Archive for April, 2009

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Bristol buses – quality reporting?

April 30, 2009

I was quite surprised by the way the local media did (or didn’t) report a very significant change to the way Bristol’s buses operate.

I reported for Original on the fact that by introducing what’s known as a ‘Quality Contract’ between itself and First, the city council could start to gain control over the city’s bus operator.

This would be a small step towards the kind of bus service many Bristolians would like to see in Bristol, but I believe it would be highly significant and deeply symbolic of the city’s direction of travel (if you’ll pardon the pun).

So I was quite surprised by the fact that both the BBC and the Evening Post (often perceived to be anti-First) didn’t really mention this significant development in their reports.

Both focussed on the fact Bristol could get a ‘Brunel Card’, a kind of Oyster card allowing travel on different types of transport around Bristol. This is certainly newsworthy, but I was surprised that both saw it as the main point of their story.

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Bristol Councillors Could Get Power To Set City Bus Fares

April 30, 2009

Bristol’s main bus operator, First, could be forced to cap bus fares and keep to new minimum standards of service.

Councillors in Bristol will this afternoon vote on whether to introduce new powers, known as ‘quality contracts’. They would – if introduced – allow councillors to set bus fares, specify the frequency of bus services, and dictate the types of buses used.

At present, the council has little control over bus operators in the city, who operate as private companies. First has regularly attracted criticism from Bristolians who complain about infrequent services and high fares.

Councils such as Bristol have been given the ability to introduce quality contracts by the Transport Act 2008.

The proposals could also see a new type of travel ticket introduced. Known as the ‘Brunel Card’, it would be valid on different types of public transport, as London’s Oyster card is.

The idea has been put forward by Labour councillor Mark Bradshaw, formerly in charge of transport policy at the council.

He told Original: “Where the council gets directly involved in negotiating things like timetables and sevices, you see an improvement. These contracts would give the council a seat at the table. Where people don’t perform well, the council can say “What’s going on here?”

“At the moment, when it comes to buses the council has very little say. Even though most people think the council has some kind of franchise arrangement, that is not the case at all.”

My interview with Mark Bradshaw:

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Community groups change face of Stokes Croft

April 21, 2009

Community groups in Stokes Croft claim the area is set for massive improvement in 2009.

Stokes Croft for many years had a bad reputation among Bristolians, but two organisations – the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft and Coexist – both have major regeneration plans set to happen later this year.

One of them is the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. Its chairman, Chris Chalkley, has long championed the area and has been responsible for encouraging some of the cutting-edge street art now seen on the area’s shopfronts and street furniture.

He said: “Stokes Croft ahs always been an area full of artistic creativity and has always had an artistic culture going back into the mists of time. The effect of the street art is to demonstrate the strengths of the area.

“It’s a cultural quarter. It’s also a conservation area. It doesn’t have any multinational companies here at all and that gives it the feel of a village in the centre of a large city and that is extremely rare.”

He has already introduced a number of projects to improve the area. They include ‘The Toff’, a tongue-in-cheek newspaper for the area and the ‘Planning Watch’ group which monitors development proposals. This is important for Chris, who says, “For local people to have a direct input into what their area becomnes and how it looks pushes forward the notion of self-determination.”

On Monday, PRSC will hold an exhibition by UWE urban design students showing ideas for regenerating the area. Later this year, it plans to put street chess sets on ‘Turbo Island’ (the knoll at the end of Jamaica St), launch a range of Stokes Croft china and sell it on its own auction website dubbed ‘PRSC-bay’.

Another major project set to boost the area is the redevelopment of Hamilton House. The former Lloyds-Bowmaker building, on the junction of Stokes Croft and Jamaica St, is being turned into workspaces and studios for creative companies, musicians and artists.

Its most striking feature will be a 3,000 sq ft ground floor bar designed in conjunction with Tobacco Factory architect George Ferguson. ‘Canteen’ is due to open by this June.

Jamie Pike from Coexist – the company managing Hamilton House – said: “We have about 40 different tenants: artists, musicians and social enterprises working away. Our philosophy is that we wanted to develop sustainable urban communities in Bristol. We wanted to create something where like-minded people could work alongside each other and benefit from being in the same space.”

Despite the regeneration, anyone walking down Stokes Croft can still see street drinking, beggars, drug addicts, delapidated buildings and brothels. But Jamie believes the grass-roots style of regeneration will help.

He said: “There’s got to be a change of attitude. There’s a shying away from the gritty reality of people in lifelong addiction. You walk down the street and you’d rather avert your eyes than treat them as a human being.

“We’re trying to promote a culture of inclusion so even though they might not be able to overcome their drug or alcohol problems, they can feel part of the community. It’s not going to happen overnight, but the desire to change things might have an effect.”

But with new street art appearing every day, some by renowned international artists, Stokes Croft already feels brighter and safer. The new projects launching this year could make 2009 the year inner-city Bristol really changes.

You can email coexist here and visit the PRSC website.

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Prospective Bristol MP resigns in allowances row

April 18, 2009

A politician who wants to be one of Bristol’s MPs has quit his job as a London councillor after he was criticised for not turning up to meetings.

Sam Townend is the Labour candidate for the Bristol North West seat at the next election – which includes Henbury, Westbury-On-Trym and Horfield. Townend lives in Henleaze, also in the constituency.

Until today he was also a councillor in Lambeth in London, for which he claimed the statutory allowance of £10,212 a year.

This afternoon, he exclusively told Original he was quitting his London job. He said: “I’ve been carrying out my duties as a back-bench councillor in full, but I have decided that now is the right time for me to resign.

“I will allow the people of my old ward to elect a new representative. I need to write a letter to the chief executive [of Lambeth Council] to that effect, but I’m announcing it now.”

His resignation comes after one of his political opponents in Lambeth claimed he is not in London often enough to justify his salary.

Lambeth Liberal Democrat councillor Ashley Lumsden told Original: “The last time he came to a meeting was in early January. He only has to come to a meeting every six months, which is about as often as we see him.

“I don’t think he’s serving his constituents well and he’s not doing the work he promised he would do. He can’t be both a parliamentary candidate in Bristol and a councillor in London.”

However, Sam Townend says he will not hand back any of the money he has already claimed.

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FOI Appeal Update

April 14, 2009

I got a letter this morning from Avon and Somerset saying they will review my appeal into their refusal to answer my FOI request. I guess it’s a standard reply, but at least it looks like they’re taking it seriously.

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Bedminster Campaigners Fear For Historic Cemetery

April 14, 2009

A Bedminster campaign group says it fears for the future of an historic cemetery in Bristol.

Hebron Burial Ground, just behind North Street, is the resting place of Mary Baker, better known as Princess Caraboo. Baker hoaxed prominent Bristolians in the nineteenth century into believing she was a foreign princess, inventing her own language in order to do so.

It is currently owned privately, but will be auctioned at the end of the month. A campaign group, Friends of Hebron Burial Ground, says it fears another private developer may buy the cemetery with the intention of building on it. They have now launched a campaign to get the city council to buy the land and maintain it.

1,200 people are buried in the small cemetery, many of whom have living relatives. The last burial took place in 1965.

Mike Meecham from Friends of Hebron Burial Ground, said: “Our fears are that it will go to another speculator who will treat it with very little respect. We would like to preserve it as a quiet area where people can sit and reflect.

“The council have been very supportive. All the councillors I’ve spoken to are behind us, as is the Greater Bedminster Community Partnership, the parks people seem to be in favour as do the local residents. They all want to see it preserved. But it will come down to money.”

Mike also wants to warn potential buyers that the land will be difficult to develop because it is a conservation area.

He said: “We feel the best step forward would be for the council to buy it and bring it up to standard. Grant money would be available to the council or a trust to run it. We’ve offered to help maintain it for the present owner but he’s shown very little interest in that.

“We want to see it maintained properly and respect paid to the people who are buried here.”

Audio: Martin Jones reports

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Freedom of Information Appeal

April 9, 2009

I am attempting to challenge Avon and Somerset Police’s refusal to answer a freedom of information request. I’ll post updates here.

Here’s my letter:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you to request an appeal into your response to my recent freedom of information request.

I asked the following question,

ACPO recently stated UK police forces have used hacking techniques (aka “remote searching”) to access information held on personal computers. ACPO states these powers have been used 200 times since they were granted. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5439604.ece. How many times – if any – have Avon and Somerset used such powers?

I consider the response from the force inadequate as in essence it was a refusal to disclose information on operational grounds.

Given that ACPO itself sees fit to disclose the information, for Avon and Somerset to refuse seems illogical and even perverse. If the body representing chief police officers does not believe that disclosing this information can be to the detriment of its operations, then it is unreasonable for Avon and Somerset to claim the same.

Avon and Somerset even states in its response that to disclose the information might be in breach of the law. If this is the case then one can only presume a warrant could be issued against ACPO. Of course, it can’t; but I think it shows the absurdity of Avon and Somerset’s response.

My request was clear enough. But, to clarify further, I am not asking for operational details, simply whether or not these techniques have ever been used by Avon and Somerset, and if so how many times.

There could be no imaginable detriment to the force’s operations by releasing this information. In fact, the force is usually happy to publicise its crime-fighting techniques on the grounds that publicity acts as a deterrent to potential criminals.

I include the original request and a copy of the response I received.

I hope you will be able to conduct this review within the recommended 20 day period. If you have any queries, please contact me.