By Sam Rkaina, Local Government Reporter
Bristol’s Liberal Democrats have agreed to a series of concessions to opposition parties in order to keep control of the city council.
Here we look at what they have agreed, and what they haven’t.
GREEN SPACES SELL-OFF
The highly criticised plan to sell off more than 40 green spaces across Bristol has been put on hold – but that doesn’t mean it’s been scrapped just yet.
Instead, a cross party group of councillors will review the proposals before deciding how to move forward.
In the meantime though that means those sites that were earmarked for sale in December will not be put on the market.
The green spaces sell off plan has been one of the most controversial issues for the council in the last year.
The sell-off is one part of the £87 million Area Green Space Strategy, which aims to make improvements to some of the scores of parks across the city.
The problem for many residents though, was that those promised improvements relied on selling parts of other sites off.
To many objectors this was like robbing Peter to pay Paul, or “selling off the family silver” as a number of campaigners put it.
The Evening Post understands that ulitmately the final decision on individual sales will rest with local people at Neighbourhood Partnership meetings.
But the working party will also have to look at the funding issue, as without the money raised from land sales, the council does not have enough to fund all of the plan.
BRISTOL CITY FOOTBALL CLUB STADIUM ROW
A DECISION on whether the land at Ashton Vale should become a town green or not is now just weeks away.
After months of rows, negotiations and peace talks, the council has agreed to make a final decision on the future of the site within a month of yesterday’s full council meeting.
But technically that decision could still be made by the obscure public rights of way committee, as legally that group has to look at the application first.
Bristol City Football Club’s long running bid to develop the site for their new £92 million stadium was thrown in chaos last September, when an independent inspector recommended it should become a town green.
If that recommendation was accepted it would rule out development on the site forever, and scupper the club’s attempts to relocate from Ashton Gate.
In turn that would mean no Sainsbury’s to replace the old club, and close the door to a potential arena as part of the deal.
Residents who live near the ground meanwhile, object to any development of the site.
The rights of way committee does have powers to pass it on to full council – and this is the more likely outcome given how controversial it is.
The council will have to set a date for the committee meeting as one is not scheduled to take place within a month.
But regardless of what that decision is, it is likely to be challenged by the losing side and end up in court.
NEW groups are to be formed to discuss major transport schemes for Bristol – but whether they turn out to be just more talking shops remains to be seen.
The cross party groups will “consider” areas like rapid transit, trams, a transport interchange at Temple Meads and potential rail improvements.
It’s not clear what – if any – powers the groups will have, and whether they can actually affect such major projects.
Rapid transit proposals for Bristol, for example, are already in the middle of a government bidding process.
Final funding bids for the £102 million north fringe to Hengrove route, the £50 Ashton Vale to Temple Meads line and the £45 million south Bristol link are due to be submitted later this year.
Council leader Barbara Janke said the council wouldn’t want to endanger funding for existing schemes but felt there was a lot of interest in them and other transport initiatives for the city that required further examination.
PLACE MAKING DIRECTOR
BRISTOL’S place making director has offered to cut the amount of tax-payers’ money that go towards his post by £40,000.
Mike Bennett made the offer following criticism of the role by opposition parties in the run up to the local elections.
Labour and the Tories say the £72,000-a-year, two year job was not the best use of public money.
The council believes it will help bring investment into the city that far outweighs the cost to the public purse.
Further talks are due to be held between council leader Barbara Janke and opposition parties before a final decision on any changes to the role are made and so it was not included in the list of concessions produced yesterday.
It would appear the cost to the tax payer would remain the same – but instead of the £40,000 going on a salary it would be spent on initiatives.
Mr Bennett would look to make up the rest of his salary from other sources, potentially private organisations that see the benefits of promoting the city as the role intended.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE COURSES
The council is to lobby Government over cuts to funding for the teaching of English as a second language in Bristol.
The Lib Dems have also agreed to assess the impact the cuts will have on providing English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in the city.
There have been a number of protests ain Bristol gainst the number of people entitled to free ESOL classes.
They argue that cuts in this area will damage integration and harm immigrants’ prospects for employment.
A SERIES of changes will be made to council committees, to give opposition parties more say.
The council has a number of scrutiny groups that meet on a regular basis to discuss various aspects of the authority’s work, including transport, finance and health.
The Lib Dems have now agree that the three opposition parties will share the chairs of all scrutiny commissions and regulatory committees – which includes licensing – except for development control central.
Scrutiny seats will be divided as follows; the Lib Dems will have 57 councillors, Labour, 37; Conservatives 26 and Greens four.
Extra seats were given to the Greens after cross party agreement.
Other proposed changes to the structure and role of the groups are to be abandoned for the coming year.
£28 MILLION CUTS FOR 2011/12
OPPOSTION parties were less successful in overturning some of the councils’ £28 million of cuts.
Labour had wanted the authority to reverse the 30 per cent hike in Meals on Wheels.
The council raised the cost of meals in January from £3.60 to £4.80, an average of £9 a week more for pensioners.
Labour councillors have claimed that the number of people using Meals on Wheels has dropped as a result of the price going up.
The Lib Dems refused to back down though. Leader Barbara Janke argued that the administration could not have parties picking and choosing which parts of an already approved budget it wanted to ditch.
She also said the opposition had not provided an alternative source of funding to offset the change.
Labour had also wanted to reverse the £139,000 cut to the funding for Police Community Support Officers.
The council previously funded 42 of the city’s 132 PCSOs but that cut dropped the number to 33.
Instead the Lib Dems agreed to “continue commitment to funding 33 PCSOs in the 2011/12 budget for £934,000”.
The council will also “encourage” the police to involve Neighbourhood Partnerships in assessing where PCSOs should be deployed as part of an annual review.