In The Arena

We will deliver and build an arena for Bristol.  That is a straightforward matter of fact, and it is absolutely my intention to ensure that work commences at the earliest possible opportunity. We must have an arena that will bring the biggest acts and best performances to the city, adding to our cultural, sport and overall city offer.  A major city needs certain features to be considered a leading city and Bristol has historically failed to deliver them.  We have no mass transit system, we haven’t modernised all of our key retail areas, our train station is the last major rail hub to not be modernised and we don’t have state of the art transport hubs. And we don’t have an arena of size.

I want to watch the best performances and events around, in Bristol. From the best bands and musical performances to  world championship boxing and premier league darts, we must be a go to city that’s ‘on the tour’.

However, it is also a straightforward matter of fact, that I have responsibility to ensure the city does not make a decision it may regret for the next 75 years.

The first time the former Mayor talked about an arena, Temple Quarter was set as the location and the price tag was £79million. The first published cost set at £91million and then £95million quickly afterwards.

By the time I was elected Mayor, my first update on the arena showed the cost at £123million and rising, potentially with substantial risk. All of this was set against a backdrop of us having £53million money from the government through the Local Enterprise Partnership, and the rest had to be funded by the city, one way or another.

In addition, I inherited no transport plan associated with the arena and the papers were predicated on the assumption everyone would arrive by train, bike or on foot. There were more places set aside for bicycles than car park spaces. This meant the financial position couldn’t be eased though the kind of parking related income streams that have been pivotal to making other city arenas financially possible.

As is publicly known, we could not agree a price with the initial building company.  As a result, we went to the company who had finished second in the original procurement process. We signed a pre-construction agreement, and they began work to finalise a price and agree the commencement of the work. That work is ongoing and is of course, commercially confidential. At the same time, we have received an offer from a private company to build an arena with their own money on their own land with the option of us taking a financial stake in that project.

This would need infrastructure work around transport and access that we would carry out with public money but the private company would build the arena.

It would be unwise not to now explore both these options more fully. That is what we are doing.  It has been said that not building the arena on the site known as Arena Island would be a betrayal of the city. I say it would be a greater betrayal to mishandle the people of Bristol’s money and launch into a relationship we regretted for the next 30+ plus years.

I have commissioned a value for money report and am considering an options appraisal. We must know whether the prices put forward for the arena are value for money for the build itself. And this needs to be assessed against alternate locations and alternative uses of the site and the relative benefit the various combinations would have on the wider economy. Unfortunately, this work had not been done. It is being done now.

I am surprised leading city figures are making pronouncements on the arena without the facts. Emotion cannot play a part in the decision and the outcome must be evidence based so we can be sure of the economic impact and the consequences for City Council finances.

I am working through the evidence and working towards a better and more affordable outcome for Bristol. Plans have been developed for an arena since 1997 and too often, have gone backwards at key points.

We are now closer than ever before and I will ensure we make the right decisions for the city. We will build the Bristol Arena.

Agent of Change

Bristol is one of the most celebrated creative cities in the world. Recently named a UNESCO City of Film and the Luxury Awards Travel Guide ‘Museum Destination of the Year’, we are a capital for culture. Equally celebrated is our vibrant art and music scene which boasts over ninety dedicated music venues that contribute to an inclusive creative environment for every genre imaginable.

The importance of the live music sector to people here and elsewhere in the UK is reflected in the amount of support being generated to secure the future of venues faced with challenges posed by urban development. Bristol’s live music venues face their own distinct, individual challenges which I have been keen to hear about to consider what can be done to protect this part of our cultural and economic landscape.

During the final Cabinet meeting of 2017 I announced a commitment to back up our long standing support for music venues with action. I have tasked our Cabinet Member for Spatial Planning and City Design, Cllr Nicola Beech, with the job of introducing the ‘agent of change’ principle to our Local Plan, which guides development in the city. Doing this will mean that property developers would be compelled to take account of pre-existing businesses, such as music venues, in an area before moving forward with a project. Developers would be responsible for putting in place soundproofing measures to solve potential issues around noise complaints.

After listening to the concerns of venues and live music supporters, recognising the value the sector delivers to the local economy (£45 million in Gross Value Added to Bristol’s economy in 2016) and discussing with Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, a leading voice in championing Bristol’s musical offer in Parliament, the decision to press ahead was straightforward.

It’s encouraging to see Labour MP John Speller, supported by Kerry McCarthy, introduce a ten-minute rule bill to Parliament on the agent of change principle. We will deliver the homes we need while supporting our cultural offer.

Build It And They Will Come

An article in the New York Times was sent to me by Andrew Kelly, the architect of future cities festival and so much more in the city.  The article resounds with our own needs in Bristol,  why transport and infrastructure is so important to inclusive growth for Bristol. New York built a subway led by the imagination of then Mayor William Gaynor, who set in motion the primary phase of its construction. At that time, a public-works project of this scale had never before been undertaken in the United States, and even now, more than a century later, it grows the city’s success. The article is right to point out the incredible economic benefits the subway brought to New York and how it connected poorer neighbourhoods to wealth creation.

Before the subway, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that New York would become ‘the greatest city on earth’ but it did and the early pioneers, the politicians, the business leaders and the engineers fully recognised the case for mobility: physical mobility, economic mobility, social mobility.

As you can see from the article, New York realises the challenges they face today aren’t so different from 100 years ago. The questions the article askes for New Yorkers are:

Can the gap between rich and poor be closed, or is it destined to continue to widen?

Can we put the future needs of a city above the narrow, present-day interests of a few?

Can we use a portion of the monumental sums of wealth that we are generating to invest in an inclusive and competitive future?

They know the answers to these challenges can only be positive with inclusive growth and that rests on infrastructure in the city, particularly transport, connecting people to people, business with business and all with opportunity.  

New York needs to re-invest in itself but it knows the “answer to all of these questions is still rumbling beneath New York City”.

New Yorkers and Bristolians know services and support for the poorer and the vulnerable is important and must be sustainable but transport and infrastructure builds a successful city.  For all the changes in transportation technology and the rise of the car, bike lanes, our growing use of taxi apps and plans for driverless vehicles, to grow the city inclusively we fundamentally need a mass transit system.

As you will have seen, I intend to work towards that aim, opening the urban rail network and building a mass transit system.  A successful city depends on achieving big aspirations.

Read the article from NY Times Magazine here.

Publication of independent review of Bijan Ebrahimi case

Bijan Ebrahimi’s murder in 2013 was truly appalling and will not be forgotten. Yesterday, Safer Bristol Partnership published an independent review which examines and responds to the ways local organisations, including Bristol City Council, interacted with Mr Ebrahimi prior to his death.

The review states that there was evidence of institutional racism within our organisation. Institutional racism is a collective failure by an organisation to provide appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

The report makes no accusation of racism by individual colleagues, or of specific acts. However, we recognise that there is work to be done to address the concerns at an organisational level.

We sincerely and wholeheartedly apologise for the failings in the council’s treatment of Bijan leading up to his tragic death, and appreciate that no amount of lessons learned or changes in practice can possibly mitigate the impact this had on Bijan and his family. I have met with the family to apologise in person.

Recommendations for improvement

The review includes a number of recommendations for how we can improve.

We must ensure that any action we are considering which could have a punitive effect on a victim, is only taken following an accurate assessment of the situation, and considers the likely effects. We must also minimise the risk to victims and witnesses as a result of the action.

In future cases, any application for an anti-social behaviour injunction must be based on accurate evidence which presents a balanced view. The subject of the injunction should be told about the application unless there is a strong reason not to.

Wherever we are dealing with vulnerable tenants who have multiple, complex needs we must ensure those tenant’s needs are being met, and be sure that the process for assessing our tenant’s vulnerability is complied with.

Our standards

The report makes it clear that there is a standard to be met in all our dealings with vulnerable citizens. If we are to be the type of organisation which we aspire to be, we must meet that standard. This is for the sake of the city and organisation, but also for our colleagues, who come to work committed to delivering for the city.

We have already taken action to address our failures, and make changes which minimise the risk of such an incident ever being repeated.

The way we and our partner organisations work are now dramatically different. We have improved how we assess risk, identify and support vulnerable people and recognise the complex needs which individuals can have. We will also be updating and improving our racial equality training for all colleagues, there will be more information on this soon.

The learning from Mr Ebrahimi’s case does not end with the publication of the review, and it is important that we all understand our personal role in the ongoing process of improvement.

Do you know a young hero?

Bristol Young Heroes Awards

We are committed to making Bristol a place where everyone feels at home and has a sense of ownership in shaping the city.

There is no greater embodiment of this commitment than in the brave and inspiring individuals who are nominated for the Bristol Young Heroes Awards each year.

Organised by Community of Purpose, Bristol Young Heroes Awards recognises the outstanding contribution that young people make to our city and the ways in which they’ve transformed their lives and the lives of others.

How you can nominate a young hero

If you know anyone aged between 11 and 19 who you think deserves to be recognised, you can nominate them for one or more of the seven available categories. The categories are:

  • Action Hero – a young person who has made a contribution to the community by volunteering
  • Arts & Culture Hero – a young person who has exceeded expectations and accomplished something great in one of the arts
  • Caring Hero – a young person who is looking after a family member or relative and has sacrificed a lot by putting someone else’s needs above their own
  • Enterprise Hero – a young person who has identified a need and found an enterprising approach to fill it
  • Learning Hero – a young person who has exceeded expectations and achieved success in education, especially by overcoming adversity or challenging circumstances
  • Sporting Hero – a young person who has exceeded expectations and triumphed in sport, especially by overcoming adversity or challenging circumstances
  • Super Hero – a young person who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to display an act of courage and bravery or someone who has overcome adversity through illness or disability

The closing date for nominations is 15 January 2018 with the awards ceremony taking place on 13 April 2018.

It gives me great hope for the future of our city to hear so many stories of courage, enterprise and passion from each year’s nominees. Submitting a nomination this year will ensure these stories continue to be heard.

Two panels and a broadcast

While I am in China this week, I have invited members of my Cabinet to write guest blogs.

Today, my Cabinet Member for Housing, Paul Smith, blogs about his busy Wednesday attending housing panels and a radio show in Birmingham and Bristol.

paul smithWednesday was a day away from the Council House. Inside Housing (the weekly housing magazine) and the Chartered Institute of Housing (the professional body) have organised three ‘Big Housing Debate’ events in Manchester, London and Birmingham. Nothing in the south west so I was invited to speak at the Birmingham event.

It was clear that Midlands-based organisations are optimistically expecting a transformation in housing delivery from their Metro Mayor and the partnerships he is developing with the councils. However there was a strong undercurrent of discontent that the Midlands is becoming a forgotten area sandwiched between London & the South East on one side and the Northern Powerhouse on the other.

My session as the interloper was on tackling homeless. In some respects it feels more than a little ironic speaking on tackling this rising tide when there are so many people still on the streets. The latest figures from the monthly homelessness hotspot count shows a rise from an average of 5 street sleepers in 2010/11 to 69 in 2017/18. This doesn’t seek to count all those on the streets but it shows an alarming rise. This increase is not a result of demographic change, homelessness suddenly becoming fashionable or even a worsening economy (it has been reported to improve over that time). The sickening increase is largely driven by the slashing of welfare benefits, particularly housing benefit and partly from the sideling of social housing development. If the safety net is slashed to pieces it should be no surprise that more and more people are falling through it.

Work on reducing homelessness is gathering pace:

  • More guardianship of empty properties are being taken on for homeless people;
  • A further phase of empty council properties are currently being assessed by homeless agencies;
  • A pilot ‘housing-first’ project as part of the Golden Key initiative has started;
  • The churches winter shelter project is being extended from one month to three;
  • We have found a location for Help Bristol Homeless container project;
  • Another short life housing project (possibly containers or an equivalent) has identified some sites;
  • The recently launched homeless pathways and youth homelessness hub is starting to demonstrate improved results, and;
  • The social impact bond scheme for long-term rough sleepers is in preparation.

Underpinning all of this is our work on increasing the development of new social and council housing and affordable housing is also gathering pace as we are on track to get to a development programme of 800 affordable homes per year by 2020.

The chair of the session, who has operated at the highest level in housing, reflected that nowhere else in the country has a more comprehensive approach to homelessness than Bristol. I am sure this is no comfort to people currently on the streets, talks of plans, strategies and projects which will happen some time in the future will be met with cynical disbelief by people until they are living somewhere safe and secure.

From Birmingham I rushed back to Bristol for a Julian Trust fundraiser organised by the Institute of Physics Publishing in the Cube cinema. First was a showing of the moving and devastating indictment of the benefit system, Ken Loach’s ‘I Daniel Blake’. This was the second time I have watched it; I think it was harder the second time knowing how it was going to end. I was on the panel which followed. There can be no doubt that building conditionality into the benefits system creates a divide between those seen as deserving and underserving poor. Poverty is not something created by poor people but by an economic system which is designed to concentrate wealth into the hands of those who are already wealthy and a government which has given up on a fairer redistribution of wealth.

Coming back to the housing debate within the discussion we can see that the market can not deliver our housing needs, it is not how the market functions. The vast majority of developers have a huge financial incentive to avoid the provision of affordable housing as it reduces their profit margins. Even those that benefited from the subsidy provided to reduce debt charges are doing so well from the £bns of government cash poured into Help to Buy that they can manage without guaranteed sales to housing associations.

Last year 1,994 homes were built in Bristol (phew, almost 2,000) but only 199 were affordable and 700 were student flats. This emphasises the importance of our decision to take our housing land off the market and to develop it ourselves, or with housing associations and community-led housing organisations committed to affordable housing. Left to a combination of the market and the emasculated planning system we struggle to get much more than 10% affordable housing in the city.

In Bristol at present only 20% of housing is council or housing association homes for rent; prior to the right to buy and the Thatcherite revolution it was around a third. To tackle our housing problems we need to get it back towards these levels. The £220m committed by Marvin Rees in 2016 is a vital ingredient to starting to move us to annual net gains in social housing, namely more being built than being sold through the right to buy and right to acquire.

These themes were all part of the radio interview with BCFM which followed the panel discussion. An interview with Tony Gosling is an exhausting affair as he shifts from topic to topic at rapid fire speed.

A 15-hour day is not something I could manage every day, but being away from the council for a day certainly gave me plenty of time to reflect on what we’ve done, are doing and need to do to make a substantial and visible impact on the housing crisis in our city.

Could you be a governor?

We know that to give young people the best possible start in life they need access to a good education and governors have a key role to play in supporting and improving our schools.

Being a school governor means having a direct involvement in supporting schools and giving children the best possible chance to fulfil their potential. It’s a thoroughly worthwhile experience – and schools across our city are recruiting now.

Bristol Learning City, a partnership of over 70 local organisations, has launched a new campaign alongside Business West and the free, online Inspiring Governance service to recruit more school governors.

GovernorsWe want local businesses and employees to consider the benefits of volunteering as a way to give back to local communities and support the city’s schools. The ‘Be a Governor’ campaign highlights what new recruits are set to gain – including the opportunity to learn new skills, build networks and, if employed, boost their company’s reputation in the community.

One of Bristol’s strengths is its diverse population, so we’re looking to recruit new governors from all walks of life to reflect this. By helping to support our schools, individuals can play a role in improving life chances for all students. Register your interest online today or get in touch directly with to find out more.

Cabinet Changes

Mayor & New Cabinet Dec 2017 s - CB Bristol Design 2017

Last Friday I announced the appointment of two new members to my Cabinet and today they joined me at my Cabinet meeting.

Anna Keen, councillor for Hillfields ward, will take up the role of Cabinet Member for Education and Skills and

Kye Dudd, councillor for Central ward, will take on the role of Cabinet Member for Energy, Waste and Regulatory Services.

I am extremely pleased to be welcoming Anna and Kye to the Cabinet. We are working hard to provide essential services and deliver on our aspirations for the city. In Anna and Kye we have two committed, talented and energetic people who will lead, collaborate with partners and engage with citizens

Their experience and knowledge of Bristol and the people they need to work with will be invaluable assets. They will also be coming from a position of strength in taking over from former Cabinet Members Councillor Claire Hiscott and Councillor Fi Hance, to whom I am very grateful. I’m looking forward to working closely with Anna and Kye on their respective portfolios.

As Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, Councillor Keen will take a lead on working with partners and officers to continue supporting schools in Bristol to forward the recent trend of academic attainment, develop the city’s skills base though collaborating with private and public organisations to deliver training programmes and be a link to the West of England Combined Authority in delivering adult skills projects. Councillor Keen will also continue to lead on the Feeding Bristol project.

Councillor Dudd will take up his position as Cabinet member for Energy, Waste and Regulatory Services. This portfolio includes taking a lead in meeting the Mayor’s goal of Bristol becoming a carbon free city by 2050 and a variety of projects including the city’s Clean Streets Campaign, air quality projects, flood risk management, public protection and continue to lead on sport development.

Cabinet Members as of 1 December 2017:

Museum Destination of the Year


We’ve known for a long time how special Bristol’s museums are. From the SS Great Britain and M Shed on the Harbourside, to Blaise Castle House Museum on open estate grounds and Bristol Museum and Art Gallery sat overlooking the city on Park Street, the range of quality experiences on offer here is broad.

So it’s not surprising that Bristol has just been named ‘Museum Destination of the Year’ in the Luxury Travel Guide awards – an accolade that puts us head and shoulders above all other European cities as the go to place for an excellent museum experience.

This award is great recognition of the hard work and creativity of those involved in the sector, my congratulations go out to them all.

In particular, I’d like to single out the council staff who have been through some tough times but have continued to show dedication, professionalism and a passion for their roles. The range of activity that they support is incredible; planning, preparing and curating exceptional exhibitions and displays, supporting and guiding visitors, managing and conserving the 1.75 million objects in our collection, bringing in schools for award winning educational sessions, working with academics to support research, the list is endless.

It’s clear that museums play a major role in making Bristol a city that is often named as one of the best places to visit or live in. A fact that is backed up by over one million visits to council managed museums every year, half of them passing through the doors of M Shed making it the most visited free attraction in the South West.

Working with partners and other museum leads from SS Great Britain and the Royal West of England Academy for example, our job is to ensure we support museums to continue their good work and inspire many generations to come.



Mapping Our Community Assets

We are aiming to get our city running better. This means tackling the immediate financial and social crises that present themselves, but not getting bound up in them. It means keeping a clear head to take the overview and the long view to ensure we are making best use of all the city’s collective resources.

To this end Asher Craig and I are launching a two pronged piece of work to map the present and plan the future, shape a distribution and role of community assets and set out a picture of the shape of Bristol’s Voluntary Community Sector (VCS).

Community Assets: Bristol City Council has an interactive map of assets in communities right across the city. You can have a look at the map here:

Please have a look at the map and think through how you think the network of assets could best be organised. It covers amenities such as community centres, GP surgeries, children’s centres, schools, faith groups, youth clubs etc. The challenge is to work with the city to collectively to make conscious decisions on what should be located where and how different services and groups could best interact.

We’ll run another process in parallel with this on the VCS. We want to work with the VCS to sketch what Bristol wants/needs the VCS to be in 10-15 years. We want to set out what the VCS needs to be in terms of skill set, size, geographical coverage, financial modelling. Once decided the city can ensure its commissioning and grant making process delivers that. At present we run commissioning and grant making decisions that are in and of themselves good, but don’t align to any overarching agreed plan for Bristol.

We want both processes completed by the end of January 2018 and they will form a core part of the One Bristol City Plan.