World Environment Day

Today’s blog comes form Ian Barrett, Chief Executive at Avon Wildlife Trust.

Happy World Environment Day from all at Avon Wildlife Trust.

In these exceptional times, many of us will have spent more time outdoors noticing nature – exercising, watching the flowers bloom, bees and butterflies buzz by or even simply looking out the window to listen to the bird song or catch the dappled light shining through the gaps of fresh tree canopy.

Nature continues to bring us all a sense of joy and solace during lockdown, but even outside the current coronavirus pandemic it is essential for the way we live our lives every day. Clean air, clear water, healthy soils, food crops and natural flood defences are all benefits of a thriving natural world, and local green spaces are so important for many people looking to improve their health and wellbeing.

Unfortunately, our wildlife and these green spaces are under greater threat than ever. Recent reports have painted a picture of plummeting wildlife populations. There has been a 60% decline in wild vertebrates worldwide since 1970. 44 million nesting birds, 30 million hedgehogs and 2.8 million brown hare have been lost from the UK since the middle of the 20th Century. In Bristol, the city’s swift and starling populations are a fraction of what they were, with a 96% decline in numbers of these once-common birds between 1994 and 2014. Species extinctions are high and accelerating, with 41% of insects worldwide and 15% of UK species at risk.

The good news is that there is still time to build back a world that is better for wildlife and for people. Earlier this year we declared an ecological emergency in Bristol alongside Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees. This declaration recognises the scale of wildlife decline and the serious breakdown of the natural environment which we now face.

Human activities are reducing the space available for wildlife, and causing climate change and pollution. However, the timing of this announcement presents a crucial opportunity to address both the climate crisis and ecological emergency in a coordinated effort. Alongside the declaration of a climate emergency made by Bristol City Council in November 2018, we are working closely with the Mayor, the council and other local organisations to highlight the ecological crisis facing the city and to shape and lead work to develop an Ecological Emergency Action Plan by the autumn.

Already, ambitious nature targets for the city have been set out in the One City Plan, including increasing tree cover and wildlife abundance in Bristol by the 2040s. The February declaration paves the way for a much quicker pace of change and focus to create and restore places for wildlife in every neighbourhood. Many city organisations and businesses have pledged to commit to action and you can join us too.  

All of the actions we take in our homes and daily lives can make a real difference. No matter how big or small these actions are, they are needed now more than ever. People of all ages can take practical action in homes or in their local communities. Whether you have a garden to transform or a window box, you can create habitats and homes for all kinds of wildlife, including insects by letting your garden grow wild or by planting nectar-rich wildflowers that bloom throughout the seasons. By creating habitats on your doorstep, you’ll be providing wildlife on all levels of our local ecosystem with somewhere to live, feed, reproduce and play their part in helping nature thrive. This is vital in helping to combat the ecological emergency we are all facing and is a simple and enjoyable thing we can all do. Have a look at our website for some inspiration and ideas:

Over the next few months the Trust will continue to work closely with the council, city organisations and local communities and we’re looking forward to doing this collectively with others in the city. Through exploring nature-based solutions we can all do our part to tackle the ecological emergency and create a more resilient world for people and wildlife, restoring habitats and building connectivity across landscapes. If we all work together and take collective action, it is not too late for wildlife to fight back.

To find out more and to see how to help support our work visit:

To reconnect with nature you can also take part in the Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild challenge – committing to taking one Random Act of Wildness every day throughout the month of June.

#WilderFuture #ForNature

Don’t struggle alone

Today’s blog comes from Caroline Matthews, Development Manager at St Pauls Advice Centre.

It’s been over two months since Bristol’s advice agencies closed their doors and re-organised themselves so that they can continue to offer free advice to the people of Bristol over the phone and by email and text messaging. At St Pauls Advice Centre the team continues to give free, expert and confidential advice to the residents of St Paul’s and East Bristol, just as it has for five decades. Many clients, especially those who are older, vulnerable or speak languages other than English, really value a trusted and professional presence in the heart of the community because advice agencies have a ‘Friendly, Local and Here to help’ approach to everyone that calls.

Between them, Bristol’s advice agencies help people with debt, housing and homelessness, employment, benefits (including appeals), discrimination, financial management, energy bills, EUSS, immigration and asylum issues. Covid-19 has had a major impact across all of these areas; for some people their problems may be getting more complex, while others may need advice for the first time in their lives.

Bristol should be proud of its effective network of advice agencies, which includes experts in discrimination, benefit appeals and more. Some are community based and others work Bristol-wide. These services work closely together in ‘normal’ times and at the start of the pandemic quickly joined forces to get information about the help available to Bristol’s people as widely as possible – gathering their networks together and reaching out to all the new community groups that have risen up.

All Bristolians should know they’re not on their own; they can get free, expert and impartial advice. It’s vital people get in touch sooner rather than later – before problems get worse. Advice agencies are working closely with Bristol City Council and the We Are Bristol support line can direct callers to the help available from advice agencies so people can get good, fast and appropriate help. Contact details are as follows:

You can find out more details about Bristol’s advice services and how to contact them directly here.

No one yet knows what the new normal will be, but Bristol’s advice services are working hard to ensure that anyone who needs it will continue to receive help to manage the challenges they face.

Black Lives Matter

Many of us have been deeply affected by the events in the US. 

The murder of George Floyd was horrific. And it was a symptom of a deeper malady in the US. He joins a long list of black people killed at the hands of white police officers and self-appointed vigilantes: Breonna Taylor (Kentucky), Tony McDade (Florida), and Ahmaud Arbery (Georgia) among them. 

This is not just an American problem. It is not just an issue with the US criminal justice system. It reflects a systematic inequality that is prevalent across all major institutions and in countries around the world. We are all part of this.

Over recent days I have been talking to African Americans. Mayor Steve Benjamin, the 36th Mayor of Columbia, South Carolina and the first African American Mayor in the city’s history, Prof Sheila Foster and Scott K. Ginsburg, Professor of Urban Law and Policy and Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University. I have also be talking with my own family living in Atlanta and Los Angeles. The situation is dangerous.

On Tuesday we lit up City Hall in purple light as a declaration of solidarity with George Floyd and a statement of our unwillingness to accept the kind of politics his murder exposes. I have enclosed below a copy of the open letter I and the UK Core City leaders have sent to the Association of African American Mayors. Copies have been sent to the US Conference of Mayors and Eurocities.

Plans are underway to hold Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Bristol over the coming days. I understand this. We are outraged and our voices must be heard. 

But after much thought, I am questioning the wisdom and any method of sharing that voice that encourages a mass gathering. I do not oppose the demonstration. Rather, I am concerned that anything that encourages a mass gathering while we have Covid with us and we have no vaccine is high risk, and the risk is disproportionately borne by black and brown communities. Responsible leadership must bear this in mind. 

First, the virus is killing disproportionate numbers of black and brown people. The Public Health England Report into Covid Deaths found people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other Black ethnicity had between a 10% and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British people. We are precariously balanced with many health professionals arguing we locked down too late and are unlocking too soon leaving us vulnerable to a second wave. A second wave, like the first, would disproportionately cost the black and brown lives we want to declare matter. 

Second, the lockdown is impacting the economy. And the jobs, wages, businesses and community organisations of black and brown people are being disproportionately lost. The Black South West Network shared with me that the economy has slowed drastically and the economic crisis which is due to follow will be felt most by those on the margins. According to the Runnymede Index of Ethnic Inequality, Bristol ranks 7th out of 348 areas in terms of most deprived areas. These are socioeconomic determinants of inequality which are rooted in history and the continued structural and systemic racism which has followed. Given that Black African and Bangladeshi households have 10p for every £1 of White British wealth, this means these households are ten times less able to cover the new costs, or to make up for lost income from Covid-19. A second wave would necessitate a second lockdown which would further undermine the economic (and by extension politics and health) standing of those communities. This would result in political weakening of the communities we need to see politically empowered. I have major concerns about this. 

I am for the message. I am merely very concerned that the Covid context means any method of delivering that message that encourages or requires mass gathering could have unfortunate unintended consequences for the communities we are trying to support – and that’s not just the individuals who attend but the people and community members they go home to.

I will not dampen down people’s passion. I support them. I would simply suggest there are other ways we can make our voices heard. We could put our minds together to create a huge digital presence, one that declares opposition to Trump’s politics and support for the mayors that are standing up to him. 

As I mentioned above, I have written a letter to the African American Mayors Association. We are speaking into the American situation. They need our support.

#TakeTheKnee in solidarity with George Floyd at City Hall 6pm today


A Safety Net For All

On Wednesday 27th May the Prime Minister appeared before the Liaison Committee in Parliament. He was asked a question by Stephen Timms MP about the destitution faced by migrants who have lost their income due to COVID and are prevented from accessing benefits by the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ status. In response, the Prime Minister promised to look into this, saying “people who’ve worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another”. See for the full exchange.

I have therefore written the following letter to the PM welcoming this promise and encouraging him to suspend or scrap the NRPF status.

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to you following your appearance at the Liaison Committee this week, where you were asked about support for those living and working in the UK who are prevented from accessing welfare support because of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) condition.

In response to a question posed by Stephen Timms MP about a family who are struggling during lockdown because of the NRPF condition, you rightly said that ‘people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support of one kind or another’. You committed to find out how many people are in this position and what your government can do to help. I would like to formally welcome this commitment and highlight the calls of city and local government leaders who have encouraged your Government to consider suspending, or scrapping, the No Recourse to Public Funds status.

Bristolians with NRPF contribute to the welfare system through taxes but are not able to access the support they need when they lose their income. Many have built lives in the UK over the course of many years, and a significant number have children who were born and raised here. However, when they need support, their children are not eligible for provisions like free school meals. Survivors of domestic abuse with NRPF also face additional barriers to fleeing and seeking support. As I’ve said publicly on many occasions[1], we see people who come to Bristol from abroad as significant assets to our city, and we need to do everything we can to provide them with the framework to make their contribution, including giving them access to the safety net we all rely on.

This is particularly urgent given the current context of global pandemic. Across local government, there has been a collective call to suspend NRPF to enable people to access the support they need and, crucially, to help stop the spread of COVID-19 among those who need to self-isolate safely without losing income. In Bristol we are currently housing approximately 280 people in emergency accommodation due to the COVID crisis, and more than 60 of these people have NRPF status. We know through our services across city and partners from the voluntary sector that there are many more families and people affected by NRPF status.

We have set up a special ‘One City’ taskforce to identify and support people on pathways from this emergency accommodation into more sustainable long-term housing. This is a unique opportunity to end rough sleeping in Bristol, but it is significantly hampered by the NRPF status which dramatically restricts the options for those people.

NRPF status will also be an unnecessary drag on our inclusive economic recovery. I have publicly set out my ambitions to help rebuild Bristol’s economy in a way that tackles inequality and exclusion, and to create a city where nobody is left behind. But for those with NRPF status who have lost or who will lose their jobs, the barriers to recovery will be that much higher without access to Universal Credit or in-work benefits that the rest of us take for granted.   

The response to the COVID emergency has shown that when we all pull together as one society we can achieve extraordinary things. Scrapping the NRPF status would be a powerful symbol that the Government is committed to ensuring that we really are ‘all in this together’ and that our recovery from COVID will be on the basis of fundamental equality, inclusion and fairness.


A City of Hope

Today we have launched ‘City of Hope’, a #WeAreBristol film to poignantly mark the Covid-19 pandemic as the city begins its journey to recovery. The film brings to life the words of City Poet Vanessa Kisuule, who I commissioned to capture the feelings and spirit of the city during this time.

The pandemic has not only created physical barriers between us, it has brought forward feelings of fear, uncertainty and isolation. This film acts as a reminder of the rich and varied communities and cultures that make Bristol so special, as we all stand together in the face of crisis. It is that spirit which gives us hope for the future.

The next stage of the city’s recovery is crucial but also daunting for many people. We need to rebuild businesses, confidence, and all change how we live to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe. It is more important than ever that we act with respect and tolerance, and don’t forget the kindness and resilience we have shown the past few months.

Watch the film now and share with friends and family to help us spread this message of hope.

Kindness goes a long way

Today’s blog post comes from Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities and Public Health.

In the last few months our lives have drastically changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. We are all adapting to a new way of living and working, whilst coming to terms with the demands on our physical and mental health.

We are now approaching the end of national Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is ‘kindness’. It is something we all do and show in Bristol, quite naturally. Especially in the last eight weeks, we have seen our city and its people adapting together to overcome one of the biggest global challenges we have faced.

As I reflect, I am reminded of the many actions you have taken in response to the outbreak. Every day we hear stories of countless acts of kindness and generosity, such as volunteering, donations of food, books and much more; all to help others through this challenge. But it’s also clear that coronavirus will continue to impact our lives in many ways for some time to come. We are in a period of major change and during times like this we all need to continue to look out for each other, and be kind to ourselves.

We are working closely with health partners to understand the impact that coronavirus has had on the mental health and wellbeing of our citizens, so that we  can support everyone in the best way possible, both now and in future. New services will be launched as part of this work, including a 24/7 helpline.

Mental health and wellbeing is a key priority for Bristol and has been for several years. In 2019 we launched Thrive Bristol, a ten-year programme to improve the mental health of everyone in the city, with a focus on those with the greatest needs. Through our Thrive networks, we are widely promoting tools and resources launched in response to the pandemic, including Our Frontline, Zero Suicide Alliance training and Thriving at Home, as well as existing services which have expanded their offer, such as Talk Club for men and Bristol Mind.

We also became the first city in the country, in October 2019, to make the Mental Health at Work Commitment, and through our Thriving at Work partnership we are developing support for employees across the region. We are offering mental health training to volunteers and community groups in Bristol. These are ongoing initiatives that have been in place since before the pandemic, ones we are continuing to develop so that in future we can all talk openly about mental health problems. This is a future where mental and physical health are comparable in terms of their treatment, transparency and social acceptance. And it is important we all do our part.

Kindness isn’t just for Mental Health Awareness Week – it’s something we should be doing every day. I have every faith that the people of Bristol will continue to support each other through difficult times. It’s up to you, me and each and every person in our city. Only with solidarity will we overcome the challenges ahead of us.

Showing kindness isn’t just something we should do for other people, we need to be kind to ourselves as well. I hope you have used this week as an opportunity to think about your own mental health. I’ve included some resources below to help you and your loved ones.

  • Stay connected with friends and family to help and support others. If you know someone who may be finding lockdown difficult, you could simply text or call them to check they’re okay.
  • Look after your sleep, keep active, and try to limit your news intake.
  • Search the Every Mind Matters website, where you can get your free personalised plan to help you deal with stress and anxiety.
  • Talk about your worries with someone you trust or, if you prefer, a professional. You may wish to call Bristol Mind on 0808 808 0330, or Samaritans on 116 123. More support options are available here.
  • Explore volunteering opportunities to help your local community, at Can Do Bristol.

A full list of local support can be found through the Independent Mental Health Network and the Community Access Support Service, CASS.

We Are Bristol Kids!

Today’s blog comes from Cllr Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Families.

There hasn’t been much to celebrate or look forward to in the past few months, but today we are finally able to share something positive and exciting as we launch our brand new online hub, We Are Bristol Kids!

Bristol’s children have been brilliant during lockdown; whatever their ages, circumstances and challenges our kids have shown themselves to be resilient, patient, creative and innovative. As I wrote for Bristol 24/7 earlier this month, I believe that national government has largely ignored the voice of the child throughout the pandemic and has failed to direct any communications or policy towards them.

We want to say a big thank you to our Bristol kids, and that is the inspiration behind today’s launch. Marvin and I want to create an online hub full of creative and educational ideas and inspiration, and a resource created by children,  for children. The new site aims to encourage reading, baking, physical activity, art and the opportunity to engage with the Mayor himself and wider local democracy. With the input of kids from across our beautiful and diverse city, we will create an online hub that tells the story of Bristol’s young people through lockdown and beyond.

This is where our ‘One City’ approach starts to benefit our youngest citizens – we’ve been able to ask for help from incredible Bristolians from across the city to put this site together – including actor Joe Sims, Bristol’s  bake-off star Briony Williams, amazing local artist Jenny Urquart and Bristol Rovers’ first team!

It’s also great timing that one of our Youth Councillors spoke at today’s Annual Council meeting over Zoom. They shared with councillors and the Mayor the work they’ve been doing to keep Bristol’s young people engaged on the big issues during lockdown – you can watch it back here.

I can’t wait to show the We Are Bristol Kids site to my own children today and will be encouraging them to get involved. I really hope that you will do the same. Our first colouring competition is about creating posters to remind drivers to slow down during lockdown.

Bristol’s children need to be seen and need to be heard, but they also need to be celebrated. We Are Bristol Kids intends to do exactly that!

Reopening Bristol’s schools

Today’s guest blog comes from Cabinet member for Education and Skills, Cllr Anna Keen.

On 20 March, schools closed to the majority of pupils. This was a decision that meant we had around 48 hours to create a new style of teaching – utterly unrecognisable from anything most teachers (or children) have experienced before.

As a teacher of Year 6 pupils myself I remember saying goodbye, deeply saddened by the uncertainty of whether we would see our pupils again in their primary school and fearful for their wellbeing and health in the coming days, weeks and months.

The decision to consider a phased reopening of schools was amongst many ill-thought out announcements that took place on 8 May.

It has left the education world reeling and with the toughest dilemma: all staff who work in schools choose to do a job in which they are surrounded by children and thrive on the face-to-face contact this provides. Online teaching is hard, nothing like as responsive or effective and it disadvantages children who are already vulnerable. Despite what some commentators may like us to think, teachers are desperate to be able to return to school. We have all continued to work remotely and most have been in schools looking after key worker and vulnerable children.

However, the other critical part of our job is keeping children safe. Being acutely aware of safeguarding (which includes health and safety) is drummed into teachers the moment we step foot into training college. We are therefore in conflict between being able to do what we know is right for children and being able to do this in a safe way.

This is not a binary issue where the government announcement is correct for every school or every child. Our Mayor and education team has made clear that we will show trust in heads and teachers and back them. They know their local communities. They know their families. They are best placed to know whether they can safely open their school and how many children they can keep safe.

We accept that there are some schools in which the safety guidelines can be met and we will support those that can open in some way from 1 June. We equally accept that many will not be able to achieve that and we support schools in their decision making.

I have never felt prouder of the teaching profession: their adaptability, professionalism and stamina. But I know that, despite our best efforts, children who struggle either academically or emotionally – or who are vulnerable to poor levels of care at home – would greatly benefit from some time in school. I absolutely believe that we have to achieve this return safely and that the picture in June should and will look very different to what the government wants.

We therefore fully support union views that scientific advice on child transmission should be published immediately so that headteachers and their staff can make informed decisions. It will be important for staff to take time to undertake full risk assessments and only open to more children if and when it is safe to do so.

No decision making is easy in times like this. My hope is that there have been lessons learned by central government about the need to engage with teachers, school leaders, unions, parents, carers and children before issuing guidance that will inevitably cause concerns for many people. 

Regardless of when and how your local school reopens, I feel confident that children’s emotional health will be a focus and that Bristol schools will continue to support their families through this time. 

Beyond COVID – pursuing an inclusive recovery

Today’s guest blog comes from Poku Osei, Founder and CEO of Babbasa.

As we begin to rebuild our lives, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic will reshape the nation’s economy, industries, and our society in a fundamental way.

The disease has had an impact on all lives – black, white, rich and poor. But it has particularly reminded us that inequality kills. As one doctor put it, ‘pandemics are like guided missiles, attacking those who are poor, disenfranchised and have underlying health problems’. COVID-19 has certainly not been different.

As I write, the disease continues to decimate the lives of people living in poorer communities, simply because they are over-represented in frontline jobs, living in overcrowded housing or holding a less secure employment contract. Regardless of their will, their working and living conditions make it harder to abide by social distancing guidelines. In the UK, these people have disproportionately been from ethnic minority backgrounds, as the Office for National Statistics report revealed last Thursday. It is a stark reminder that the poor indeed die young!

On the other hand, even though young people are considered less physically at risk from coronavirus, it is important to note that they are some of the most vulnerable to its financial aftershocks. The ONS showed that 408,000 people in the 18-24 age group are unemployed, while data from the Resolution Foundation research indicates that the crisis could push a further 600,000 young people into unemployment unless major new support is provided. In addition to this, there is also the reality that tens of thousands of internships, work experience opportunities and entry-level employment roles could be cut for those new to the job markets  – depending on how we choose to respond.

Overall, the impact of COVID on the business community cannot be underestimated. Currently, the UK Government is covering the employment costs of more than 7 million people through its furlough scheme – something which is being perceived as masked unemployment. Nationally, it is predicted that a second wave of an outbreak and lockdown could push approximately 1.1 million businesses into insolvency. In the South West,only 16% of businesses believe they will be able to cope if the crisis lasts 6 months.

In many businesses, this unique set of challenges has led to one response from executives: ‘Yes, we understand the inequalities that ethnic minorities and inexperienced young people are facing, but now is not the time to talk about diversity and inclusion. We need to protect the essentials first and keep our business afloat.’ This is a mistake.

Yes, the response to COVID-19 has created an economic crisis, but at the core of that is a people crisis and organisations that recognise the latter stand a better chance of managing and recovering from the former. In other words, what companies do to make the leap from bad to good, or good to great, will start with getting the right people on the bus. And I say this not least because:

  • Business leaders will need the cultural competence within their teams to deal with a returning workforce affected in a multitude of ways; experiencing new demands of balancing work and care with feelings of grief, loss, isolation or ‘otherness’, and a need for connection
  • Senior management teams will need diversity of thought to accurately assess the political, economic, social and technological opportunities available, to develop effective strategies for growth
  • Middle management will need a diverse frontline workforce to show empathy and offer reassurance to build trust with customers from various backgrounds who may fear to return to habits that were ‘normal’ before COVID-19
  • Supervisors will need the intercultural communication skills to manage teams and foster the sense of shared mission through teleconferencing and messaging apps
  • The general workforce will also need the diversity to understand the social sensitivities and impact of the social inequalities that have been magnified by the pandemic to build a sense of shared belonging

It would be particularly shortsighted for companies to deprioritize the recruitment of young people based on their inexperience in the world of work. They are the generation of digital natives and subsequently represent the architects to plan the new building for the fourth industrial revolution even as the firefighters work to save the old one.

The best leaders and organisations will recognize this fact about young people and minority candidates. Some will do so because it will be the advantage that helps them sprint away from competitors. Others will see that the profound social and economic transformation needed as a result of the pandemic – similar in scale to that of the Second World War – cannot be achieved by any Government or any local authority alone.

The question, therefore, cannot be whether we can address the post-COVID economic crisis and provide inclusive growth at the same time, but rather, whether we can afford not to do so. We cannot jump out of the frying pan of the pandemic and into exacerbation of inequality and social immobility. We risk social unrest and rioting becoming a feature of our cities and further disrupting business and society. We must integrate the solutions to both crises into a coherent response.

At Babbasa, we believe that it is during times of great difficulty that we need to draw on the power of imagination. To mark our recent Queen’s Award For Enterprise, we have launched two initiatives to support young people living in Bristol’s ethnically diverse communities in inner-city Bristol. They include:

1)    An urgent appeal to support those affected by the pandemic, in the short term.

2)    A vision to support at least one person from each household to secure a median salary job by 2030. We believe that this vision will not only lift individuals out of poverty but also, enable them to support their families, serve as role models in their community and contribute to the growth of the Bristol economy in the long term. We believe the ripple effect of this vision for equality, particularly in the aftermath of this pandemic, would be profound.

In Bristol, Mayor Marvin Rees is already providing the needed framework to support such a vision by committing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and pioneering the innovative One City Approach. I would, therefore, like to throw out a challenge. First – for Bristol’s businesses to recruit or provide a work placement opportunity for at least one talented person from an ethnic minority or low-income community by the end of 2021 to support an inclusive recovery from COVID. Second – for Bristol City Office to include the challenge in the next iteration of the One City Plan, and WECA, to be explicit on a similar commitment in other combined authority areas. Third – for policymakers, investors, academics, community partners, and philanthropists, to work with us on the 10-year vision. Inclusive recovery programmes should be at the heart of economies that are working towards sustainable growth and increased resilience beyond COVID. As we rebuild, we have to open our eyes to both the risks and opportunities on the horizon. What we do now will not only reshape our economy and society, it will also reshape humanity’s future. Making a fairer, inclusive and sustainable recovery is the only bridge to a more resilient future.

Spatial Development Strategy

The types of homes we build, where we build them and how we connect the people living in them to jobs, retail, entertainment and each other will be one of most significant determinants of what Bristol is like in the future. Our health, our community , our levels of inequality and our climate and ecological impact.

We withdrew from the Joint Spatial Plan in April, following the Planning Inspectors response to the shortcomings of the regional plan. The next step is to work collaboratively with the three unitary authorities that make up the combined authority and our neighbours North Somerset, to produce a Spatial Development Strategy (SDS).

We are currently working with our colleagues on a Memorandum of Understanding and a Statement of Common Ground to run alongside the SDS. All of this will take years to complete before we undergo the examination process again, but the revised process presents us with a great opportunity to deliver our commitment to economic inclusion, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and make the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) explicit aims of the strategy.

The SDGs present a particularly exciting framework through which to define and approach Bristol’s economic recovery. The 17 goals set out the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Importantly, they are not single issues but work with through the interdependence of social issues (education, hunger, gender equality, decent work and economic growth and strong Civil Institutions) and environmental issues (climate change, life in the sea, life on land, and responsible production and consumption).

Explicitly committing to delivering the SDGs will help us develop a shared vision and rationale, and it will be a natural extension of what Bristol is already doing as we have aligned the Bristol One City Plan to the SDGs. Bristol was also the first city in the UK, and one of the first in the world, to undertake a Voluntary Local Review.

This strategy is important today and will only increase as we wrestle with the opportunities and challenge of Bristol growing by nearly 100,000 people over the next 25 years. We must deal not only with the challenge of today’s Bristol, but ensure the city we are building delivers equality, inclusion and has a net positive impact on climate and ecology. So a key part of our environmental challenge is to get the city region all pointing in the right direction and establishing the framework and solutions we need, programming in the output we want.

The SDGs must be embedded now in this process to acknowledge the interdependence of economic and environmental justice and to provide the framework in terms of performance and policy. Planning for homes and communities cannot happen in a bubble and strategic transport infrastructure is key to diversifying transport options and reducing car dependency.

They also enable us to be part of a global conversation with other cities, their networks and global leadership. Cities need to be able to shape what goes on inside their boundaries and to shape the national and global policies that influence city life. And for the sake of the planet, we need global governance to move into its next iteration.

National governments have failed to understand or work out how to deliver on these key aims. But where they are lacking, cities across the US, Africa, Asia, South America and Europe have been stepping up and they have been talking about their own recovery in these terms. Recently Amsterdam made the headlines through their public commitment to Doughnut Economics and the SDGs.

Up until now, we have built Bristol with little knowledge or regard to the planetary emergency that was coming on us. This has resulted in city that makes living a low impact life something that requires consciousness, commitment and often spare disposable income. We need to change that and the strategic city region plan offers an opportunity to build in social justice and sustainability into the systems that shape and determine the intended and unintended consequences of our everyday lives.

The West Of England Combined Authority’s Planning and Housing Board will consider the Strategic Planning funding and governance programme on Monday ahead of being considered by the Joint Committee in June.

Today we know what we didn’t know 30 or even 10 years ago. The time to act is now. There is no going back.


NOTE: The SDGs are detailed here.

For the work we have already done orienting Bristol delivery of the SDGs, you can read our Local Voluntary Review here and Bristol One City Dashboard here.