Category Archives: Environmental and Sustainability

Love Parks Week

Today’s blog comes from Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Communities, Equalities and Public Health, Councillor Asher Craig.

Parks have been more important than ever for many people in the past year.

During the pandemic, parks were some of the only spaces where people were able to socialise safely. Access to parks is also good for our mental and physical health, with Natural England finding that 9 in 10 people agree that visiting natural spaces is good for their wellbeing.

That’s why we were determined to keep parks open during the pandemic and why we’re working on a new strategy to ensure the sustainability of our parks for years to come.

Royal Fort Gardens, Bristol.

We’re fortunate to have access to so many great parks and green spaces in Bristol, with studies finding Bristol has the largest amount of green space of any English city. In addition, we are proud to say that in 2015, Bristol became the UK’s first ever European Green Capital.

We’re committed to protecting these spaces and supporting sustainable environments for both people and wildlife. Bristol’s One City Plan includes an ambitious target of doubling the tree canopy by 2045 and supporting the return of species such as pine marten, red kite, and beavers to our natural environments by 2033.

We recognise the role parks play in responding to the ecological emergency. As a result, the One City Environment Board have developed a working group of over 30 organisations across Bristol, with an aim of taking action to restore the natural systems that we all depend on.

Parks are not only vital for nature; our city’s green spaces are used to support events, food growing and organised sport.

We understand as the weather gets hotter and the summer holidays are fast approaching, many of our parks will see a rise in footfall.

If you’re out using our parks, make sure you’re being respectful of others and tidying up after yourself. This is a simple way of helping our staff, other park users and the environment. Keep Britain Tidy have more great information on how we can all take steps to look after our parks.

There are lots of ways you can get involved with improving our parks and green spaces and we always welcome ideas – you can find out more and have your say here on our website. 

Crucially, as restriction lift, we are asking everyone to continue to follow the hands, face, space, fresh air guidance. Many more people will continue to use our parks to see family and friends, or to exercise. Therefore, it is important to reduce our risk of catching or passing on the virus by using green spaces safely.

Covid rates in Bristol are the highest we’ve seen, so let’s do our bit to keep each other safe.

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.

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.

Bristol – Gold Food Sustainable City

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor for Communities, Equalities, and Public Health and Chairperson of the Going for Gold Steering Committee.

You may have noticed some eye-catching billboards popping up like mushrooms across Bristol this week, heralding our new status as a Gold Food Sustainable City.

As the Chairperson of the Going for Gold steering committee, I know this exciting accolade is the result of our 18-month long Going for Gold campaign which included the whole city.

The Going for Gold movement was about a collective ambition to make Bristol’s food system better – better for our people, our city and the planet.

It builds on the incredible work of over 120 organisations supporting a Good Food Movement (GFM) in our city that led Bristol to receiving a Silver Sustainable Food Cities award in 2016.

As only the second city in the UK to achieve Gold (Brighton and Hove were awarded Gold last year), the Sustainable Food Places Board recognised us for our innovative approach towards tackling food inequality, reducing waste and increasing urban growing.

The accolade also acknowledged Bristol’s GFM and our efforts in tackling the impacts of food on public health, nature, and climate change.

Sustainable Food Places leads a growing movement of people and organisations across the UK, who are working towards making healthy, sustainable, local food, a defining characteristic of where they live.

The bid was a One City collective effort led by Bristol City Council, Bristol Food Network, Bristol Green Capital Partnership and Resource Futures, as well organisations, citizens and food outlets across the city who logged almost 2,000 positive food actions on the Going for Gold/Bristol Bites Back Better website.

Now we have achieved Gold it is not the end of this journey. The pandemic was a powerful catalyst in heralding in a much-needed change in how we feed our city.

This work has rallied a powerful momentum in Bristol and sown the seeds for a decade of building a diverse, inclusive, resilient and flourishing food community that can bring real change by 2030.

Our focus is now the One City Food Equality Strategy and Action Plan and the Bristol Good Food Plan 2030. On World Hunger Day, the Mayor reaffirmed our city’s commitment to help over 10,000 households in the city that are experiencing food poverty.

Working with a number of partner organisations and in a One City collective approach, we are developing a Food Equality Strategy and a Bristol 2030 Good Food Action plan.  The pandemic has increased levels of food insecurity in our most vulnerable communities and our success as a Gold Sustainable Food City has given us the added momentum to tackle food insecurity head-on.

To continue our journey towards a resilient food system in Bristol, we all need to be involved, at home and at work, in communities and through our institutions and I am excited to see the next phase of this work take shape.

Taking on the Climate Smart Cities Challenge in Bristol

If there is one thing we rise to in Bristol, it’s a challenge. As One City, we need to urgently tackle the climate and housing crises we find ourselves in. As the first city in the UK to declare a climate emergency and an ecological emergency, and as a city committed to delivering the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we are delighted to have been chosen by Nesta Challenges and UN Habitats as a Climate Smart City for focusing on finding innovative ways to deliver affordable, low carbon housing.

The aim of the challenge is for partners to support innovators in developing, testing and scaling cutting-edge solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as well as delivering a significant social impact to local people. In January, applications were sent in from cities all over the world, with only four being selected. Makindye Ssabagabo in Uganda, Botoga in Columbia and Curitiba in Brazil will be joining Bristol in the next stage. Each city’s challenge will be formally launched by Nesta and UN Habitat at a World Expo in Dubai in October 2021.

 There is a lot to do before then so the City Office, in partnership with Bristol Housing Festival, Bristol City Council, and other city stakeholders, has already started work around defining the detail of the challenge for Bristol. As a city, we will look at devising a model of housing development that brings collaboration to the forefront whilst also making it financially viable and sustainable for the future.

At the end of last week, a two-day ‘Discovery’ workshop was held to look at our specific locale, our history, our communities, the environments we have as well as other key aspects that make sure Bristol’s needs are being considered from a number of perspectives.

Following the immediate feedback from those that attended, we will now undertake wider stakeholder engagement with city partners, before a second workshop in July where the challenge brief will be finalised before the official launch of the project towards the end of the year.

The time for change is now and being part of the Climate Smart Cities Challenge, enables us to bring new ideas to the table which will help decarbonise our affordable housing, from a grassroots level, and through a One City approach.

To find out more about the Challenge go to: Climate Smart Cities Challenge — Bristol Housing Festival

Biodiversity Day

Bristol was the first city in the UK to declare an ecological emergency, which was recently highlighted in the House of Lords by Baroness Bakewell during a debate on biodiversity.

I’m pleased to share today’s guest blog, which is from Savita Willmott, Chief Executive of the Bristol Natural History Consortium.

Savita Willmott (Photo: BNHC)

How often do you notice nature? Maybe you like visiting one of Bristol’s many parks, forests or nature reserves. Maybe you like strolling by the river, paddling in a local brook or meeting friends at the Harbourside. Whether you are in an urban area or natural space, nature and wildlife is all around us. This weekend, people across the world will be coming together to celebrate International Biodiversity Day on May 22nd, and raising awareness of all of the incredible species that together make up life on Earth.

Once you start to notice nature, you might be surprised at the variety of species here in Bristol, even in the colder months. Free apps such as iNaturalist can help you identify photos of any wildlife you find, and there are plenty of volunteering opportunities, free courses, and local organisations and societies that can help you build your knowledge and love for local species.

One thing you might notice is that many species are declining in Bristol. Some older people can remember birds that are no longer seen as often, or they remember having many more insects around. As we celebrate nature, we also need to find ways to protect it. Nature is in trouble, and Bristol was the first city to declare an ‘Ecological Emergency’ to make sure that together we can reverse the trend.

There are plenty of things that you can do. Start at home by creating places for wildlife to thrive, such as little habitats or flowers for bees to pollinate. If you have a bit more space, cut out the pesticides, leave things a bit messy, and try building small like a windowbox or bigger like a garden pond. If you go to school, work or a local community centre, there might be a way to make common spaces more welcoming for wildlife. 

If you’re not sure where to start taking action for nature, this year’s Festival of Nature is free, online, and packed full of 100 free ideas that can help you support Bristol’s nature and wildlife. Join us on our website and social media from June 5-12 and meet some of the many volunteers and organisations who are already working together on the city’s ecological emergency.

What will you do this weekend to celebrate International Biodiversity Day? Rain or shine, take a moment to ‘notice nature’, and get stuck to helping Bristol’s wildlife recover and thrive.