Failing on the basics:(

Lawrence Hill underpass flooding January 2023 – Photo Betty Woolerton

Pretty much anyone who lives in Bristol knows there are issues with pedestrian underpasses flooding after rain. They’ll also know that this has been a problem for a number of years. Well, it looks like Bristol City Council could be taking some action to try and resolve the situation: Council knows where subways are but not location of all drainage networks 11.4.23.

However, it transpires that while the council know where all of the underpasses are, they don’t know the locations and layouts of all of the drainage networks that serve them. The council are having to hire contractors to go round the underpasses to map out the drains ahead of the work needed to fix them.

So, we have a situation where the council of a major city doesn’t know the locations and layouts of the drains in their pedestrian underpasses. This is despite the fact it was the same city council who built them! Okay, it was a good few decades ago but, there’s this thing called record maintenance and updating. Something that you would have thought any competent local authority should be on top of as a core part of what they do.

We’re talking about infrastructure that should be getting monitored and repaired or upgraded on a regular basis. Having accurate plans readily available to facilitate this should pretty much be a key part of the basics that a local authority would be getting right.

This is one of those situations where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. On the one hand, it’s laughable that Bristol City Council don’t know the full locations and layouts of the drains in the pedestrian underpasses they’re responsible for. You seriously couldn’t make this up! On the other hand, it’s symptomatic of a lack of joined up thinking and basic organisational competence. It’s a clear sign of institutional rot.

What needs to be born in mind is that Bristol City Council, like many other local authorities, are pushing the concept of ‘active travel’. Basically, ‘active travel’ is the promotion of cycling and walking as an alternative to using a car for short journeys or having to rely on a public transport network that to put it bluntly, is pretty flaky. There is a lot to be said for more cycling and walking in our cities. However, for that to be facilitated, you need the infrastructure to be up to standard.

Broken, uneven pavements on Victoria Street, Bristol BS1

As you can see from the above image, the walking infrastructure across Bristol leaves a lot to be desired. It’s the same for the cycling infrastructure. Walking and cycling around Bristol is not a pleasant experience because the pavements and roads are all too often in a pretty bad state. Maintaining pavements and roads to a reasonable standard should be a basic function of any local authority that’s routinely undertaken without any dramas.

This is what sticks in people’s throats. One the one hand, it feels like there’s a constant stream of bullshit from Bristol City Council about the ‘vision’ they have for the future of the city. This sits alongside the rhetoric about reducing carbon and all of us making ‘greener’ choices when it comes to how we get around the city. On the other hand, the council have allowed the pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to decline to the point where it’s now become a major drama to fix it. This is because they’ve failed to get a grip on the basics of maintaining the infrastructure of the city to an acceptable standard.

When Bristol City Council fail on the basics like this, you can’t blame people for asking what’s the point of them? You also can’t blame people for becoming so cynical about the massive gap between the rhetoric from the council which stands in stark contrast to the reality they experience, that they don’t bother to vote.

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