Category Archives: Connectivity and Transport

A harbour for the whole of Bristol

The Western Harbour from above, with fields on the other side of the River Avon, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Cumberland Basin Road network.

Tides of history

For many of the people that enjoy walking around Bristol’s harbour, between solid redbrick structures and lapping water, it seems permanent. But in fact, the tides of history continuously change and rearrange this place and people as it responds to the needs and hopes of our city.

The edge of the Western Harbour, looking across the water, through the lock towards the river Avon.

The most significant change might have been the engineering works to create the New Cut and Feeder Canal over two hundred years ago. The SS Great Britain now reminds us of the Victorian ambition and scale that followed these constructions.

These physical changes have coincided with other changes in demographics and uses. The slum clearances of Bristol communities in the early 20th century scattered dockers and their communities across the city into new council estates, while regeneration and redevelopment in the 1980s and 1990s eventually saw a gentrification of the area. 

Renewed engagement about our harbour

Given this heritage and history, it is clear the harbour belongs to the whole city.  That is why, as part of our renewed engagement on the Western Harbour project, we will make sure as many people, from right across Bristol speak into the future of the area as part of our ambition to make the harbour an inclusive place where people and families visit from the very fringes of the city.

We’re trying a creative approach to this engagement, with a variety of ways for people to share their thoughts. In-person and online workshops, which are open to the community in and around Western Harbour at Riverside Garden Centre, as well as Lawrence Weston, Easton, and Knowle, are designed to draw out stories of the area and establish what the harbour means to people.

Local Creative Ambassadors, and City Poet Caleb Parkin, will connect Bristol’s talent in photography, film, illustration, and poetry with local people, to help better understand the character of the area and bring ideas to life. There is an audio walking tour that gives an insight into the changing history of the area. The Harbour Hopes website and Instagram page have been created so you can follow and share your own hopes for the harbour using the hashtag #HarbourHopes.  

We’re right at the start of this process, no designs have been decided and there will be plenty more opportunities to have your say in 2022. This engagement is about getting a sense of people’s thoughts and aspirations, before developing a masterplan which will include formal consultation and the wider planning process too.

Why Western Harbour matters

Western Harbour is a huge opportunity for the city because it gives us the space to deliver:

  • Much needed homes – a thriving, mixed community with variety of tenures, including affordable homes.
  • Sympathetic flood prevention engineering – future-proofing the location and wider area.
  • City Centre revitalisation – bringing families (and customers) to the city centre and North Street at a time our high streets are struggling.
  • A sustainable, climate friendly development, inside a high active travel area – connecting people to jobs and leisure, enabling people to live without a reliance on cars.
  • Opening access to the waterfront and enhancing the important heritage there – making it a destination all of Bristol can use and enjoy.

These are important goals for Bristol, but we know that in a complex city any decision has trade-offs. We must recognise that any decision is balanced. Our responsibility is to balance them as a city to achieve the best for us all.

Building in and up, not out

Two weeks ago at Full Council, members debated a motion about the protection of green belt land in the face of our housing need. I will continue to work with councillors as we develop a revised Local Plan which will take into account these considerations. But as I keep asking people that ask me not to build somewhere – “if not there, where?” I look forward to those councillors now, supporting and advocating for the development of this brownfield site in the centre of the city.

The harbour, from beneath a bridge of the Cumberland Basin road network. The red brick 'A' and 'B' Bond warehouses sit across the water.

The raw material of the city isn’t changing. We are a city with an area of 42 square miles, a population of around 460,000 and rapidly growing. 15% of our residents live in areas that are among the 10% most deprived in England and 16,000 people are on our housing waiting list. This all happens while we face a climate and ecological emergency requiring urgent action.

If we are going to avoid urban sprawl and protect space for nature, we need to build more densely on the brownfield sites.

Bristol’s harbour has adapted to respond to the challenges our city faces, and in the 21st century, as we wrestle with housing and climate crises, taking the opportunity to plan for what could replace an ageing 1960s road system is a citywide discussion. Everyone has a role to play in that and we want everyone to have a voice.

Bristol’s buses – where to?

Today’s blog is from Councillor Don Alexander, Cabinet Member for Transport.

During the summer, Bristol’s One City Transport Board met to consider how to further improve Bristol’s buses. As a bus user myself, and as a councillor who represents a ward in the outer estates of our city, Bristol’s buses are a real passion of mine.

This comes ahead of our West of England Combined Authority bidding for some £40-50 million from national Government. Buses don’t stop at local authority borders, and so a joined-up regional approach is crucial to keep things moving.

One City partners are ambitious for the future of Bristol’s buses, building on the work to deliver an integrated network with underground mass transit and rail. To do that, we need to keep working collaboratively through WECA, local bus operators and passengers.

With the post-pandemic recovery in passenger numbers still uncertain, we need to continue to innovate – and WECA should use revenue funding to sustain services where passengers are low for the time being. At the other end of the scale, revenue support could also radically strengthen evening and weekend services on main routes. For workers, there remains a need for higher frequency services to all Enterprise Areas/Zones, including Avonmouth-Severnside in the ward I represent.

Funding could also kick start a series of high quality, high frequency orbital routes. These new services should go around Bristol, connecting communities and key corridors – to complement a network which largely connects places to town. Interchange hubs would be critical to ensuring the success of new orbital routes, including at Temple Meads and other rail stations.

We remain committed to working with neighbours to deliver a ring of Park and Rides, to reduce commuter traffic into the city and build on the success of existing sites. There is also the potential to reduce fares and, as we set out in our manifesto, subsidise travel for younger people to make transport more accessible. The entirety of the West’s bus network has yet to catch up with contactless card payments, and a fare-capped system across operators should be accelerated.

As Bristol’s 99 bio-gas buses show, together with our ambition for the rest of the fleet, public transport can be more sustainable transport. This continued progress sits alongside other policies, including the upcoming Clean Air Zone. And, of course, walking and cycling remain complimentary to bus services – not a competitor to them. Integrating the planning and delivery of schemes so that public and active transport are aligned is essential.

There’s even more to cover, but this gives a good flavour of the investment One City Transport Board is pushing for. This clear vision from Bristol, as part of our wider region, can deliver a step change for Bristol’s buses and our transport system.

Levelling up

The Prime Minister has today set out his ambitions for ‘levelling up’, with the stated aims of improving services and boosting community pride across the UK, seeking to create a more balanced economy. We agree with the ambition to give everyone the chance of a good job on decent pay, and are determined to make Bristol a true Living Wage City – where poverty pay is a thing of the past. Increasing access to opportunity no matter where you live is at the heart of our approach in Bristol and something we should all be working towards as a country.

Levelling up will only be successful if it targets those living in deprivation –  it is vital that ‘levelling up’ policy impacts the communities and groups that need it most.

We encourage Government to focus on the challenges of poverty, social mobility, inequalities, and on the groups most affected by these challenges, that the pandemic has further entrenched. If Government takes too much of a blunt, North versus South approach, those poorer communities, often hidden and invisible across our country and in our major cities, will continue to miss out and get left even further behind.

Bristol is an example of this complexity. We have a fantastic story to tell – a £15 billion economy with sectors of high growth and opportunity. And yet we are one of the most unequal cities in England with six areas in the top 1% most deprived in the UK and 20% of our children at risk of hunger every day. Writing off deprivation in Bristol just because we live further south than, say, Birmingham, would only see more Bristolians fall further south of the poverty line.

The last thing we need is for regions or areas to be set against each other, dictated by competitive funding pots from Whitehall, which inevitably will result in the very people who stand to benefit the most missing out. In recent years, that Bingo-style approach has set hungry children in Bristol against hungry children in Plymouth, and pitted homeless people in Bristol against homeless people in Manchester: for the Prime Minister’s pledge for ‘levelling up’ to be ‘win-win’, we need fundamental change.

What is required is a national approach that recognises that our focus is addressing the big challenges of the day – including the climate and ecological emergencies – in a way which takes all communities forward and provides ample opportunities for everyone.

The Prime Minister  emphasised the role of local leadership as part of ‘levelling up’ places. What local leaders need the most is predictable funding that best enables ourselves and city partners, like our local NHS, charities, and businesses, to come together around long-term plans. The UK is one of the most heavily centralised countries in Europe – that has been known for far longer than I have been Mayor, and even before Boris Johnson was one. For ‘levelling up’ to be truly effective, I would urge Government to release more funding to local places, then step back and help create the space for us to take the opportunities we know we can deliver.

School Streets: Protecting Bristol’s children

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women and Families and Children’s Services.

Councillor Helen Godwin

Yesterday’s announcement that Councillor Don Alexander has joined Mayor Rees’s cabinet is great news for the city, and great news for me as I look forward to working with Don to deliver one of our key priorities: permanent School Streets across the city.

School Streets involve short-term daily street closures outside schools during drop-off and pick-up times — the benefits are multiple from both an air quality and road safety perspective; and are particularly welcome given the current challenges around social distancing at school gates.

Bristol School Streets aims to:

  • reduce the volume of traffic around school gates
  • improve road safety for pupils
  • encourage more children to walk, scoot or cycle to school
  • improve the air quality and environment at the school gates making it a more pleasant space for everyone

The concept of School Streets comes from Italy, who first introduced them in 1989, but the first local authority in England was the London Borough of Camden in 2017. Since then several local authorities, including Bristol, have set up their own schemes, many of others opting for temporary schemes as part of their covid-19 emergency response.

In Bristol, we have been working on our own School Streets project since 2019. We want to work towards permanent schemes that have a direct impact on the schools and their surrounding communities, building towards our Liveable Neighbourhoods: safe communities where everyone can travel cleanly and safely with less through-traffic.

We currently have School Streets pilots running at four schools in the city with a further four planned for the next academic year. We have taken the decision to consult closely with both the schools, residents and the school communities to make sure that we get these schemes right and that wider communities feel included, listened to, and ultimately feel the benefit of schemes that work for everyone.

As Don will tell us; transport regulations and traffic flows are complicated – and as much as we would like to, we cannot implement schemes overnight. We have developed a matrix to ensure we look at factors including traffic flow, air quality, other road safety measures as well as the broader context of the school community, as we prioritise the roll out of the scheme.

School Streets is a really important project that demonstrates our commitment to better air quality and streets free of traffic, but it also brings children and young people to the forefront of our response to the Climate Emergency and to our work on improving Bristol’s infrastructure to ensure that our city works for everyone.

Councillor Don Alexander was appointed to Cabinet this week to lead on Transport issues

Annual Address 2021

This is the transcript for my Annual Address speech I delivered at Full Council on Tuesday 6 July 2021.

As this is my first opportunity since being elected, I will start with some thanks:

  1. to the mayoral and councillor candidates who took on the challenge of running for office.
  2. to those of you who turned out to vote irrespective of who you voted for. Participation is essential to our democracy.
  3. and of course to those who campaigned and voted for me.

While my wife has been on TV admitting that she sometimes wishes I wasn’t the Mayor (a view a number of my Twitter trolls and probably one or two elected members hold all the time), it is nonetheless a profound honour to be re-elected on our record.

We laid out an ambitious agenda to the city in 2016. Bristol didn’t have a reputation for delivery and wanted a leadership that would get things done.

They voted for a bigger picture, for a vision of an inclusive, sustainable and fairer city committed to tackling the poverty and inequalities that undermined us. They voted for affordable homes, for jobs and for hope.

I don’t often quote Cllr Hopkins but he did once share with me – with all of us actually because it was in Full Council – that it’s easy to get elected, but the real test is to be re-elected. Having faced that test, we are confident the city wants us to continue to deliver ambition and compassion.

The election taught us all a lot:

  1. The city is changing – and certain areas are seeing dramatic changes in population and culture.
  2. We face the threat of growing divides – the old ones such as race, class, health, education, earnings. And new ones such as home ownership versus non-ownership, and those who have some trust in public institutions verses those who have none.
  3. We take our planetary responsibilities seriously.

The election also taught us that the conflicts and controversies, the shambles and scandals, worked up in this organisation and the way they are managed and driven through social media are often worlds away from the immediate challenges and complicated problems real people are facing in Bristol.

And we learned the people of Bristol are not interested in the weeds of the council. They want solutions to the problems they face every day, not abstract negativity, opposition for opposition’s sake. They want us to be a source of hope.

The people of Bristol don’t see the world in binary. Talking to so many people during the election:

  1. they appreciated the commitments on housing delivery but also understood the challenges that Brexit and Covid had presented in maintaining the levels of delivery.
  2. they appreciated the need to protect land for nature and tackle climate change but also the need to build homes for people a grow the economy for jobs.
  3. on Colston’s statue, many appreciated the need to tackle racism alongside a sense that the statue was important and symbolic. But they also appreciated the statue itself was not the solution to racism. Some held a fear that they were losing their history and some recognise the danger of ordinary people being manipulated by those who, for lack of any real political vision, revert to manipulating them in the culture wars.

There is are enough challenges and divisions in the world without us conjuring up new ones for whatever motivation.

People want us to be focussed on creating hope and delivery and a better city. They want us to be people who are able to wrestle with the complex challenges and contradictions that cities – in all their diversity – embody.

I will spend the next three years leading in three areas:

  1. Inclusion
  2. Sustainability
  3. Delivery

1. Inclusion means inclusive growth

It means jobs and homes in a diverse economy that offers pathways to employment for people at all skills and education levels.

Our challenge is to share a way of doing economic development that by its very nature redresses the historic and institutional drivers of inequality and social immobility. This rather than growing the economy and then tacking a couple of equalities initiatives on the back end.

2. Sustainability means delivering against the climate action plan and the ecological action plan

It means working as a council. But it also means working as a city doing all we can to decarbonise the energy, transport and food systems on which our cities depends. It means not dealing with any single issue in isolation but recognising the interdependence of poverty, class, racism and climate change.

On that front, I will share the insight of someone who recently gave a speech to a Multi-Faith meeting on the environment that was organised by Afzal Shah. He shared with a gathering of black, white and Asian Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews how too often environmentalism had been a voice of divisive and accusational politics when what it should have been a cause for unity in the face of a global challenge.

We need to hear that challenge.

Sustainability means not shying away from the housing crisis and the difficult conversations about density and sustainable city centre locations.

It means bringing investment into green jobs and a transition to a low carbon economy.

3. Delivery means continuing to get stuff done

Delivery means lives change. Homes are built. Children are fed. Women and girls no longer in period poverty. Ground source and water source heat pumps and installed. Schools are built. City areas are pedestrianised. Jobs are generated. Homeless people are housed.

You can measure action by the number of cranes on the horizon. They are a clear example of the modernisation of the city, of continuing growth and opportunity.

Delivery means continuing to work as a city, not just a council. Working with partners and continuing to meet city challenges with all partners, cleaner air, a living wage city, mass transit, a living rent city, a city where diversity of thought leads modern 21st century city and continuing to put cities at the forefront of political, economic and social challenges – putting cities in front of challenges where governments fail.

We have the challenge of leading a city that is growing in size of population, need, diversity and inequality within the same geographical area of land. We do this while facing up to the environmental, economic, political, social and moral need to face up to tackle the climate and ecological crisis. And sometimes the things we must do to meet one area of these challenges can threaten to undermine our efforts to meet another.

Conclusion

So I finish with the same offer I have always made: if you have an genuine offer, a contribution to make to our efforts to meet those challenges, if you want to turn up with solutions, the door is open. Come make that offer, and then tell me what you need from the city to enable you to deliver it.

The time I have as mayor is loaned to me by the city. It’s my job to invest it not in fruitless distractions and false politics, but in the people and initiatives that will make a difference for the city, our country and world.