregnancy and tooth decay in children.”

You can download the Bristol report here

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