During the mayoral election campaign I described a vision of “A greener city that promotes and improves health and wellbeing of all its citizens”. This I am determined to achieve.
We have a choice of the sort of city we want for ourselves and our children. We can have a clean, healthy and lively city that plays to its strengths – its history, its harbour, the buzzing cafes, bars, theatres, music venues and galleries. We can preserve and enhance our high streets and those quirky corners, leafy parks and intriguing old places and spaces. We can open up spaces to play, to events and activities for everyone. And we can link it all with better connections by rail, bus, bike and foot.
The alternative is to pander to the car lobby’s more extreme demands for wider roads, more cars, less bus lanes and free parking, all leading to further traffic congestion, noise and air pollution. You get the picture!
The first is achievable if we are prepared to think more fundamentally about the way we plan the city and how we travel.
The nightmare alternative is inevitable if we are not prepared to grasp the nettle and tackle the root causes. The truth is virtually everything rests on the way we think about the private car and our ability to adapt – both as a city region and as residents and businesses. We need to be prepared to consider other forms of moving around the city, as well as reducing the need to travel.
Bristol is the most successful UK city outside London. It is a growing city with a higher employment rate than average, and an expanding jobs market likely to grow from 234,000 jobs in 2012 to 266,000 jobs by 2020. We are fortunate to benefit from our key location, not too near and yet not too far from London on the M4 corridor, rail electrification promising to bring us a faster train service to London and the continent, and an increasingly successful international airport.
The quality of life of the Bristol city region attracts a highly-qualified and creative workforce serving professional and technical employment sectors including aerospace, communications, media, digital and environmental industries. As a result we have a relatively vibrant business sector, with a level of employment and prosperity in excess of most cities of a comparable size.
However, few economists, retail planners and transport experts believe this position is sustainable if we don’t change the way we travel. One of the key factors threatening Bristol’s success and putting our competing cities in a strong position to overtake is car dependence and the consequent traffic congestion.
As an architect and urbanist with a lifelong interest in sustaining and regenerating urban environments, drawing on examples across the world, I can bring the benefit of that experience to bear on Bristol. I have studied virtually every conceivable condition and solution, and have worked closely with the Academy of Urbanism and other such national and international bodies to learn from best practice.
Congestion, as in many other towns and cities, threatens business, tourism, health and the quality of our communities and our lives. It has been a huge factor in Bristol’s transport woes, negating potential improvements in the flow of public transport, and has dominated local headlines with calls to action from every quarter.
I stood for Mayor because I believe I can help the city unlock its potential. I am prepared to adapt to local conditions but I am not prepared to be thrown off course with a strategy that is well proved, both where it has been applied locally in Bristol and more widely in numerous cities in the UK and across the world. I knew I would receive strong resistance and that I would have to demonstrate leadership on this issue early on. I make no apology for announcing my support for this demand management through a parking scheme designed to reduce congestion and all its damaging consequences, and to improve public transport.
While I am convinced of the principle, I have consistently made it clear that I fully recognise the need to consider the boundary and local conditions. I have therefore decided to set up a forum in which to debate the issues arising, and to learn from each other. A place where I can listen to you, as I have been doing from the beginning of this debate, and where you can listen to me and my willingness to adjust to local circumstances.
I have set up a debate on the ‘Ask Bristol’ website so that you can share your views, and we can share some of our ambitions, and the challenges I face along with my councillor colleagues.
My one ask is that contributions are constructive and that all refrain from some of the more mindless or politically motivated abuse experienced so far, in the genuine interest of arriving at real solutions to perceived problems.
Welcome to the debate. I look forward to your contribution.