Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Council green spaces policy to classify land not needed - land and property developer has done it for us!!

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The controversy concerning the 'cycle houses' development and the council not following its own policy on green spaces has finally been reported, to a limited extent, by the local newspaper even though local bloggers (here, here, here and here for instance!) including me, have been banging on about it for months now!!!

Developer George Ferguson, Chairman of Architects AFM, is quoted as saying this, which is particularly infuriating as well as missing the point:

"This strip of land is a completely pointless bit of scrub land"

As a land and property developer its no surprise that George Ferguson speaks dismissively, contemptupusly even, about the quality of the land he wants to build over. Council officers advised against selling green land for this development due to its wildlife value and contribution to the green character of the area.

What Mr Ferguson needs to understand is that all land covered by the councils policy, the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, should according to that policy, have an Area Green Space Plan drawn up before it is disposed of or has its use changed in any way. This has not happened in this case. Its not for developers to classify land quality for us as if they know best!

It appears that some senior officers at the council have taken some very speedy and rather ad hoc decisions on selling land that do not accord with the principles, procedures and spirit of council policy at all.

I've been so concerned about this that as far back as Sept I submitted a formal complaint to the council via their system (See here for details and to track the lengthy history of the complaint).

They missed deadline after deadline for giving me a full and formal response and still have not answered all my queries satisfactorily. I've recently had it confirmed in writing by the Council's Corporate Complaints Manager that I have exhausted the complaints procedure and am free to take my complaint to the Local Govt Ombudsman for independent investigation. This has become a very serious issue indeed because if straightforward answers to my complaint existed they would have given them to me easily within the 15 working day deadline - but two months has now passed since I first complained !!

I emailed Mr Ferguson and others asking him to scale back the development in one small area, in order to stop the destruction of a mature hedgerow over 100 metres in length and to conserve the green character of this part of the Bristol to Bath Railway Path - he did not even acknowledge let alone respond to my appeal (recorded on my blog and in a letter published in the Post) even though he initiated some limited contact with other people who want his 'cycle houses' development.

Its no surprise at all to me that this issue has escalated to the point where Ashley Fox, a respected Tory Councillor is asking questions of the Labour run Bristol City Cabinet at its 27 Nov meeting, where I also have questions tabled.

We must establish that developers must not drive council policy or have any undue influence over it. We must establish that officers must follow council policy, which should be clear, coherent, consistent and open, so that people can be held to account. We must establish that council officers do not decide what to do on an ad hoc basis. Unfortuneately things look pretty bad at the council currently so the Ombudsman will have some work to do investigating the situation in the coming weeks and months.

Transport concerns in Knowle and elsewhere in Bristol

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Questions to the Bristol City Council Cabinet meeting of 27 November submitted today – for Cllr Mark Bradshaw, Member for Sustainable Development (which encompasses transport and planning I believe). They relate both to Knowle and to wider issues.

Speeding concerns in Knowle
Residents in the Wootton Park, Callington Rd and Airport Rd area of Knowle have raised concerns with me about frequent speeding, road safety issues, and high levels of both air and noise pollution. This part of Knowle is included in an Air Quality Management Area and is a noise pollution hotspot according to the council’s excellent work on noise mapping. Cutting speed limits will cut the frequency and severity of road accidents and cut air and noise pollution.

1. Will the council commit to gathering further information on speeding, road safety, air and noise pollution in and around these three roads, including gathering information on accidents and near accidents from local residents?

2. As part of any review of speeds on A roads what consideration will the council give to

a)reducing the 40mph speed limit on Callington Rd and Airport Rd to 30mph
b)reducing the 30mph speed limit on Wootton Park to 20mph
c)cutting speed limits in general across the city wherever it is appropriate eg on M32 (or parts of it), in order to improve air quality, cut carbon emissions, cut noise and improve road safety

South Bristol Link: Road Traffic Impacts.

1. Given that the only reference in the consultation documents to altered traffic levels created by a 'road' option between Hengrove and Long Ashton, is that it "may increase traffic on King Georges Road", has any traffic modelling been done that might offer a bit more certainty to the West of England planners, and might give consultees a more realistic picture of what they’re invited to comment on?

2. If one of the road options is chosen, thus creating a de facto South Bristol Ring Road, what is its likely impact on

a) traffic levels along Airport Road/ Callington Rd/Wootton Park
b) total vehicle miles (compared with 'do nothing', or the public transport option)
c) air quality in the vicinity of Callington Rd, Wootton Park, Airport Rd and the South Bristol Sports Centre

Whitchurch to City Centre Cycleway

Can you confirm to what extent (if any) the Cycling City budget will be used to fund property acquisition along the line of the proposed Callington Road Link (the disused railway cutting between Tesco Brislington and Arnos Vale) as part of the proposed Whitchurch to Centre cycle route ?

I will report any responses received on this blog.