Bristol, the European capital of green nannying and bureaucracy

As Britain’s first European Green Capital, my beloved, once-bohemian city is going all-in on pettifogging regulations

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

5 September 2015

9:00 AM

I am stuck behind a big yellow recycling lorry in Bristol, which this year became the UK’s first European Green Capital. It is collecting food waste from the special brown bins we have to use, and the stench is horrendous. Behind me are about another dozen cars and, sad to say, I fear that not all of them have turned off their idling engines.

Squadrons of recycling vehicles invade every day, blocking our narrow Victorian streets and causing misery and mayhem — starting with the school run: ‘Dad! I’m going to be marked down for a “late” again!’ ‘Sorry son, but these teabags mustn’t be allowed to rot in landfill. And besides, we have our city’s green status to consider!’

I am not against recycling — just the extreme methodology the city has adopted. Bristol is now so over-the-top with it all that bin day involves five or more different bins collected by three separate diesel–powered lorries. And I have a theory about why these mobile compost heaps insist on working through the morning rush hour: it is all about our city’s war on the car.

If you want to be a Green City, anti-car is what you have to be. And so when I finally make it past the wretched yellow truck, my journey continues to be blighted by the overweening traffic regulations with which we are now awash. We have a dense network of car-sharing lanes, bus lanes and cycle lanes strewn about our streets like chopped spaghetti. It’s dangerous, because to avoid falling foul of enforcement cameras it is necessary to veer from lane to lane while trying to read what times of which day you are allowed to drive where. I find it tricky enough and I live here; heaven knows how visitors cope.

And then there are the dozens of new 20mph zones, introduced at a cost of more than £2 million, and neatly denounced by one local councillor as ‘a total waste of time and money’. Our nitwit elected mayor, George Ferguson, voted for by less than 12 per cent of Bristolians, forced through this idea only to then be nabbed for speeding himself. The incident seemed emblematic of the city’s increasingly totalitarian brand of environmental idealism. Like fundamentalists the world over, here was our green leader failing to practise his own preachings while dismissing rational objections — such as the Swedish study which shows that 20mph zones increase accident levels due to the creation of a false sense of security.

And then, when I finally get where I am going, the chances are that I will not be able to park, thanks to draconian new residents’ parking zones — another of Mayor Ferguson’s not-so-cunning plans.

In some situations, residents’ parking zones have a place, but predictably the mayor and the anti-car zealots have overdone it. In my own street, for example, there never was a parking problem — but now we have to pay to park in a designated bay. Parking is now harder for residents, because the total space to park in has been reduced. Tradesmen and even doctors, carers and district nurses have had to buy expensive permits in order to visit customers and patients without penalty. It follows that, as a city, our collective bill for both plumbing and healthcare has just gone up substantially.

And the effect on the environment? Well, there has been a jump in planning applications from people who want to pave over their leafy front gardens to create off-street parking, and we now have ugly white boxes and double yellows painted on our formerly pretty road, along with ugly ticket machines, and ugly signs on ugly poles — all compounding the visual mess of the unnecessary (and ugly) 20mph signs. Of course it has all cost a fortune — and with cash-wasting wheezes like these, it is perhaps not surprising that this allegedly green city cannot afford to employ sufficient park-keepers and has had to beg its citizens to help out with a spot of unpaid municipal gardening.

Being green is supposed to be making us happy. No end of council-sponsored leaflets through our doors tell us this. But in fact many people are angry and upset by all this environmental bullying. The residents’ parking zones have prompted an outpouring of rage from exasperated residents, and also from small businesses whose staff can no longer get to work for lack of anywhere to park. One of several local petitions against the zones collected more than 6,000 names. In contrast, a counter-petition supporting the scheme in my neighbourhood attracted just 13.

In genteel Clifton, residents have quite literally taken up arms, with the anti–parking-zone movement attracting large crowds who rally around a Sherman tank at street protests.

In less genteel St Paul’s, the hated ticket machines have been attacked with paint, stuffed with glue, doused in petrol and set on fire. Being Britain’s first Green Capital is not quite the solar-powered love-in that our council likes to promote.

Worst of all, though, is the change in the city’s mood. Life here is feeling increasingly parochial, anal, nagged and petty. The boho artsy feel we used to have is being slowly strangled by a sanctimonious mayor and local authority who seem to want to colour-code our lives with a barrage of rules and regulations that simply make it harder to function. It may well be that the less we are able to go about our lives, the less carbon we produce — but is becoming inefficient and dysfunctional an intelligent approach to preserving the planet?

Of course we were promised rewards for our sacrifices: in return for giving up our cars, public transport would be improved. Precious little seems to have happened so far, though work is in hand to introduce a rapid-transit metrobus scheme, which essentially comprises building extra lanes for specially coloured buses.

And how is that going? Well, funnily enough, not too well. The added bus lanes impinge on a cycle route, high-grade agricultural land and a designated wildlife corridor. The council forcibly evicted the weeping protestors who had chained themselves to trees along the route, trees that had to be felled to let the funny-coloured buses through. I would say that the case for Bristol, clever green city, was looking pretty shaky.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this city, really I do. It is just a shame I now live in Bristol, the style-over-substance, ideology-over-common-sense, baby-out-with-the-bath-water Capital of Europe 2015.

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  • sebastian2

    Interesting article which may well sum the situation up.

    Hanover is Bristol’s twin city in Germany. There, the city seems to have followed a “green” agenda (Hanover enjoys many tree lines streets and pedestrian areas as well as parks and the central, tree fringed Maschsee) without the bizarre mess and multiplicity of ill thought out, piecemeal schemes that Bristol suffers from.

    Bristol, from the demolition of many remaining traditional sites left standing after WW2 and the construction of some truly ugly replacements, to the fairly recent eyesore development of the City Centre with a pavement level fountain like a gents urinal, has lacked coherence. True, parts have been well done, though much is a mess.

    The greatest mess are perhaps the huge council estates around and within the city – the right to buy scheme which would’ve placed many properties into sensible private ownership has been routinely thwarted by a council hospitable only to socialist monopoly. They’re now expensive Labour rotten boroughs – in perpetuity. They are bleak, monotonous and, in places, almost tribal as succeeding generations of tenants have born, grown, flirted, married, had children and continued the narrow cycle there. Truly, a repetitive dependent culture, charmless and trapped in its own incestuous, subsidised enclosures.

    Will it all improve? Will the city regain a sense of greater enterprise and elegance of practical vision? I do hope so. It remains a sought after place. But not until it’s local politicians grow up, cease their internal bickering and curtail their narrow obsessions.

    • ceejm

      You seem to have a problem with all-none-upper-middle-class-culture

      Smile a bit more.

      • sebastian2

        5 hyphens in a single short sentence. You seem to have a weakness for hyphens and compound nouns. Go easier on the nitrous oxide.

    • carpetburn

      Class Bigot, the people on these estates are the proper Bristolians who can trace their families back generations in the city, not johnny come lately middle class sons and daughters of emigrants from the south east.

      • sebastian2

        Thank you for your comment. Some words of advice: make no such assumptions; and learn to control your class hatred which has clearly warped your judgement.

        • carpetburn

          Thanks for once again confirming your class hatred / bigotry / snobbery re-inforcing your original text namely the 3rd paragraph..

      • Donald Keebles

        Correct. Bedminster is a prime example of “ethnic cleansing” of true Bristolians. These new-comers are even calling Southville “lower Clifton” the pretentious C**TS!!!! (so my Bristolian friends tell me).

  • ceejm

    The problem with articles about Bristol is that they’re all written by the same upper-middle-class journalist demographic. Who in truth represent, a tiny minority in the city.

    Sorry to explode the myth, but:

    1: An overwhelming majority of people in Bristol like cars and driving
    2: An overwhelming majority of people in Bristol aren’t artistic or bohemian
    3: An overwhelming majority of people in Bristol aren’t green or environmental
    4: An overwhelming majority of people in Bristol like drinking and football
    5: An overwhelming majority of people in Bristol don’t own bikes

    There are a couple of tiny, bohemian, areas in Bristol. But every city has areas like that.

    Bristol is a perfectly normal city. Full of perfectly normal people. Who go to work, booze, drive, and watch sports.

    • Tamerlane

      But are you all secretly Welsh?

    • TillyV

      You appear to have entirely misread the article.. well done.

      • Ned Costello

        Actually, he appears not to have read it at all.

    • Bonkim

      but now paying the price for misguided waste collection policies of an idiot unelected Mayor.

    • Donald Keebles

      Absolutely correct! Remember this, the F**king mayor is NOT a Bristolian, just another C**t who went to Bristol University and did not go home at the end of his course. Real Bristolians get ignored by these F**king professional politicians, who are only after the money from the poor old taxpayer.

  • David Rynn

    Hang on, are you sure you’re not taking about Edinburgh? Absolutely the same nonsense going on here in the ‘Athens of the North’.

    • Aporia

      I’m from Edinburgh and the only nonsense regulation I’ve heard of is the one which says licensed premises in the Grassmarket can’t have customers drinking on the seating outside (unless it’s with a meal) because they might get drunk and stumble 20 meters across onto the road. The amount of business lost is quite astounding. Could you expand?

      • David Rynn

        Edinburgh has also gone crazy with anti-car policies that have exacerbated congestion & traffic flow issues, 20mph limits are also about to be introduced, and car parking space is constantly being squeezed in the centre and in the suburbs so we can be screwed over to buy council parking permits. Edinburgh is also struggling with a legacy of many years of over spending and a £1billion+ debt overhang which means it too has barely any money left to fund the essentials like efficient street cleansing & rubbish collection, to perform street & road repairs, school repairs, cutting grass in parks, etc etc. Example: take a walk around and look at the dreadful state of our parks – obviously not the central ones that tourists use like Princes Street Gardens – but the suburban parks that now have “wilderness areas” where previously the grass would be cut and kids could play on it. That’s progressive politics for you I guess.

        • e2toe4

          Back in the 50s and 60s Council’s went all-in on High Rise tower blocks..and city centre shopping precincts… then, in the 70s and 80s out-of-town shopping malls and superstores.

          In Edinburgh, this century, it was a tram vanity project … in Bristol it seems Green zealotry may be examples in our times of a similar kind of that herd thinking in local authorities in which *It must be good because everyone’s doing it* replaces a common-sense assessment of whether the specific instance of the fashion will be beneficial in their specific town, city or whatever.

          The Edinburgh tram project was (unbelievable perhaps, but true) predicted to INCREASE pollution in over 65% of the residential streets of the city (because of the road space it effectively removed from traffic, forcing the traffic from the old main roads and through routes, into residential streets across the city).

          That this was not sufficient to sideline the project isn’t the remarkable thing…more remarkable is that the council labelled it a Green project in the face of the facts, and continue to present it as such.

          But in Edinburgh, as in Bristol, these days the political chambers within councils appear increasingly incapable of providing the informed and impartial arena for debate to help illuminate public opinion.

          All too often the supposed opposition within a council gets neutralised because too many politicians fear being seen to be on the wrong side of an *obviously* fashionable idea and into the vacuum step the senior administrators and departmental bureaucrats– executive summaries taking the place of debate and media department spin the place of disinterested information.

  • Tamerlane

    You know when a city goes for ‘Green’ the time has come to sell up and move out.

  • boy blue

    I love living in Bristol. It is one of the most diverse and interesting cities I have lived in. But I really do agree with the writer of the article. The Green Capitol year has been such a wasted opportunity. Instead of using the not inconsiderable amount of money to do some really sustainable and ongoing ‘green’ projects, there have been strange art installations, money handed out to vague community projects with no particular outcome, a project about ‘mediation’ between cyclists, drivers and pedestrians…with no particular outcome…and a lot of people hired to do things who don’t seem to be accountable. What will be have at the end of it. Nothing but a few people thinking they had a good time for an afternoon. The mayor and his only friends in the council…the Green Party…have dogmatized the running of the city on ‘green’ lines…huge amounts of money spent on parking zones claiming to make like better for residents when the opposite has happened….and without consent or proper consultation. The blanket implementation of 20 mph limit throughout the city..even on busy main roads has been quite disruptive and illogical. We are told that if we oppose the total implementation of 20 mph zones, we are child killers. In fact if we drive at all we are the enemy. The mayor stated in a meeting last year that if people had trouble getting to work on public transport in Bristol ( which is both dire and expensive) they should move closer to their work. Great. House prices in Bristol are sky-rocketing as fast as London. The aim is gentrification and revenue raising. The result is that it is making life in Bristol more difficult for everyone and certainly more stressful. Rubbish collection and other services are getting worse…social services are being cut for the most vulnerable… libraries are being closed…oh..but we are very ‘green’…not.

    • Peter Stroud

      Perhaps Bristol’s mayor and his greenie council members should be awarded the Delingpole water melon award.

    • Jonathan

      the “outcome” was that the usual members of the Bwistollian metropolitan elite got funding and perks for another year……

    • Pioneer


    • carpetburn

      I couldn’t believe the 20mph zones when I visited last. And what the f**k is is it with dividing already narrow concrete footpaths next to busy main roads in two so that bikes can ride on them as well. It can be extremely dangerous as a pedestrian walking down Bath road over the bridge.

  • Freddythreepwood

    Why would you live in Bristol when Bath is just down the road?

    • Oli

      Because Bath is so mind-numbingly dull

  • Al

    “starting with the school run: ‘Dad! I’m going to be marked down for a “late” again!’” Why isn’t your child walking or cycling to school?. You are part of the problem

    • TomV

      It’s not a problem, just because you don’t like driving a car.
      A problem are intolerant and bigot people like you.

      • Fi

        Intolerant bigot??? LOL so aggressive. Do you have nothing better to do

  • Teacher

    I have noticed over the years that almost all green initiatives involve spoiling the appearance of the environment and, usually, wasting precious resources. We all know about the airmiles of CO2 burnt up by greeniacs attending conferences in the South Pacific and the desecration of the countryside by unnecessary signage for so-called green measures like 20MPH speed limits. However, here’s a comic example from my former school where a particularly brainless teacher was appointed green czar. She decided that classroom waste had to be recycled and so ordered the purchase of an extra plastic waste bin for every room and labelled the new bin ‘Recycling’. Apart from the visual infelicity of having not one but two large, ugly bins the first thing that happened was that all of the ‘Recycling’ labels fell off and littered the rooms and then the children never remembered which bin was which so the recycled waste was permanently contaminated and of no use. Green is the new red.

    • Tom M

      Reminds me of the local council bloke arriving at the factory. This bloke, arguably twelve years old, told me that we had to segregate all our waste. To save the planet he explained.
      I pointed out that the factory was actually designed and built about 25years ago with that in mind and we don’t have any production waste only a very small amount from the canteen and offices. He insisted that we must still segregate all of that waste and gave me about three or four categories for segregation. A supervisor was appointed to set it all up and monitor its good fuctioning.
      A few weeks later the waste disposal firm arrived onsite to collect the said waste. With horror I saw it was all being tipped into the same waste truck. Out I rushed and remonstrated with the driver.
      “Don’t get on to me” he said “this is what we have been told to do by the council. It all goes into the same landfill site”.

  • Fi

    Isnt the whole point of these things to encourage people to get the bus? Stop complaining and just get the bus. Then complain about ridiculous bus prices.

    • TillyV

      For most people – especially those not in the centre of the city there is not a reliable bus service. Certainly not if you have a complicated working day involving moving about the city, picking kids up from nursery etc. This is a large part of the problem. Good public transport in place – THEN introduce the other stuff. That would have been the sensible approach.

      • Fi

        This is true i didnt think about this. Although, bus services are a lot more reliable than they used to be. Cant agree with the price though.

    • TomV

      Who are you to tell people what choice they have to take.
      How about somebody told you to cycle each day 20 miles to work, just because he is doing it ?

      • Fi

        Wow, okay. It just seems like a lot of complaining about something that can easily be solved by using public transport rather than clogging up the city with traffic. You cant blame recycling lorries on the fact that theres traffic!? Its because we have so many commuters all using cars, which in itself is against the city’s idea of being green. Bus services are a lot more reliable than they used to be. Park and ride, trains, bikes; All solve issues of traffic and parking. Dont get all aggy with me tom v.

  • jeremy Morfey

    The Dutch got a better idea about enforcing 20mph speed limits – they planted trees in the middle of the road, removing the speed limit signs and daring anyone to weave around them at more than 20mph and survive.

    Bristol’s present traffic woes are largely down to Beeching.

    As for green compostable collections – that can be done in situ, which locals can help themselves to when it’s gone brown and crumbly, and grow spuds in it. No need for Council intervention or fleets of refuse lorries. All that’s needed is a few courses from Jamie Oliver to explain to folk what to do with the rats, and away we go.

    The whole point of a Green initiative is that it can be sustained with very little expensive interference from authority. I wonder how many Green Party officials are actually frustrated socialists, who’ve painted their politics green in the same way Californians paint the grass on their golf courses?

  • Jonathan

    It is a “gween” mayor (boris palmer) of Tubingen in Germany that is pioneering the forced eviction of German nationals from their long term rented properties….to make way for immigrants. The Germans are now in crappy hostels with communal kitchens and shared showers.
    It was inevitable that someone somewhere would think of the good old commandeering solution. Who knows maybe Bristol will get to trial it in the UK

    • Damaris Tighe

      I was shocked to read this so googled but couldn’t find anything. Can you supply a link?

      • Jonathan


        Only 2 or 3 days ago my wife and I were in cynical joke mood and she said you know there may come a time when they start to billet immigrants in commandeered apartments and “spare” rooms……then I found out about this earlier today.

        I can just see it….Abdul starts off in one room of a private house, then says I want my bruzzer, my farzer, my mouzzer, my cheeldrens zhey moost leev ere also, you avve move out now, zheese my ouse now, out yo go

        • Jonathan

          BBC news today:-

          “Bristol’s mayor has urged people to find a spare room in their homes for refugees”

          The next inevitable step is proactive intervention by jobsworths and forcible appropriation of private properties.

          I never heard of this lot before. “Sanctuary” just took on a whole new level of sinister meaning….


          • Fraser Bailey

            Terrifying. Always and everywhere we are ruled by the most appalling idiots. My elderly parents live way out in the country, but I’m afraid that even they will have immigrants billeted on them.

          • sebastian2

            Yes. Interesting. I recently saw posters going up, “welcoming” refugees. Like Bristol “welcomed” thousands of Somalis the the citizenry and Council Tax payer were never consulted about. There was much resentment over that. There still is.

            There may be some who’d welcome refugees – depending on the refugees, the numbers, the cost of welcoming them over the long term, and the prospects of proper integration in the end – but for the Council to assume the right to extend an unconditional “welcome” on behalf of the entire city even before these crucial considerations have been absorbed by the public and responded to, is preposterous and arrogant. It is a sign not of sensible and measured hospitality with full public consent but of utter contempt for those it will impinge on and who may have intelligent reservations about all this.

            It’s my understanding that the present Lord Mayor is a Lib Dem.

          • Jonathan

            Just from a superficial look at the ludicrous “cities of sanctuary” arrangements, its quite clear that left wing towns and cities are setting things up so that the illegal invader “guests” will “side” with them and (inevitably) provide a nu voting bloc for the socialist faction to exploit in the near to mid future

          • sebastian2

            An interesting but troubling thought.

  • DonPaulie

    Remember this is the Mayor that flew 1st Class to NYC to go on a climate change demo.

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  • Colizgg

    Whatever the latest bandwagon councils will always foist it onto the people through more rules, orders and penalties. Because they aren’t real businesses they don’t consider people as customers who need to be incentivised or persuaded, only as inconveniences who must be forced in line with the latest edict. Its the only way they know how to be.

    • PlusCaChange

      you are SO right!

  • Scheveningen

    Brilliant article!

  • Damaris Tighe

    Paving over what were once typically English front gardens for parking is one of my bete noires. It’s bad enough when this has to be done because free on road parking is insufficient, but when this is caused by a city’s ‘green’ (ha ha) policy then the lunacy of green faddism is shown for what it is.

    • post_x_it

      What’s even worse is that a lot of the new Barratt box estates springing up all over the countryside are designed without any space for parking at all, to discourage residents from driving. Of course people buy cars anyway, which end up squeezed into all available spaces between houses and causing obstructions to anyone wishing to walk.

      • Damaris Tighe

        ‘to discourage residents from driving’: another lunacy – as if people aren’t going to buy cars!

      • Tom M

        Well they say it is to discourage driving and so collect the green stamps for their policies but the real reason is they can increase the density of housing on the same space.

  • Grimsby resident

    This article encapsulates what a lot of us think as we go about our daily lives. Everywhere we go there seems to be a sinister attempt to disrupt our activities that years ago seemed so simple. That is because people on the whole know how to behave; they don’t need signs everywhere to tell them the bleedin’ obvious.
    In Grimsby there are “cycle lanes” (to tick the cycle lane box) that run a whole 10 yards before petering out. They then re-appear 2 miles later for another few yards ad infinitum. Bus lanes completely empty in busy periods which means all the other lanes are busier than is necessary. In days gone by, we used to be courteous to buses didn’t we, and let them out from bus stops?
    The local tip has so many restrictions, that fly tipping is on the increase. Who would have thought it?!
    The only party at the last election to talk of such things that affect most peoples lives was UKIP, and certainly somebody needs to get a grip soon and rip out most of the signs that blight our towns, as well as letting people to use their own discretion in so many things.

  • Bonkim

    Green and food waste recycling is hugely expensive and increases overall carbon foot print of Bristol. This is more religious zeal than thought through environmental policy. The Mayor ought to be shot.

  • Not Telling You Uk

    The same Mayor that forced 20mph speed limits throughout Bristol (against the majority of it’s citizens wishes) and then got caught SPEEDING – but to be fair he did say “I’ll pay for it out of my own pocket!” – you couldn’t make it up!

  • Ivan Ewan

    The left wing has this amazing capacity to transform from David Lister into Arnold Rimmer as soon as it takes power.

    • JSC

      So true.

  • Hamburger

    We too have 5 different garbage types, paper, glass, recyclable, biodegradable and rubbish. The rubbish bin is black. I am not sure this is the statement we are trying to make.