It's a lovely time to enjoy the Railway Path. Sunny, warm-ish, the flowers are blooming, it's a great place to be. Whether its a walk to school or the shops, a weekend bike ride, a commute, it's nice to be out there, a great place to appreciate spring.
Sadly, one of the builders of the path, Chris Hutt, will not be able to enjoy it, as he died last month. With others in the Cyclebag group, he turned an abandoned railway line, into the best park in Bristol, and an internationally renowned railway to path conversion.
Sustrans came from this, but we in Bristol benefit from Chris's work whenever we use the path. As a plumber, Chris also fixed up the fountains -so on a hot day, we really have a reason to grateful!
Chris's funeral will be on Friday April 30 -the plan is for a pedal-powered hearse from the funeral directors in Westbury to take him on his final ride, to Canford Crematorium. The Bristol Cycling Campaign are planning a commemoration ride at 5:30pm, from outside 35 King Street, hopefully taking in the Railway Path and finishing with a memorial beverage at one of the city's many fine drinking establishments.
Chris will be missed by all of us, -we shall be among those celebrating his achievements, while mourning his passing.
As summer approaches, the Railway Path is lovely: green, pleasant, and full of people -none of whom are waiting for a bus, which is something to celebrate.
In the runup to the local elections, we've seen lots of candidates claiming that "they" stopped the plans to run BRT along the path.
In fact, the people who stopped them were you , the people of Bristol. It was you who dragged out the plans from hiding, communicated them widely, got in touch with our councillors, organised and supported protests the like of which the city hasn't seen for ages. Together, you showed in your thousands how much people across the city valued the path as a park, not as "a-path-by-a-bus-lane", and were prepared to make the protest stick.
For the record, the campaign had active participation from members of -in alphabetical order- Green, Labour, The Liberal Democrats, and Respect, as well as some Conservatives. We had council support from, in alphabetical order: Green, Labour, and Liberal Democrat Councillors, and support from Prospective Parliamentary Candidates from all the main parties. It was a difficult balancing act: most of these parties had been compromised at some time, and they all seek a platform, but none of them played party politics within the campaign, and they have honoured the support they have given us since.
The parties who trade on hate played no part in this civic action. Bristol is stronger from having united communities, than being divided -something the path itself demonstrates, as everyone is welcome to walk, run or cycle on it.
The real threat to the path is the present policy of the West of England Partnership, a regional organisation not under the direct control of any single local government in the former Avon county area. The transport planners there don't recognise the park aspect of the path: BRT-on-the-path remains in their sights, judging by their roadmaps. It is important to keep them under close supervision, regardless of who ends up in a majority on Bristol council. Similarly we will still need to keep a close eye on housing and commercial developments that might damage the path, while supporting initiatives with a positive impact.
The whole BRT episode has shown how important local government is. Please do not abstain on Thursday, as these elections can make fundamental changes to our communities and our local quality of life, for better or worse. Nor should you treat the local election purely as a referendum on central government: it should be about how you want the city itself to be run.
The choices between candidates and parties that have supported the path as a park are about a range of matters which affect us: for some of us it is housing, care for elderly people, the future of education provision, green spaces, waste and health. maybe even the delivery of effective transport policy. For some it is the council tax we pay.
For us, while we campaign for a better environment, it is also about the kind of society we want to live and enjoy our path in, and our concern about the rise of intolerance and xenophobia that can damage our communities.
Vote for the Path by voting for representatives of the kind of society that will value what it means to the city.
Vote, then come out on the path with everyone else, enjoy the summer evenings on it. Without your effort: without the postcards, the emails, the protests and the letters to the press, the greenery would be well on its way to being replaced by tarmac.
The very belated results from the public consultation are in -thank you everyone who made their opinions known -it is clear that while the respondents are in favour of the development, they don't want a bit of Bristol's parkland to be taken away.
The full report is a PDF file. Its key conclusions are that the consultation responses declared:
In conclusion, although there is general support for the regeneration of the former Elizabeth
Shaw factory site the majority of those participating in the consultation felt that the development
should be contained within the original footprint of the factory site and the Bristol and Bath
Railway Path should stay in the public domain.
The majority of individuals and organisations felt that plot 1 should not be sold although there
were some suggestions for a compromise solution with partial development. A greater majority
felt that plot 2 should not be leased particularly for individual access points – many respondents
felt that these were unnecessary to the development. There was, however, some agreement to
provide an access across plot 2 to the square, café and other facilities.
Keep the Bank Green Campaigner Chris Hutt made this statement to media outlets:
It looks like the result confirms what we have been saying all along. People want to see the Chocolate Factory developed but it shouldn't involve taking land from the Railway Path. We could have told them that in the first place (which of course we did!) and saved £12,000 of our taxes being wasted on consultants.
Now we must make sure that this consultation is taken into account before the Planning Application is determined. It would be outrageous if they now ignore the results of this expensive public consultation exercise. There's no point in giving Planning Permission if the land on which it's based is not for sale, and the Council can hardly decide to sell the land to the developer after the people of Bristol, whose land it is, have made it clear that they don't want that to happen.
There is a way forward. We need to persuade George Ferguson and Squarepeg to abandon their intransigent position and recognise the need for compromise. We want to see the Chocolate Factory brought back into community use and George Ferguson's plans are in many ways exciting, but he made a mistake in thinking that the Railway Path land was just "pointless scrubland". We all make mistakes so no great shame in that, but it is important to quickly recognise when we make a mistake and move on.
We hope George Ferguson and Squarepeg will now sit down with us and explore the potential for a compromise which minimises the adverse impacts on the Railway Path and allows a viable development to proceed. They may have to lose a few of the 250 car parking places in the development to do that, but that is surely better than taking land from the Railway Path.
We are all very pleased with this outcome, and wait to see what the next actions will be.
This is a new year update from the Save the Railway Path Campaign. Do you know that it was on January 24 2008 that the council owned up to their plans to run buses down our path with a press release that promised that "the rapid transit link could enhance use of the cycle path". That plan appears to be on hold, though their proposed Ashton Vale route is going to make the harbour area different, and campaigners in South Bristol are working to keep the Malago greenway green.
We're keeping an eye on the Railway Path. The BRT plans have gone all quiet, though we're trying to make sure the West of England Partnership engineers aren't planning anything in secret.
What is going on right now -the reason this email is going out- is the development of the "Chocolate Factory" at Greenbank. This is the disused factory you see on the left of the path on your way out of Bristol, after you pass Easton and Whitehall. This chocolate-making factory shut down a few years ago, and there have been plans to develop it circulating for a while. The first set of plans was for another car-centric suburb, like the ones that now lie abandoned half-built round the edges of the city. That proposal was defeated though widespread local opposition.
The new proposal, "The Squarepeg Plans", are much better, and do acknowledge the Railway Path. Indeed, they acknowledge it a bit too much. The proposal includes a set of "cycle houses", which are houses each with a direct set of stairs leading to the cycle way, and somewhere to park your bike and damp clothes at the top. They also have a garage round the corner, for the car and potentially easier bike access.
These "cycle houses" are going to build on the greenery by the path, their staircases coming right down to the tarmac. Over parkland belonging to Bristol Council.
Which is where our objection lies. The houses look lovely, but does the council really have to sell off bits of the greenery alongside the path to make room for them? Could they not be a bit further back, or have a single shared access point, which would preserve the greenery and reduce the risk of collisions on a busy bit of the path?
We have worked hard with the local community and amenity groups as well as the architects to strengthen the positives of this development which builds on the path -but we are firmly opposed to the scheme to allow each of their proposed 20+ cycle houses individual access to the path, destroying the natural value of a significant length of the path land itself – and leasing part of the parks greenery to be turned into gardens.
We believe that every house in Bristol can become a cycling house; everyone is allowed to walk or cycle to the railway path and enjoy the greenery. For the council to give-away bits of our parkland because a developer asked for it is not only bad for the path, it's a threat to all the parkland in the city.
What can you do about it?
What do we think you should say?
Our friends and co-campaigners in the Keep the Bank Green group feel that the Plot 1 hedgerow should be left alone too. Have a look at their site, and see if you agree with them: http://keepgreenbankgreen.blogspot.com/
Please go to the consultation or the web site and make it clear you don't believe that it is acceptable to trade away bits of our parkland in secret deals.
Regardless of the merits of the housing, it's a dangerous precedent, for the city and the railway path. We all fought the BRT plans because we knew that the path was more than just a tarmac for commuting on by foot or by bike -the greenery is what makes it so lovely. Having it given way bit-by-bit is not anything we want to have happen.
Save the Railway Path Campaign Steering Group