Terrace houses Easton Bristol


13-12-2017: Unwarranted ‘flagging’ used to silence Easton Voice on social media.

It has become apparent that, among those who oppose the Easton Voice group, there is an anti-democratic element who are misusing social media ‘flagging’ tools to silence us.

As you are probably aware, social media platforms such as Facebook have recently been facing criticism for not taking swift action against hate speech and discrimination posted by users. Their first-line defence to combat this is to give their users the opportunity to ‘flag’ offensive content, with the effect that anyone so flagged will have their account suspended – silenced – pending review by moderators. Once you are flagged you must wait for a period – which may be several days – before any appeal is heard. You must also go to the trouble of defending yourself in such an appeal.

This feature is all very well – and sadly all too necessary with the levels of extremism found in the arena of social media – but, as our recent experience demonstrates, it is also wide open for misuse.

Of course there are those involved in this debate who disagree with the actions Easton Voice have been taking to raise awareness of the many and complex issues that have a bearing on the Easton Safer Streets project, issues that we feel have been unduly overlooked and disregarded. But it seems that amongst those who disagree with us some have taken to flagging accounts or comments expressing views that they wish to silence.

The first time this happened was in the comments section of the Bristol 24/7 news site, below an article by one of our fiercest critics, Rob Telford of the Easton Green Party. A polite and very eloquently expressed response to this article, challenging some of Mr Telford’s arguments, was posted in the comments section by an Easton resident; and this was posted by someone who wasn’t even involved with the Easton Voice group. Within 24 hours this entirely reasonable comment, a contribution to reasoned debate on the subject, had been flagged as ‘inappropriate’ and thus was immediately removed. It has never been reinstated.

Now the same thing has happened to the Easton Voice Facebook account, in suspension after having been flagged, for reasons of which we are not yet aware.

The fact that there are those who feel so insecure about their case that they must misuse a facility such as flagging to silence any challenge to their position is very worrying. Denying a voice to opposition is a tactic more often favoured by those with totalitarian ambitions. We would hope that such anti-democratic sentiment is confined to a minority amongst the supporters of the immensely controversial Easton Safer Streets plans, while the rest still have the confidence in their position, and a sufficient sense of integrity, to engage and debate with those from the community who do not share their certainty.

Road closures already decided by Council before £168,000 spent on failed ‘consultation’.

On Tuesday Evening, 28-11-2017, the local councillors called another invitation-only meeting of Community Leaders. Not all communities were invited, and only at the very end did we learn that the Council had already decided in 2015 to close a road to cars before they had ever spoken to the community – so why spend two years and £168,000 on a ‘consultation’ exercise?

At the meeting, the councillors outlined what they are recommending officers work up in detail before the Statutory Consultation using Road Traffic Orders. Aware that road closures are the most contentious subject, the presentation focused on why the councillors were recommending only one road closure – the creation of the ‘Great Wall of Easton’ by closing the road to vehicles under the railway arch by Bannerman Road School. For the next two hours, the discussion focused on the pros and cons of this closure. Only at the very end was it revealed that ‘Filtered Permeability’ (jargon for road closure) was part of the Council’s bid to government to gain the £188,000 grant from the outset – meaning that a road always had to be closed.

So it now emerges that Sustrans were paid £83,600 to ensure that road closures emerged from the co-design process. This explains why road closures were inserted into the final round of workshops, and why other tried-and-tested road safety measures (such as zebra crossings) were never included in the proposals. Second to a Lollipop Person (a scheme which the Council are scrapping), a zebra crossing is the safest way for a child to cross the road on the way to school.

If a road closure had to happen to gain the grant, why wasn’t the consultation honest? Why didn’t the Council tell us that “we have decided to close a road to cars in Easton, so which one should it be?”

The Sustrans consultation was simply an attempt to put a veneer of democratic input onto something that had already been decided before they’d even begun. When all other costs are taken into account Bristol City Council have spent £168,000 to date on this scheme and at no point have they made public the fact that, no matter what, closing a road was a central requirement. Such a lack of transparency can only serve to further erode public confidence in local government and its elected representatives. Easton Voice have been pursuing a Freedom of Information request to Bristol City Council to supply the original documentation that would establish how this prerequisite came about, but the Council continue to refuse to release the document. One can only assume that its contents might prove more than a little embarrassing for them.

Meanwhile, full details of what was being recommended around the imposition of double yellow lines, one-way streets etc., was promised in a follow-up document, apparently due to be released the next day after the meeting; we are still waiting to see this. Have the councillors recommended a one-way system under the St Mark’s Road Railway Arch? We still don’t know…

One of the purposes of the meeting was to start to heal the deep divisions the councillors admit have been created in the community by the Easton Safer Streets process to date. We asked for a list of who had been invited so that the fiasco of previous meeting could be avoided and people from all the communities could be invited. We didn’t get the list (in fact we only got a reply to our email after we’d arrived at the meeting!). It was disappointing to note that no-one had been invited from the Sikh community, no representatives of the area’s mini-cab, taxi, and delivery van drivers, despite this being one of the largest sources of employment in Easton. Several other communities were not present either.

Having conceded that maybe ‘pop-ups’ were not a good way of talking to people in Easton, the meeting was arranged in a ‘goldfish bowl’ format. You were not supposed to speak unless you moved to specific chairs. Some people were allowed to talk from the back, but when a local shopkeeper tried to do this, because he felt uncomfortable moving ‘into the limelight’, his valuable (and new) contribution was lost, as it was insisted that he move.

Instead of healing wounds in the community, the revelation that a road closure had to happen, no matter what, will only increase the impression that the Council are not prepared to listen. So the questions that Easton’s residents need to be asking are:

  • Do we think we should have been told closing a road to cars was required to get the money?
  • Do we want a Public Meeting at which the Council, and the councillors you elect, can answer our questions?

We’ve set up a new survey to try to gauge public opinion on those questions. Please tell us your opinion – click here to complete the questionnaire.