Trym Tales

News and views from north Bristol's urban village

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Lloyds No More

Lloyds Pharmacy in the heart of Westbury on Trym has closed its doors for the last time today. 

Workmen arrived at the store in Carlton Court to remove external signage and begin the process of shutting the retail unit.

Lloyds continues to operate a pharmacy within the Westbury on Trym Doctor's surgery on Westbury Hill, though without the extensive range of retail products which were a major feature of the main store.

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Saturday, 7 December 2013

Henbury Loop Line

If you want to see Henbury station re-opened and used as an important transport resource for north Bristol and beyond, take a look at the video and sign the petition.

Along with the rest of the local Severn Beach Line, a re-opened Henbury station and loop line is an obvious part of the answer to Bristol's unsustainable transport problems.


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Friday, 20 September 2013

Ministers hammer nail in coffin of Severn Barrage plan - Bristol24-7

Ministers hammer nail in coffin of Severn Barrage plan - Bristol24-7

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Friday, 8 March 2013

Voting in Bristol

I know it's not election time. But I was interested to note the turnout at Thursday's Presidential election in Kenya. I have seen estimates of between 70 and 85% turnout. I decided to compare this with the UK and with Bristol's figures for recent general elections.

The trend in voter turnout has generally been downward in the last 60 years, from a high point of 83.9% for the 1950 poll, which resulted in Labour's Clement Attlee forming a government with a majority of only five seats. The 1997 election saw the lowest post-war turnout, with only 59.4% of the electorate casting their vote. population. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister with a record number of Labour Parliamentary seats (418).

Bristol North West and its previous equivalent constituencies tends to see a higher-than-average voter turnout at general elections. The UK average in 2010, for instance, was 65.1% of the electorate, whereas Bristol North West saw a 68.5 % turnout. 

With participation in elections very uneven across age bands, the higher turnout locally might reflect the age demographic of Bristol North West. Nationally, for instance, only 44% of 18-24 year-olds voted in 2010, compared with 76% of those aged 65 and above.

Within the greater Bristol area, the highest turnout in 2010 was in the Kingswood constituency, where Chris Skidmore (Conservative) was elected in place of Labour's Roger Berry. Turnout was 72.19%. The lowest turnout locally was in Bristol South at 61.56%. Dawn Primarolo (Labour) is the MP, and also Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons.

Kenya's Presidential election has been affected by a computer bug in the ballot casting software, resulting in the votes needing to be counted by hand. Electoral administration remains the unglamorous but vital ingredient in the democratic process.

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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

BBC News - Parents campaign for senior free school at St Ursula's

BBC News - Parents campaign for senior free school at St Ursula's

The plot thickens.

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Saturday, 9 February 2013

Blaise Castle Estate: George Ferguson Proposes Car Parking Charges

Blaise Castle Estate
(Photo credit: James F Clay)

Bristol Mayor George Ferguson is proposing to charge motorists to park at Blaise Castle Estate.

The plan is pat of a major cost-cutting exercise which requires the elected mayor to find savings of £35 million to the city's budget, in line with cuts from central government to local authorities across the country.

The plan would see charges raised or created for parking at several of the city's major public parks, including Ashton Court and Oldbury Court in Fishponds. 

Labour councillors are opposing this particular aspect of the budget. Paul Smith, former Labour candidate for the Parliamentary seat of Bristol West, tweeted this week, 

Suspect a lot of his [George Ferguson's] urbanite supporters don't understand that for working poor citizens. Free things to do with your kids is v important   

What do you think? Will car parking charges at Blaise Castle Estate make a big difference to people's use of the park? What about parking on surrounding streets?

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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Charlotte Leslie on Same Sex Marriage

Post Script: I note that, according to the Spectator, Charlotte Leslie went through both lobbies at tonight's vote - which is one way of registering an abstention. 

139 Conservative MPs voted against the Bill, greater than the number of Tories who supported it. 22 Labour and 4 LibDems voted against the Bill. The Bill was passed by 400 to 175, a majority of 225.

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Thursday, 31 January 2013

Oasis Academy: Was Steve Chalke Right?

Steve Chalke
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Head of Oasis Academy Brightstowe Matt Butler has been receiving plaudits for his school's dramatic improvement in its GCSE results. The former Portway School, now run as an academy by the Oasis Educational Trust, has seen the percentage of pupils getting five A* to C grades at GCSE increase from 30 per cent to 62 per cent in the past year. These results include the important maths and English qualifications.

Richard Garner writing a glowing tribute in last week's Independent describes the turn-around as "remarkable" and a "dramatic improvement."

Oasis Academy Brightstowe

Head Matt Butler - a former British Airways executive - mentions in the Independent article that there have been some challenges convincing some within the local community of the value of the Oasis approach, but that the school is gradually gaining favour locally. 

Critics of the academy model - which sees private or charitable groups take over the running of local schools on a non fee-paying basis - accuse the schools of failing to offer a truly comprehensive education to all pupils. A recent report by The Academies Commission states that many such schools are breaching government guidelines in their selection process and thereby subtly excluding more challenging pupils. Methods used include:

  • arranging “social” events for prospective parents instead of direct interviews with parents (which are prohibited by the government)
  • seeking further information about the family and pupil beyond that set out in the government's regulations

"Such practices" according to the Commission, "can enable schools to select pupils from more privileged families where parents have the requisite cultural capital to complete [forms] in ways that will increase their child’s chances.”

In addition, academies nationally have higher-than-average rates of pupil expulsion. The Department of Education's own statistics reveal that academies permanently exclude pupils at more than twice the rate of local authority secondary schools. 

Oasis Brightstowe follows this trend of above-average permanent exclusions. According to a Freedom of Information request, and as reported on the site Anti Academies Alliance, In 2009-10, the school excluded 4 pupils - 0.82% of the student body. This compares with a national rate across non-academies of 0.14%. 

The government's own statistics reveal that permanent exclusions are carried out disproportionately on certain groups of pupils:

  • The permanent exclusion rate for boys is approximately 4 times higher than that for girls. 
  • Pupils with SEN statements are round 8 times more likely to be permanently excluded than those pupils with no SEN.
  • Children who are eligible for free school meals are around 4 times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion than children who are not eligible for free school meals.

These facts, it is alleged, contribute to the success of academies, since they tend to not only manipulate the admissions process but also more readily exclude troublesome working-class boys with learning or behaviour needs. 

It is further claimed that pupils receiving free school meals tend to under-achieve in academies at GCSE level.    

Against the critics, it could be argued that the practice of excluding is one of the key factors in achieving academic success for the majority, and should not be seen as a failure of the academy system. 

Having worked for a short period of time in a challenging Bristol primary school, I have seen first hand the disruptive effect of violent pupils on the ability of other pupils to learn. In one primary class, there were up to four class evacuations per day as out-of-control pupils kicked, spat and punched each other at will. There is no doubt in my mind, as a casual visitor to the school, that the dysfunction of these pupils was being "managed" at the expense of the majority, whose education was being ruined by the hard-core troubled pupils. 

When I asked why these pupils were still attending the school, I was told that exclusions were financially costly and that they damaged the professional reputation of the head teacher.

It could be argued that the academies have at least grasped the nettle and are choosing not to allow the violent minority to damage the learning outcomes of the majority. Should they be criticised for this approach?

The government-initiated 5th annual report on academies by Price Waterhouse Cooper concludes that:

“there is insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgement about the Academies as a model for school improvement.”

In the academic year before Portway School converted to an academy, only 16% of students gained five or more A* to C grades at GCSE. The current figure of the new Oasis Academy Brightstowe is 62%. As reported on this blog, back in 2008, head of Oasis Learning Steve Chalke made a bold prediction about the new school: 

Was Steve Chalke right, or is the jury still out on academies?

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Sunday, 13 January 2013

Charlotte Leslie Writes on Higher Education in the Observer

Bristol Northwest MP Charlotte Leslie has contributed an article in the Observer's Comment is Free section on access to higher education for children from low income backgrounds.

Click on the above link to take a look.

What do you think?


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Will the Trym Flood?

Was interested to read (via the above link) about the action that has been taken in recent years to clear the stream near St Werburghs Road from blockages, in order to prevent localised flooding.

With yesterday's rain adding to the wettest November in Bristol for 50 years, it made me wonder how the Trym would cope if we had a season of really serious rain of the type we are increasingly seeing in our changing climate. 

In the summer months, the Trym barely flows at all in the stretch near the allotments on Canford Lane, so the prospect of local flooding seems hard to imagine at that time of year. I do, however, remember the area around Westfield Road flooding about 8 or 9 years ago as the Trym overflowed near Kingsley House, just behind the present petrol station on Falcondale Road.

Does anyone have any memories of that flood, or other occasions on which the Trym has flooded? Or is anyone aware of how the maintenance of the local river banks and flood defences is managed? 

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Spoiled Ballot Papers in the Avon and Somerset PCC Elections

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One aspect of last week's elections for Police Commissioners that has received limited attention is the high number of spoiled ballot papers.

Figures released on the Bristol City Council website reveal that of 244,042 ballot papers counted, 9,190 were rejected by the returning officer. This means that 3.77 % of those who went into the polling booth last Thursday spoiled their voting papers for Police and Crime Commissioner in Avon and Somerset. 

Alan Renwick from the University of Reading has calculated that nationally, spoiled ballots in the recent PCC elections made up 2.9% of votes cast. This compares with an average of 0.3% at recent general elections. Last week's poll clearly represented a massive increase in spoiled papers.

If we look more closely at the figures for Bristol itself (one of the nine local authorities that make up the Avon and Somerset Police Authority) a hefty 6.35% of all ballot papers were rejected/spoiled - 5,645 in total. 

How can we explain the fact that Bristol voters spoiled their PCC ballots at more than double the national rate? Or that over 20 times more voters in Bristol chose to spoil their ballots than is typically the case for general elections nationally? If we look at spoiled ballots for the mayoral referendum in May this year, by contrast, only 264 papers were rejected out of 76,000 votes cast. And for the mayoral election itself last week, only 1.24% of papers were spoiled. It was the PCC ballots that were targeted in vast numbers by thousands of the electorate.

Alan Renwick suggests that the voting papers themselves may have been one factor nationally, with their supplementary vote system causing confusion to some. Though this was undoubtedly a factor, it surely cannot fully explain the massive incidence in ballot spoiling in Bristol. If this were the case, we would expect to see a much higher incidence of rejected papers for the mayoral election, with its eclectic mix of 15 colourful candidates, compared with only four nominees for the PCC role.

More probable is that large numbers of Bristol voters were unhappy with the whole idea of elected Police and Crime Commissioners. Renwick's analysis of the national scene is again relevent:

"The perception is that some voters expressed their disagreement with the idea of politicising the police by deliberately casting an invalid vote"  

Anecdotally, Renwick also notes that

"Many observers at the 41 counts around England and Wales saw ballots with mini-essays on them."

Turnout locally was 27.9% for the mayoral vote and 19.59% for the PCC poll. The election of an Independent Mayor and an Independent Police Commissioner suggests that those who did vote last week used the opportunity to register their preference for a change of direction in Bristol's politics. This independent-mindedness also found expression in the massive number of spoiled ballots in the city itself. 

And quite what the implications of this might be for future city council elections and the next national poll is, frankly, anyone's guess. A national party that promised to abolish the PCC role might pick up floating voters at the next general election. 

At the very least, it's probably not a bad time to be an independent.


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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Odds on Bristol Mayoral Election

As of Tuesday night, here were the odds offered on the Mayoral Election by Ladbrokes.

Marvin Rees (LAB) 2/7 George Ferguson (IND) 5/1
Jon Rogers (LD) 6/1 Geoff Gollop (CON) 25/1
Spud Murphy (IND) 33/1 Owain George (IND) 50/1
Stoney Garnett (IND) 66/1 Danielle Radice (GRN) 100/1
Tony Britt (IND) 200/1 Philip Pover (IND) 200/1
Dave Dobbs (IND) 200/1 Rich Fisher (IND) 200/1
Tom Baldwin (TUSC) 200/1 Neil Maggs (RES) 200/1
Tim Collins (IND) 200/1

So, the bookmaker appears to think that Avonmouth warehouse operator Spud Murphy is three times more likely to win than Green Party candidate Danielle Radice.

Seems rather strange to me.  

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Monday, 12 November 2012

Cabinet Meets in Bristol

Grant Shapps MP, Conservative Party Chairman and minister without portfolio, has revealed that the government is holding its cabinet meeting today at the John Cabot Academy in east Bristol. The above photo was tweeted by him earlier this morning.

The habit of holding Cabinet meetings in the regions, away from Westminster, has been a feature of the coalition government since 2010.

Left to right are (I think) Maria Miller (Culture, Media and Sport), Justine Greening (International Development), Vince Cable (Business and Skills). I can't make out the next guy (sorry!) before getting to the Prime Minister. I think that's Philip Hammond (Defence) to the left of the PM. Any suggestions for the rest?

The Prime Minister, after the meeting had adjourned, announced that his government intends to ensure that a further 400 struggling state primary schools become academies by the end of 2013 This policy of creating so-called "forced academies" has been criticised in some quarters. Paradoxically, it may actually work against the principle of parent choice, which the academy model is supposedly based upon, with several parent groups at such schools now actively protesting and taking legal action to ensure that their children's school remains under local authority control. 

I hope the pupils at Cabot are behaving well for the government. 

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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Teenager Knocked from her Bike by Refuse Collection Vehicle in Westbury Park

I was driving into Bristol on Tuesday morning (November 6th) when the traffic ground to a halt. Not at the usual place - north of White Tree Roundabout. And not because of the new now-shortened bus lane on Westbury Road.

The delay was to the south of White Tree and was caused by the large number of cars trying to drive in both directions along Clay Pit Road. Normally, traffic coming up Redland Road does not turn left into this road, continuing instead onto Westbury Park and White Tree Roundabout.   

The reason for the congestion became clear when I reached the end of Clay Pit Road. Westbury Park itself was closed off and there were several emergency vehicles in attendance following a collision between a teenage female cyclist and a large yellow refuse collection vehicle.

The collision had occurred at the top end of Westbury Park, between St Christopher's School and the junction with North View.

The police later released a statement about the incident, saying that the woman cyclist had suffered "serious injuries" and had been taken to Frenchay Hospital.

No further details are known at present.

In the meantime, the terrible incident highlights the risks involved when cycles and lorries are required to share the same congested road space, especially at junctions. Does the present cycle lane at the top end of Westbury Park make this kind of occurrence more or less likely in the future?   

View Larger Map

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Monday, 29 October 2012

Carlton Court Flower Shop: Police Seek Man Over Public Order Offence

Avon and Somerset Police have released an image of a man they would like to speak to in connection with an incident at Edith Wilmot Florists at Carlton Court. 

The public order offence took place last Tuesday (October 23rd) around 9.30 in the morning when a man entered the shop and threatened a female member of staff. 

He then left the shop and walked away in the direction of Canford Lane. 

The man pictured is believed to have information about the incident and members of the public who recognise him are asked to contact Southmead police station by dialling 101 or by using the police online form here.  

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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Fireworks in Westbury

English: Fireworks display, Aykley Heads, Durham
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Bristol's love affair with fireworks shows now sign of abating, with numerous fireworks displays planned across the city over the first weekend of November.

Here are the ones local to Westbury on Trym. Feel free to add any I've missed via the comments below.

Canford Park Charity Fireworks Fiesta

Date: Saturday 3rd November

Time: Gates open at 6.00 pm, display starts at 7.00

Cost: £4 in advance from local schools and St Peter's Hospice shops; £5 on the night.

Discounts: Under-threes are free of charge
What else: Food stalls with hot and cold snacks. No alcohol on sale, and none to be brought on site.

Bonfire: No. Nor any fairground rides. But there will be an "ambling band" and "a local celebrity." Thank you for asking, but unfortunately, I am otherwise engaged.

Organisers: Bristol Round Table and Clifton Rotary Club

Where does the money go: "Local schools" (not specified), St Peter’s Hospice Shops, Bristol Round Table and The Rotary Club of Clifton. Last year's event raised £20,000 for charity.

Where is it exactly? Here.  No designated parking on site. Those attending are encouraged to walk or take the bus. 

St Ursula's Firework Display

Date: Monday 5th November

Time: Gates open at 6.00 pm, display starts at 7.00

Cost: £5 in advance from the school office or on the night.

Discounts: Pre-schoolers are free of charge. A family ticket is £17 in advance or £20 on the night (2 adults and 3 children).
What else: A bar-b-q, snack bar and licensed bar.

Bonfire: No.

Organisers: St Ursula's E-Act Academy.

Where does the money go: The school PTFA. 

Where is it exactly? Here. .

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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Will Motorway Man Close the Bus Lane?

With missionary zeal, Westbury motorists are leafleting the suburbs this week in an attempt to get the Westbury bus lane closed all together.

As previously reported on Trym Tales, the City Council has agreed, under pressure from campaign group This Bus Lane is Madness to drastically reduce the length of the new bus lane, which currently runs from Henleaze Road to White Tree Roundabout on the inward bound stretch of the A4018 (Westbury Road).

Sensing a full victory for may be in their grasp, motorists from BS9 are urging their fellow commuters to sign an online petition in order to force the convening of a full council meeting to consider the issue. Under present council rules, an e-petition which attracts 3,000 signatures will automatically trigger such a gathering.

Describing the present proposal to reduce the lane to 120 metres as "useless" and "face-saving", campaigner and Westbury resident Simon Brookes is urging residents to spread the word about the petition.

With 2767 signatures at the time of writing, it seems likely that the 3,000 target will be achieved. In fact, a comparison with other petitions on the Council's site indicates that this one has more than double the amount of all other current e-petitions combined!

Trym Tales therefore has a series of questions to ask the petitioners:

  1. Are those who have signed serious about seeing a significant reduction in the number of cars making short journeys at peak times in and out of the city centre?
  2. If so, do they accept that such a reduction will require more people to cycle, walk and use public transport?
  3. Are they aware of studies showing that frequency of journeys, reliability of schedules and speed of journey time are the major factors in increasing passenger use of suburban buses? And that, within realistic variables, such increased use can be as high as 55%?
  4. If the current bus lane is removed, are signatories content with the fact that nothing will have changed as far as bus and cycle use between Westbury and the city centre?
  5. Do they have an alternative proposal for reducing the number of short journeys between BS9 and the centre at peak times?  

I read this somewhere once:

"The present system is ideally suited for delivering the results you are currently experiencing."

What is the new system that will deliver significantly different results? (Assuming we want them.)

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Monday, 15 October 2012

Bristol Mayoral Candidate Speaks Against Severn Barrage Plan

Tidal Barrage (Photo credit: frachon)

The controversial proposal to build a £30 billion barrage across the Severn Estuary has been criticised by LibDem mayoral candidate Jon Rogers, who has expressed concern over the scheme's impact on thousands of jobs at Avonmouth and Portbury docks.

Dr Rogers is quoted in South West Business as saying:

"A report was published in 2010 which said a barrage would cost too much for what it would gain and therefore everyone was far more relaxed about future investment in the port. But if it were to go ahead, then it could have a very negative impact on the port which I want to see protected."

Dr. Jon ROGERS - Deputy Leader, Lib Dems photographThe Bristol City Councillor claims that alternative sources of clean energy to the barrage could include tidal fences, lagoons and tidal reefs - all smaller-scale schemes with less environmental impact.  He also believes that local firms could develop and build these technologies, thus developing global influence leading to long-term exports.

The Bristol Port Company directly employs about 600 staff, with about another 8,000 workers dependent on the port for their day-to-day living. 

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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Will Westbury's Geoff Gollop be the Surprise (S)tory of Bristol's Mayoral Election?

Bristol Harbourside
Bristol Harbourside (Photo credit: James F Clay)

 With the ballot for Bristol's first elected mayor only weeks away, Labour Party sources are expressing concern about the low key tactics of Conservative Party candidate and Westbury-on-Trym Councillor Geoff Gollop.

Writing in the influential website Labour List, Bristol Labour leader Peter Hammond acknowledges the "logic" of what he calls the "below the radar" campaign being run by the Conservative candidate. 

By campaigning in their traditional strongholds, including Westbury on Trym, and avoiding major media appearances, Hammond claims that the Conservative strategy is to try and get out its core vote on the day and hope for a low turnout elsewhere:

"The Tories want Labour voters to stay at home. A low turn-out suits them. They do not want to alarm Labour voters that there is a chance of a strong Tory showing or even the election of a Tory mayor."

History shows that the Tory strategy makes some sense. The referendum in May as to whether Bristol should have an elected mayor at all received vastly different levels of participation across the city. Council wards which had two Labour seats at the time experienced a voter turnout of only 14% for the mayoral referendum, while in Conservative wards, the average turnout was 21%. 

The diverse range of candidates - eleven so far - and the timing of the vote at a time in the year when elections rarely happen, may contribute to a fractured vote and a low turn out. 

If Peter Hammond is right, this would then leave the door open for Geoff Gollop to be elected. Certainly in BS9, his campaign is well underway, with the former Lord Mayor portraying himself as the candidate most likely to fix Bristol's broken transport system. He has pledged, for instance, to re-open former rail stations at Henbury, Horfield and Portishead.

Meanwhile at the other end of the political spectrum, Respect MP George Galloway will be speaking at a public meeting in Bristol next Tuesday (October 16th) in support of mayoral candidate Neil Maggs. Maggs is the only candidate from a Parliamentary Party to have pledged to be paid "an average wage" if elected, instead of the anticipated £65,000 wage payable to the winning candidate. The meeting with George Galloway will take place the the Malcolm X Centre in St Pauls, starting at 7.30 pm.

The mayoral election takes place in Bristol on Thursday 15th November.

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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Westbury Road Bus Lane to be Removed - Sort of

Westbury Road, Durdham Downs, Bristol
Westbury Road, Durdham Downs, Bristol (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Reports in this week's Evening Post of the demise of the Westbury Road bus lane have, it appears, been somewhat exaggerated.

The controversial bus lane came into being earlier this year between Henleaze Road and White Tree Roundabout on the city-bound side of Westbury Road. It has been blamed by campaigners for significantly increasing car journey times across the Downs at peak times, with motorists (and even buses) routinely backed up to the zebra crossing at the junction with Westbury Hill.

Following a high profile campaign by, among others, Westbury resident Simon Brookes, supported by councillor Geoff Gallop and local MP Charlotte Leslie, it was reported in the Post that the City Council had agreed to remove the lane and restore the road to its former state.

Not so, according to campaign group This Bus Lane is Madness. An update today on the group's facebook page describes the Post's article as "misleading." Tim Kent, councillor responsible for transport,

"has agreed to remove less than half of it."

The group claim that the actual plan is to modify the lane by shortening it. 

"This must be some attempt to save embarrassment as the remaining 120 meters is no use to man nor beast."

Trym Tales supports action to reduce car journeys in and out of the city centre (see photo), and wonders whether it has been possible to even asses the effect of the bus lane with so many other city-bound routes having been partially closed in recent months. Major road works on Northumbria Drive, and the continued closure of Wellington Hill, have meant that the only routes into and across the city centre in recent months have been via Westbury Road or the Portway. Has it, under these conditions, been possible to say how much of the recent congestion is a result of drivers avoiding the road works in favour of Westbury Road?

When the Henleaze and Wellington Hill roadworks are both completed, we may see a different picture emerging.

Or, we may then all conclude that the bus lane was just a white elephant.

What do you think?

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Saturday, 22 September 2012

What Next For Wesley College?

Wesley College - the Methodist Theological College at the top of Henbury Road in Westbury on Trym - is likely to be turned into a new housing development, according to a former student.

The campus ceased operating last year and is now no longer offering courses. The accommodation blocks on campus, however, remain occupied by a mixed group of former students who have entered into arrangements with the college authorities to remain on site while the future of the campus is resolved. The majority of the current occupants are, apparently, from South Korea. Wesley College was not only the longest-standing Methodist training college in Britain, it also attracted students for is undergraduate and postgraduate courses from around the world. 

Speculation is that the site may be sold to a property developer and permission sought to convert the current main building into private apartments, with additional properties built on the grounds.



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Monday, 20 August 2012

Severn Barrage Back on the Agenda

English: Map of proposed .
English: Map of proposed . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two years after the government decided to shelve pans for a tidal barrage across the river Severn, the idea is back according to the BBC

The project to build a tidal barrage from Brean Down near Weston-super-Mare to Lavernock Point near Cardiff was originally put on hold in 2010 when the then newly-elected government was in the first phase of its government budget cuts. With an estimated price tag of £20 billion, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change at the time, Chris Huhne, declared the project unaffordable.

It now transpires that former shadow Welsh Secretary Peer Hain has been busy putting together a private finance initiative for the project, and that the plans are currently receiving serious consideration at the Prime Minister's office. The proposal would see the project financed by money from the Gulf states of Kuwait and Qatar, with the energy and engineering consortium Corlan Hafren being the leading player in the proposal.

In assessing the suitability of the current proposal, it is to be hoped that the government will consider the following issues:

1. The requirement for public ownership 

In its 2007 report on a proposed Severn Barrage, the Sustainable Development Commission stated that, in order to be considered as a sustainable project,

"A Severn barrage must be publicly led as a project and publicly owned as an asset to avoid short-termist decisions and ensure the long-term public interest." 
The SDC was closed by the government in 2010 as part of its cost-cutting agenda. Announcing the closure at the time, Caroline Spelman, Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that,

"This government is committed to being the greenest government ever."

Less positively, Jonathon Porritt, chair of the SDC from 2000 - 2009, declared that,

"The only conceivable reason for ... this .... is that the government doesn't want anyone independently auditing its performance on sustainable development - let alone properly-resourced, indisputably expert body operating as 'a critical friend' on an inside track within government."

Clearly, a privately-owned Gulf-funded barrage would not pass this public-ownership test.

2. Habitat Loss

The SDC's 2007 report also estimates that a major barrage scheme would result in the loss of up to 75% of the Severn's internationally-protected inter-tidal habitat. This would presumably include the Slimbridge wildfowl reserve. Apart from the environmental destruction itself, the move would also be likely to leave the UK in breach of its European legal commitments on habitat conservation.

The SDC therefore called for alternative wildlife habitats to be "on an unprecedented scale" if a barrage project were to go ahead.

3.  Related Infrastructure Development

Whereas the initial proposals for a barrage were distinctly coy about the idea of creating related infrastructure on and around the barrage, the revived plan by Corlan Hafren sees such development as central to the project, with a road and rail link planned for the top of the barrage. The following from the company's vision of the barrage is fairly typical:

"Part of this vision will be to use the barrage as enabling infrastructure to improve the transport connections between South Wales and the West Country and the remainder of England and to create substantial new and permanent jobs in addition to the interim construction jobs.

For the area immediately around the barrage and its impoundment, the vision is to create a sustainable city region that capitalises on the barrage investments....This city region will grow within a clear hierarchy of settlements connected by world class urban transport systems.....

This will be by affordable and convenient public transport enhanced by international / European connectivity facilitated by improved heavy and light rail links, and motorways in the first instance and subsequently by upgrading the local airports."

In Peter Hain's mind. the barrage is clearly a vehicle for regenerating some of the deprived communities of south Wales and north Somerset. The question is, will such urbanisation and increased travel be factored in when assessing the long-term environmental benefit of the "carbon-neutral" electricity the barrier will produce?

On a more tangible level, do we actually want a motorway running across the top of Brean Down? Could such a development be described as "environmentally benefical" in any normally-understood sense of the word? 

4. The Impact on Shipping

Although the proposed barrage would have lock mechanisms to allow shipping to continue beyond its walls, the added time such a development would add to journeys may result in ports to the east of the barrage suffering a gradual decline in trade relative to those to its west. 

Matthew Kennerley, director of Associated British Ports (ABP), when giving evidence to a Parliamentary committee in 2009, stated that after the short-term construction boom, the barrier would slow entry to the ports of Cardiff, Avonmouth, Portbury and Newport.
The main beneficiary could be Port Talbot, in south Wales, he predicted.

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