Party Lines Threaten Attempt to Save Path
the environment |
Friday March 07, 2008 11:34 by East - Bristol Green Party and Save the Railway Path east at bristolgreenparty dot org dot uk
More and more Bristol politicians are joining the campaign - but without direct action the April 1st vote could still be lost
Leaders of the city's two biggest parties this week gave guarantees that lone Green Party councillor Charlie Bolton's motion calling for Bristol City Council to rule out plans to run buses along the Bristol-Bath cycle path will be debated at the next full Council meeting on April 1st. But at the same time, they refused to say whether they would actually support it.
A grubby compromise looks likely, as Labour and the Lib Dems now appear to have a common position - going to the public consultation with three options, two of which would mean buses on the path.
In response, the Save the Railway Path campaign has organised a mass demo down the path to Council House on March 30th; more details will follow soon. The leaders of the two main parties haven't listened to the vocal majority of Bristolians on this issue yet. But if enough of us can gather together on March 30th, then the path might yet be saved.
It'll be even busier on March 30th!
Following requests from Bristol's lone Green councillor, Charlie Bolton, both Labour and the Lib Dems have committed themselves to allowing his April 1st motion, which calls on the Council to oppose the BRT plans, to be discussed fully.
Furthermore, some leading Bristol political figures have lent their names to the campaign during the last week. Stephen Williams, Lib Dem MP for Bristol West, has effectively said he opposes the plans, while Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy has also expressed concern, albeit in a way that still falls well short of actually opposing the proposals. Her reluctance to commit, and Stephen Williams' tardiness in doing so, is in marked contrast to Green candidates Daniella Radice (Bristol West) and Martin Cottingham (Bristol East)'s immediate strong backing for the campaign back in January. Like the rest of the Green Party, and indeed Bristol West Labour candidate Paul Smith and Bristol Respect, they did not wait to see which way the political wind was blowing before speaking out against the plans.
At things stand, two Labour, two Lib Dem and even one Tory councillor have already said they oppose the plans. Most importantly of all, one of those Labour councillors is Rosalie Walker - a member of the ruling Labour cabinet. So with a wide rainbow coalition of supporters, are the plans to run buses down the path effectively consigned to the dustbin already?
Unfortunately, this might not be the case. The April 1st vote will be decided by councillors only - not MPs or parliamentary candidates. And in the last couple of weeks, the Lib Dems have backed away from their earlier apparent opposition to the plans. First of all, on Feb 25th, Bristol Lib Dem deputy leader, Jon Rogers, said that all the protest had been premature, and that a workable solution combining buses, cyclists and pedestrians on the path might still be found. Then, on March 4th, leading LD Gary Hopkins made it clear that any councillors opposing the plans were merely expressing a personal view. At the same time, LD leader Steve Comer said it was "highly likely" the motion would be amended.
This is now the biggest danger. Save the Railway Path, the campaign group against the plans of which the Bristol Green Party is part, met with the Labour Cabinet member responsible for the plans, Mark Bradshaw, on February 25th. But he made no significant concession to the widespread public anger on the issue. Instead, he merely promised that any consultation would include all three possible routes identified in the original BRT plan - two using the path and one not. This leaves the way open for Labour and the Lib Dems to compromise on a watered-down version of the April 1st motion that keeps the options threatening the path alive.
If that happens, the dissenting voices of a few councillors, and even of local MPs, will be of no relevance. The current party lines will prevail, and then only a proposed public consultation will stand in the way of the plans. The BRT project team has already rejected the non-path option once, and a Green Party investigation in January revealed how any consultation on options using the path would be skewed towards getting them accepted. If plans including them get to consultation, then the path may well be beyond saving.
So the planned mass demonstration and celebration of the path on the afternoon of Sunday March 30th has become more important than ever. Crowds of Bristolians will be on the march, on bike and on foot, coming together to show their opposition to plans, and to watered-down party lines that leave all options open.
The most important politicians in Bristol are not listening to the people yet. But on March 30th - they'll have to.
(Save the Railway Path is the non-partisan campaign group opposing the plans to run buses down the path, and is completely independent of any political party.)