Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, gave his annual address to last night’s meeting of Full Council at City Hall.
The full text of his speech, originally published on his official blog, is as follows.
Two years in and I’m feeling extremely confident that we are on a good delivery curve. We have a strong management leadership in place and a council that’s leaner, lower cost and focussed on delivery. I would like to thank all the council employees for their hard work, who do so much for the citizens of Bristol even when they haven’t had the leadership they deserve. I would like to particularly thank Shahzia for her help and support – Monitoring Officer is a key role, and I wish her well in her new role. Enjoy your last Full Council meeting. I know you’ll miss them.
Alongside the management, we have been served by a strong and dedicated cabinet with genuine expertise and commitment to deliver. When I say that, I refer to everyone who has served in cabinet over my two years.
Turning the council round has been a much bigger job than expected. There has been a history of failure that you all recognise, with a lack of focus, inability to deliver for the city and the failure of recent administrations to make the council responsive to political leadership.
When I talk to government, I hear the same story over and over again. Of how Bristol hadn’t been outwardly focussed for too many years, I even learnt the Department of International Trade didn’t have Bristol on its register of projects for investment for years. Not surprising when we inherited a total absence of pipeline infrastructure projects.
But all of that mood music is changing. When I talk to government and business today, I hear over and again that we are now seen as a positive city better placed to attract the inward investment we need to deliver. We had a collection of investors in the city just recently and now we have lots of interest across the UK and the world. Only yesterday I received a text from the chair of a major government agency asking if he could come to Bristol to ensure alignment to our delivery plans.
Let’s look at some key areas:
Housing is a key focus for this administration.
We are delivering on our key promise: by 2020, to build 2,000 homes a year by, at least 800 affordable.
We are reversing the decline from the previous two administrations, letting out more than 90 older council properties that had been previously agreed for auction and reduced the number of empty council homes by 250.
We have changed council structures to deliver, creating a housing delivery team with a pipeline that means by 2020 there will already have been over 3,000 homes completed and over one thousand of those are affordable.
This is a substantial build of Council homes for the first time in thirty years, with 56 new council homes complete in the last year and a plan to complete 80 more over the next year.
We are building a further 1,000 homes in working class communities. We’ve secured seven million pounds to Unlock the Lockleaze Development project of eight hundred new homes, with more than a quarter affordable. We’ve secured over three million pounds to develop the Arnside and Glencoyne Square Regeneration area with the Southmead Development Trust.
The Hartcliffe Campus site has outline plans submitted and the Hengrove Park plans have been prepared for delivery, while we have also agreed land releases with Ambition Lawrence Weston.
It’s easy to talk about house building in the abstract as units and numbers, rather than see the real picture: families getting homes and being able to plan for the future.
On top of all that, we are focussed on building a re-energised city centre for the future. We will expand the city centre east to Temple Quarter and west to the Western Harbour. By building several thousand homes in these two great and long-term underused areas, we will bring people and families back to the city centre. More people living in our city centre means more life, culture, footfall and spending power to sustain shops and business.
City partners are keen to work with us to achieve these aims, and with them, we will host a housing festival to look at new and innovative ways of providing housing over the coming years.
By revising the local plan, we will build higher and with greater density, delivering an exciting skyline that reflects a bold and ambitious city. We will increase incentives for affordable homes in the city central areas and we have supported the launch of a £57 million fund for housing associations to buy land and properties from the private sector.
When we announced two thousand homes a year by 2020, we knew it was a challenge but we are delivering on that pledge and will exceed that target and any targets in the Joint Spatial Plan. This Labour administration is building the homes people need and want.
And we are tackling homelessness, another growing consequence of the shocking austerity programme, imposed on the country and on Bristol by the coalition government of the Tories and their Lib-Dem supporters. Austerity has eroded the support services and increased the pressure but despite these challenges, we are working as a city to respond.
BCC and key partners successfully prevented 4,486 households from becoming homeless last year.
We are making people aware of the services available before they reach crisis point, working to address rent arrears and supporting those on the verge of homelessness with the right interventions and working with agencies to mitigate the impact of universal credit.
We are taking people off the streets and out of encampments, through hostels and emergency accommodation and then into homes.
We will be the first city to open a new 24-hour homeless shelter this winter, providing new accommodation in addition to a multi-agency drop-in facility, food provision and activities.
We have a responsibility to support the city economy. The UK retail crisis is affecting many cities. Provided we behave like a major city, shaking off the village attitude that often prevails in our political environment, we can face that challenge.
Bristol has forty-six high streets that offer retail but if we harness our growth and shape our own development with our eyes open, our city is big enough and strong enough to support both a vibrant city centre and out of town centres. This includes supporting diversity in our economy, providing a wide range of jobs, meaningful work experience and pathways to employment.
Our international strategy and growing our profile abroad is crucial for trade and inward investment and Bristol is increasingly growing as a global brand.
We all know transport remains a key challenge. Many people lobby for their vested interest and can’t escape the inevitability of their prejudices pre-determining their proposed solutions.
People movement is crucial to our city economy, our wellbeing, culture, to the future of jobs and education. Transport needs to pull our city together, not be used as a political weapon to drive us apart. We are focussed on outcomes – connecting people to jobs and opportunity.
The Congestion Task Group has been crucial to that and I thank those councillors involved, including the leader of the opposition. It has delivered some quick wins and we will now continue that progress with a Transport Board that will bring together the expertise of city partners with the knowledge of our own transport team, to face this key challenge.
We are in an exciting discussion with First Bus about the next phase of growing bus use. We have had the fastest global growth of bus use, now accounting for eleven percent of journeys to work. Smart cards, biofuel buses, park and rides and millions invested in public transport has been delivered and MetroBus, a project badly managed by the former administration is being delivered.
We secured funding to provide free bus vouchers and loan bikes for people Not in Education, Employment or Training to help them get to interviews, training and work placement opportunities.
We are working with local primary and secondary schools to encourage more pupils to walk to school, are providing match funding for businesses to help them invest in sustainable travel facilities and supported cycling initiatives across the city.
We have secured funding to support taxi drivers to transition away from diesel.
However, the key challenge remains making a systemic change to the way people travel in and to Bristol. I do not support the flawed belief that modal shift will occur simply by making it harder to travel around the city or that car drivers are the enemy – and the planned consultation on the Bristol Transport Plan will shape a new policy that changes that. We will not achieve modal shift or accelerate a move away from private cars without an affordable, sustainable alternative – and the mass transit system remains a key ambition for me and my team. We will announce more progress on that shortly.
Enabling our city’s young people to get off to the best start in life and raising aspirations has always been a focus for me and we now have an urgent need to increase school places. Over ten thousand additional places have been created in Bristol by expanding existing secondary schools and building new ones. We have allocated twenty five million pounds for a new twelve hundred place secondary school in Lockleaze, opening in September 2019.
We also know that we need new schools in South Bristol and East Central Bristol. We’ve secured land for the largest secondary school in Bristol: Oasis Academy Temple Quarter will have a capacity for 1,600 students.
We have secured £1.7million to permanently expand Bristol Brunel Academy for eighty more places. Work is underway at Cotham and St Bede’s schools to provide more places immediately and we have expanded Whitehall Primary School’s capacity by over a third.
We are making Bristol a city in which people of all ages are supported to flourish by maintaining our commitment to early intervention. Not only have we kept all of our city’s 22 children’s centres open, but we are investing £1.8million in transforming children’s services to reflect the needs of communities.
From this Spring, all care leavers under the age of 25 in Bristol are exempt from Council Tax and we are developing a Social Impact Bond that will enable us to work with care leavers. We have secured £1.7million to focus on young people who need the most support and modernised our Corporate Parenting Strategy – confirming our commitment to delivering better outcomes for children in care. We will soon launch the Bristol Children’s Charter as a collective statement of our aspirations for the city’s children.
As part of our commitment to Bristol as an age-friendly city, we applied to the World Health Organisation to become part of a global network of cities taking measures to improve the lives of anyone over fifty and next year we are hosting the European Cities network for best services and outcomes for BME elders, those most likely to experience isolation.
And we are committed to inclusively growing our already strong cultural offer. We have saved the venue that will soon no longer be known as Colston Hall for the future, leveraging support from the Arts council and city partners.
Our Cultural investment programme requires every arts organisation in the city to demonstrate inclusivity and diversity if they want to secure council funding.
By working collaboratively with our media sector, the second largest outside London, Bristol has been shortlisted to be Channel 4’s new national HQ. This would bring a huge boost to local opportunities for young creatives and provide a catalyst for creating meaningful talent pipelines. It has been a huge achievement to get shortlisted and we continue to work for Channel 4 to come to Bristol.
Regardless of their decision, bringing together the media sector will improve future opportunities for our city.
We continue to work with city partners to put early intervention in health at the top of our priorities. The Cascade and Thrive programmes have been a successful part of that work.
Staying on health for a moment, my cabinet member, Kye Dudd, was right to say this is the most pro-sport administration that the city has seen in decades.
We have supported Gloucestershire County Cricket Club to keep international cricket, going with them to present to the ECB.
We have worked hard to protect our city’s football and rugby pitches, and continued to invest in built sporting facilities increasing the number of people taking part in physical activity.
On the back of the City of Sport successes, we launched Bristol Active City, to connect people from across the city with activities and sporting events for people of all abilities.
Through strong negotiation, we were able to bring the Cycling Grand Prix back to the city at no cost to the council and we will continue to bring major events to the city.
Some people merely talk about the environment, using it as a platform to display their sense of moral superiority.
We are delivering on the environment and as a result of strong financial management, we will double the number of trees in Bristol by 2050 through the Talking Trees programme, combatting air pollution and improving our urban environment for the long term.
We have launched the LEAP prospectus that offers £1 billion package of investment that will transform the ay the city generates, stores, distributes and uses energy. Our financial competence and credibility is key to attracting that investment.
And of course, by the same strong financial management, we have taken the pressure off of libraries, opening up the opportunity for communities to work with us to find long term sustainable futures for all of them. With strong community engagement, libraries can become community hubs at the centre of citizen activity, be an integral part of our community assets and be a long term success.
And we have a strategic piece of land in Temple Quarter that holds a key element of the future of the city.
Let me now lay out for you the parameters of that decision I will make. I have said repeatedly, the questions must be asked in the right sequence:
Firstly, can we afford to build the arena on Temple Island?
Those who supported building the arena six months ago or even earlier wanted the city to borrow almost two hundred million pounds. One of those was the former Mayor claimed he wished he had signed the agreement – there is a reason he didn’t and it wasn’t because he forgot – it was because borrowing two hundred million pounds for a vanity project was a step too far.
By holding our nerve, that project is now deliverable for more than 50 million pounds less. A lesson for those sat here who don’t take the public’s money seriously.
Secondly, what is the best use of Temple Island?
Now we have brought down the cost, we can make a genuine decision for the first time. The sequencing of the questions is crucial because the location of the arena is only important if we believe the city is better served by doing something else on Temple Island.
In that case, a discussion on location happens within a positive context.
I have to consider the Value for Money reports that say that over 25 years:
Building the arena on Temple Island brings £375m of economic out turn and 650 jobs.
While a mixed use development, including a conference centre, hotel, office space and residential brings an economic out turn of £900m and over 2000 jobs.
It would be a big decision, a big statement and a big impact on the city to walk away from that difference.
I also know the mixed use site has interested developers, has financial backing, support from national organisations and is deliverable at pace.
I must also look at the impact on the city centre from increased traffic and congestion. We now know that using any average across existing comparable arena locations, 3,500 hundred cars will come into the city centre for every sell-out event. That’s 3,500 cars driving into and around the city centre and neighbouring wards looking to park.
On events where teenagers are the target audience, this number will go up as experience shows us that parents mostly choose to ferry younger people to and from the event for security.
And all without a car park in the original flawed plan.
I will also consider the size and usage of the arena. Many existing venues are already looking to upsize their arena as the 10,000 seats allocated in the potential Bristol Arena is not enough to attract the right calibre of acts. I need to be sure we are building an arena that will bring the expected attractions to Bristol that citizens want to see, not just deliver a profit for the operator, who is determined to leverage this decision for his own benefit.
And finally, I will ensure you that when I make this decision, it will be without emotion. It determined by facts – facts that make sure I make the right decision for Bristol and for the next fifty years.
And in conclusion tonight, I want to renew an offer I have made several times.
If you came into politics to make a difference to people’s lives and you want to get stuff done, put down your party political games and come and work with me. Tell me what you want to achieve for the city, bring some solutions to the table, and I am all ears. If you want to play the headline chasing game and continue to talk down Bristol, I will leave you to it.
And I finish by saying this, I made pledges to the city and I will deliver on them. This administration has brought financial credibility to the city. We take Bristolian’s money seriously, spend it wisely and by being responsible, we can and will deliver on our promises to Bristol.