I was there to promote the city’s LEAP prospectus and the £1bn investment programme that would transform the way Bristol generates, distributes and uses energy. The components of the package include: heat distribution networks, renewable energy, smart efficient energy use and the “Bristol Battery and retrofitting the city’s buildings.
The successful delivery of LEAP is key both to our long term commitment to be a carbon neutral city by 2050, and our immediate commitment to tackle fuel poverty. Delivering LEAP would set a standard for cities around the world to aspire to. The good news for Bristol is that we already have over 60 expressions of interest from major and smaller investors. The deadline is Aug 31. The City Leap Prospectus and our short expression of interest form is on our energy service website.
I also talked with developers about our plans for the Western Harbour. Rather than simply replacing the old 1960s swing bridge and flyovers, we want to be able to redesign the space, build thousand of homes and make the waterfront accessible to people. This drew a lot of interest with developers recognizing the as yet untapped potential of this area with its views across Ashton Court and up the Avon Gorge. And I promoted our plans for a city mass transit system. Again, there was healthy interest in Bristol as a city that is setting out a programme of ambitious, realistic and cost effective series of city developments that will enable us to deliver the inclusive, sustainable development we have committed to.
While my administration is working on delivering for the city, I note that in contrast some politicians in the city and city region have been indulging in unpleasant politics. I wouldn’t normally pay this any mind, but with the Trump protests and the rise of populist dog-whistle politics, I do believe it needs to be called out.
A statement in one of Cllr Richard Eddy’s Bristol Post columns was followed by a letter from his fellow Conservative Jack Lopresti MP accusing me of “failing” to celebrate Armed Forces Day. Cllr Eddy launched the campaign accusing the council under my leadership of displaying “insulting and warped values… it does not bother to lift a finger when acknowledging the huge debt we owe our brave servicemen and women.” The “snub” he said was “inexcusable but, sadly, not surprising”.
Jack Lopresti came alongside demanding an explanation for the lack of recognition. The South Gloucestershire MP wrote “I think this an appalling situation that one of the UK’s greatest cities, for which you are mayor, has no armed forces day.”
Let me first be clear, the allegations are untrue. We held our flag raising at City Hall to celebrate the start of Armed Forces Week. The event was open to the public, attended by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Mayor and leader of the Bristol Conservative Group. Neither Mr Lopresti nor Cllr Eddy were there, but it was attended by armed forces personnel from across the region.
I talked with a number of service personnel about the role they could play supporting our efforts to help young people experience Outward Bound and what we could do to support people leaving the services. I am putting them in touch with an old school friend of mine who served in the Gloucester’s and today is a counsellor. He had approached me about supporting veterans in general and those who have ended up homeless, with mental health conditions or in prison in particular. I didn’t seek a headline out of it. I was simply proud to support our armed forces. We will continue to not merely celebrate their service but do our level best to provide the practical support services they need on departure.
But let’s be real. It doesn’t take much triangulation to understand the angles at play here: the interplay of patriotism, betrayal, foreigners, militarism, values and sexuality. People like me who have grown up with these tensions can sniff this stuff out for what it really is a mile off. It’s a high stakes play (risking exacerbating the conditions for social division) seeking an insignificant political win (a one day headline in the local papers). I would like to be able to say I am sure it was not meant that way, or that it was beneath both politicians. Unfortunately, Cllr Eddy has form when it comes to this kind of politics and I would not insult Mr Lopresti by suggesting that as an MP he wasn’t smart enough to know the full meaning (intended and received) of pushing this mischief into the current political climate.
In Cllr Eddy’s statement he pointed out that this “Labour council is always keen to promote foreign countries’ national days or sing the praises of causes such as Transgender and Non-Binary Awareness”. Ignoring the discrimination in his comments at least he’s technically correct. The Armed Forces flag raising ceremony, last weekend’s incredible Pride celebration and St Paul’s vibrant carnival the week before, shows how Bristol is a diverse city which celebrates all of its communities. I am committed to delivering the infrastructure and growth we need to make sure nobody is left behind, and shaping a political environment where we embrace and respect each other’s differences.
Let me finish this by making it about real politics rather than cheap shots based on misinformation. We need to recognise the sacrifice of our armed forces. But that can’t stop at political ceremonies. Homes to transition into; a properly resourced NHS providing physical and mental support for those injured; an inclusive economy retraining and jobs for those returning to civilian life; schools for their children with the resources to support their development but also support them while parents are away on service. That’s what I’m focusing on, and where those who care should focus, rather than using the welfare of service personal as political ammunition.
Jack Lopresti’s open letter to me, and my reply, are both available here: