In the Arena

This week we received a letter from the Secretary Of State for communities, confirming that there was no intention to call in the planning decision on the YTL Bristol Arena.  


This means the planning decisions made by the development committees in Bristol and South Gloucestershire are upheld.


In simple terms, YTL now have the go ahead to build the Bristol Arena. Their plan, as submitted, is for a 17,000 seater arena in Filton, Bristol. The arena will be the third biggest in the UK and attract major acts and sporting events. The arena will be the most environmentally friendly arena built, with the submitted plan revealing solar power and rainwater used for plumbing. It will be one of the most accessible in the world. On top of these achievements, it will be built in an existing building, massively reducing carbon output, nod to the city’s aerospace heritage, look amazing and deliver a world class package for visitors.  


Take a look at the YTL video here and you cannot fail to be excited. This is quite simply, massive news for Bristol.   


Several administrations have talked about the need for an arena since the 1980’s but none have delivered. The most high profile of these was the planned Temple Island arena that was flawed and would never have been built. That planned arena was too small to attract the bigger acts, would have been the most expensive arena ever built in the world per square meter and was placed in the worst possible location for congestion, pollution and safety – ever increasing concerns in the 21st century.  


The entire cost, and all of the risk, of that development rested on the council – that’s you, the tax payer. That is why, despite the political bluster, that arena would never have been built.  


Too often, politicians don’t take council tax payers money seriously and in this case, the costs had spiralled out of control and the risks far higher than any politician had been ready to admit. The Temple Island proposal had been pitched at £75m but by the time I came to office was already heading north of £150m.


Because I know many of you struggle to pay your council tax and balance that bill along with rent, the need to put food on the table and pay the electricity bill, I do take your money seriously. That’s why, despite the commentary of some who haven’t contended with the finances and practical realities of the city centre location, I took the decision to put Temple Island to better use and also see the risk and cost of the Bristol arena passed into the private sector, while getting a bigger and better arena in the process. Bristol City Council can focus on building homes and running adult social care, rather than gambling hundreds of millions of your pounds on high risk ventures in the wrong location.


I am grateful to YTL’s entrepreneurialism. Arenas are often built by public funds because there are few takers in the private sector due to the amount of risk. With the YTL Bristol Arena, the private company is taking all the risk. This isn’t the case of us handing profit to a private operator as some like to profess, but the city getting a stunning venue at minimal cost and no risk to the public purse.


The YTL arena will be built with a train station on its doorstep to support train travel, an advanced transport plan that enhances bus travel and cycling, and in the not too distant future, an underground stop. As part of our agreement and on top of their substantial development costs, YTL will plough over £5 million of private investment into the local area and even with supporting infrastructure, there will be a cost to public funds of no more than £1.7 million, shared between the combined authority, Bristol and South Gloucestershire.


The arena had a dry run in a temporary venue on the same site last year, with Massive Attack as the first act. While the gig itself received mixed reviews, the venue and the transport arrangements got unanimous plaudits, with the Bristol Post splashing the headline “Massive Success”. As many tickets were sold in South Bristol and further south as were sold in North Bristol and Gloucestershire, proving that the venue can be accessed across the region and that “if you build it, they will come”.


 YTL can now start to properly plan to build. Their strapline is “Let’s make memories that last a lifetime” and with the promise of the arena being in the top three venues in the UK, Bristolians will be able to make memories that have been denied to us for decades. For the current generation and our children, this venue promises top class memories on our doorstep, without the need to travel to London, Birmingham or Cardiff.  


We really are delivering for Bristol.  

Clean Air Zone Plans – COVID Update

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on everyday life in this country. While we deal with the immediate public health crisis, we know that the most far ranging effect will be felt in our economy.

Despite the incredible, and welcome, state intervention in our economy, the completely necessary social distancing measures adopted by most major countries mean that businesses large and small in Bristol have seen significant impact. We are already in a Covid provoked recession. The next few months we will nervously watch the markets and indexes for signs of a global depression, almost as fearfully as we watch statistics and graphs showing the spread of the disease now.

During this period of extreme uncertainty the people and businesses in Bristol are understandably very concerned about their futures. This is why despite this immediate challenge, we must look at the recovery, and our clean air plans.

We understand the moral, environmental and legal imperative to achieve clean air compliance. We have always been determined to do so while protecting the poorest in our city. We have been prepared to work with government, give national leadership on this issue and shown our determination to deliver clean air for Bristol with our proposals. And we remain committed to delivering clean air for the city which will improve the quality of life for all the people in Bristol. However the circumstances have changed significantly since we submitted out outline plans last year.

On 13th March 2020, following months of conversations with civil servants we were formally given direction from Rebecca Pow MP Secretary of State for the Environment.  This included agreement for initial funding of £12m to facilitate us developing the implementation and contract arrangements for a Clean Air Zone in Bristol.

As part of the direction given, we were also asked to submit further evidence on additional measures – the proposed small area diesel ban, and as an alternative a small area CAZ D, and a full business case by September 2020 so the scheme could be implemented by March 2021, as has always been planned.

Under normal circumstances my team would be able to meet these dates, however these are not normal times.

Recognising that Covid19 has changed many aspects of life, I wrote to Grant Shapps, the Secretary for Transport, on the 27th March asking for the government to seek urgent cross government reassessment of our proposed traffic clean air zone.

During this time of crisis, I urged the government to reconsider timescales for the whole programme during this period of uncertainty. I do not think that now is an appropriate time to directly engage with the business community and people of Bristol on how we develop appropriate mitigations to reduce the impacts CAZ may have for them.

I have suggested, as a pragmatic approach, that we continue with the planning and development work but then stop short of implementing the scheme, and look at the programme implementation times.  This will allow Government to work with us to rethink how our scheme might be delivered to meet the imperative to achieve clean air in a way that will protect businesses from being further financially penalised. Improving air quality is a crucial challenge, for our future as a sustainable, resilient and inclusive city, and so is restarting our economy too.

I am pleased that the government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) have already reached out to acknowledge that local government is facing significant challenges because of this crisis and that timelines will need to be flexible. I welcome their commitment to an ongoing dialogue as and when we emerge from this immediate emergency. They have now issued an initial blanket change of direction, so that the other few cities who were ahead of us in the process have been instructed to slow down to look again.

We will continue to work through the detail of the Direction and its potential implications with JAQU, and I am committed to working to achieve legal levels of nitrogen dioxide in our city. I am also determined to support our city’s people, communities and economy recover in an inclusive and sustainable way.

Our economic prosperity and response to the COVID-19 crisis must put all people at the heart of what we do, enabling us to thrive as a city improving the well-being of all of our residents and businesses #wearebristol

Free school meals during the Easter break

cllr-anna-keen-5 Today’s blog comes from Cllr Anna Keen, Cabinet member for Education and Skills.

For many children, yesterday was the first day of the two-week Easter break. We know that when the school holidays come around, the issue of holiday hunger becomes particularly serious for many of our city’s families.  Parents of children are left struggling to afford the food they need to buy.

Around 1.3 million children in England qualify for free school meals and in Bristol over 14,000 of our children qualify.  For many, lunch at school is their only hot meal of the day. In some cases, it is their only meal.

The work already being done by Feeding Bristol and its partner organisations during holiday periods demonstrates just how vital the supply of food is to ensure children have access to nutritious and balanced meals – even during the holidays.

In recent weeks we’ve seen the rapid closure of schools and social distancing measures being put in place to manage the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The UK Government also set up a national scheme that provides weekly shopping vouchers to allow families to continue to access meals while they stay at home – which was quickly rolled out across Bristol last week.

In these unprecedented times, our schools continue to operate throughout the holidays, providing childcare for those who require it, including our key workers who are keeping vital services going. Coupled with this, many families are facing huge economic uncertainty and are unable to easily access basic food supplies.

Despite this huge need, the Government made a last minute decision to not fund any of the meal vouchers over the Easter break.

The Mayor, along with the leaders of Leeds and Birmingham councils, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education last week, urging him to rapidly reverse this decision and give our schools and families the help they needed.

Over the weekend came welcome news that the Government had reversed its decision, and confirmed that the voucher scheme would continue to be supported over the Easter holidays. This provides schools across Bristol with the vital financial support required and I’m glad the calls of city leaders were heard.

However, this has been the latest in a series of late decision-making, leaving schools and families with new issues to deal with at an already unsettled time. Yet again, school leaders have responded with speed, compassion and professionalism to support their pupils and families.

At this time of crisis, I would urge the Government to do all they can to support the most vulnerable in our society, and keep the impact on our young people at the forefront of decision-making.

Social distancing blog: Day “lost track”

Although we are now out of the 14-day isolation period, like most people my family and I are now social distancing for the foreseeable.

To be real about it, it is challenging staying in the home. We have started to fall into a rhythm on home schooling. Last night I was talking with a friend who is a teacher. I asked them how on earth teachers can cope with a class of 30 kids, working at different levels and prone to distraction and chat? I only had to manage a mixed ability class of three, over whom I have ultimate parental authority. And together with my wife we have a parent child ratio of 2:3.

April 2, 2020 is the fortieth anniversary of the St. Paul’s uprising. I began the day by watching Lawrence Hoo’s “Uprising 2020”. I recommend it. It’s part of our story.

This crisis is testing everything about our way of life. And it’s exposing the ideology that has severely undervalued the importance of government and the public sector in general, and local government and society in particular. It is the public sector we are now depending on for the basics.

It feels a bit as though national government is now trying to reap where it has not sown after ten years of austerity. We have had decade of disinvestment in the very health, education and governance services we are now depending on to lead and serve us through this crisis. The family of policies called Austerity was dressed up as economic competence. But coronavirus exposes them as a dogmatic determination not to understand the importance of the public sector as fundamental to the resilience of our social order. Disinvesting is actually like gambling or going without insurance. It’s fine, until you hit the crisis.

Some people made much of the Prime Minister conceding this week that there is such a thing as society. What we also need is a similar Damascene moment recognising the importance of our public sector – local government and public health alongside the NHS, youth services, our police – and putting real money into them. When all else falls away, we find many of these workers are our nation’s backbone.

This investment of cash needs to be accompanied by a commitment to devolution of power and leadership. National government is important. It must provide a framework. But micro-managing the country from Whitehall is an old model of leadership in a modern world. Understanding the diversity of our local populations, and developing solutions that are culturally intelligent cannot be done satisfactorily from the centre. National government must understand – and invest accordingly – in the critical role of local government as leaders and shapers of place, not merely delivery arms of national government.

It’s imperfect but the image I use to describe the relationship is that between someone drowning (national government) and their would-be rescuer (the national network of local governments). The first thing national government must do is recognise there is a rescuer and then cooperate with the rescuer. Stop panicking. Stop trying to control a situation they cannot control. That doesn’t mean submit. It means listen and cooperate. The danger is if they don’t, and they start thrashing about, they foil the rescue and risk taking the rescuer down with them.

This crisis is not welcome. But among the things we take from it must be a reappraisal, and new plan, for the place of the public sector in the post-Covid-19 world.

Self-isolation: Day 11

We’ve unleashed ourselves on DIY. I’ve worked with the kids to stitch together the torn safety netting that surrounds the trampoline. We built a table out of scrap wood and leftover screws. I put my drill in my boy’s hands and watched him grow in confidence. I was on good form until I drilled into a wall and there was a pop and a flash of light. The lights went out. Sinking feeling, although I suspect I should be thankful I survived.

I’ve been trying to give my kids an insight into my childhood. We watched The Count of Monte Christo. The 1974 film is on YouTube. I’d built it up as a great story – as it is. Although not quite as good I as I remembered it to be when I watched it with my Nan sometime in the 1980s. The boys tolerated my enthusiasm and lasted the whole film.

It was great to hear the accounts and see the pictures of the food being delivered to the most isolated and vulnerable of those being shielded. And the #WeAreBristol spirit is really being experienced. Thousands of people signed up on the Can Do Bristol website ready to go when called on. Some of them were there packing the food parcels that were then distributed by other volunteers including taxi drivers.

Also, my thoughts recently have been for those in the global south, countries who don’t have the scale and reach of European and North American healthcare services. A couple of nights ago I had a WhatsApp call from Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the Mayor of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Yvonne was in Bristol in 2018 for the Global Parliament of Mayors and we are among the ten Mayors on the Mayors Migration Council.

I asked her how they were coping. As things stand there are just over 4,000 confirmed cases on the African continent, with South Africa being worst-affected. Sierra Leone is one the few countries on the continent to as yet have no recorded cases. Mayor Yvonne has already taken strong action restricting movement and restricting trading times among other things. As here in Bristol, people are social distancing and self-isolating. She is offering real leadership.

But my thoughts have revolved around the numbers of people whose health resilience has been undermined by poverty. Those living in conditions where physical distancing is nigh-on impossible, such as shanty towns and refugee camps, and those who have absolutely no alternative other than to work because there is no safety net. For many, the coronavirus crisis is another major crisis on top of the other major crisis.

My hope –  and I believe it is an opportunity –  is in our ability to understand that we have not reached the other side of this crisis when we in Bristol/the UK alone gets there. It is not until the whole world gets there.

Firstly, this is the morally strong position to take. Secondly, it’s an understanding that reflects enlightened self-interest. This incredibly infectious virus has reached across the world in no time. Unless we come up with a global solution, we will remain vulnerable to it and/or potential mutations. Thirdly, Bristol is a global city with around 180 countries of origin with immediate family and friends stretching across the planet. We are a people of English, Welsh, Sierra Leonean, Somali, Ugandan, Sudanese, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, American and Polish heritage. What matters there is real, and matters to people here.




Self-isolation: Day 6

We’ve had a crash course in home schooling. It’s not easy. Trying to get my head around and balance the curriculums of a 12, 9 and 4 year old. Then trying to make the work tasks interesting. Trying to make sure they actually do them. Trying to make sure we are not asking too much or too little.It’s an adjustment for the children.

Remote friends only, or through a window. A highlight was my daughter in the back garden having a shouting conversation with her friend two doors up. It was a real injection of something new into our “routine”. Not to be overly dramatic, but I think I got a little insight into the way Edmond Dantes must have felt when he connected with fellow prisoner Abe Faria in Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo.

The homeschooling has had to fit with my wife’s study and teaching (she is teaching online fitness classes at the moment) and, of course, being Mayor. Communications with our teams, partners and national government has been constant. I have set up variously in our front room, kitchen and the boys bedroom for the ongoing stream of conference calls, Zoom calls, Skype, Facetime, vlogs and TV and radio interviews. Among the major challenges has been holding together the immediate need to tackle the virus but not to lose sight of the need to plan for economic and social recovery over the next 12, 24 and 60 months.

We (humans) are going through a period of great readjustment in our sense of self. I think it’s driven by our need to come to terms with the fact that we do not have absolute control over our experience of the planet. That needs to be qualified because many people live an existence where their life chances are determined by factors outside of their control. This is most obviously the reality for the poorest in the global south, but it is also true for people in the poorest communities of Europe and North America. But even in those circumstances, we have the sense that some people, somewhere, in some meeting could make a decision to sign a peace treaty, stop selling arms, stop polluting the environment, distribute mosquito nets, cancel debts, trade fairly, divert money from arms to primary education and vaccines, or introduce a new piece of technology.

The sheer sense that someone somewhere could make the decision, even if they don’t, gives us a sense of humanity’s dominion.But what we are forced to confront in the coronavirus is a fact some would say we had lost touch with: that there are things on our planet that can shape our lives that, once unleashed, no people anywhere can control. This is cause for a timely adjustment of our collective sense of self and our relationship with the planet. Our future must be more humble and respectful.

Big Tidy

steve-pearceToday’s Guest blog is by Cllr Steve Pearce, cabinet member for Waste, Commercialisation and Regulatory Services.

Before many of us became confined to our homes, you might have noticed our “Big Tidy” project, part of the Mayor’s Clean Streets initiative. You have probably seen the custom-liveried vehicles that service the project.

This is a much needed multi-disciplinary and multi-agency approach to bringing back the sparkle to Bristol’s streets and neighbourhoods. We have been clear from the very start that in “Big Tidy” we want to have a strategy that brings together and co-ordinates resources. It’s a huge effort: litter-picking, street-sweeping, graffiti and fly-tip removal combined with investigation, enforcement and legal support (both in-house and contractors).

big tidy van

This built on community engagement and communication through both social and main stream media. We’ve used community payback, the private sector and voluntary activity supported with help from other public agencies such as Network Rail. Services arrive simultaneously or in quick succession and in a carefully planned way so as to maximise impact; both in terms of visibility and effectiveness.

before and after 2

Big Tidy kicked off properly in September last year and has arrived ‘noisily’ and successively in Lawrence Hill, Easton, Eastville, Filwood, Hartcliffe & Withywood, Hengrove & Whitchurch Park and Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston. It will shortly be in Cotham, before moving on to Central, Ashley and Bishopston & Ashley Down.

before and after 1Beyond Bishopston and Ashley Down, the current programme stretches past summer and on into the autumn but it won’t stop even then. To those eagerly waiting its arrival in their own postcode, I’d say this: “be patient; we’re expecting to get to you, too.”

The coronavirus emergency is sure to have an impact on how the project gets delivered but my commitment to helping Bristol to ‘clean up lovely’ remains sincere even if the current emergency throws a temporary spanner in the works!

big tidy 3

So, let’s put some numbers next to some of these activities. In the five months to the end of February, over 1,000 graffiti jobs have been pro-actively completed; nearly 350 legal notices or warnings have been issued; the team has pro-actively cleared over 100 fly-tips with over 70 investigated; 60 community payback jobs have been completed.

big tidy

In all, over 320 streets have been improved, over 200 residents surveys have been completed, more than 260 businesses engaged, 1,800 letters and flyers delivered with over 400 face-to-face engagements. 46 Community Protection Warnings were issued in Filwood and Hartcliffe alone for waste in gardens.

big tidy 2

With the team having dealt with 1,000 graffiti jobs, one thing of note is that most shop fronts on Stapleton Road are now graffiti free; enforcement officers actually caught two taggers “in the act” and there is now a police officer in post, dedicated to tackling graffiti.

It’s a great start, but we’ve much more to do.

Watch this space, stay safe and keep well. 

Self-isolation – Day 2

Spent the morning navigating the latest announcements while trying to get on top of our children’s school work. Helping them to adjust has been a challenge. We’ve all had to be gracious toward each other. Not always successful.

My brothers and sisters have been sharing ideas to keep the cousins busy and motivated. This includes a dance competition for the children courtesy of shared short films on WhatsApp. One of my sister’s lives in Zurich with her family. They are also isolating – and dancing! 

I have a conference call with government at 2pm with the latest information for local government leaders. We’ve presubmitted recommendations. The first that local government get advanced notice of major announcements. The second that they make a time to review the command structure, to review how things are working. It’s at the local level that announcements are/must be made real. Policy makers must understand the challenges facing implementors.

I have been reflecting over the last few days just how humbling this situation is. Humanity has put landing craft on Mars, scaled the tallest mountains, built machines that have enabled us to explore within a second of the Big Bang and established ourselves the species able to dominate every life form on the planet. And then this invisible, impersonal, unconscious thing comes along and leaves us with few responsible options other than to stop seeing each other. It humbles an economic system that’s become the measure of all things and takes our jobs, stops us riding buses, closes down our sports and festivals.

We will get through this. Our hope is real. But we will have a new – hopefully deeper –  understanding of ourselves and the way we have organised our world.

Bristol's Coronavirus Response – Volunteering

During these uncertain times our number one priority as a city must be to ensure support is in place for our most vulnerable citizens – whether that’s through council services or community-led help.

In recent days and weeks it has been truly heartening to see the strength of our community spirit in Bristol, with so many people stepping forward to help others. We are blessed by the swell of support and volunteerism we’re seeing across the city.

To help coordinate the city’s volunteers and the many volunteering opportunities we are recommending that people sign up to Can Do Bristol – a council-backed listings website with details about where help is needed and how to get involved.

You’ll also find details of the Coronavirus Response Fund, managed by Quartet Community Foundation, for those who would like to donate money to help the city’s most disadvantaged communities in the coming months. Organisations running volunteer programmes will find advice from Voscur on the site about best practice and how to keep volunteers, and the most vulnerable, safe.

As communities come together to help one another, please keep an eye out for those who see this uncertain time as an opportunity to gain only for themselves and take advantage of the situation. If you are concerned about an adult with care and support needs who is experiencing or is at risk of experiencing abuse please do not hesitate to contact Bristol’s Safeguarding Adults Team by phone 0117 922 2700 or submit a safeguarding referral online.


Like many others, my family and I have self-isolated from today.

We’re all in this together and it’s vital that public health guidance is followed to protect the most vulnerable. Self-isolating, limiting social contact, washing hands and cleaning surfaces – these are the tools we have to combat this outbreak.

I will remain in self-isolation for 14 days and work from home as many others are already doing across the city. I am in constant phone contact with officers, city stakeholders and Cabinet colleagues (including a conference call with my entire Cabinet today) and will continue to keep the public informed of the evolving situation in Bristol. I am grateful to all the people who are stepping forward to pledge their support across the city and I urge everyone who can and wants to volunteer to sign up to Can Do Bristol’s coronavirus response page so we can make sure you are delivering the biggest positive impact possible.

I thought it would be useful to keep a bit of a record of my family’s time in isolation.

I want people to know they are not alone. I was surprised I felt a little bit stigmatised. I had to remind myself, this is the new normal, that we haven’t done anything wrong. That’s the message I want to share with others. This is what we have to do.

It was quite a confusing decision for us, actually. Every cough and sneeze caused questions. But I have this approach to life that says “Ahh, stop moaning, there’s nothing wrong with you”. So my wife and I had a conversation about where we set the bar for stepping into becoming the “self-isolated”. It’s not an exact science, and I can’t remember the last time I heard a cough. But we’ve arrived at this place now.

Now we face the many challenges of managing and educating our children, managing ourselves in a confined space and managing our work. I also have to think about my Mum. I had to have the conversation with Mum about going into self-isolation to safeguard her health. Today I talked with my brother about the conversation he had with his Mum.

We planned our first full day at home and put together a mini timetable while we await resources to be sent from their schools. For my eldest (12yrs) we’ll be getting on top of homework and watching a documentary on the crusades (his history project). We’ve found some great maths and English resources on the BBC website for my second (9yrs). For my youngest (4yrs) we’ll do some maths with the abacus and practice some writing. Then I had a warning from a friend who home schools not to have too high expectations for my education regime! 

We’ll also be getting a few press-ups in…

I’ll share more insights over the next fortnight.