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State of the City 2021: Making progress despite unprecedented challenges

State of the City 2021: Making progress despite unprecedented challenges

Mayor makes annual address.

21 October 2021

Bristol has made progress toward creating a fairer and more inclusive city, in the face of unprecedented challenges Mayor Marvin Rees has said during his annual State of the City address.

However, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the urgent need to tackle climate change are the two fundamental challenges facing the city.

Mayor Rees said the poorest and most marginalised citizens were hit hardest by COVID-19 and warned the same will happen again if we don’t face up to climate change.

He explained conflicting pressures, such as the need to build more homes to address the housing crisis while protecting green spaces, create the biggest test and said we must not overlook the complexity of issues when striving for change.

He said: “In the modern era we believed we had the ability to control things, that whatever the crisis, someone somewhere could solve it. 

“But we have tasted living in a world in which no one anywhere could make a decision to end the crisis. Until we had the vaccine, the virus stopped us in our tracks - the economy stopped, elections were postponed, schools were closed, and our flagship public services teetered on the edge of being overwhelmed. We do have the vaccine and with it hope, that we will eventually be able to live with Covid.

“We now need to apply that experience of loss of control to climate change. If we pass the tipping point, there will be no hope for recovery.  Weather chaos and disorder will feed on each other with rapidly worsening social, economic and political consequences.”

Calling COVID-19 and climate change two major crises which are pointing us to the need to deliver progressive social policy and better living conditions, Mayor Rees laid out how Bristol is making strides to do this.

Climate

To date Bristol has:

  • agreed the One City climate strategy and its 2030 net zero target
  • launched the Ecological Emergency Action Plan last month which commits to:
    • 30 per cent of land to be managed for nature   
    • reducing the use of pesticides by 50 per cent  
    • ensuring 100 per cent of Bristol’s waterways are fit to support healthy wildlife  
    • a reduction of products that undermine the health of wildlife and eco systems
  • invested £42m on retrofitting council-owned homes
  • planted 70,000 new trees through One Tree Per Child, with more than 9,000 planted last year
  • started working with the University of Manchester and the UK Met Office to understand our city’s vulnerability to overheating and how we can protect ourselves from severe heatwaves
  • invested £22 million in renewable energy projects and low carbon district heating networks
  • seen Bristol City Funds invest £500,000 in Ambition Lawrence Weston’s wind turbine, which will provide renewable energy to over 4000 homes
  • continued the City Leap partnership which promises to transform our relationship with energy through a £1 billion investment package 
  • embarked on a flood defence programme, building new flood defences at Avonmouth and Severnside which combines flood protection with restored natural wetland habitats, started working with the Environment Agency to deliver flood defences for the city centre and the land along the River Avon, and are working with developers to build flood defences into new developments in flood plain areas

Finally, the mayor confirmed Bristol is working with the World Economic Forum and the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission, to connect cities with the public and private finance we need to fund our de-carbonisation. The cost of decarbonising Bristol alone is nearly £10billion and this is part of the £200+ billion package needed to de-carbonise the UK’s core cities and London.  

Housing

The mayor announced the launch of Project 1,000, a Bristol City Council board focused on delivering a stretching target of 1,000 homes per year by 2024. The board will be made up of representatives from the Mayor’s office, the council Growth and Regeneration and Housing Delivery teams, Bristol’s Housing Festival, the council-owned company Goram Homes and Cabinet lead for Housing Delivery and Homes, Tom Renhard. 

Alongside this the mayor confirmed the latest housing delivery numbers:

  • By the end of the year 9,000 homes will have been delivered since 2016, with 12,000 more homes with permission in the pipeline, having been delayed by COVID-19 and Brexit
  • 173 homes are being built by Boklok on Airport Way
  • In Lockleaze, 185 homes are being built in Bonnington Walk and Goram Homes is building 268 homes at the Romney House site
  • 1,435 new homes are on their way in Hengrove. Not only will around 50 per cent of these be affordable, but they will set a benchmark for offsite modern construction methods and low carbon development
  • And Bristol Zoo relocating offers the opportunity to deliver affordable homes in Clifton

Mayor Rees also reported:

  • an estate renewal programme and a project ‘Investing in Council Homes’ have launched
  • HomeChoice is being overhauled to improve housing allocation for council tenants 
  • the moratorium on evictions for council tenants has been extended
  • Bristol’s will become a Living Rent City
  • Bristol was asked to join the advisory board of The Kerslake Commission on ending rough sleeping

Transport

Mayor Rees confirmed his flagship policy remains focused on the mass transit system for Bristol, including an underground and that four routes have been identified linking the north, east, south and airport to the city centre. It will integrate buses and trains and include new stations to form a genuinely transformative, low carbon transport system. 

Other steps in transport include:

  • the bus deal with First Bus will give priority to bus travel to support growth in passenger numbers. This is a key step to building the business case that will secure the over £4billion investment needed for the mass transit system
  • bus prioritisation has been introduced including bus gates on Bristol Bridge and Baldwin Street
  • a consultation will soon launch on the introduction of bus prioritisation for the Wells Road and to the city centre, over the downs and the whole length of the A4018. The public will be asked to comment on proposals to remove congestion building parking on key routes and the closure of Park Street to private cars
  • new city centre bike lanes have been delivered and the Old City, King St, Cotham Hill, Princess Victoria St have been pedestrianised
  • four pilots are now running for School Streets, closing roads outside schools at drop off/pick up time

Sharing an update on Bristol’s Clean Air Zone, the mayor confirmed the full business case for the clean air zone which will come into force next year, has been submitted to Government for consideration. And that negotiations are underway for a package of Government support which includes:

  • £2 million for clean buses
  • £720,000 for a new cycle scheme through Old Market
  • free electric bike loans and cycle training
  • free bus tickets
  • discounts on car club membership
  • support to buy electric cars
  • financial support for business and residents to upgrade polluting vehicles although almost three quarters are already compliant

Mayor Rees said: “We estimate the zone will reduce traffic travelling into the city centre, by approximately 2,000 vehicles per day, while delivering protections for lower paid workers, hospital patients and visitors and blue badge holders.”   

Infrastructure

Mayor Rees confirmed capital funding and a strategy was in place to improve the city’s key infrastructure, including The Chocolate Path, key bridges around the city, the sea walls and the road network. 

He also said plans are progressing for Bristol’s Arena, with YTL committed to building one of the most environmentally sustainable arenas in the world, with solar panels, rainwater and a sustainable transport plans, at no cost to the taxpayer.

The mayor went on to share that all this is being achieved while the council faces unprecedented financial pressure due to ongoing government reductions in local government funding, which could see a potential shortfall of £42m in this year’s budget. 

Mayor Rees explained that cities around the UK are facing similar challenges as COVID-19 has accelerated the already increasing demand for adult social care at the same time as the cost of care services has gone up.

In conclusion, Mayor Rees said: “I’ve spoken tonight about the conflicting pressures alongside the fundamental challenges both now and in the future and our need to deliver. 

“To deliver at the scale and pace of change we need, we must be honest about the nature of those challenges, make space for alliances and bring the many with us - keeping the city together.  

“We must be solutions focussed.   

“Let’s choose hope.”

You can watch the speech and last night’s event at Bristol City Council’s YouTube page.

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