Wednesday, 14 January 2009

the Incredible Shrinking Land

Time to return once again to the perennial subject of the incompetence of Bristol City Council. Having had their dodgy deal to sell a section of the Railway Path embankment at Greenbank exposed to public scrutiny, they have been forced to undertake a Public Consultation on whether the land sale should go ahead. As reported here and on Bristol Greengage, the consultation appears to have been heavily biased in favour of the sale by linking it strongly to the question of whether the Chocolate Factory development as a whole should take place (which should of course be considered as a separate issue).

The land in question is shown in the plan above (click to enlarge), provided by the Council's Property Services dept and first made public here back in September. The most contentious element is the blue coloured land which is the embankment slope which supports the mature hedgerow that gives the Railway Path its rural aspect. The developer, Squarepeg, intend to cut this away to accommodate a 7 story tower and other buildings. The green coloured land is a strip along the top of the embankment which Squarepeg want to 'reprofile' and build stepped accesses over.

Now look at plan (above) which is included in the public consultation documents issued by Bristol City Council, showing what purports to be the same land as Plot 1. Notice anything different? Yes, it's only about half the size of that shown in the original plans. Even Plot 2 (land proposed to be leased for 'reprofiling') is misrepresented, not quite extending to the eastern end of the site as shown in the original plan.

Now we all make mistakes, which is why everything should be double checked, especially if it's for use in a quasi judicial process like a Public Consultation, but such elementary checks seem to be too much trouble for Bristol City Council. So how does this affect the validity of the Public Consultation? On the face of it the public have been grossly misled about the extent of the land involved, but the Council seem to think that the error doesn't affect the underlying principles.

The misleading plan wasn't the only fault exposed by bloggers. The on-line questionnaire was sending out error messages when submitted, causing almost as much frustration as the biased formulation of the questions. It seems that the problem arose because no one in the Council thought to check the function of the questionnaire from a computer outside the protection of the Council's firewall. Any IT competent person would understand the importance of extensive testing of such interactive sites and systems exist precisely for this purpose. As it is it took the Council a month to remedy the defect despite many complaints being submitted and even posted on publicly viewable websites.

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