Category Archives: Homes and Communities

East Bristol Liveable Neighbourhood – have your say!

People living in Barton Hill, Redfield, and St George have the chance to share their views on which measures they’d like to see introduced to their neighbourhood, as we look to make east Bristol safer, healthier, and greener.

Liveable Neighbourhoods are areas of a city where improvements are designed in partnership with local communities. Their aim is to achieve a better balance between how streets are used for transport and people. Measures can be small scale and easy to install, such as planting trees, providing more benches, community activity spaces, and better lighting, while making it easier to catch a bus and to walk or cycle, with improved infrastructure and measures to reduce through traffic.

The project is about working in partnership with communities to create stronger, safer and happier neighbourhoods. It is one of the ways we will be working in partnership to make Bristol a sustainable city with a lower impact on our planet and a healthy environment for all.

Developing a pilot Liveable Neighbourhood follows on from my pledge to the city, and the ideas from Bristol’s first Citizens’ Assembly, who backed this call for neighbourhoods to be reimagined so they are people-centred and more liveable.

The east Bristol pilot, funded by the West of England Combined Authority, will set out to deliver a safe, healthy, inclusive, and attractive environment where everyone can breathe clean air, have access to better quality green and play space, and feel a part of their community. Liveable Neighbourhoods give us the opportunity to rethink and reset where we live, empowering local communities to transform their neighbourhoods into places where people want to spend more time, as well as increasing a sense of pride and belonging.

The first round of engagement is running until 13 March 2022. A survey has gone out to 6,000 homes and 400 businesses across east Bristol asking for views on the measures that people would like to see introduced. An online survey is also available on the Bristol City Council website, and nearly 1,400 suggestions and responses have already been added to the interactive map. Virtual chats with project team members can also be booked by emailing liveableneighbourhoods@bristol.gov.uk or phoning 0117 903 6449 and leaving a message.

Businesses across the project area of Barton Hill, Redfield, and St George are also being invited to complete an additional survey. It asks for information about individual businesses, such as how many employees they have, how deliveries are made, how staff travel to work, and how their waste is collected. This survey is also available on the Liveable Neighbourhoods’ website.

Imperial Apartments

Today’s blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes.

In the past month we’ve been talking a lot about housing. We always seem to be talking about housing – either about affordable housing, social housing, the local plan, brownfield versus green belt/greenfield, and even homes in back gardens. Of course, it is one of the most important topics to discuss in Bristol.

Having a safe and secure roof over our heads is key to ensuring we all have the best possible opportunity to live a happy and healthy life. But what happens when there’s not enough housing to go around at a price that everyone can afford? In simple terms, it means that low-income households have to rely more heavily on organisations like the council and housing associations for support into housing, that those organisations in turn have to find more and more housing at prices that people can afford, and we see more housing in Bristol start to lie empty or have their rents inflated to near unaffordable rates. It’s a dangerous spiral that inevitably leads to more homelessness, greater inequality and lifelong difficulties for many.

In Bristol, you can see this challenge clearly in the 16,000 people waiting on the housing register, many with little chance of receiving a council house due to a crippling lack of homes available. We have over 1000 people in temporary accommodation, 580 families, after having been made homeless and needing longer-term housing. This has been further compounded by out of control rents, the growing gap between Local Housing Allowance rates and rents, alongside the continued use of no-fault evictions (which the government promised to bring forward legislation to end over two years ago), and a lack of long term security for many.  An example of what this challenge looks like is the residential housing block in Hengrove called Imperial Apartments.

The site is owned by a private company called Caridon Property Group who converted the old office block into flats following changes to legislation, meaning there was little opportunity for council planners to get involved and help shape the development. The site has 465 flats ranging from studios up to two bed flats. Back in 2020 the Council entered negotiations with Caridon to find a way of making use of 316 flats to support people out of temporary accommodation, away from hostels or to prevent those in need from becoming homeless. We have acknowledged many times that this is the least worst option given the circumstances, but it is still an option that has supported over 300 households away from homelessness.

Our arrangement with Caridon is clear. Our role is to refer people who are in need of housing and that we consider are suitable for a tenancy at Imperial Apartments. Caridon decide whether to offer those persons a tenancy and if they do Caridon enter into a tenancy agreement with those persons. Caridon are both the owners of the properties and the landlord, Caridon manage the properties and they assume all of the rights and the responsibilities which would normally fall upon a landlord. That includes responding to the day-to-day expectations of those living there – whether it’s to do with security, utilities or noise issues. We work and co-operate with Caridon and have agreed to provide support and advice to Caridon, in some of those areas.

These are roles we expect all parties to take seriously. For our part, we’ve put in place support services delivered by the Salvation Army, LiveWest and our own housing teams to make sure people can settle into their new tenancies and can manage their own circumstances. These services provide low level support and are on hand to help signpost people to further support they may need. We hold weekly meetings with the landlord and support services to raise problems, tackle issues that come up and find solutions that put the safety and wellbeing of residents first. These meetings are also used to plan events to support tenants settle in and begin to build relationships and community.

I guess you won’t read about these more constructive aspects in the local press, so I’d like to say here that I don’t think the generalisations and insinuations made about the people living in Imperial Apartments are fair. I also know that not all residents agree that the coverage reflects their experience. Where there are concerns, we will work with Caridon and hold them to account to ensure issues are addressed in a timely manner. This includes expecting a zero tolerance approach to be taken to bullying, harassment of any form, hate crime and criminal behaviour more broadly. I want everyone in Bristol to have a safe and secure home and to be part of a community. We’ll continue to work with people across the city to make that the case.

Although this approach is keeping people out of temporary accommodation or away from the threat of street homelessness, we are being careful about who we nominate for these flats. We’ve been clear from the start that anyone being nominated for a flat needs to meet certain criteria. This is to protect them from signing up to a tenancy or a living situation they couldn’t maintain whilst ensuring the support services in place meet the needs of the residents. This strict referral criteria has been in place since we began nominating people for tenancies at the site and is discussed with all potential nominees when speaking to them about all of their housing options.

Our experiences so far have shown us clearly that there are challenges to stepping up a housing site like this in a short space of time. Not least that our original concerns about the size of some flats need to be reviewed again, particularly those that were offered to families. I am grateful to South Bristol MP, Karin Smyth, for her recent letter on this. I have utilised her intervention to take the decision that listings of flats for families will be paused whilst we carry out the review. We will look at the circumstances of those families already living there too.

Whilst Imperial Apartments provokes debate and raises clear issues that are being addressed, what can’t be ignored is that the scale of the need across the city outstretches the amount of housing available. We are investing heavily in council homes and delivering affordable homes but the housing crisis still remains a key challenge.

HIV Testing Week

This week, to mark HIV Testing Week, Bristol has continued to lobby the Government for more support to continue our work to end new transmissions of HIV by 2030.

With Councillor Ellie King, Cabinet Member for Public Health, I wrote to the Health and Social Care Secretary to call for opt-out testing in hospitals in our city to help diagnose people who unknowingly have HIV.

Read my letter to the Health and Social Care Secretary here, or scroll down for the plain text version.

Dear Secretary of State,

Like the Department of Health and Social Care, Bristol is committed to ending new cases of HIV by 2030 and contributing to the national effort to reach the 4,660 undiagnosed people living with HIV in England. This is why we welcome the Government’s HIV Action Plan and the £20 million being made available by NHS England for opt-out testing in very high prevalence HIV areas.

However, as a local authority with high HIV prevalence, we are concerned that funding opt-out testing only in “very high” prevalence areas is a missed opportunity. To meet the 2030 goal, and the Action Plan’s interim target of an 80 percent reduction in new diagnosis by 2025, the same kind of opt-out testing will be needed in hospitals here in Bristol too.

With those undiagnosed being twice as likely to live outside London, areas like Bristol are the new frontline in the quest for everyone to know their status. We are a Fast Track City, and we have been working with our local NHS partners, and both of our city’s hospitals are supportive of an opt out testing approach. However, we have no identified funding to roll out this approach. It is, therefore, vital that the DHSC and NHS England become a funding partner to make this happen and provide equity across all parts of the country.

Opt-out testing works, is cost effective, has been recommended by the British HIV Association and British Association of HIV and Sexual Health since 2016, and is included within current NICE guidelines on HIV testing. It is proven to find those with traditionally the worst HIV outcomes: people of Black African heritage, women and older people. More than two in five (42%) people diagnosed with HIV in England continue to get their diagnosis at a late stage – this can have serious consequences for their own health and the health of others through unknowingly passing on the virus. These populations experience some of the highest rates of late diagnosis.

Anyone with undiagnosed HIV leaving A&E without knowing their status is a missed opportunity and likely means they will present with a HIV complication at a later date and add additional cost to the system. The HIV Commission – which the government promised to implement – made this its flagship recommendation.

This National HIV Testing Week we are reminded of the need to level up our HIV ambition and testing infrastructure. There is much we can learn from successful HIV interventions in London, but we will only meet the 2030 goal as one country. Just funding opt-out testing in the very highest prevalence areas will not end new HIV transmissions, and we urge the government to consider funding areas like Bristol to reduce stigma, and ensure that we can support everyone living with HIV in Bristol.

Delivering funding by World Aids Day 2022 would help us get opt-out testing in Bristol hospitals up and running as soon as possible. There can be no further delay.

Yours sincerely,

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol

Councillor Ellie King, Cabinet Member for Public Health, Communities and Bristol One City

The stuff we’re getting done

For too long, Bristol’s political leaders took a patch-and-mend to building Bristol, failing to prepare for our city’s growth in population, to update our city’s energy systems, or to deliver a transport network fit for a modern city. By contrast, I’m proud that our administration is getting stuff done and building the next iteration of Bristol.

Future-proofing the city

Nowhere is this more urgent than in tackling our housing crisis. Average house prices are now nine times higher than average earnings – the highest of all the core cities. Combined with the impact of the pandemic and over a decade of government cuts to public services and welfare, this has left us with over 15,000 people on our housing waiting list, and around 1,000 families in temporary accommodation. On top of all of this, our city’s population is set to grow by almost 100,000 people by 2050.

That’s why we’ve put forward investment of £12 million in our budget to support the delivery of new affordable homes, with a plan to deliver 1,000 affordable homes a year by 2024 which will be considered by Cabinet this week. The cornerstone of this plan is the delivery of one of the biggest council house building programmes in a generation at Hengrove Park, with half of the 1,400 homes delivered by our housing company Goram Homes dedicated for social rent and shared ownership.

We’re planning for the future too, by investing £1.8 billion over 30 years to deliver new council homes and upgrading our existing stock.

Rethinking the architecture of the city

We are responding to this housing crisis in the context of a climate and ecological emergency. Put simply, how and where we build these new homes will determine the price the planet pays for Bristol’s growth.

We’ve worked with experts, like the Avon Wildlife Trust, to understand the ecological impact of development in different parts of the city. That’s why we’ve taken the decision to scale down our own plans for development on the Western Slopes, building affordable homes only on the previously-developed former school site near Belstone Walk.

Not delivering homes here, however, means we must prioritise development at higher density on brownfield land near the centre of the city. We’ll continue to do just that through major regeneration schemes that will bring thousands of new homes (and jobs!) to our city: Castle Park View, Bedminster Green, Western Harbour, Frome Gateway, and – of course – Temple Island.

Even in the city centre, however, we’re building in space for nature to thrive. The work we’re doing to create green roofs and walls in the Bearpit will inform how we can incorporate these into future regeneration projects – building ecology into the very architecture of the city. And we are working with the Environment Agency to deliver on our flood strategy and protect our city from the impacts of climate change.

Connecting the city

All of this demands big changes to how we move around the city. Our mission throughout has been to connect people to people, people to jobs, and people to opportunity. But we will fail if we just tinker around the edges of Bristol’s transport network like previous administrations. That’s why we’re taking big decisions now to lay the foundations of a Bristol that is fit for the future.

We are repairing vital infrastructure that for too long has been allowed to fray, with a £15 million investment in repairing 6 crucial bridges. We’re delivering unprecedented investment in Bristol’s public transport system – providing more people across the city with more frequent and reliable alternatives to travelling by car. This includes the improvements to the number 2 route as part of the Bus Deal, and the delivery of the first new train station in Bristol in 95 years at the Portway Park and Ride (soon to be followed by a new station at Ashley Down).

All this builds the case for a radical rethink of our transport system. Bristol is the only core city without a mass transit network, and I am pleased that leaders across parties and from across the region recognise the need to redress this. I’m pleased to secure commitment from WECA on the need for tunnels and £5 million of investmentto set out our plans.

We’re applying that ambition to a local level too. We’ve opened our initial engagement so that residents can help us shape our first Liveable Neighbourhood pilot in East Bristol. Combined with £4.7 million of investment to help Bristol’s high streetsrecover from the pandemic, we’re committed to building sustainable and thriving communities for residents and businesses.

Going big

The interconnected challenges we are facing as a city and a planet demand urgent action. We are taking decisions that deliver jobs, homes, and sustainability to make sure Bristol can tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities to come over the next decades.

Now is the time for clear leadership – for getting stuff done quickly, and with an eye on the future challenges we face.

That’s what we’re delivering.

On the level

At our fortnightly press conference today we had a lot of news to share:

  • A bridge repair programme will start this spring
  • Millions of pounds are being committed to our mass transit work
  • The Portway Park-and-Ride train station construction has begun
  • We’re securing 50% affordable homes within the 1,400 homes we’ll deliver at Hengrove Park
  • We’re prioritising ecological sites on Western Slopes while developing the
    brownfield portion of the site
  • Residents are getting an opportunity to shape our plans for a pilot Liveable
    Neighbourhood in East Bristol

Unfortunately, this momentum is yet to be matched by national government.

I awaited the Levelling up White Paper keenly. Over the weekend the government heralded ‘Kings Cross-style’ regeneration projects, and we have one the largest brownfield sites in the country.

Temple Quarter sits right at the heart of our city, and is, in the lingo, shovel-ready for redevelopment. Temple Quarter consists of Temple Meads, our iconic train station, that is a gateway for rail transport for the whole region, and is surrounded by land that will bring thousands of essential homes and jobs to our community. We have been promised the funding for this project repeatedly. This would have been the perfect opportunity to announce it and kickstart the biggest transport and regeneration project outside London in a generation.

I was hoping the White Paper would put forward concrete plans from the government to work with us to regenerate areas of our city, invest in green infrastructure and jobs of the future it will bring, modernise our transport system, and redress the social, health and economic inequalities that have been entrenched in Bristol over generations.

There are some things to welcome, such as the government’s acknowledgement of the economic strength of the Western Gateway. The White Paper recognises he collective power of Bristol and Cardiff and the surrounding regions, in particular the clusters in digital, aerospace and our universities, but overall there is little in it that we did not already know.

We warmly welcome the £540 million of funding to improve our local transport network, which was first announced last year. We also already knew that the government planned to move more civil service jobs from London to Bristol, but again celebrate new jobs for our city.  

But what we still don’t know is when the government will bring forward the investment we have been calling for, for projects like Temple Quarter. Without these concrete commitments, and the funding and powers that we need to deliver them, levelling up will remain a work in progress for our city.

Also, there is no plan to reverse the decade of damage caused by government cuts to local communities. Government funding to councils has fallen by over 50% in real terms since 2010.

As a leader of a city, I know that just as much as physical areas, some people and communities are excluded from the economic opportunities needed to level up. If women, disabled people, or those living in poverty are not proactively included in the government’s approach then they will continue to be left behind. Bristol has 41 areas in the most deprived 10% in England, including 3 in the most deprived 1%. Levelling up is meaningless if all people do not directly feel the difference in their lives.

We continue to show our commitment to getting stuff done in all corners and with all communities in Bristol. I look forward to the government one day equalling our ambition.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today’s blog is by Edward Crowson, Holocaust Educational Trust Regional Ambassador and Bristol University student, who compered our ceremony last year at Bristol’s Anne Frank tree on Brandon Hill.

It is a sobering truth that our world today is scarred by genocide; from the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust to other genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. Holocaust Memorial Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, is a time to remember those who were persecuted in these genocides, ensuring their lives, experiences, families, and cultures are never forgotten. As a Regional Ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust, I would like to encourage you to do just that.

Events in Bristol

There are many ways to come together and reflect. One of the events organised by Bristolians for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is a showcase of over fifty contemporary portraits of Holocaust survivors and their families at the Royal Photographic Society in Bristol. This event shines a light on the full life stories of survivors whilst also highlighting our collective responsibility to protect their memories. It was this sense of collective responsibility and the need to rehumanize those who suffered during the Holocaust that inspired me and other Regional Ambassadors from the Holocaust Educational Trust to share some of the survivor stories that have touched us.

Working with the Holocaust Educational Trust and Generation2Generation, an organisation that helps the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors tell their family stories, we have organised two separate events for University of Bristol students and Bristol’s secondary school pupils. These events will include presentations by Generation2Generation speakers, Vera Bernstein and Anita Peleg, who will share the stories of their mothers and how they survived the Holocaust.

Anita Peleg and Naomi Blake

Naomi’s story

Anita’s mother, Naomi Blake, was born in 1924 to a large Jewish family, part of the then thriving Jewish community of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia. But like so many of Europe’s Jewish communities which targeted by the Third Reich and its collaborators, Mukacevo’s Jewish community was all-but destroyed. Naomi and her family were first taken to Auschwitz concentration camp, with Naomi and her sister subsequently being moved to Brahnau concentration camp. During the final days of the war, in a bid to flee the Russian armies, their Nazi captors forced the prisoners to march. This was when Naomi managed to escape and finally make the long journey home. She returned to Mukacevo in July 1945 to find that her home was in ruins and seventeen family members, including ten young nieces and nephews, had been murdered.  

Her journey then took her to Palestine, where she rebuilt her life, and then finally to London where, after attending the Hornsey School of Art, her career as a sculptor flourished. One of her sculptures, ‘Refugee’, can be found today in the gardens of our very own Bristol Cathedral. It depicts what Naomi saw as a refugee’s experience, showing a crouched figure sitting with their knees drawn up inside the hollowed-out representation of a leaf.

Why memorialisation is so important

Remembering and sharing these stories is as important as ever. Just last year research by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust discovered that one in twenty British adults did not believe that the Holocaust really happened, with 8% taking the view that accounts of the Holocaust had been exaggerated. The only way we can challenge these falsehoods is through education, highlighting the immense importance of the work of organisations like the Holocaust Educational Trust and Generation2Generation.

Whether it is through viewing a portrait exhibition, listening to survivor testimony, or visiting Naomi’s sculpture to reflect on her legacy, it is our responsibility to continue to learn from the past, and to act for a better future. When racism, discrimination, hatred, and intolerance remain unchallenged, they become normalised, creating an environment where genocide can take place.

In the immortal words of Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, ‘anyone who listens to a witness, becomes a witness’. So I urge you to do what you can, learn from the past and honour the legacy of all those who have suffered.

Protecting frontline services: a budget for Bristol

On Tuesday 18 January, Deputy Mayor Craig Cheney presented our budget to cabinet before it is taken to Full Council for approval. This is the speech he used to introduce it.

This budget protects Bristol’s libraries, children’s centres and social care programmes, such as Better Lives at Home. However, it is also very much a housing budget.

Our capital programme spends £10.8 million for housing delivery along with our housing company, Goram Homes, and this coming financial year there’s also £846,000 in revenue funding. The Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budget, also has substantial funding for houses and invests in the council’s existing stock.

Due to growing costs to services, the impact of the pandemic on revenues and government shortfall in funding for local government, we have a budget deficit of £19.5m for 2022 to 2023.

However, rather than cutting services we have focused this budget on improving how the council is run by reducing costs and creating greater efficiency are the focus for bridging the budget gap.

This report proposes a net general fund revenue budget in 2022 to 2023 of just over £431 million and to finance the budget outlined above savings and efficiencies of £17.9 million are identified for 2022 to 2023 and £34 million over the medium term, some of which will require further consultation and the council’s element of the council tax is proposed to increase next year by 2.99 per cent which includes the adult social care precept of 1 per cent.

While we understand the impact this has on households across the city we need to weigh up the balance of increases in council tax against continuation of vital services provided to our residents. Continuing to maintain our Council Tax Reduction Scheme makes sure that we continue to provide support to those who simply can’t afford to pay.

Sound financial decision-making to date has allowed us to keep libraries and children’s centres open, while they have closed in many other places facing the same pressures and we will continue our work to create a better, inclusive and more sustainable city for all. We are adamant that we will reduce costs from within, focusing council capacity on our priorities, and any other decisions will be rigorously assessed so we can be assured they do not disproportionally impact vulnerable citizens.

We continue to invest in Bristol through our capital programme, with over £1.9 billion planned over the next 10 years, particularly to help address the affordability and desperate need for housing and to drive forward inclusive economic recovery, and improve our transport networks, bridges, parks and harbour.

Our capital plans also include a £19 million Decarbonisation Fund to invest in our council buildings and vehicle fleet, as well as £97 million to make our council homes more energy efficient and to reduce carbon emissions. All part of our journey towards being carbon neutral.

Despite these challenges, we will continue to focus on building a city where nobody is left behind, has a modern mass transit network, affordable homes for all, the high-quality services our citizens expect, and at the same time, drives a diverse economy that provides jobs for all and tackles the climate and ecological emergencies.

Read more about our budget proposals for 22/23 here.

Bristol’s Climate Smart Cities Challenge

Today’s guest blog is from Jessie Wilde, Deputy Project Director at Bristol Housing Festival

On November 3rd, working with the One City Office, we saw the launch of the Climate Smart City Challenge in Dubai at the International Expo with Nesta and UN Habitat.

The challenge is a city-based open innovation competition that will invite technologists, businesses, and investors to develop, test and scale cutting-edge solutions in four cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Bristol has been selected alongside Bogota in Colombia, Curitiba in Brazil, and Makindye Ssabagabo in Uganda. The focus of the Climate Smart Cities Challenge is to design a project at neighbourhood level that will showcase how cities can co-create new ideas together with innovators that make cities more sustainable and climate smart.

As we know, Bristol is currently facing a housing crisis, a climate crisis and a construction skills shortage, and the problem we’re interested in solving is how we deliver new housing, so it becomes a positive contributor to reducing greenhouse gases in the city.

The challenge, or barrier to this, is not the housing technology itself. Where innovation is truly needed is in the model used to deliver housing by multiple stakeholders. The challenge is both in the collaboration required and the financial model and mindset that currently costs, values and processes transactions based on immediate capital return.

There is a challenge of ‘best value’; what does this really means in context, and how does it release the right kind of finance. We need to find a way to demonstrate how an enlightened and informed development appraisal process (looking at the intended outcomes and revenue saving, not just repayment of capital) can create the business case for low carbon, affordable homes with decarbonised energy supply.  

Drawing from the knowledge and wisdom of stakeholders across the city, through focus groups and workshops over the last few months, Bristol has shaped this unique challenge.

We are hoping that challenge submissions will help support system change in how housing is commissioned and to re-create a model of value (not just cost) so that we really can see more housing built in our city, at pace.  But this housing needs to positively contribute to the sustainability and biodiversity of our city and help to combat the climate and ecological emergencies we are facing. However, we must not lose sight of the challenge of homelessness and growing housing waiting lists in the city.

This challenge is complex, it will require innovation and systems thinking. We are not necessarily looking for a widget, an app, or a piece of software, but a solution that crosses sectors and breakdown silos to provide a holistic way forward in the face of Bristol’s challenges.

Climate action in Lawrence Weston

Today’s guest blog is by Donna Sealey from Ambition Lawrence Weston

Lawrence Weston has been busy writing their own Community Climate Action Plan over the summer and, after months of events, workshops and activities, it will be ready to be published in January 2022. We are one of six communities in Bristol who are pioneering this new approach to tackling the climate crisis at a local level.

We have been co-producing our climate action plan with local residents in the driving seat, after all they are the local experts who know their community the best. It is imperative to give residents the lead when planning any kind of community action, residents have to feel that they are part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

We began this journey in the Spring of 2021 right in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced us to rethink the way in which we wanted to engage our residents. Covid cases were high in our ward, lockdowns imposed, and schools closed.

Why a Community Climate Action Plan?

There are two important outcomes of our Climate plan for Lawrence Weston. The first is our community’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030, but secondly, and most importantly, is the co-benefits that comes with delivering this plan. For example, more opportunities to access green spaces, better public transport, warmer homes, training within the green economy, financial benefits, improving mental and physical health, and better-quality food. All of these will improve overall health and wellbeing for our residents whilst reducing carbon emissions.

It comes to no surprise that housing, public transport, jobs and skills, food and fuel poverty, and green spaces all feature strongly in our plan. Residents were at the forefront of deciding what the issues were, and how they were impacting on their everyday life but, more importantly, what the actions should be in addressing these issues, as well as the journey on how we will achieve carbon neutrality.

Projects being delivered

We have many community projects that we are currently delivering, including our community litter picking group, Lawrence Weston in Bloom, community food growing, cycling facilities, as well as building 36 affordable energy efficient homes and a new community hub. We are also a Going for Gold champion, which means we are only one of 25 organisations in Bristol who have taken action across all six areas as our commitment to ensure we have a more sustainable, fairer and healthier food system that benefits people, communities and planet.

England’s largest wind turbine

One project that Ambition Lawrence Weston has been working on is building our own community owned wind turbine. This project came out as one solution to address fuel poverty during our 2017 community plan consultation. The wind turbine will be the biggest on-shore wind turbine in the UK, and will generate enough energy for 3,500 homes and save 1,965 tonnes of CO2 a year. That’s enough energy to power all the homes in Lawrence Weston! We expect the wind turbine to be spinning by November 2022.

The national building safety crisis

Today’s blog is from Steph Pike, leaseholder and campaigner in Bristol

You may have heard of the “cladding scandal” or the “building safety crisis” in the news. It is a national scandal of epic proportions, sparked by the horrific Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Four years on from Grenfell, many buildings are still wrapped in flammable cladding. But cladding is not the only issue. Other fire safety defects (such as flammable insultation, missing cavity barriers, and fire breaks) have been revealed in the external walls of blocks of flats all over the country. There are over 40 known buildings in Bristol alone that have been identified as having these issues meaning they are potentially dangerous and require significant remediation. 

People living in these buildings are trapped. They cannot sell. They cannot re-mortgage. They are being handed bills they cannot afford (in many cases exceeding £100,000). They are going bankrupt. Their mental health is suffering

Today from 12 noon, a building safety crisis rally will be taking place on College Green (outside of City Hall) where leaseholders and friends will come together to campaign against this huge injustice. More information can be found on our Facebook event.

My story

In November 2017 (four months after Grenfell), I bought my first home, a small one bed flat in the centre of Bristol.

I was also encouraged to buy a home using various government schemes such as the Help to Buy ISA and no stamp duty for first time buyers. I paid for solicitors and searches. I asked about fire safety and cladding. The building was signed off as compliant with building regulations. The building came with 10-year new build warranty. I did everything I could reasonably be expected to do when buying a property and I was so proud to finally have my own home.

Despite our building being signed off as compliant with building regulations at the time I bought the lease, recent surveys have revealed that the building was never compliant.  External wall surveys have revealed several fire safety defects in our building including combustible cladding, flammable insulation (the same type as Grenfell), missing cavity barriers and timber balconies. The building is supposedly so flammable that for nine months we had to pay £4,500 per week for 24/7 fire patrols (known as a waking watch) until a temporary fire alarm was installed (at a cost of £150,000). 

This is affecting millions of people across the UK. The government has so far allocated £5.1 billion to remove combustible cladding from buildings over 18 metres across the UK. This fund does not cover any other fire safety defects, nor does it cover buildings under 18 metres. The total cost of the problem is unknown but some estimate it to be as much as £50 billion.

The estimated cost to remediate my block is £7.6 million. This will be split between 109 leaseholders. To put this figure into context, the project cost for converting my building to flats in 2017 was £7.9 million.

If we don’t receive government funding, I am likely to receive a bill of over £70,000 to cover remediation costs (not including any interim measures such as waking watch, skyrocketing insurance premiums and fire alarm installation). Clearly this is unaffordable to most leaseholders, who are often first-time buyers. I certainly would not be able to afford this sort of sum. Many people are considering bankruptcy (and some have already gone bankrupt).

People often say, “just sue your developer” or “just refuse to pay”.  Neither of these things are an option. We cannot sue our developer as it has wound up. Even if it did still exist, litigation is hugely expensive, uncertain and can take years. We don’t have the money or the time to do this. If we refuse to pay, our lease could be forfeited, and we could end up homeless and bankrupt. The new build warranty is also very unlikely to pay out. We are stuck and there is no route out of this unless the government intervenes.

The stress this is causing is chronic. It’s taken over my life. I can’t sleep properly. I can’t think about anything else. I feel sick and anxious all the time, wondering when I will receive the bill and how on earth will I pay it.

The solution?

In my opinion, the solution to this is for the government to provide the money upfront to fix the buildings and to then reclaim if from those who are responsible, whether that is the product manufacturers, developers, builders or approved inspectors. The government must also take some responsibility for its failure to properly regulate the construction industry over the last few decades which has led to shoddy building practices and has allowed flammable materials to be used on high-rise buildings. The overriding principle is that the polluter must pay, not the innocent leaseholders.

If you would like to learn more about the building safety crisis, I recently wrote a more in-depth article for Al Jazeera which you can read here and you can find out more information about the campaign and what you can do to help on End Our Cladding Scandal’s website.