A Report of The Bishopston Society's Public Meeting on 7th April by Simon Randolph

Gloucester Road shops March 27th 2012There was a shared focus on ‘liveability’ at The Bishopston Society public meeting held on 7 April 2014. The common theme running through each of our four guest presentations was how the neighbourhood quality of the Gloucester Road and Bishopston could be improved.

Perhaps most significantly, this mix of ideas and projects being offered was not being imposed as a part of a ‘top down’ initiative, but rather, had arisen from a local perception of what was needed. In order to succeed, these local origin suggestions for how our ‘liveability’ could be bettered, would essentially be dependent on their being carried out through the committed involvement of local volunteers.

Duncan Laird, Group Manager for Transportation in the Council, took as his subject the concept of ‘Transport and Liveable Streets’. A ‘liveable’ street, he told us, is one that offers a habitable, comfortable living space for its users. It is a clean, quiet, safe environment, where heritage features, a ‘sprinkle of nature, good mobility and connected amenities are important elements – an exemplary basis for transport department planning.

Some of the challenges and constraints faced by the Transport department in

delivering’ liveability are:

  • Central Bristol’s partial medieval road layout
  • Serious planning restrictions preventing road development in those areas.
  • Increasing car traffic in Bristol, leading to more air pollution and accidents
  • Car traffic and roads tend to create severance of communities.
  • Major budget cuts, leaving little money available for new or alternative road systems

Transport policy always faces the conflict created between liveability as desired at local level and a wider strategic need to ensure a transport system that functions efficiently. The arterial Gloucester Road exemplifies this problem. It is difficult to ensure everyone, no matter what mode of transport they use, has a ‘pleasant journey experience’.

Bristol shopkeepers were asked to estimate by percentage, the type of transport used by shoppers to get to the shops. There were significant differences between the traders’ perceptions and the actual figures for the modes of transport that shoppers used. Actual figures are given first, and the traders’ corresponding estimates in brackets:

Pedestrians 55% (42%), Bike 10% (6%), Bus 13% (11%), Car 22% (41%)

Maybe Gloucester Road traders overestimate the importance of car use by shoppers.

The Mayor’s vision of the importance of ‘a sense of place’ in conjunction with the need to ‘keep Bristol moving’ gives the Transport policy a guiding framework in which to construct its policy. There is a need to reduce both the growth and the speed of traffic, achievable for example, by increasing opportunities for bikes, and by imposing restraints on car traffic through schemes such as residents’ parking and 20 mph zones. Another approach is by ‘retrospective fixing’ of existing areas by reallocation of road space such as in Bristol’s Queen Square and reorganisation of traffic as on the front at Weston Super Mare.

The other main speaker was Pete Insole, the Chief Archaeology officer for BCC, whose present role is to manage the process of carrying out Conservation Area character appraisals. He pointed out that the designated Gloucester Road Conservation Area (GRCA) is at present in ‘a bit of a limbo’, in need of a character appraisal. The Bishopston Society had therefore asked him if he would organise an appraisal with the help of local volunteers.

What makes the GRCA and Bishopston, individual and special? It is hoped that the GRCA appraisal will be the first step in a process that extends into an ‘Our Place’ project looking at other areas of Bishopston to determine their essential distinctive local character, and in doing so perhaps even help define what we mean by ‘Bishopston’. This has already been successfully done for areas in Bristol like Westbury on Trym, St James Parade and Whitehall. All were community led projects and involved the active participation of local volunteers in mapping the assets of their areas.

A completed ‘Our Place’ survey can be used to influence the planning process for any new development, making sure it positively and sensitively responds to the context of the area’s local character and distinctiveness.

Pete and a colleague will be initiating the GRCA appraisal in a morning session on Wednesday, May 7th, starting with a short briefing in the Friends Meeting House at 300, Gloucester Road, at 10 am and finishing back at the Meeting House around 1.00pm. Anyone wanting to take part should contact: pete.insole@bristol.gov.uk or contact any of The Bishopston Society officers here: http://www.bishopstonsociety.org.uk/about/contactus

Written by Simon Randolph

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