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.

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.

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.

Two alternative futures for Bristol

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.

You can comment on this on the www.askbristoldebates.com website

Join me for my first #askgeorge live webcast

Email, Tweet or leave a comment here for my first #askgeorge live webcast

Email, Tweet or leave a comment here for my first #askgeorge live webcast

This Friday I’ll be answering questions from the public in the first of my live #askgeorge sessions between 12.15-12.45pm. A journalist from The Evening Post will choose from questions submitted by the public, their readers and Twitter users to make sure we cover a good range of issues.  I’d like to encourage people to send me send me a question via twitter (@georgefergusonx) or email your questions to The Post by Thursday 5pm (re: askgeorge).  The Post interviewer will independently choose the questions prior to us going on-air and I’ll answer as many as I can during the live webcast at www.bristol.gov.uk/askgeorge.

I won’t know which questions will be asked to keep me on my toes!  You’ll be able to watch the recording if you miss the live webcast.

This is part of my desire to be as open and accessible as possible. In December I held my first Cabinet meeting outside City Hall at the Park in Knowle West – this was very successful and attracted a much bigger attendance from the public than usual. I’ve pledged to hold at least six Cabinet meetings a year in various locations across the city.

Earlier this month I also took part in a very lively radio phone-in on BBC Radio Bristol for over an hour. I hope to repeat this again next month. Also in early March I am planning to hold my first public question time session where members of the public will be able to raise issues with me direct. The first one will be here at City Hall, but I hope to stage follow up sessions throughout the city.

The aim of all the events is to hear direct from you – your big ideas for the city, your thoughts about how services could be improved. Together we can make a difference to this great city so do not hold back!

The art of the impossible – making things happen

This evening I was honoured to deliver the Inaugural Canynges Society lecture.
The Canynges Society is a charity that raises money for the maintenance of St Mary Redcliffe Church.

Citing past city achievements, I expand on my emerging vision for how we can make Bristol a better place for those who live, work and visit.

I’ll be publishing my major speeches and lectures on my blog site, and you can see the  text version of tonight’s lecture here.

Welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog – part of my promise to be an open, transparent and accountable mayor.

I’ll be using this blog site to give people a better idea of what I’m working on or to explain in greater detail my thinking on an issue.    Although I’m relatively new to Twitter, I’ve been greatly impressed by its ability to connect with people and how it enables citizens to give me their feedback!   However, there’s only so much you can say in 140 characters so I wanted to add a blog to the way I keep Bristol citizens informed about my progress as their elected mayor.  I’ll also open up the two-way exchange of views I’ve been having on Twitter by hosting some city conversations on this blog site in the near future.

So now you can follow me on Twitter @georgefergusonx or leave your email address on this site to get my latest blog posts.

I look forward to sharing information with you and listening to your views.

My 7 wishes for the New Year

georges magnificent seven2013 is going to be some year for me – whatever way it goes!

Unable to draw breath after being elected on Friday Nov 16th, I found myself in the leader’s office the following Monday morning in the re-named City Hall in charge of the city that has given me so much and for which I feel so proud to serve. Just 6 weeks on and I am well under way with plans for the coming three years or so – some more certain to be achieved than others:

Wish 1: To strike a deal with the bus companies to get a better and more affordable service with special deals for young people, disabled and elderly, including journeys before 9am, and implement changes to unsatisfactory Bus Rapid Transport scheme.

Wish 2: Bring 1000’s of new jobs to Bristol by attracting investment and encouraging small firms to grow by breaking down barriers to doing business. I want to see our universities and colleges working closely with industry to create a high skill economy and for our schools to continue to improve standards.

Wish 3: Bristol to become the most welcoming, healthy and caring city, where we all look out for each other and for newcomers, and where we provide good community day care and make a step change in providing affordable housing to rent and buy.

Wish 4: Bristol to be well known across the world and to make sure that by the end of the year we are universally recognized as being a great British city, building on our history, creative industries and green technologies. I want BIG Green Week to be BIG in 2013 and for both our football teams to bounce back!

Wish 5: To make Sundays special by freeing much of the city centre and some of our high streets of cars. I would like to see the streets animated by children playing, pedestrians, considerate cyclists and roller bladers, market stalls and all forms of artistic and family activity.

Wish 6: To work closely with Sue Mountstevens the new Police and Crime Commissioner with the aim of achieving a safer and cleaner city free of street prostitution, drug dealing and other activities that are an affront to decent citizens.

Wish 7: A ‘rainbow’ Cabinet that better reflects the democratic will of the people of Bristol. A three party cabinet is no mean achievement and I look forward to working closely with Cllrs Geoff Gollop, Gus Hoyt and Simon Cook and two elected Youth Mayors to achieve great things in the face of a huge financial challenge.