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.