Bristol’s Big Tent: a festival of debate

I’m delighted to welcome Radix Big Tent to Bristol this June. I want as many people as possible to attend this ideas festival where subjects debated will include inclusive growth, the impacts of new media and culture, and better public services.

It’s the first time Big Tent has been held in a Core City and what better place than Bristol? Big Tent is a festival like no other, where audiences are expected to challenge and national politicians can escape the Westminster bubble to hear what people think about some of the UK’s biggest policy challenges.

A big challenge for Bristol and the rest of the UK’s Core Cities is becoming carbon neutral. Cities are at the heart of the Net Zero agenda. They are where more and more people live – the Core Cities are home to 20 million people – and where the innovation exists through universities and businesses to bring new solutions to some of our toughest challenges. Cities are leading the way when it comes to climate, where local authorities understand the contexts in which they’re operating and can be more agile and efficient than national government, particularly around issues like insulation and heat pumps.

But decarbonising our growing cities will come at a huge cost. Building the green infrastructure we need, for example electric vehicle charging points or district heat networks, will cost billions, far beyond the capacity of either the local or national state.

That’s why Core Cities UK is sponsoring a session at Big Tent with national and local leaders on who should pay the final bill and why we cannot rely on outdated models of grant funding or private sector largesse.

The UK Cities Climate Investment Commission (UKCCIC) of which Core Cities UK is a founder member, brings a different approach to this question. It looks at ways we can bring together private and public finance to help meet costs that we expect to rise to over £200 billion. It will map out a pipeline of possible projects, for example large scale battery/solar projects or improved public transport/cycle networks, that have private investment potential.

With investment comes risk, so we have developed a concept of blended finance to drive investment across five different areas in cities. Investment from the smaller scale projects will then be re-invested into bigger ones.

The UKCCIC uses the concept of place as a starting point. There is a tendency among policy makers to think about tackling climate change in technological silos. The Commission puts forward a new approach: that we need to join our interventions up at the level of place to make sure they work together so that no neighbourhood is left behind.

For example, a residential street could be the subject of several projects, all designed to cut  carbon emissions, from roof cladding to air source heat pumps. It will minimise disruption and reduce cost if we can do all of these at a local level at around the same time. If we can scale this up, making an attractive proposition for investors, then we may even remove the need for households to pay up front, a key barrier to action right now.

The UKCCIC model offers a refreshingly different take on an issue all cities are grappling with. We think it has tremendous potential and colleagues from the commission are looking forward to sharing it with the audience at Radix Big Tent 2022 in Queen Square this June. 

Big Tent Ideas Festival is coming to Bristol this Saturday 11 June at Queen Square. You can see the full programme and buy your tickets here.