Read my latest State of the City speech

Last night (Monday 10 December), I delivered my second State of the City speech to a packed Great Hall at the University of Bristol.  I was greatly encouraged to see so many people turning out on a damp November night.  Thanks to my fellow panellists and the Festival of Ideas and the University for organising and hosting.

State of the City 2014 speech

Video highlights will appear here shortly

We had a good discussion afterwards, but if you didn’t get a chance to ask a question, please come along to my next Mayor’s Question Time on Wednesday 10 December at 1900 at UWE Glenside, Stapleton.  This is a free event but booking is required.

Full details and booking    

 

Reflections following Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr

As Bristol’s Mayor, I have the great privilege of meeting a vast range of people from diverse backgrounds. I am extremely proud to be living and working in such a culturally diverse and welcoming city, and am grateful for the contributions made by people from all our communities.

Now that this year’s Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr has ended I have been giving particular thought to our great Muslim communities, which make up such a key part of the city’s cultural tapestry.

It has been a difficult time for many in this community, particularly given the ongoing Gaza/Israel conflict and other foreign policy issues which I know weigh heavily on many people’s minds, whatever their cultural heritage or religious beliefs.  I hope the spirit of generosity, peace and self-reflection which Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr embody has given comfort and space for truly considered reflection on these difficult and sensitive issues.

At times, some people living in Bristol can feel isolated from the rest of the city. As mayor I care deeply about any inequality or social isolation in Bristol, and have put this issue at the heart of the city’s vision for the foreseeable future.  I believe more can be done to help bring our communities together and for all of us to demonstrate that people from all religious, racial and cultural backgrounds is a welcome and valued part of our society.

In order to increase a feeling of acceptance within the city I believe it is important to encourage communication and relationship-building between all of our communities. I greatly appreciate all the hard work involved in the Muslim community staging the annual Islamic Cultural Fayre which takes place this Sunday 10th August 2014. Integration is a two way street and I welcome input from all of our different communities in order to help identify and overcome any barriers which might be leading to any isolation, inequality or hostility.

Bristol is blessed with some superb community leaders and activists who already do great work across the city, and I have always been happy to get involved with campaigns that tackle important social issues. I value the wise counsel of Zaheer Sabir and his colleagues at ‘Building the Bridge’ who have set us all such a good example with their peaceful response to intimidation by racist groups.  I am particularly pleased to have been able to lend my support to the courageous young Bristol womens’ inspiring campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which has now gone on to spark both national and international discussions.  By supporting these campaigns I believe we can raise awareness of the issues and develop a better mutual understanding of different cultures and practices, even when that means tackling some of the more uncomfortable issues.

I look forward to continuing work with Bristol’s Muslim communities in order to encourage greater equality and promote mutual understanding over the next year.  A big part of what I love about Bristol is our reputation for celebrating individuality, diversity and differences in culture.  I am profoundly grateful that so many Bristol Muslims and their leaders feel the same way and sincerely hope that a peaceful solution will be found to stop the unbearable suffering that is currently taking place in Gaza and threatens to affect us all.

2014/15 council budget approved

On Tuesday 18 February Full Council I presented my proposed budget which was followed by a long debate and some amendments which concluded one of the most rigorous, high profile and challenging budgets the city has seen. Following the hugely successful public consultation, which had attracted many times the usual response, it was good to have the opportunity for the thorough consideration by councillors and those members of the public who engaged with the process.

The budget was never going to be an easy process where we all agreed. The savings we have had to make are necessary and are not without some pain in terms of lost jobs and some reduced services, although these have been kept to an absolute minimum. This has been helped by efficiency savings across the Council and an annual 2% increase in Council Tax combined with protection for those least able to pay. We have done all we can to limit the impact of these savings and I’m very grateful to everyone who has shared their views and made practical suggestions from both inside and outside the Council.

With the approval of the budget there is some really good news for investment in our city.  Providing the arena, more school places, more affordable homes, better energy efficiency, an improved transport system and more employment opportunities have all been approved, along with spending on day to day services which, while reduced, represents a very significant public expenditure towards services which affect so many people’s daily lives.

At Full Council I spoke in detail about the process and my proposals and the various parties contributed in the form of proposed amendments.  If you have the stomach for it you can watch the webcast of the whole debate   Alternately, here’s the text of my Mayor’s Full Council Budget Speech.

Central Library to incorporate primary school

Many people who have been following the issue in the city will know that the proposal to build a new primary school in the lower two floors of the Central Library has now been given the go ahead.

I am a great admirer of the Central Library, which I have nominated in the past as one of my very favourite Bristol buildings. I was therefore initially concerned to hear of the proposal to convert part of it into a new primary school. As mayor I welcomed the extensive public debate that was generated by this issue, with much media interest and coverage, even if sometimes it seemed to generate more heat than light!

It demonstrates how much we value our libraries, understand the value of books and appreciate this particularly wonderful building.  I share that feeling with the campaigners, which is why, after taking the trouble of informing myself of all the issues, I am now convinced of the great benefits of this proposal to this and future generations of our city.

Firstly our world-class library collection will still offer quick access to its prized reference collection, which will be partly amalgamated with the city archives at A-Bond, and can now, utilising the capital sum for the lease, be updated and catalogued so the whole stock is available online.

At the same time the new primary school, which will occupy space that was never designed or used for public access, will provide places for over 400 more Bristol children in a city that is in desperate need of more primary school places. The school’s proximity to the library will no doubt act as a catalyst for developing the next generation’s love of books.

I am also pleased to say that all this comes fully funded by the Department for Education whilst offering the city a guaranteed annual rental income, making it a win win for Bristol.

This opportunity could not be more favourable to the city, the Cathedral Choir School and to our much valued library service. I am relieved that the issue is, subject to listed building and planning consent, now resolved. I do hope that when all this is done and dusted and the lower part of the building is brought to life as a school, that the campaigners will be able to acknowledge that this was not such a bad proposal after all.

I need your views on my budget proposals

Your views matter.

People are understandably sceptical about consultations – that there is no point since minds are already made up.

Let me assure you as you look at my budget proposals that my mind is certainly not made up. We, as a city, have to face some very difficult choices. Every constructive thought, idea, and suggestion will be considered.

We have to make cuts and change the way we work in order to balance our budget. It will not be easy. I have published our initial proposals. I’d like you to take a look and tell me what you think.

If you come up with different or better ideas, they will be considered.

So please follow this link: www.bristol.gov.uk/budget and tell me what you think.

The budget supports my Vision for Bristol. I believe it offers great opportunities for education, training and jobs; improved transport; a vibrant city; a healthy and caring city, and a place with better connected neighbourhoods with suitable housing options.

It also sets out how we will make the most of Bristol’s 2015 year as European Green Capital.

What matters the most is that you tell me what you think we should do to address our budget challenges.

Your views really do matter.

Take a look at the vision here www.bristol.gov.uk/vision.

You can also have a look at a BBC documentary on my first year as mayor at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03j8nq4 and a Radio 4 documentary at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03hnhjt.

Or listen to my State of the City Address here: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ln2j8.

Preparing for a bold but challenging budget

Today Bristol is going to take the next big steps towards controlling our destiny in what will be a challenging period.

You will know that every city in the UK is facing a massive budget challenge.

I believe that the way to survive what is no less than a national economic crisis is to be bold. So today we will take the first steps towards shaping our own future.

It will not be without pain. We have hard choices to make. At 8pm today I will publish my budget proposals for the next three years.

This will not be easy. I will not make these decisions alone. I will set out a range of proposals amounting to around £90 million of savings. About a quarter of our budget. When the proposals are published, I urge every Bristolian to read and understand them.

No number of negative headlines will change the fundamentals: we must balance our books and we must make the best of our opportunities.

By choosing together the best way to tackle the challenges we face, we will create a city that best meets all of our needs.

Tonight at my State of the City Address, set out a longer term vision for the city. It’s sold out at the University of Bristol Wills Building, but you can listen to it live from 6pm on BBC Radio Bristol.

Planning ahead is important but when services are threatened our minds tend to focus on the immediate. Both matter. Knowing where we are going should inform how we will get there.

Please work with me to make Bristol great. We are a proud independent city and we will not be diverted from our success by having to make cuts, imposed upon us by central government’s austerity measures.

To listen to my speech go to www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ln2j8.

To see my proposals, available from 8pm, please go to at www.bristol.gov.uk/budget.

BBC One are broadcasting a TV documentary about my first year in office tonight at 7:30pm. See www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03j8nq4 for details. You can also tune in to Radio 4 (92 – 94 FM) at 11am for A Very Powerful Politician? (The First Year of the Bristol Mayor).  See www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03hnhjt for details.

Promoting Bristol across the pond

Yes a week is a long time in politics! The week before last I visited the United States as a guest speaker at the Remaking Cities Congress, held in Pittsburgh, PA.

Taking the opportunity afforded by this US visit, I arranged a jam-packed schedule of meetings and visits in Pittsburgh and New York, talking to some of the world’s leading city gurus.

With people feeling ever more removed from politicised and argumentative national government (an issue which was demonstrated in timely fashion by the chaotic US Government shutdown), there was a general view that cities don’t just need strong leadership, but the financial and legal powers to make themselves as economically independent as possible.

This is something that all of England’s ‘Core Cities’ (the eight top regional cities in the country) are calling for, and from the experience of our American cousins it’s easy to see why, although there are very mixed results.

The Mayor of New Jersey and I bond over local Banksy coverage.

The Mayor of New Jersey and I bond over local Banksy coverage.

From New York’s pedestrianisation of Times Square, which actually improved the speed of city traffic flow, to Jersey’s efforts bringing in big business and setting up a special fund to build more affordable housing, there is a lot we can learn from, much of which could contribute to solving some of Bristol’s long-standing challenges.  Meanwhile Pittsburgh’s excellent community volunteering schemes or Portland’s Bristol-esque work developing a Green City programme provide inspiration for the future.  Quite simply many US cities are grabbing the bull by the horns and, by being freer from Government proscription, they are making their own luck and delivering better outcomes for local people.

There was a lot to learn but also plenty to share.  I spoke at the Congress event and shared many of Bristol’s successes, attracting a lot of attention to the city and making new friends who’ll no doubt have all sorts to offer us in future.  We’re rightly seen as one of the world’s most creative, green and innovative cities, and I’ve come home with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and commitment shown to help us go global with European Green Capital in 2015.  My aim is to make 2015 much more than a European event – Bristol has all the ingredients to become a self-styled Global Green Capital and now there are a few US cities which have shown a definite interest in being involved.

My aim for a truly special Green Capital year, my desire for stronger powers for cities, and my dedication to getting more affordable homes built were all bolstered during the visit to the USA.  I came back with renewed vigour and had the benefit of going straight to London for a very useful meeting with the Prime Minister David Cameron, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles and the Cities Minister Greg Clark. They were keen to hear about my aspirations for Bristol and about the work that’s already underway, such as the excellent progress at the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone.  With London currently over heating (four London Boroughs have an average house price of over £1m) Bristol is well poised and I have high hope for some good outcomes from No. 10.

I meet with David Cameron, Eric Pickles and Greg Clarke to talk about Bristol.

I met with David Cameron, Eric Pickles and Greg Clarke to talk about Bristol.

Working outside of Bristol and particularly overseas is exhilarating but demanding work as I try to squeeze the most out of every opportunity.   It reinforces my conviction that you can gain a lot for Bristol by building new relationships and learning from other people’s successes.  In November I’ll be visiting China with 10 leading European city leaders – again it is an opportunity to sell our strengths.  I hope that will prove equally fruitful, and bring Bristol’s Global Green Capital – with all the long-term investment and economic growth that will mean – one step closer to reality.

The BRISTOL ARENA – grasping the nettle.

There have been previous false starts for a Bristol arena, but the huge groundswell of demand for such a development has only become stronger with time. This is a project that clearly belongs to every one of us – and to a large extent, those who live well beyond the city’s boundary. So, while I have been driving the project since taking office, and am determined that we do deliver this time, it is now essential to share the emerging business plan and thinking around the current proposal for Arena Island at Temple Quarter with all parties on the city council, and to ensure there is meaningful public and entertainment industry engagement before we press the button on the project at the Budget meeting on 18 February 2014.

Bristol Arena ViewThe people of Bristol have become weary of the procrastination and many have shown a healthy dose of scepticism as to whether an arena will ever materialise in what the principal arena operators describe as ‘the last frontier’ of a city region without a major facility of this scale.

I do realise that sharing the funding plan at this stage does give the opportunity for some selective sniping at the fact that some of the funding is yet to be secured. However, we are moving fast towards a complete package which presents us with remarkable value in terms of the cost and benefit to Bristol for such a major project. In summary a £90m project that will cost us between £8m and £15m depending on whether we pay for it over seven or 15 years. I am exploring a plan to reduce that cost further.

Sharing what is currently known is done in the spirit of wishing to work in genuine partnership with members from all political parties and none, not only to make our arena for Bristol a reality but also to ensure that it is not seen as a bargaining chip in the tough budget decisions that are to come. It is true that we face hugely challenging financial times ahead. A backdrop of further austerity and huge cuts in central government funding could cause people to question spending on anything non-essential, anything non-statutory, anything giving ‘added benefit’. And yet that cannot be a way to live, no way to grow, no way to take advantage of the many opportunities Bristol is poised to seize, the many successes the city truly deserves to reap.

The irony is that collectively, everyone agrees that an arena will be good for the city, and the wider city region. Collectively, everyone can list the positives – the jobs, the knock on investment, the additional income flowing into the local economy, the live acts and sporting events that an arena will be able to host.

For too long I have heard the city I love described as the ‘graveyard of ambition’ or ‘the place where good ideas go to die’. It is certainly true that our track record for delivering major projects has not been good – but here is the great chance to turn the corner, along with the ambitions of our two football clubs.

Many will remember the sad day when Bristol lost £98m of funding earmarked by the Arts Council to build a great Centre for the Performing Arts on Harbourside, back in the mid-1990s. There are countless other projects or initiatives that have stalled, faltered, or simply not got off the blocks, but we must stop viewing each potential new development with the same glass half empty attitude and look at filling a glass that is half full! If we don’t, things will simply stay the same, and I am pretty sure I was elected because people felt that I might be able to deliver.

My discussions with party group leaders were the beginning of what I hope will be a productive dialogue with elected members seeking their involvement and support as plans for the arena progress. I know that if we can unite behind the arena project, it will be built, and I now see no good reason why this should not happen.

Arena overheadWe are a creative city, with a strong independent streak – we need that creative and independent thinking now, to help us find the solutions that mean Bristol is no longer denied the top class music and sporting event facilities it deserves.

I don’t knock those who have tried, and failed to deliver, such projects in Bristol. Circumstances may have been different. I do however believe that the people of Bristol expect all to work with me on this great project, and that we put negativity and cynicism behind us once and for all.

We must all open our minds to the much more exciting proposition that this time, with enough collective effort, we shall deliver – and deliver something really special – because that is what Bristol demands and deserves.

A quick stop at Green Street

Last week I visited Backfields, a small regenerated industrial street behind Stokes Croft, where I met Andy Degg of Green Hat Design – a graphic design company that believes in sustainable business values.

Andy is leading an exciting new initiative for businesses in his street called ‘Green Street’. The initiative is just exactly the sort of thing I like to hear about in the run-up to Bristol European Green Capital 2015, as it illustrates a positive response to some of the tough challenges set by 21st century city living.

Andy told us: “As Director I’m generally out in meetings or presentations three or four times a week and as such travel is a big issue for me. I can’t park outside the office and the closest on-street parking is all metered. Then there is the issue of parking once I get to the meeting”

_MG_2912So far, similar to dozens of letters I receive about business and parking, but Andy isn’t complaining about it. Like a growing number of modern businesses – particularly those with sustainable values and a youthful outlook – he appreciates that city centre car travel is not a realistic or desirable option for the future and he is doing something about it.

“For most meetings in Bristol,” he says, “I either walk or use my push bike. However for meetings where this isn’t practical I have to try and bring in my car and park it nearby until I need it, which can be costly and impractical.

“To resolve these issues I met with Nina Skubala, Bristol Lead IYRE Adviser from Business West, who suggested I talk to Sally Jones, Business Engagement Manager of the Local  Sustainable Transport Fund at the council. Sally organised for me to loan an electric bike for two months as a trial of usage.”

And how was it?

“Great, I loved riding it and it made everything so much easier. I used it 18 times in the two months and travelled 83 miles. I’m definitely interested in getting one for the company on a permanent basis. This was especially useful for meetings in Bristol over 3 to 4 miles away such as Westbury-on-Trym and Stoke Bishop.

“Additionally as of this month Green Hat also has City Car Club membership for meetings outside Bristol.”

Andy hopes to organise 12 neighbouring local businesses to form ‘Green Street’. Some of its aims are the usual standard of any small business organisation – litter, unwelcome graffiti or tagging (yes there is some of that even in Stokes Croft!) and planting schemes.

Yet in addition, Green Hat Design is pushing more innovative solutions for energy consumption and sustainable travel.

“The street are due to meet this month to discuss the possibility of a pool of bikes for us all to use which would help share the costs. I’m looking to the car clubs to see if they can cut us a deal between us. Most city centre businesses have challenges with work day travel. So clubbing together on a solution seems like the way to go.”

Bristol is changing fast. Cars will always be a useful and practical option for some journeys to some destinations, but they cannot continue to be the only solution for business travel. 25000 additional vehicles made their way out of the showrooms and onto Bristol’s roads in the 10 years to 2011*. We can’t fight the facts. We need to take practical action. I will be following Green Street closely, and I am confident it will have much to teach us about travel options for the future.

“I of course cycled to meet Andy on my electric bike which has contributed to a significant reduction in my car use”

*census data

Cotham South residents enjoy reclaiming their streets.

I fully realise that I took a risk in extending the Residents Parking areas and that not every area will react in the same way, however;

The Cotham South Residents’ Parking annual review survey is in.

And the reaction to the scheme is overwhelmingly positive with only a handful of objections from the 2500 households surveyed.

The response rate wasn’t high (the review is trailed as an opportunity for people to raise outstanding issues and problems, so it’s good news that it wasn’t). Nevertheless 135 people took the trouble to write in just to say how happy they were.

  • 135 respondents were in favour of the scheme and thought it had made a positive impact on the area.
  • 30 responses were not in favour of the scheme and did not think it had improved the area.
  • 10 responses did not express if they were for or against the scheme. Of these ten respondents, seven expressed some amendments that they would like: for example removing double yellow lines or installing disabled bays.  The remaining three simply expressed outstanding issues since the scheme has been in place.

The comments themselves make reassuring reading, including those from residents who did not think residents’ parking would work, but are happy now to admit a change of mind, giving more solid, local evidence that residents’ parking is much more acceptable when it is implemented than when it is first proposed.

This is the fundamental reasoning behind my policy of consultation on how we design new schemes, and not on whether or not we have them. Residents’ parking has to happen or the city will cease to thrive. If we are intelligent in our approach we can ensure that residents’ parking has a positive impact on local quality of life and defends our residential areas from unacceptable future congestion and resultant poor air quality.
If you are unsure about what impact a scheme will have, you can do no better than ask those who already have one in place, rather than those who are campaigning, largely out of fear of the unknown. The former know what they are talking about. The latter only think they do.

The video tells you what local shop keepers think of residents’ parking in South Cotham and Kingsdown:

Some comments from the survey.

“For me it has been a good thing and works, even though I didn’t think so before it happened”.

“I am a complete convert.  Congratulations on getting it through and making the scheme a huge success.”

“The scheme has benefited me enormously. Helped me when I had to attend regular hospital appointments and always had a space on returning home.”

“Firmly believe it has been a big success.  The traffic and noise has been reduced by 80%.  Much safer for children walking to school.”

“We’ve experienced most of the benefits it was expected that the scheme would deliver.   I can park on own road often outside my own home. It is easier for visitors to park and there is less traffic. All in all, we’re very pleased.”

“Have enjoyed a fantastic six months of peaceful and unhurried joy. The scheme has resolved problems with obstructive junction and pavement parking, parking congestion, parking near home for residents and emergency access.”

“I applaud the council for instigating this scheme, many thanks. I am a very happy resident”.

Read more on the council’s website. (Opens in a new window)

30 ‘negative’ comments expressed mild to strong antipathy and raised some broad themes.

A response to each is below.
“Now the RPS has been introduced there are numerous roads that are now not “fully utilised”, and those spaces should be used for commuters at a small cost.”
I don’t want local neighbourhoods to be thought of as car parks. Cotham residents are clearly enjoying their neighbourhood again. Safety – particularly for children crossing the road and people walking and cycling in the area  –  is a key issue picked up in the positive comments. People notice the difference, having suffered years of circulating traffic, poor air quality, noise and parking congestion.
Of course opening the streets back up to commuters at a charge would be an opportunity for ‘revenue raising’, but residents’ parking in Bristol is not about revenue raising. It is about making the streets calmer,  safer and more pleasant for local people.

There is concern for the staff of the BRI and how the scheme may hinder travel to work for nurses and support staff.  “They should be eligible for additional permits.”
The BRI has a travel plan for staff. All hospitals and other large organisations recognise that they need to plan if they are going to minimise the impact staff parking has on local streets. Bristol hospitals take responsibility for managing staff travel and ensuring their staff can get to work. They are as committed as the council to discouraging parking on residential streets and encouraging other modes. Remember, the schemes only operate 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday at present, so night staff and weekend workers are not affected, although we may look at extending to Saturdays in certain areas.

Another issue was the number of permits allowed for businesses.  Some individuals felt that the current number of permits is not sufficient. “Unfair that a small business with five employees are entitled to the same number of customer permits as a business with 40 employees – can the customer permits be issued to 1 per 5 staff.”
The issue of fairness relates to how much road space each business takes up. Forty employees parking 40 cars on the street is not acceptable where space is needed by other businesses and residents. Nevertheless  a business with 40 employees is entitled to 7 permits (the same as any business), which is very nearly one per five staff. What the council would say is allotting these permits to staff reduces the amount of spaces you can dedicate to your customers.
Our advice for business is to encourage staff to travel by alternative means, and save your permits for your customers. We know there are alternative options for most staff, because the council has been travel planning with business for many years. Some larger organisations need (and receive) support from the council to work this through.

In conclusion.

Cotham South residents have sent a ringing endorsement for something that many residents were at first extremely wary of – and many of the local businesses have seen the benefit of increased customer turnover. This represents another step towards making Bristol a healthier more civilised, and liveable city – for which a permit is a small price to pay.