Anti-Bullying Campaign

Today, I had the pleasure of visiting Bridge Learning Campus to help them launch their anti-bullying campaign for the new school year. 

Many people will know what it feels like to be bullied and have first-hand experience of the stress and anxiety it can cause.

When we think of bullying we often think of the more extreme cases, but in reality the experience can fall anywhere on a wide spectrum of negative interactions.

With mental health a growing issue for many young people, it is so important that our schools have effective strategies in place to tackle this issue. I was therefore pleased to be helping Bridge Learning Campus launch their new policy, which takes a zero-tolerance approach to bullying.

Fundamentally this is about treating others as you’d like to be treated yourself and that means respecting fellow students and teachers.

Thank you to all the staff and students at Bridge Learning Campus who were so welcoming today and for their passion and commitment to tackling bullying in school. 


Below, you can view the video made by students and teachers at BLC which outlines the campaign and their pledges to each other to be kind to one another, treat each other with respect and have the courage not to be a bystander. 

Bricks and Mortar

It’s been a busy few weeks for housing in Bristol. This week has already had a lot going on.

On Monday it was the traditional hard hat and high viz on site photo-opp. My cabinet lead for Homes (Paul Smith) and I were at Blackberry Hill where 346 homes are being built. 100 affordable, 40% of sales to first time buyers. That’s made all the more remarkable by the fact that when planning permission was originally applied for, there were no affordable homes included.

On Tuesday, United Housing’s Oona Goldsworthy and I were interviewed by BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Mark Easton for a Ten O’Clock News item. The item focussed on how inflated land values were inhibiting the delivery of affordable homes, something we are highlighting to Government though the Core Cities group.

On Wednesday I appeared on BBC2’s Politics Live alongside Housing Minister Kit Malthouse MP. During the show he accepted my invitation to attend a Core Cities leaders meeting to get clarity on what we need from government to enable us to deliver affordable homes.

From there I went straight to the National Housing Federation Housing Summit to speak on a panel on the challenge of “Regeneration or Gentrification?” Leaders and developers across the country are looking for the solution to the challenge how to deliver regeneration projects in a way that benefits local people rather than resulting in them being swept out.

And around all this we continued to support the launch of the Bristol Housing Festival being driven by Jeremy Sweetland, the Shaftesbury Partnership, Homes England and ourselves. The festival will turn Bristol into a showcase of the latest innovation in housing building and financing.

All this shows just how much our housing reputation has been transformed. Far from being an authority perceived as a place that didn’t get homes built, we are now being cited as the place to watch. It’s being repeated by city partners and developers. It was mentioned repeatedly at the National Housing Federation Housing Summit. In an article published in the Bristol Post in July, the Chair of Homes England wrote of his new confidence in Bristol as a city with whom he could “do business”.

We committed to providing homes for people as the key policy intervention. We have rebuilt the council team and we are delivering and that is reflected in the stories being told about us.


Further news coverage about housing in Bristol from the past few weeks:

Aug 16 – ‘We are getting stuff done’ to solve the housing crisis says Mayor Marvin Rees as families move into affordable development
The Mayor of Bristol told Bristol Live: ‘We are getting stuff done’ as he took another step in tackling the city’s housing crisis yesterday.

Aug 28 – Bristol City Council set to create housing company
Bristol City Council looks set to create a new housing company to increase the number of homes built in the city.

Sept 6 – How Bristol City Council is going to create 53 new council houses in Bristol
A £24million handshake has kick-started Bristol City Council’s first foray into the private housing market.

Sept 17 – Incredible drone footage shows new development of 256 homes in Wapping Wharf
Construction work to create more than 250 new homes in Wapping Wharf is now underway.

Sept 17 – Wapping Wharf continues to grow

The harbourside skyline will soon have a new addition, with construction work now well underway to build more than 250 new homes in the second phase of Wapping Wharf.

Sept 17 – Work underway on second stage of Wapping Wharf in Bristol

Sept 17 – Changing the narrative around housing in Bristol with a bold, new vision
Bristol is about to embark on a five-year voyage, pioneering ways to overcome the UK’s housing crisis.

 Sept 18 – Developers ‘have to deliver affordable’ homes to help us solve the housing crisis
Developers eyeing the house-building boom in Bristol will only be able to get new homes built if they can deliver affordable housing at the same time.

Arena Cabinet Speech

This was my speech to Cabinet on Tuesday, September 4th, ahead of the decision on the Arena.

The Arena has been a point of interest for many years in the city, not just in the last two years. The council first looked at a plan for an arena back in the early 1990s and a number of administrations – including the Lib Dems and my predecessor – failed to get it done. They failed because none of them got to grips with the financial challenges that an arena posed.

An arena is not an easy development to make money from if you’re the owner. That’s exactly why the private sector has traditionally stayed away from them and many are built with public funding. The model for the Temple Island Arena has been exactly that. And as is often the reality with politicians, nobody has looked too closely at the spend of council tax-payers’ money, and costs and risks have always been more than politicians were ready to admit.

It’s interesting that the most noise and the most outspoken critics are those that have failed and of course, my political opponents who just see an opportunity.

The Lib Dems made no progress whatsoever during their administration, but now claim an arena has a crucial impact for the city. Well, then why didn’t you build it – are you better at opposition noise than you were at delivering for Bristol?

The Green Group care so little about public money they carried a motion to build the arena regardless of the cost and with no understanding of the risks attached to spending council tax-payers’ money. These are the last people to be trusted with public money and even today, they continue to ask the wrong question and see a binary choice around the location of an arena, still not understanding the primary questions around affordability and impact on the city’s jobs and economic output.

And the Green group is so out of step with Green Party ambitions, we can only conclude they are letting down their own supporters. So determined are they to use the arena to score political points and boost their own Mayoral campaign, they have not confronted the enormous carbon output of an arena, far in excess of any other type of comparable build. They have abandoned the ‘small is beautiful’ model that so many of their supporters champion, in the name of political gain. They have just demanded and stamped their feet for the £150 million to be spent, when we would have expected them to re-direct the investment to opportunities to drive sustainability, especially when we have introduced the leap prospectus – a once in a lifetime opportunity to reinvent the city’s relationship with energy through £1bn investment. We haven’t seen or heard anything from them on that. And they have ignored the impact on air pollution instead holding onto an incredible optimism in people’s willingness to leave their cars and use public transport. I have no idea what’s going on with the Green group.

The Lib Dems and the Greens just lack understanding, and have demonstrated their inability to lead or to be trusted with big decisions or with council tax-payers’ money.

The Conservatives on the other hand know better, and they have simply jumped on the bandwagon of political opportunism – and they know they have. Privately, I suspect a number of the Conservative group agree with me. But they love a public argument and they won’t miss the chance to create noise that may help their own political futures. Where they have lost sight of their own core values though, is simply backing a public sector spend project. I have never heard a Tory advocate public intervention over the free market, particularly where the market is offering a solution.

This Conservative group too, in the name of opportunism, are letting their supporters down. If this isn’t simple political opportunism, then they too have proved themselves unfit to represent the taxpayers of Bristol. This fits with the fact that the black hole of finance we were left with was as a result of the mess overseen by a Conservative Cabinet Lead for Finance.

And then there’s my predecessor, George Ferguson, who is ‘fighting to the death’ (his words) to save his greatest ever vanity project. His claim that he ‘wishes he had signed the agreement’ would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. I don’t know if George didn’t know what was actually going on or if he has just caught the fake-news bug, but there was no agreement to sign. The pre-construction phase was up and running and by the time I took office, the cost of building an arena was £75 million more than his agreed budget. Even today, when I have forced the price down, we remain £30 million over the budget.

And we have huge risk. We share the risk of building costs going up and we share that risk with Buckingham Group, an organisation who have been good partners and who continue to work with us and handle themselves with dignity and professionalism. These are the qualities mayors all over the world are looking for in partners.

What we have to confront is there are very difficult financial consequences and risks for each option. We have to ask ourselves: what is our attitude to risk? Going forward with Temple Island arena means we have all the risk of a circular relationship between the loan to build the arena and the risk of maintaining an operator and rents.


We take out £150 million of debt to build an arena, which we hand over to an operator to hopefully make a profit. From that profit, they pay us rent. We depend on that rent to make our debt repayments. If at any point that rent payment disappears, the only thing solid in that relationship is the physical arena and the ongoing debt repayments we would have to make. There’s a lot of risk in music venues: they are not great at making money. And as we are entering into a period of unprecedented uncertainty – a no-deal Brexit, ongoing austerity, and a retail crisis challenge to jobs. Would you bet your pension fund on that circular relationship remaining in place for the next 25 to 35 years? It’s not just about the location of the arena, it’s about what financial relationship we are taking the city into for the next few decades.

Of course we have looked at how we could get an arena built with private money, on Temple island or elsewhere. Of course, a private sector arena, transferring all the risk to the private sector and away from the tax payer in the name of protecting public services, is the best course of action.

And so much for the smears and insults; they simply don’t stack up. They say more about those calling the smears, than they do about me or anyone at Bristol City Council. Allegations that we are doing anyone a favour is ridiculous. Any private sector organisation who wants to invest £100million of their own money and take all the risk on an at-best marginal proposition is welcome but rather than insult them, we should applaud anyone ready to give it a go. And we will fully test the market, if we don’t proceed with the arena today.

And so to the alternative uses.

Those who choose to rubbish the KPMG report do so for political gain or to make weak argument. KPMG used all the respected industry standards to come to a conclusion and they did so independently. Anyone who has actually read the report will see the stark and powerful conclusions that are the only take-away’s from that report. I commissioned that report because it was obvious that to build the arena was going to be far more expensive and risky than was ever made clear.

So I needed to understand, for the good of the city, how much impact the arena would have on jobs and the economy. Having an additional cultural offer is of course welcome but it has to make sense for the city. Jobs and affordable housing are the key challenges for the city so I was keen to have a clear explanation of how the arena impacted on these aims. As for cultural impact, employment is cultural impact, homes is cultural impact, not just events.

The report clearly told me that an alternative use was far better. The arena brought fewer jobs, and most jobs in arenas around the country are temporary and minimum wage. A mixed-use site, including a conference centre, would blow away the arena for jobs and create a stronger tax base and economic output for the city.

Jobs and affordable homes are the key values for the delivery of my administration. I will prioritise them.

Looking at the facts, the greater impact on jobs and the city economy – more than 3x as many in a mixed use development and £500 million more economic output, it is obvious where the facts lead us. The only questions that matter are the best use of council tax payers money and the best use of Temple Island land, jobs and the long term stability of the city’s economy and the council’s finances.

My Speech to Extraordinary Full Council on the Arena

The motion we are debating is very simple. It asks one question: where is our preferred location for an arena? I have been on the record on that question on several occasions, I have always said the city centre would be the best location.

So, let me say it again tonight and make it clear. I support this motion.

Now let’s deal with the real questions.

  1. The first question has to be: do we need an arena?
  2. The second needs to be: can we afford it?
  3. The third is: where should we build it?
  4. And then: what is the best use of that land?

Sadly, few in the opposition parties have understood the real questions, put them in the right order or grappled with the evidence.  They focused on rubbishing the detailed independent report because they didn’t like it. But running away from the evidence and making grandiose statements without regard to the consequences is a luxury you can afford in opposition, it’s not one you can afford in power.

Let’s look at those questions.

Question 1 –“Do we need an arena”

“maybe” is the best answer for that.  It’s an addition to the city’s cultural offer and we haven’t got one; all previous administrations have failed to deliver one, because they couldn’t manage the cost.

That runs into Question 2 – “can we afford the current option”

Despite us changing contractors and driving the price down to a position that for the first time is an affordable option, the price is still at least £30 million over budget. This means borrowing £150m against council tax payer’s money at risk. The hard answer is “No”.

Half the risk of any building cost increase is with the council taxpayers, the other half is with the constructor. Once it is built, all of the future risk is with the tax payers.  If the arena was not successful and we know there are substantial expert reservations about the size of the arena and its potential reach, then we would be stuck with a £150 million pound of debt for the council tax payers of Bristol and a derelict building in the Temple Quarter. The operator, a private sector company, despite their public comments share no risk.  They have a simple position of paying rent and taking out profit.

On question 3, “where should we build it?”

The decision to use Temple Island failed to look at options, failed to control cost or state a top price, failed to address the viability of the arena, failed to put a clear criteria for success in place. That’s why I say I inherited a vanity project – it is a vanity project. We’re in the business of serving a major UK city, not our vanity. And that is especially so when you are spending public money.

And then finally, we come to the real question.  “What is the best use of Temple Island?”

We can only use it once. We get one shot to make sure this piece of land in the middle of the city works best for all the citizens of Bristol. We have a criteria for a successful city: decent jobs, affordable homes, an inclusive economy, financial competence in the local authority and sustainable public services and sustainability.

Everybody take a deep breath – the success of our city does not stand or fall on this single entertainment venue.

If a mixed use site in the east city centre will offer substantially more sustainable jobs for the city, particularly in the south and east, and would bring more affordable homes and people to the city centre – and a far greater economic boost – then we have to consider it.

All other things being equal the city centre would be the best place for an Arena.

At time of high jeopardy and uncertainty your appetite for risk should reduce. In times of high certainty and low jeopardy your appetite for risk goes up. Arenas are risky in of themselves. The margins on this project are small – there is not much room for manoeuvre. We’re being warned that the arena is too small to attract major events.

On top of that we are in time of unprecedented uncertainty. We’re coming up to a no deal Brexit. Ongoing austerity is pushing local authorities to the wall. We’ve seen Northampton go down and now, our near neighbours, Taunton Council, announcing financial difficulties.We don’t know what our financial settlement will be beyond 2020. We have a retail crisis threatening jobs and the city centre, face a challenge to jobs from automation, and the biggest challenge to jobs in Bristol is the reduction in the number of jobs in those sectors that have traditionally employed people in our poorest communities.

But this simple motion ignores the complexity of the environment we are operating in..

I am proud to stand alongside Bristol’s trade union and business leaders who support my focus on jobs and homes, which a number of them say would best be delivered by the alternative development on Temple Island.

So don’t let the organised political opposition in this chamber fool anyone into believing this represents the city view.

Along with Bristol’s business leaders and chamber of commerce, along with the trade unions and representatives of Bristol working people, the alternative site has secured the support of:

  • representatives of Bristol RIBA, the architect’s organisation,
  • representatives of VOSCUR, supporting Bristol’s voluntary sector
  • The Bristol Initiative,
  • Destination Bristol, representing Bristol’s tourism industry,
  • Homes England, the govt agency whose job it is to ensure we build homes,
  • Senior Tourism professionals,
  • Bristol branch of the National Taxi Drivers Association
  • Strong support from the BME community including many who play prominent roles in the city and in Bristol’s economy, including significant businesses in Easton and Lawrence Hill
  • the Pakistan Association of Bristol and several faith groups.
  • And, with his supportive tweet over the weekend for our jobs and homes plan, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party.
  • And I need to add that many leading voices in the BME community have expressed their concern about the way many have presented the argument about “foreign” companies.

So don’t be fooled by the shouting voices; this Labour administration values homes, decent jobs and a vibrant inclusive economy above everything else, and that will drive the decision.

£150 million of council taxpayers money building an arena at risk or no spend of council tax payers money on any venue or conference centre and used only to trigger transformative projects that support our city aims, better infrastructure, more homes, a mass transit system and more.

If we hold our nerve, we can use council tax payer’s money on projects that benefit all residents and let the private sector build a conference centre and an arena.

I support the motion because of its simplicity but it shows that opposition councillors have consistently failed to understand the decision we have to make. Just because the best place for the arena is temple island, it doesn’t follow that the best use of Temple Island is an arena.

I will make the right decision for the future of Bristol, and I will respect tax payer’s money as real money, not monopoly money.

Using an evidence base and facts rather than political opportunism, the decision will deliver the best outcomes for the whole of Bristol.

Auntie Establishment

Yesterday (Thursday 23 August) the leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech which outlined ambitious plans for the media, and how that might look in a new, more digitally-focused, environment.

Aside from the ideas about the responsibilities of ‘tech-giants’ I was particularly interested in the suggestions for a more democratic, representative and independent BBC. I used to work for the BBC as a broadcast journalist. I joined because I am a believer in the importance of having a quality and representative media for the functioning of our democracy. And I am tuned into the importance of the BBC institution as a standard bearer for the quality the country needs, not because it always achieves it, but because it openly aspires to it and is publically accountable.

Diversity in the media is really important – not just making sure that people are represented, but making sure that the diversity of worldview and thought they bring is brought to bear in choosing which stories are told, what questions are asked and which voices are sought out and heard. At present, the answers to these critical questions are determined by a narrow sliver of our society which means we get the world according to them. Just as in the political sphere, a media that lacks diversity will be unable to fully understand, connect with or serve the people. And so I support the call to challenge the BBC to lead the way in shaping out media to be representative of our diversity.

It’s a timely call from a Bristol perspective. From class, to ethnicity to gender, our administration embodies diversity in political leadership in a way the city hasn’t experienced before. And we have been working with Bristol’s media companies to help them develop a plan to generate, recruit from and then retain and promote a more diverse workforce. From the City Leadership Programme to Stepping Up to the City Leadership Challenge we have established vehicles through which talent can develop and access opportunity.

For our nation’s media sector, diversity isn’t only accessed through gender, race, class and other protected characteristics. The sector must also include regional voices outside of the traditionally London focused media bubble. So I was pleased that Jeremy expressed his support for Channel 4 re-locating an HQ and hubs outside of London, noting the effect this will have towards ‘rebalancing Britain’. Bristol’s media sector, working with the council and regional partners, is currently bidding for one of C4’s new Creative Hubs, and we believe that Bristol would be a natural fit.

Giving charitable status to some local, investigative and public interest journalism is also an important proposal. Local journalism is a key part of strong local democracy. Community radio stations such as Ujima FM and BCFM have been on the forefront which schemes such as Citizen Journalists, stepping up where they have felt the mainstream media outlets have failed. However, many have recognised the intense pressures put on print media because of the popularity of social media. It is not surprising to see journalists driven toward sensationalist headlines focussed on stoking and then reporting controversy, conflict and division at the expense of level-headedness, insight and accuracy. ‘Click-bait’ headlines and articles, as they are called, are in danger of becoming the norm in response to an advertisement sales drive market. This deterioration of our media is disappointing – especially at a time we need a robust journalism that has the credibility to be able to challenge the troubling rise of extremist populism. 

Given the loss of trust in much of our traditional media, there may be a long way to go before we build a media which works for the many and not the few. However it is good to see its importance acknowledged and to see new ideas about how to deliver an inclusive and diverse media.  

GCSEs – A Result for Bristol

Today is GCSE results day, and many young people across Bristol will be receiving their results. Over 3000 students took their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams, typically taken at the end of secondary school.

This year marks the first year of a new system of marking exams. Instead of letter grades (A*-U) exams are now graded with numbers 9-1.


In addition to this new grading system, the curriculum has changed to give students more content to learn, and tougher questions – only 4% of papers were awarded 9, the top grade. Yet despite the challenges presented by the new structure of GCSE exams, provisional results suggest that 61.8% of students in Bristol have achieved grade 4 and above in English and Maths, securing a passing C-grade equivalent. This is a rise in the proportion of students achieving pass-rates in exams compared to last year. These results follow on from our excellent A-level results last week, and reflect the hard work of local young people and the commitment of my administration to supporting local education.

In Bristol, our Learning City Partnership is working to ensure all young people in Bristol have access to a good education and that no student is left behind. Our priorities are to improve children’s literacy, outcomes for children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND), increasing attendance and participation in education, as well as improving pathways for young people into further/higher education and employment. I am committed to addressing and narrowing the attainment gap in our city to promote the best for our young people.

I hope that those young people receiving exam results achieved the grades they wanted. To those of you who are disappointed, don’t give up! I myself received 5 C’s and a D, but through hard work and determination I was able to eventually go on to study at university and eventually become Mayor! No matter your results, you can still do well in the future because there are many different options available to young people. You may wish to start a vocational course or continue to study towards A-Levels, while others may step into the working world.

With so much change in the exam system this year, our students have had to overcome many trials to succeed. Congratulations to those of you collecting results; I wish you all the best with whatever you plan to do next.

Capturing the Soul of the City

Vanessa Kisuule HeadshotToday’s guest blog comes from Bristol City Poet, Vanessa Kisuule.

Being Bristol City Poet has been a unique and unanticipated journey – one that doesn’t have a clear blueprint. I have had many ideas as to what being City Poet means and how I want to represent Bristol – many of these ideas have grown, evolved or even changed I am learning more about this interesting city and its inhabitants than I ever did as a citizen because I seek out the people I don’t normally encounter and the streets I don’t usually walk down. I try to let this city and its myriad populace guide me and show me the poetry it harbours. The results have been various, weird and wonderful.

I regularly post pictures of interesting things I spot around Bristol accompanied by short poems on my Twitter. It forces me to be more attentive to my surroundings and I have developed a new appreciation for things that would never otherwise catch my eye. The witty scrawls of graffiti on waste bins, the bittersweet image of a former independent grocers store gutted and empty on St Michael’s Hill, and the scenes of people sat enjoying this year’s unlikely heatwave provided me with plenty of inspiration. I hope this encourages other people to appreciate the small beauty and poignancy in everyday life – we often make the mistake of thinking moments or landscapes must be grand to be remarkable, but the small things, that are all too easy to miss, consistently tell the most compelling stories.

I have put a call out on the Festival of Ideas website. There’s an eclectic mix of requests which expose me to the quirks of Bristol’s history – I am currently finishing a poem about the swimming baths at Jacob Wells. People have also been sending their own poems for me to read and I select the best ones to publish on the Festival of Ideas website. I’m glad that so many people have shared their own words – I am as interested in inspiring others to write poems as I am in writing my own.

I’ve tried to get as varied a perception of Bristol as possible through all manner of random situations: I’ve attended poetry readings for the elderly at Henbury Library, got into passionate arguments about gentrification with the owner of a Middle Eastern restaurant (Baba Ganoush on St Nicholas Road – best falafel in Bristol, hands down). I’ve had coffee with the organisers of St Paul’s Carnival to learn about its history and their hopes for its future. I’ve even joined a local drawing group – their members are a refreshing mix of old and young, professional and amateur, able-bodied and differently-abled. Even Big Jeff is in their ranks!

To feel part of Bristol is to know your neighbours, to wander through the streets and feel both a sense of familiarity and infinite discovery. It’s the wonder of always encountering new people but also knowing the name of the barmaid at your local. Two years initially seemed like a long stretch of time, but I now see that there is so much to capture – even a whole lifetime could not cover all there is to say about this city. I will do all I can in the precious two years I’ve been gifted and will carry all the stories Bristol has offered me for the rest of my days.

If you are passionate about Bristol and have poetry you’d like to share, poetry you’d like to request or you’d like to book me for a potential workshop or commission, do get in contact at this email address: I cannot do this role without the contribution of all the people that live here and love this city. Thanks for reading, and if you see me out and about don’t be afraid to say hi!

Housing Week

paul smithToday’s guest blog on housing comes from my Cabinet Lead for Housing, Paul Smith.

The week beginning August 13th was ironically flagged as “housing week” as the oft delayed Social Housing Green paper was being trailed for release. The Secretary of State James Brokenshire had a major article in the Sunday Times headed “My dark times with cancer made me want to wipe out rough sleeping”.

On Monday it was the Rough Sleeping Strategy which emerged. The strategy had been co-produced with national homeless charities and so its core proposals were sound. These included integration of homelessness, mental health and addiction services. The timescale to end rough sleeping by 2027 lacked any real sense of ambition or urgency.

Unfortunately, there were two rather enormous elephants in the room, which the government could not acknowledge because do to so would be to admit that it was the government which had caused the problem it was so keen to solve. The evidence is clear and was repeated on Monday by the charities that helped pen the strategy: we need more social housing and a reversal of reforms to housing benefit. Street and family homelessness started to rise dramatically when the coalition welfare changes started in 2012. In Bristol, recorded street homelessness in now ten times what it was in 2010. The decision in 2010 to stop government funding for social housing was another blow; last year in the whole of England only 5,000 new social homes were built.

The finances of the strategy unravelled by lunch-time. What was previously announced as £100m of new money soon became £50m of new money, and later it was revealed that this extra £50m was reallocated from other (unspecified) housing budgets. Of course, if there is any additional money we can access in Bristol, we will be putting forward bids.

On Tuesday came the Social Housing Green Paper, without any new money for social housing. The big idea seemed to be social housing league-tables and bringing back a regulator for the sector, plus lots of small common-sense changes which make little or no difference to the housing crisis. What we really need in Bristol is an abolition of the right to buy, but instead we received a re-announced consultation on relaxing the spending rules for right to buy money (which is almost deliberately difficult so that the money can go back to the government). Also re-announced was the ability of councils to bid for additional borrowing to build council housing. On Monday I discussed Bristol’s bid with officers who would initially request an additional £25m to double the rate of council house building in Bristol. The council’s scrutiny panel then met to work through the details of the proposals for a local housing company, which will be discussed at September’s cabinet meeting.


On Thursday we had a welcome break from strategies and policies and Marvin and I had an opportunity to wear our hi-viz and hard hats. The plan for 75 new homes at Marksbury Road (my old college) was approved in 2012, but it initially offered no affordable homes. In the 2017 budget the Council approved the Mayor’s proposal for a £57m housing association grant fund. With that fund we have been helping buy additional rented homes on projects around the city or to help housing associations to buy sites in competition with private developers. At Marksbury Road that has provided 24 affordable rented houses and flats, plus it has also levered funding from Homes England to fund 12 shared ownership homes.


For me it has been a housing week, but from the government I’m afraid it’s been housing weak.

Arena: A good use of your money?

When I took office in May 2016, I was surprised to learn that there was no agreement anywhere near ready to sign to build an arena. Also, the first figures I was ever shown, two years ago, meant the real total cost of the entire arena development was close to £190 million. So let’s put headlines, sensationalism and speculation aside and talk evidence and facts.

I was faced with spending your money on an arena that would be one of the most expensive in the UK. I made the difficult decision to pause and review the whole project and commission value for money assessments. What has become clear is that:

  • the proposed Temple Island arena is the most expensive build in the UK and all the money has to be borrowed, creating substantial public debt for the city,
  • an alternative mixed use development including a conference centre on Temple Island would offer up three times as many jobs and over twice the economic return for the city,
  • the proposed Temple Island arena design is potentially not fit for purpose because at 10,000 seats it is considered too small for world-class acts.

I was not prepared to simply plough ahead, spending council taxpayer’s money without addressing all of these difficult issues.

1.  Follow the Money: 

My own life experiences mean I know how hard it can be for many people to find the money for their Council Tax when you also have to balance putting food on the table and money on the electric key.

I am determined that every penny of the Council’s income is spent improving the city for the long term. I am not prepared to treat your money like Monopoly money and borrow hundreds of millions of pounds like it doesn’t matter.

Through strong management and holding our nerve, we have now driven the arena price down to around £135 million. For the first time, the arena is now deliverable, thanks only to the efforts of my team and this city leadership – but that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Now we have genuine options both on the arena and on the use of Temple Island. Rather than being locked onto a single option we have the opportunity to consider the best combination of decisions for Bristol.

2. Going to Market

Arenas have been built around the world with various different financial models. Where arenas and venues are built with public money, it is not because cities want to make a profit out of them, it’s because there is no private sector organisation who want to build one. So, at risk, councils invest millions to replace what the market cannot deliver. Working with the University to regenerate the Cattle Market Road site and part of the Temple Island site has proven the impact we can bring to the city with private sector partners, providing the catalytic economic boost the arena was initially set out to achieve.

For Bristol, the Temple Island arena means borrowing at least £135 million to build it, using Council Tax payer’s money to pay it back with interest and never seeing a real commercial return on that investment.

The questions we must ask are: how important is an arena to Bristol? Can we get it built with someone else’s money? And if we can, how best should we use the freed up money?

Although the market hasn’t been fully tested, we know at least one private sector organisation is prepared to take the risk, invest £100 million of their own money and spend more to get the project ready, take it through the planning processes and get it built. Do we know if there are others and are there investors who would also want to share the risk to build an arena? At a fraction of the cost to the city, of course we must consider these options.

3. Yesterday’s Plan

The plan to build an arena in Bristol has been knocking around in one form or another since the early 1990s. The current proposed Temple Island arena gives us a 10,000 seat venue, with potential for 2,000 standing customers, for some sell out events.

The reality is the Temple Island arena, with its 10,000 seats, is probably already a decade out of date. Arenas built ten years ago are becoming obsolete as the bigger ones are drawing the bigger performers. If we want to genuinely be ‘on the circuit’ we need to compete with the O2 arena and Manchester. Other cities are already looking at extensions and re-builds to their arenas, just to keep up.

Some want to downscale their ambitions with smaller events and smaller crowds but I want to reach for the stars.

Evidence based decisions

Homes England, incoming chair of Bristol RIBA, the Universities, members of the business community and many others support our use of evidence to make an informed decision but are being drowned out by the shouting voices that attract media interest.

Shouts, personal attacks and the loudest voices won’t influence me and shouldn’t influence any decision. The decision must be evidence-led and in the best interests of this city and its residents. When someone makes an offer to build an arena at a fraction of the cost to the Council Tax payer, that must be taken into account too.

Tough decisions aren’t easy business. Balancing the budget so services don’t collapse, protecting our children’s centres and our libraries, keeping the Council Tax reduction scheme for the poorest households and working with city partners to build an inclusive economy has not been easy in the face of austerity, but my cabinet and I have delivered on it. Many of those decisions have been made in the face of loud and often personal criticism.

Leadership is about doing the right thing for the people of Bristol and that sometimes means not making the easy decision. I took a closer look at the real, hard evidence – I was prepared to say ‘not at any cost’.

It’s just possible, if we play our cards right and keep holding our nerve, we could get a conference centre, an arena, more homes and a huge economic boost for Bristol whilst only spending a fraction of your hard earned money. That needs looking at in the round and with open eyes as to any risks.

A decision on the future of the land at Temple Island will be made at a public cabinet meeting on September 4th. It needs to be the right decision for the city.

Up, Up and Away!

Over the weekend, despite the unfortunate weather, balloons once again took to the skies to float above Bristol as the Balloon Fiesta returned to the city.

Balloons Harbour

Throughout the year, Bristol hosts all kinds of fantastic events, but many of our most famous events take place during the summer. In just the past few weeks we have had St Pauls Carnival, Pride, the Harbour Festival, and Upfest. But when people think of Bristol, they often think of the iconic balloons which feature on countless mugs, shirts, and tea towels across the world.

Every year, the Balloon Fiesta attracts tens of thousands of tourists to Ashton Court from across the country and around the world. The free event has truly become a staple of our summer events calendar and the weekend was its 40th anniversary year. Although it is Europe’s largest gathering of hot air balloons, the accompanying fairground offered its own entertainment for visitors. While weather for most of the weekend sadly wasn’t suitable for flying, the night glows and even the balloons themselves drew attention – to celebrate the 40 years of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, 40 special shaped-balloons from over the years returned to Bristol, including Bertie Bassett, the Superbike, and Rupert the Bear.

The Bristol Balloon Fiesta is great for summer entertainment, but it’s also great for Bristol’s economy. In 2017, 500,000 visitors travelled to Bristol for the Fiesta, with 48% of people travelling 50 miles or further. According to the Balloon Fiesta’s 2017 Impact Report, for every £1 spent at the Fiesta, an additional £25 is spent across the local economy, which in total brings about £15 million of net economic benefit to the city which would not have otherwise been spent. Research by Destination Bristol values our entire calendar of world class events as being worth £1.3 billion in 2016, and the tourism industry generates 29,000 jobs for the local area. This is clearly of huge benefit for the people of Bristol. Whether its buying food from local traders, or staying in hotels, tourists are spending their money in Bristol, and this is something I am keen to encourage.

Balloons from Plimsole

Bristol is a lively and dynamic city with a reputation for unique opportunities you simply can’t find anywhere else. Seeing so many visitors choosing to come to Bristol makes me proud of the city we live in. Our annual calendar continues to deliver the world-class events Bristolians love and are rightly proud of, while also giving domestic and overseas visitors a glimpse of the great culture that thrives and continues to grow in Bristol.

Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to contribute to this year’s Fiesta, especially the Ashton Court Estate team and the local emergency services. We are indebted to the Board of Trustees and planning of the Organising Committee, namely Don Cameron, Muir Moffat, Joanna Case, Chris Allcock, Clive Bailey, Peter Mossman, Phil Dunnington, Sue Atkinson, Mike Wadsworth, Robert Barnes, Jane Oakland, Emma Custance Baker, Pete Dalby, Ian Martin, and Phil McCheyne, without whom this event would not have been possible. To all who are involved in the local tourism sector, thank you for your part in making Bristol so attractive.

Whether you watched the balloons from Ashton Court or from a window in your own home out of the rain, I hope you were able to enjoy the Balloon Fiesta. Our summer festivities attract tourists from around the world, and also help to make Bristol the vibrant city I am proud to continue working for.