Bristol first UK city to sign women charter

9 03 2013

Bristol has become the first city in the UK to sign the European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men in Local Life. Flanked by representatives from women’s groups in the city, George Ferguson signed the charter in City Hall on what he said was “a star day, a top day in the life of the mayor”.

The charter, thrashed out over many years across Europe and one that has come to Bristol in part thanks to Green Party cabinet member Gus Hoyt, looks at how all international declarations can apply equally to women and men, giving practical actions to take by councils to make women’s lives better at a local level.

A vocal group of mostly women attended the charter signing at City hall, where Ferguson was barracked by two members of the audience, first for only appearing to pay lip service to gender equality, and then secondly when seasoned rabble-rouser Julie Boston asked him if he was going to give jobs back to the 300 members of staff Bristol City Council has recently made redundant.

As the electricity metre ran out and the lights went off in meeting room six, it was left to Helen Mott from Bristol Fawcett – and independent candidate for Westbury-on-Trym in May’s local elections – to say that the signing of the charter makes our city a “trailblazer”, and makes her proud to be a Bristolian and will make Bristol a happier place as a result.

European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life signing in Bristol

Gus Hoyt introducing the charter signing. Photo by John Craig.

The return of The Bristolian

7 03 2013

After an absence of three years, The Bristolian satirical news sheet is back. Bristol’s “smiter of the high and mighty” was in 2005 runner-up in Private Eye’s Paul Foot award for campaigning and investigative journalism, but there is not much of that award-winning pedigree in this new issue.

George Ferguson and Zoe SearMud is slung at “public school twit” George Ferguson, former police chief Colin “Doughnut King” Port and “kow-towing journalists who write stories off the web from posh cafes in Clifton”.

The Bristolian’s raison d’etre is to “shine a light on the shadowy back room deals” in City Hall and the two best stories in Volume 4 Number 1 are about council employees.

New legal boss Liam Nevin is revealed to have sent a secretary to the County Court to represent the council at a hearing and being threatened with contempt of court if he did it again.

And council facilities manager Tony Harvey is accused of abusing his privileges by parking his car in the disabled spaces on the City Hall ramp.

Ferguson’s right hand woman Zoe Sear (above) comes in for particular ridicule, with thinly-veiled references to more than just a professional relationship with her boss; while Green Party councillor Gus Hoyt’s activities are satirised in Gus Hoyty-Toyty’s Cabinet Diary.

The Bristolian

The Bristolian is currently being distributed in shops, cafes and pubs across Bristol. Find them on Twitter at @BristolianNews and online at

Arts funding in Bristol

12 12 2012

Mayor George Ferguson will have to make some difficult decisions soon on the future of council funding to Bristol arts organisations. A worrying precedent has been set in Newcastle, where the city council has cut all funding to arts venues.

Bristol’s budget hole has now increased to £36 million, and there will no doubt be dismay from some quarters if the arts continue to profit to the perceived detriment of schools, old peoples care and transport.

Until the axe is swung, the council is still offering its two annual funding streams for community groups, organisations and individual artists in the city.

The Creative Seed Fund and Community Festival & Event Fund are both now open for applications, with £3,000 available from the former and £2,000 from the latter.

Click here and here for more information and funding criteria.

Smaller amounts of money, but funds that can prove just as useful to cash-strapped artists can be secured on Sunday at the latest Spoon Fed event, an arts micro-funding scheme that has been running bimonthly since February.

Founded by The Collect, a cooperative of Bristol-based creative producers, Spoon Fed’s aim is “to develop a strong, generous and diverse network of local practitioners and audiences by offering a platform for sharing practices and facilitating discussion”.

The prize pots have so ranged from £150 to £300, with organisations wanting a slice of the cash having to sometimes literally sing for their supper as they try to convince those attending on the night that they deserve the money.

Winners on the last outing were Gentleman Jack Theatre, who last month put on All’s Well That Ends Well at the Unitarian Chapel in Brunswick Square.

“We’re interested generally in ideas around gift exchange and alternative economies which we feel are particularly important to consider at the moment as the arts funding landscape is changing,” says Anna Searle Jones from The Collect.

Click here to find out more about Spoon Fed at Spike Island.

Bridge cabin to let

9 08 2012

An unusual property has come onto the market in Bristol city centre, a cabin next to Prince Street Bridge which is now available to let from its landlords Bristol City Council. The former bridge master’s cabin measuring just 7.2 sq m (78 sq ft) overlooks the Floating Harbour on the Louisiana side of the bridge and has an electricity and water supply.

Previously used as offices by council staff, unlike its near neighbours this cabin probably won’t become a cafe, florist or pottery workshop, with the council “particularly interested in the premises being used for marine industry purposes”.

For more information and to arrange a viewing, click here, or contact Nigel Dear, Corporate Property,Valuation Practice, Floor 7, B Bond, Smeaton Road, Bristol, BS1 6EE; telephone 0117 922 4067; email

Bristol Harbour Festival 2012 survey

24 07 2012

More than 300,000 people are estimated to have attended this year’s Bristol Harbour Festival. It was the first festival since Bristol City Council made more than half of their events team redundant, and this year was organised by the council in collaboration with Richmond Event Management.

To ensure the continued success of the festival, the council are now asking for views and opinions via an online survey here:

Consultation & research officer Philip Higgins said: “What did you think? Are there any lessons to learn and improvements we could make? What ideas do you have for how we can attract more sponsorship and increase income to cover costs?

“Your responses will help us to better understand the economic impact of the festival and help attract more sponsors and support from businesses and community organisations to organise the 2013 festival.

“We’ll publish the overall results of the survey so interested parties can see the feedback. If you visited it, we hope you had a great time and look forward to reading about your experiences.”

The growth of car clubs in Bristol

12 04 2012

Bristol has one of the largest networks of car club vehicles in the UK, with nearly 2000 members using 63 cars across the city. A consultation that continues until next week proposes adding 31 more car club parking places, expanding schemes to areas where they do not currently operate.

So is you live in Bragg’s Lane in Lawrence Hill, Crowndale Road in Windmill Hill, Luckwell Road in Bedminster, Mivart Street in Easton, Royal Albert Road in Henleaze, Summer Street in Southville, Winchester Road in Brislington, and plenty more, expect a parking space near you to be commandeered for a car club soon.

Click here for the proposed plans in detail.

In this statement of reasons for the current consultation, Bristol City Council say: “Car Clubs provide an alternative to private car ownership. They allow residents to hire a car for journeys where a car is essential, whilst encouraging them to consider walking, cycling or public transport for other trips.

“Through encouraging more responsible car use a car club can help reduce congestion and pressure on parking space. Locally collected evidence suggests that a Car Club Parking Place and vehicle can reduce the parking demand in the vicinity by up to six vehicles. National statistics indicate the potential for even higher displacement levels to be achieved.”

In Bristol, City Car Club and Zipcar are the two biggest car club schemes. Here’s a brief comparison between the two:

A City Car Club car in Bristol, yesterday

City Car Club
Number of cars in Bristol: 45
Cars include: Fiat 500 TwinAir, Toyota Auris Hybrid, Vauxhall Zafira
Yearly membership: £60
Hire prices: From £5.70/hour and £47/day

A Zipcar car in Bristol, yesterday

Number of cars in Bristol: 14
Cars include:  VW Polo, VW Golf, BMW 1 Series, VW Touran
Yearly membership: £59.50
Hire prices:  From £5/hour and £49 /day

Here are what a few car club users in Bristol think of the schemes:

@kirstymhall: “Been a happy member of City Car Club for years. I can usually get a nearby car & any problems have been quickly sorted.”

@geake: “used to be with city car. It was ok, just a bit of a lame compromise really.”

@jorence: “CCC is excellent; good coverage, especially in Bristol. Very helpful, excellent service, easy to use website, etc. CCC is very good for short trips etc, the longer the journey and timescale the less economical it is, although it still beats owning a car (I estimated using city car/train/bus/bike saves me £1200 pa over owning a car).”

@libbymiller: “city car club for a couple of years – it’s good. Best value for infrequent short trips: hire car cheaper for >1 day”

Bristol City Council Budget meeting

28 02 2012

The most important meeting of Bristol City Council’s year took place this evening as the new budget was approved by councillors after a mammoth six-hour session in the Council Chamber. Despite protests, £27 million of cuts were still made in this budget, which also saw 350 council posts lost; but on her new blog, council leader Barbara Janke said that she knows that “councillors across the political spectrum all want the best for Bristol”.

As I arrived in the Council House soon after 6pm, two burly security men were escorting two people away from the public  gallery. “Please make sure these two leave the building,” one of the security men said to a colleague, as even more security staff lounged around in a corridor.

They were obviously taking no chances. Without a press pass, I was unable to sit in the press seats with my mate Sam from the Evening Post, the solitary reporter in the chamber.

(The last time I was asked for a press pass and couldn’t produce one, I was thrown out of Asda in Bedminster before an album signing by Peter Andre, but that’s another story).

From the cheap seats at the back of the public gallery, I gazed up at the fresco on the ceiling as the debate continued in the chamber below. I counted 48 sailing ships and two tug boats, but I may have miscalculated.

Meanwhile, the debate was also hotting up, and not just in the real world but in the virtual world too. Around the chamber, notices reminded members to use Twitter with the hashtag #bccbudget, and so they were, including Lib Dem Jon Rogers on an iPad and Green Gus Hoyt on his iPhone, joined by many watching events unfold online.

Conservative deputy leader Mark Weston declared himself “bamboozled” at one point. He had no need for a hashtag, nor a microphone.

His Tory colleague Peter Abraham would also never join the Twiterrati, and spent much of the meeting wandering around his party’s benches, chatting and backslapping, rather like a rugby captain on the field of play, before returning to his seat to vote with one of the newfangled electronic thingamajigs.

The gentleman next to me in the public gallery interrupted a speech about twinning to protest about why the discussion was taking place at all, as it only involved a few thousand pounds. He was told to be quiet. Democracy in action as our councillors made sweeping cuts under a fresco featuring 48 sailing ships and two tug boats.

Why Bristol City need a new stadium

17 01 2012

Footballer Scott Murray took to Twitter and then the airwaves yesterday to advocate the need for not just a new stadium for Bristol City at Ashton Vale, but an arena to be built alongside it. His campaign began after the news that campaigners who want to block the building of the new stadium have been given permission for a judicial review hearing.

The process will further delay the club’s plans to build their new stadium (right), focusing on whether the council registered village green status for part of the Ashton Vale site in a lawful manner.

This month, Bristol Ice Rink has been given the last rites and Gloucestershire CCC have been refused planning permission to develop their Nevil Road cricket ground, with talk that the club may have to move outside Bristol in order to continue to host international cricket.

A planned 10,000-seat arena for Bristol was abandoned in 2007, despite the now-disbanded South West Regional Development Agency spending £13m purchasing and clearing a nine-acre site for the arena near Temple Meads.

Murray took to Twitter (@scotty_murray) yesterday morning after the judicial review appeal was granted, just the latest in a long list of setbacks for stadium supporters.

“Well it looks like a small minority are desperate for bristol to stay in the dark ages been here 14 yrs and everything is still the same,” went his first tweet.

“And that don’t just mean the shambles of a decision about the city stadium am speaking about all sports including rovers attempts as well.”

The former Scotland B international (left), now plays for Bath City as well as working in the commercial department at City.

He added: “This is one of if not the best city in the uk let’s catch up with the rest before its too late.”

His impassioned, if not grammatically correct, ranting soon got him on BBC Radio Bristol, and very quickly picked up support citywide, with a few tweeters even suggesting that the 37-year-old should stand as Bristol’s first elected mayor.

“We need the facilities in this region improved badly not just footy or were gonna be the laughing stock for a long time to come sort it out,” he wrote after a busy day of re-tweeting and responding to many other people who took to Twitter in order to share their own feelings about Bristol’s future development, both sporting and cultural.

The frustration among many is that Bristol City Council are holding  the city back. “I dont want to be known for just combine harvesters, I want Bristol to be known for great arenas, great sports stadiums etc,” wrote Tom Leat.

Andy Hall said: “Only in Bristol could a few dog walkers prevent thousands of jobs and facilities for the whole of the south west.”

Murray was still at it yesterday evening: “Even though am a massive red I feel sorry for the gas as they have been and still are playing in a stadium that’s well past its sell by date.

“This aint about being a red or a blue this beautiful city needs a massive revamp in all sporting facilities from bottom to top.”

Former world champion boxer Jane Couch also got stuck into the debate, with specific emphasis on the need for an arena which could host high-profile boxing bouts in Bristol among other large-scale events.

An arena could be built at Ashton Vale next to the new Bristol City stadium. The diverse profile of events that this arena could hold is exemplified by the Nottingham Arena, in a city which is smaller than Bristol in terms of population but shares many similar characteristics, including two universities, two football teams and a county cricket team.

But they have a 10,000-capacity arena (right), and we don’t. In their arena over the next few months will be Strictly Come Dancing Live, Snow Patrol, The X Factor tour, Florence & The Machine, Dancing on Ice, Blink 182, Michael McIntyre and Noel Gallagher. Regardless of personal taste, it is unlikely that any of that lot would ever play in Bristol because we have not got the facilities to host them.

I dislike seeing music in arenas. The passion is often sucked out of a band that may be so far away that you watch most of the gig on a big screen. But Bristol is losing out to Cardiff and Birmingham, our two nearest arenas, and missing out on the biggest events.

Elton John played at Nevil Road in 2010, and Westlife and Jon Bon Jovi have played at Ashton Gate over the last two summers. But those are big one-off outdoor gigs. The Colston Hall is normally our one chance in Bristol of watching some of the bigger acts on tour, but not the biggest, unless like Lee Evans they decide to play a smaller, more intimate show. A damning indictment of a city without an arena.

Scott Murray has brought this debate into sharp focus. It is now up to the city council and a few judges in London to decide whether Bristol should have the facilities, the stadiums and the arena, that our city badly needs.

Local election day in Bristol

5 05 2011

Today is local election day in wards across Bristol. If you do one thing today, make sure it’s voting. Think that local politics means nothing to you? That your vote won’t change anything? Think again. Here is a list of Bristol City Council’s responsibilities that your vote can affect:

Community safety, Sports centres, Youth service

Corporate services
Business rates, Council tax, Electoral registration, Emergencies, Housing benefit, Interpreters/translators, Media services, Telephone helpline

Adult, Children’s play schemes, Children with disabilities, Free school meals, Governor services, Home-school travel, Home tuition, Hospital teaching service, Information service, Inspection service, Learning support, Libraries, Maintenance allowance/school access fund, Museums, Pupil exclusion, School admissions, Special educational needs, Student loans and grants, Under-fives provision

Environmental services
Abandoned vehicles, Animal welfare, Births, Blocked sewers, Bulky household waste, CCTV, Cemeteries, Clinical waste, Deaths, Domestic refuse collection, Emergency highway maintenance, Emergency planning, Entertainment licensing, Fly tipping, Food inspectors, Grass verges, Gully cleansing, Health and safety, Marriages, Mortuaries, Noisy parties patrol, Parking, Parks, Pavements, Planning, Private trees, hedges and shrubs, Public conveniences, Recycling facilities, Road gritting, Road gully maintenance, Road signs, Street lights, Street sweeping, Street trading, Trading standards, Traffic management, Trees and plants maintenance

Advice for private tenants, Building cleaning, Council housing rent, transfers and repairs, Enforcing repairs in rented properties, Eviction advice, Finding a place to rent, Home ownership, Home repairs assistance, Homefinders service, Housing applications, Housing estates, Housing register, Mortgage arrears advice, Private rental advice and repairs, Renting your property, Repossession proceedings, Rooms to let

Social services
Day care for the elderly, Drugs and alcohol abuse advice, Family placement service, Mental health field work, Nursery provision, Occupational therapy, Residential homes

With thanks to

Ground vs Green debate

29 11 2010

It was billed as the Ground vs Green debate, organised by BBC Radio Bristol and the Evening Post and hosted in the Oasis Academy John Williams in Hengrove. But what we got tonight was theatre, pantomime even, complete with heroes to loudly cheer and villains to loudly boo.

Representing the good guys and 110 per cent in favour of a new stadium in Ashton Vale were Bristol City FC development director Guy Price, deputy Bristol City Council leader Simon Cook and Evening Post editor Mike Norton.

And representing the forces of evil, opposed to building a new 30,000-seat stadium on green belt land, were Steve Micklewright of Avon Wildlife Trust, Charles Cave of Long Ashton Parish Council and Ron Morton of the Save Our Green Spaces Campaign Alliance.

In front of an outrageously biased audience (whose overwhelming allegiance could be guessed at by the first audience member walking in wearing a red Bristol City shirt), battle commenced, adjudicated by ringmaster and our host for the evening, BBC Radio Bristol (or “Radio Breastful” as he was introduced by warm-up act Peter Rowell) breakfast presenter Steve Le Fevre.

If there was a people’s champion, it was Price from the football club, whose every utterance was cheered. The principal boo boy was Morton from Save Our Green Spaces, who seemed to revel in provoking the partisan crowd with his viewpoints, not that outrageous if you consider that planning permission has been granted to build on precious green belt land and a 270-page report by an independent inspector after a nine-day public hearing deemed that this land deserved town green status.

The man of reason was Micklewright, the only panel member to eloquently talk of compromise. Why shouldn’t half of the 42-acre site be given over to the stadium and much-needed arena which could sit alongside it, while the remainder be turned into a wetlands area for wildlife including otters and watervoles?

Evening Post editor Norton also made the same point. He and the newspaper are resolutely committed to supporting the new stadium, “standing up and being counted” he told us for the case for a stadium which overweighs the need for a town green. The Post tried to get a game of cricket played on the recently-designated town green land, but were unable to due to health and safety concerns.

The likelihood of a stadium being built at Ashton Vale and ergo whether World Cup games come to Bristol in 2018 if England in three days time is chosen to host the competition, boils down to whether a backbench group of councillors can rule against the independent ruling that Ashton Vale deserves town green status.

Town green expert Leslie Blohm QC was in the audience to tell us exactly what town green status is based on, namely that an area has to have been used by a significant number of local inhabitants over the last 20 years. The crucial thing here is the ambiguity of the word “significant”, which is not defined in terms of a definite number.

The law has been “misused and abused”, opined Price, a slick operator, who said that the town green bid “must fail” and be overturned by the obscure Public Rights of Way Committee, more used to deciding on footpaths than a new stadium (below), which if built has been estimated to bring up to £90 million of private investment to Bristol.

As the 200-strong crowd filed out of the auditorium, a few broke into a chant of “City, we love you”. Their allegiances and viewpoints were clear. It remains to be seen whether they will be shared by that all-important council committee.

Click here to listen again to the debate on the BBC iPlayer.