Friday, 28 August 2015

Henbury loop speech

This is the speech I made on the Henbutry loop to yesterdays council meeting.

Henbury loop

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a city where we had a public transport network we can be proud of. Don’t you just want to be able to get on a train or bus near to where you live and actually have a decent chance of getting close to most of the major sites in Bristol? For most of the day? Without having to wait for too long?

I’d like to speak in favour of having the Henbury loop rather than having a Henbury Spur.

In my opinion the proposals to go for a Henbury spur rather than a loop sum up  just what is wrong with transport decisions made in this city. It reminds me very much of Bus Rapid Transit – a scheme determined by the funding available rather than the right scheme.

I don’t particularly blame the authors of the report  for doing this.  In some ways, getting anything at all is a bonus. But what sticks in the craw is the sheer lack of ambition – and indeed the sheer lack of control over how we run ‘our patch’.

The benefit of the Henbury loop can be summed up as follows. It forms the basis of a local rail network within the northern part of Bristol. 

It is the hub from which most other local rail projects in that area flow. It enables a passenger route around Bristol. It shows that we are serious about local rail. It shows we are serious about sustainable transport. It shows we are prepared to make a commitment to a sustainable future. It addresses climate change. It addresses congestion. It addresses air quality.

If you look at the 2011 census figures, it suggests that something like 2% of the population commuted by train, while 50% commute by car. It must be obvious to everyone that we need to be adopting an ambitious strategy  to change this. We need at least five times as many rail passengers. We need to maximise the numbers who walk, cycle or take the bus as well.

If you drill down into the detail of what the report into the viability of the Henbury loop – then consider this:

The report suggests and additional 13 passengers a day on the loop. The report suggests that there would be 4.4 passengers per day between Henbury and Avonmouth. The much slower bus has about 12 passengers per journey between the same destinations. Does anyone seriously believe these projections?

There is no reference to the expansion of Cribbs Causeway. Has the potential for employment in Severnside been taken into account? Is RPS taken into account? I’m told not. Growth rates of passenger take-up are suspiciously low. How have the serious levels of congestion in the Northern fringe been taken into account? There are a series of questions which can be asked about the scheme

This is why it is so frustrating to have to say - again and again and again – we need a world class local rail network. We need trains which are sufficiently frequent so as not to need a timetable. We need the choice. We need the flexibility. Above all, we need the Henbury loop.

The choice we are given in the report is to either accept the decision – or to object and refer it back. I will be voting to refer it back on the grounds of lack of ambition and a suspicion that the business case for the Henbury loop has been woefully under-estimated. I hope others agree with me.

Letter to the Post on 20mph

Dear Sir

I read with interest your item about a poll you conducted on 20mph speed limits (‘Poll shows Bristol wants city 20mph limit scrapped except near hospitals and schools’, 27/8/15).

As a supporter of the slower, safer speeds that a properly enforced 20mph offers, I find myself asking how far do those who support this view think a 20mph zone should extend around a school?

To me, it is obvious that if we want streets to be safe for children, then we should be aiming to make them safe for children for the whole of their journey between home and school. Thus zones need to be large enough to make it safe for them should they choose to walk or cycle. And of course, we should also be looking after the safety of the young, the old, all of us in fact – where we live.

The point being that you end up with an extensive area which is rightly at 20mph, which rapidly approaches the scheme we have now.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Henbury loop

I attended the call in meeting this morning re the Henbury loop. I had thought of a number of things to say, most of which I didn't, but may hold on until it is debated at the meeting of full council which will now be arranged.

All party support

I’d first off like to congratulate the Wet of England partnership on getting all four party groups on Bristol City Council on the same side – in opposition to your decision to go for a Henbury spur rather than a Henbury loop.

Sign in

I am not going to pretend that I signed the call-in papers because of the process. I signed it because I disagreed with the decision. I am fully supportive of having a Henbury loop over other solutions.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have problems with the decision-making process itself.

Commitment to Public transport

As a Green, I am committed to having the best sustainable transport solution for the city of Bristol (and surrounds) in order to create a truly sustainable future. This means many things – for example dramatically improving the bus service, or improving facilities for those who cycle. But it also  includes having the best possible  public transport solutions for the city. We need a local rail network which allows as many people as possible to get to get to all of the major venues, employment centres and retail centres in the area. Clearly this includes having a rail network which allows people flexibility in their travel decisions. It also means taking an imaginative , ambitious can-do approach.

Why a Henbury loop?

In our opinion, the point of the Henbury loop is that it is a significant part of the basis of a rail network. Not all of Bristol, but a significant portion of it. If you do that,  it is the basis for a large number of the other possibilities for improving he rail network, especially in the North of the city. And, as a matter of principle, we need to be making best use of the existing rail infrastructure.

My experience of this decision

Following Green Party successes in the council elections last May, we were allocated a seat on the West of England scrutiny panel for the first time. This is because we replaced the LDs on the committee. I was invited to one meeting, but was unable to attend due to a prior commitment. Almost immediately afterwards, I was notified of the intention to make the decision to choose the Henbury spur over the loop.

This notification came on a Thursday morning, saying the decision was going to be made the following Friday and asking for comments by the Wednesday lunchtime.

I spent Thursday preparing for a Place scrutiny committee meeting on the Monday afternoon. I had a prior commitment (to visit my parents) which took me out of Bristol from the Friday to the Monday lunchtime. I went straight into the committee meeting (which I chaired). I had another meeting that evening.

This meant I had the Tuesday and Wednesday morning to read, analyse and respond to the reports for the committee.

The report was 70 pages long, and the key information is contained within a GRIP analysis which is on the WoE website, which is 1330 pages long. In other words, to participate, I would have to have analysed 1400 pages in about a day and a bit.

I hope you agree that the idea of doing this sensibly in the time available is absurd. God help me had I had a job.


I might add that at the scrutiny committee meeting I did not attend, I note there were some 57 projects with a total cost of something like £150m – which are to be scrutinised in 4 meetings per year.

Benefit cost ratio analysis

According to the WoE Assurance Framework rules:

The BCR of less than 2.0 for all the Loop-based options (2a, 2b) mean that they still do not qualify for funding from the Local Growth Fund under the West of England’s Assurance Framework rules


I have a few comments to make about this:

  1. It is interesting to note that the use of benefit:cost ratio dates back to 1848. One wonders if a more up-to-date system of analysis exists.
  2. A critique of the system suggests:

  • A cost benefit analysis requires that all costs and benefits be identified and appropriately quantified. Unfortunately, human error often results in common cost benefit analysis errors such as accidentally omitting certain costs and benefits due to the inability to forecast indirect causal relationships
  • Another disadvantage of the cost benefit analysis is the amount of subjectivity involved when identifying, quantifying, and estimating different costs and benefits
  • Since this evaluation method estimates the costs and benefits for a project over a period of time, it is necessary to calculate the present value. This equalizes all present and future costs and benefits by evaluating all items in terms of present-day values, which eliminates the need to account for inflation or speculative financial gains. Unfortunately, this poses a significant disadvantage because, even if one can accurately calculate the present value, there is no guarantee that the discount rate used in the calculation is realistic.

Applying this to the specific example of the Henbury loop, I immediately ask myself the following questions:

In calculating the cost benefit ratio for the Henbury loop, what factors have been included in the calculation, and how have they been included?

How sensitive is the methodology to change of variable? It has been suggested to me that a small change to the input could result in a large change to the output. Is this correct? (ie how reliable are the figures?)

Some things are directly quantifiable. Other things are much harder to assess. Has the additional congestion  on a variety of roads in North Bristol been taken into account? Has the contribution of to air pollution and therefore increased ill-health been taken into account?

Other submissions

I am sure we can all come up with are own set of similar questions. (And I note – for example – that Martin Garrett of TfGB has come up with a set, including

  1. What is impact of RPS?
  2. Do Big Players such as Centro (West Midlands) or Greater Manchester have their own versions of the BCR rules?  (Martin says they do and this is because their relationship with the DfT is different and their vision is truly regional.  They bring in economic development and social factors and take a regional view of funding and need, and then focus regional resources.) If we have different rules of assessment, which is correct?
  3. BCR methodology might be useful when considering marginal improvements to an existing network, but it largely ignores potential network effects and is even more inappropriate when there is no recognisable modern public transport network in the first place, as is the case here. How have the impacts across the full network been taken into account?
    I further note that Rob Dixon has put in a statement of behalf of FosBR listing a set of reasons why the decision to proceed with a spur rather than a loop is open to debate. I would like to see these questions answered point by point.

Political  support for Henbury loop

I refer you to the document signed by George Ferguson, Charlotte Leslie and others

‘Outline Business Case for the Henbury Loop’

As the name suggests, it supports the Henbury loop. Please note that one of the signatories is the elected mayor of Bristol.

I also draw you attention to the motion put by Cllr Weston and passed by Bristol City Council at its meeting on 20th January 2015. Passed by 58 votes to zero, it includes the statement:

To this end this Council:

- Fully supports the opening of a Henbury Loop in North Bristol, with new Stations at Ashley Down, Horfield, Filton North and Henbury and believes that an additional stop at Charlton should be explored


I note that one of those voting in favour of the amendment was Cllr Simon Cook.

I assume that officers of Bristol City Council have communicated this fact to officers of the West of England partnership. I wondered how this decision had been taken into account?

What consultation has there been?

As a newly-appointed councillor to the committee, I have not had the opportunity to scrutinise this decision in any way, shape or form.

What I would like to have seen is presentations to councillors of the business case, allowing questioning of the assumptions and the case in general. This would be followed by an opportunity to either support or oppose the proposal (prior to a decision being made).

I am not aware of the public being meaningfully consulted.


My conclusion is this. I have sufficient doubts about the scrutiny of the West of England partnership in general, and of this decision in particular to believe it right and proper that this decision be referred to a full meeting of Bristol City Council.

I would like it to be preceded by briefings of councillors by officers and responses to the questions raised in public forum. I actually think such an approach could be of benefit to all concerned.


Thursday, 6 August 2015

Letter to South Bristol Voice re libraries

re your item 'Libraries saved after huge campaign'

Campaigners will be delighted to have 'saved' local libraries at Marksbury Road and Wick Road'. Many people will have claimed credit for this ranging from the campaigners themselves to politicians of all hues. And , indeed, in the case of the campaigners they have certainly done their bit.

However, it needs to be pointed out that we have not got rid of the cut. It has simply moved elsewhere.

Labour and Conservative councillors on Bristol City Council voted through £83million of cuts to its 3 year budget in February 2014 . This including cutting £1.1m from the library service - which is the origin of the need for change. 

Of course, the real reason for the cuts is the government austerity programme.

So - having saved the libraries, which the Green Party supports as a vital public service, remember - someone else will face the cut. Someone else will lose their livelihood. Someone else will lose their service.


Cllr Charlie Bolton and Cllr Deb Joffe

Bristol Green Party