As a Green, I am obviously a keen supporter of public transport and would love nothing more than an almost car-free city centre.
Our city suffers from noise and air pollutions to an unacceptable degree. Our buildings, our surroundings and most importantly our health is at considerable risk if the pollution stays at this level – or worse – increases. The South Bristol Link road (SBL), which the coalition decided to part fund this week, will in no way help matters.
We are told that Bristol is to receive £100million from central government to fund both this and the other Bus Rapid Transport (BRT/Bendy-Bus) scheme from Temple Meads (almost) to Ashton Gate and the proposed new stadium. What everyone is failing to realise is the extra £30 million that we as a city will have to pay. This is at a time when all areas of our community, and indeed council, are being ‘streamlined’ (ie cut and made redundant).
Expert opinion suggests that the SBL will lose money; a lot of money. And where are the funds for upkeep going to come from? I salute Cllr Tim Kent for thinking of such progressive ideas as work-based parking levies and a possible Congestion Charge, though these new funds could be used to improve existing modes of public transport.
Our local rail network is in desperate need of investment; we should be investing here, not in some grand scheme that no-one really wants. Check out www.fosbr.org.uk for some excellent suggestions about improving the local rail network.
Bristol City Council (BCC) states that this is not an option, that the coalition will only fund “new” and “innovative” projects. Is this a good enough reason to push ahead with a highly compromised and deeply flawed policy? It’s the equivalent of buying lots of stuff you don’t need, want or will ever use because it is 50% off.
Now: the real fly in the ointment. The SBL will serve very few people in South Bristol while sacrificing a great deal of the precious green belt that surrounds our city. This includes many highly regarded beauty spots such as Colliter’s Brook, Highbridge Common, Hanging Hill Wood and Long Ashton View. This route will also cut through vital green spaces in South Bristol. How this can ever be justified is beyond me.
Though this scheme might seem a complete waste of time and money (and comes at a great environmental cost), the final objective seems crystal clear. Last week BCC made a commitment to build “as many new houses as possible” in Bristol. Whereas Green Party policy is to refurbish the 7,000 empty homes in Bristol, it looks like the other parties’ solution to the housing shortage is new builds on the green belt.
With a ‘nice new road’ planned and with relaxed national planning legislation it is clear that BCC will use this as an opportunity to blindly march forward and destroy much more of our green belt.
The SBL – a ring-road by any other name – will be a blight on the countryside and opens the door to the further destruction of one of our most precious remaining resources: green space. It will have a catastrophic effect on local wildlife, biodiversity and future generations of Bristolians.
It will cost us as a city a vast amount of money – at least £15m – in times of great economic hardship. It is investing in an unpopular technology: do you know anyone who actually likes bendy buses? It is widely agreed that this scheme is completely unnecessary and yet BCC continues to surge forward with the plan.
The fight’s not over yet. Once local and city-wide residents and campaigners recover from Tuesday’s announcement, I foresee considerable opposition mounting over this unjust development. I shall support and encourage such groups and will call on other councillors to do likewise. From petitions to forms of peaceful direct action: we must stop the SBL being built.
Gus Hoyt is the Green Party councillor for Ashley ward