Keeping Bristol Moving

MhairiToday’s guest blog comes from my Cabinet Lead for Transport and Connectivity, Mhairi Threlfall.

Keeping the city moving is one of the biggest challenges facing Bristol. Reliable and affordable transport options in some parts of the city are still limited, resulting in poor access to jobs and opportunities. Bristol’s poor air quality, mainly caused by pollutants from vehicle use, contributes to hundreds of early deaths a year. And we will be developing thousands of new homes and jobs to accommodate growth in the city over the next 20 years, which means there will be more people to move around on an already congested network.

In many ways we have already made progress in improving the transport and connectivity from our homes to our places of work or leisure. We have rising levels of public transport use in Bristol, bucking the national trend, and we secured funding to provide free bus vouchers and loan bikes for people not in education, employment or training to help them get to interviews, training and work placement opportunities. As the first Cycling City in the UK, we attracted high levels of investment in our infrastructure, and we now have higher levels of cycling to work than Sheffield, Nottingham and Liverpool combined. We are also responding to need to tackle air pollution through our Clean Air Plan, which looks at sustainable clean-fuelling alternatives for our buses, taxis and diesel cars.

Although getting the right policy and processes in place is important to solving our transport challenges, the world does not stand still. To be able to respond to current challenges as well as new and emerging ones, we are taking a strategic approach to our transport. The Bristol Transport Strategy is the first of its kind: it lays out clearly the key challenges we face, it will act as a “linchpin” policy document for our other mode-specific strategies, and it will set out the vision for transport in the city of the next 20 years. It will be going out to consultation in the early autumn, and will be a chance for you to have your say. Our Transport Strategy uses the technical assessment captured in the Joint Transport Study to identify how we can all work together to improve transport in Bristol.

Transport movements go beyond our city boundaries, and so our Bristol Transport Strategy will feed into the Joint Local Transport Plan to reflect our regional plans for transport also for the next 20 years. Our proposed Joint Spatial Plan will help us respond to the need to build more homes by pairing sustainable transport schemes recommended by the Joint Transport Study with unlocked development sites to mitigate the impact of growth. The Joint Spatial Plan and Joint Local Transport Plan gives us this opportunity to plan ahead with a “transport first” approach to new developments, and includes a ring of park and rides, rapid and mass transit and active travel.

We are continuing to deliver on our current programmes, including Better Bus Area Fund 2 and Cycling Ambition Fund 2 projects. Bristol remains committed to the delivery of Metrowest phase one and two, we recently solidified our commitment to the Portishead line, as well as securing funding to deliver the Portway Park & Ride station. Our increased focus on walking and cycling is fundamental for a heathier and more resilient city network. The Local Walking and Cycling Infrastructure plan is examining our walking and cycling networks to identify the “missing pieces”, including where we can create safer, more pleasant journeys. This is incredibly important as many quote inappropriate infrastructure as a disincentive for getting on a bike.

There is a lot going on, but getting the right policy framework in place will enable us to respond much better and keep Bristol moving into the future.

Detail on current major projects can be found on the Travelwest website.

Showing Bailiffs the Door

CheneyToday’s guest blog comes from my Deputy Mayor, Craig Cheney.

This week the Council has announced our new ethical approach to debt and enforcement. This approach builds on the plans laid out in our 2016 manifesto and has been driven on by Councillor Paul Goggin.

Our ethical approach strikes a sustainable balance between recovering debts owed to the council and avoiding undue pressure on those with money struggles. Working with people to address their money problems means the Council is more likely to prevent future debt issues, rather than just collecting owed council tax. We’re also working to develop financial literacy skills for people to help address their money problems. This is all part of our vision for Bristol to be a city of hope and aspiration, where everyone can share in our success regardless of their difficulties – financial or otherwise.

Debt can be a complex and difficult issue. In many cases, people require support to manage their money in ways which do not worsen their situation. For many, it is easy to fall into a ‘cycle of deprivation’ where linked problems reinforce the difficulty of escaping debt. As a council, we want to work with people to support them in meeting their commitments without them slipping further into debt. Using enforcement agents, or bailiffs, passes the cost of collection onto the debtor, and has the potential to exacerbate an already difficult situation with more stress and pressure by adding even more debt to someone that is already struggling.

In the past, the Council has used contracts with external enforcement agencies as a cost-neutral way collect this money, but our new approach aims to be a more-ethical form of debt recovery. We recognise the mounting evidence that concludes early intervention and support for those facing debt is a more effective strategy. The Council is already using early-intervention to signpost vulnerable people towards advice and information services early before their situation becomes too serious. This approach has already proved to be effective: collection rates in 2017/18 were the highest ever in Bristol at 96.79%, and the number of council tax debt recovery cases passed to enforcement agents has dropped by 8% against last year. By using bailiffs as a measure of last resort, we will be the second local authority to commit to ethical debt collection.

This being said, debts are still a problem for the Council. Unpaid council tax is a major concern for the Council, and any money we don’t collect is money we can’t spend on delivering services to Bristol. Council tax exists so that the Council can afford to provide the services people across Bristol depend upon for their day-to-day lives. As it forms such an important source of revenue, the Council will still use formal legal methods to address owed council tax. For people who are able to pay and simply choose not to, the Council will act to recover the money owed by the necessary means.

This new approach is building on what we’re currently doing, and will reduce the stress and add support for those who need it most.  Let’s be clear – our vision for this approach is that we collect more money owed than ever before, while reducing the impact on vulnerable people or those struggling with debt.  It’s a model that speaks for itself.

Our Children’s Charter

Today’s guest blog on Bristol’s Children’s Charter comes from my Cabinet Lead for Women, Children and Families, Helen Godwin.

Today is a very special day for Bristol’s children, as we celebrate the 16th Annual Playday on College Green. Playday is our annual celebration of play – every child in the city is welcome to come along and join us for a free day of fun, activities and celebration. This year is even more special as we are launching our Bristol Children’s Charter: a city-wide vision of how we can make Bristol the best possible place for all our children.

We are ambitious and determined that Bristol should be a brilliant place to grow up for all children, and we believe this can happen if key organisations come together to make a pledge to put children at the heart of how we govern, develop and enjoy the city.

Marvin and I first discussed the concept of a charter over a year ago. The charter itself is aligned with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and adopts many of the same principles. However, we also wanted to give the Charter a uniquely Bristol feel, and have included some of our own pledges that reflect the challenges and opportunities here in our city. We wanted to be bold for Bristol’s children and are unafraid to be aspirational. We are acutely aware that there are too many children here growing up in poverty and in unsuitable housing. We want to declare that as a city we will work to change this, and that we will focus on the health and education of our children, while also enabling them to shape the city and access the best of Bristol’s culture and sport. We want to give children safe places to be and play while learning about the world around them and their wider, global community. Importantly, we are pledging to support parents and carers too. Our ten pledges set the rights and best interests of children as a priority for decision makers in Bristol.

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Over the past year I have had the joy of working and engaging with many groups that work with young people and most importantly, with lots of Bristol’s children and young people as we have worked together to create the Children’s Charter. I have been struck by the passion and interest in the project and we are thrilled to have so many organisations that want to join us in making this commitment.

I am delighted to have so many brilliant Bristol organisations with us on launch day to sign our charter; organisations as diverse as City of Bristol College, Gloucestershire County Cricket, Fareshare South West, the University of Bristol, Barnardos and of course Bristol City Council are some of the initial signatories to the charter.

Today will be the first step in bringing together the best of Bristol to deliver for the most important people in the city – our children and young people. I look forward to working together to bring our Children’s Charter to life.

Urban Paint

This weekend sees the next festival in our summer’s long line up which celebrates and promotes Bristol’s heritage and culture. These events help to make Bristol world renowned for its independent attitude, a city that does things differently.

Punching above its weight Upfest Street Art and Graffiti Festival is the largest event of its type in Europe. It comfortably stands on the summer programme which includes Harbourside festival, Bristol Pride, St Paul’s Carnival and the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, which this year celebrates 40 years.

2018 is the 10th year Upfest has been staged and will see 400 artists from 70 countries coming to the streets of South Bristol. These artists will create works of art in front of 50,000 visitors during the 3 day festival. Matt Groening creator of The Simpsons is this year’s headline act and has hand chosen 3 artists to work on artwork inspired by the iconic animated sitcom which demonstrates how far the festival reaches.

squwarksAlso in this centenary year of women’s suffrage (for some) there will also be a strong emphasis on women artists with Bristol Women’s Voice being invited to work on commemorating this significant milestone.

Bristol has been at the forefront of changing the conversation on graffiti and street art for more than 10 years. This demonstrates our thriving arts scene and culture of innovation and disruption which adds to the mix in our continuing ambitious bid to be the location for one of Channel 4’s creative hubs.

However we must acknowledge that the look of the city plays an important role in how people feel about their neighbourhoods. While an imaginative piece of street art can increase people’s sense of belonging, tagging can make people feel unsafe and the neighbourhood appear uncared for. All graffiti done without permission is criminal damage and illegal. Graffiti and tagging is a problem in many areas of the city, and we work with communities to address this where possible. Bristol City Council’s Clean Streets team and Bristol Waste will also work with the graffiti and street art community to pilot a ‘permissions wall’ project. As a council we have to find a balance with clear guidelines about graffiti and street art, which includes how the city continues to support artistic expression where permission for graffiti has been granted.

 

This Sporting Life

KyeToday’s guest blog on sport comes from my Cabinet Lead for Sport, Kye Dudd.

I am pleased to lead on Sport in the Mayor’s Cabinet – delivering the most pro-sports administration the city has ever seen.  Our approach to sport involves three priorities: to increase physical activity and sport participation, support the development of professionals, and to bring major sporting events here. By creating working groups including Bristol’s sporting community, we will move these three areas forward.

Sport and general physical activity has an important role in both physical and mental health, and we want to inspire people to get involved. Participation is very good in Bristol: 70.3% of residents do at least 150 minutes per week of physical activity, the highest of all the Core Cities. I am proud of this statistic, but I know we can do better in certain areas.

We have launched campaigns such as ‘Bristol Girls Can’ to promote sport and physical activity in under-represented groups, and we are working with community groups to understand how we can build on the existing offer of accessibility to council sports facilities.

This administration also provides the platform from which athletes and professional sportsmen and sportswomen from Bristol can thrive, which in turn can inspire the next generation. Successful professional sports clubs bring major economic benefits to Bristol, and we will continue to work with all of Bristol’s professional clubs – football, rugby, cricket and others – to help them achieve top-level success.

At our Cabinet meeting on July 3rd it was a pleasure to adopt the Sports Facilities Strategy. Following the legacy of our Playing Pitch Strategy, European City of Sport 2017, Bristol Active City and Sports Gatherings, this underlines the Mayor’s commitment to sport in Bristol.

The Sport Facility Strategy identified that although facilities were generally good, there were several areas which need investment. There is a need for increased swimming provision in East/Central Bristol and for new larger multi-court sports halls with 12 or more courts (sometimes known as mini-arenas) to attract more indoor events. In addition to building these facilities ourselves, we will also work with partners like Sport England, the professional clubs and our new schools programme to deliver some of this provision. We are investing heavily in cycling, including the potential for a new closed road circuit.

Our partnership with the Lawn Tennis Association to provide a new sustainable city-wide parks tennis model includes investment of over £500,000 in The Ardagh, Canford Park, St. George’s Park and Eastville. We are working with the FA and the Football Foundation to improve football provision across the city, including looking at new modern changing facilities for the Bristol Downs League which hasn’t seen any investment for decades. We are also supporting Bristol Rovers with their Memorial Stadium redevelopment, Bristol Sport with their new indoor sports arena and any further improvements to Ashton Gate.

We are proactive in organising and delivering major sporting events for Bristol. The city hosted the Bristol Grand Prix through our partnership with British Cycling and we have the Tour of Britain coming this autumn, at no cost to the council. We introduced new events, such as the inaugural Power8 rowing sprints during the Harbour Festival, and Two Cricket World Cup matches to be held at the County Ground in 2019. The Mayor was in the delegation to meet the English Cricket Board earlier this year, which delivered a future of T20 internationals for Bristol. The Mayor will push for Bristol to be a host city for the 2030 World Cup if the FA proceed with our bid.

Sport isn’t only of physical, economic and cultural benefit to Bristolians, it can be a positive intervention in the lives of young people and provides an important structure that keeps many on track and out of trouble. Both the Mayor and I have personal experience of this, which is why this is such an important focus for us.

This is why, whatever your sport and however you play, it will now be supported to flourish in Bristol.

Supporting Families in Summer

Today’s guest blog on ‘holiday hunger’ comes from my Cabinet Lead for Education and Skills, Anna Keen.

keenerOur schools broke up for the summer this week, and while children and staff are ready for a break, as a mum I know that facing a long stretch of unstructured time can be challenging for a number of reasons. We all know that children are expensive and filling their days with activities can be a huge pressure on families.

Just over a year ago, we formed ‘Feeding Bristol’. This collaborative charity is striving for a city where no-one goes hungry. We work on a range of projects, from cooking and nutrition, to growing local food and even raising awareness towards key political issues surrounding food poverty. However, one key priority that has emerged with the greatest urgency is the critical need to address the issue of ‘holiday hunger’. Many of our children in Bristol receive a free school meal Monday to Friday during term time, but there is currently no such provision over holidays, meaning that our children and young people are at risk of holiday hunger.

One of the ways we are addressing this is through holiday clubs. There are a number of initiatives happening across Bristol to provide free activities for children and we have ensured that food is provided as part of this offer. These include Fit and Fed, which operates in parks across Bristol, Unique Voice, who run creative courses over the summer, and Break Free, a programme run by Youth Moves in secondary schools across South Bristol, which reaches some of our most deprived communities.

As well as being the Cabinet Lead for Education, I am also a teacher. Like many teachers, I know first-hand how long it can take for my pupils to get back into the mindset of learning in September each year. Since being involved in Feeding Bristol, I have begun to question whether, for some children, there is a link between their ability to learn after the summer break and whether or not they may have had insufficient nutrition over the holidays.

Education is about the whole child being ready and able to learn, and food poverty is an issue that impacts massively on the ability of our schools to deliver this.

For more information or to get involved with Feeding Bristol, please see our website: https://www.feedingbritain.org/bristol

Gulls & Buoys – Litter Critters and Harbour Clean Ups

This summer, as well as making sure we can all enjoy our city’s fantastic public events, I want to drive and embed a lasting culture change in people’s attitudes to litter. If everyone is responsible with their rubbish, then we will be one step closer to making Bristol the cleaner and tidier place we all want it to be.

I would like to start by thanking the hardworking Bristol Waste teams. Recently, we have had a variety of events and celebrations attracting visitors from around the world to Bristol. St. Paul’s Carnival, Pride, and the Harbour Festival all showcased the best of Bristol. Close to 400,000 people attended, and the events would not have been as successful as they were without the input of colleagues, such as the Council’s Arts & Events team or the Harbour Master. Despite the soaring temperatures of the heatwave, teams from Bristol Waste followed the festivities and worked tirelessly to tidy up the city, and I am grateful for all they have done.

Bristol Waste crews are in high demand in the wake of several major celebrations in city centre. But across the city, leaving waste next to bins or littering in the streets creates additional issues which slows the entire service for everyone. We are working to address the way rubbish is collected, but irresponsible rubbish disposal is a major problem. Keeping Bristol clean is our collective responsibility, and not one that rests with Bristol Waste alone.

This is why our latest Clean Streets initiative with Bristol Waste educates people about the consequences of littering. The Litter Critter campaign is on bins across the city centre, with animal installations and stickers with the message ‘don’t feed the litter critters’. To discourage litter critters and to help keep Bristol clean and tidy, we’re encouraging everyone to use the bin, or if it’s full, use another one nearby or take your rubbish with you. If people drop litter or leave their rubbish in a bag next to the bin, wildlife such as gulls, foxes and rats can get hold of it and spread it around. The presence of litter also attracts these ‘litter critters’ and gives them a source of food for scavenging.

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Last month I attended a Bristol Harbour Clean Up. It was great to join all of the fantastic volunteers who came along and helped to pick up the rubbish that accumulates in and around our harbour. Throughout the afternoon, we collected 19 bags of litter, with 10 bags being recyclable – mostly drink cans and bottles. We also found shoes, footballs and even a giant inflatable beach ball. It was disappointing to see so much rubbish polluting our harbour. But thanks to the hard work of all the dedicated volunteers, the Harbour was measurably cleaner by the end of the day.

Litter Critters

The next Bristol Harbour Clean Up is taking place on Sunday 19 August at 2.00pm. The meeting point is on the pontoon in front of the Arnolfini. Visit here for further information.

My Week with the Mayor’s Office: Finley

Today’s guest blog comes from Finley Gazzard, who has spent last week gaining work experience in the Mayor’s Office and Labour Group Office at City Hall.

My name is Finley Gazzard and I have spent a week’s work experience in the Mayor’s Office and the Labour Office. The purpose of my work experience was to gain further understanding of how the Bristol City Council (BCC) functions and how they help improve Bristol as a city.

My first day of work experience was spent at the Labour Office working alongside the team.  In the morning I was able to sit in on my first meeting where I learned how meetings run and how vitally important communication is in a work place. I then watched the BCC induction and learnt about equality and diversity. I found this very interesting as it shows how the BCC is representative of the diverse culture in Bristol and how all groups of people are included in our city.

I was able to be involved in the Full Council meeting on the Tuesday which was a great experience. Earlier on in the day I attended a meeting with the Lord Mayor to discuss the running order for the meeting in the evening; during this meeting I learned how important time management is. I then assisted the Mayor and his team with the preparation for his speech at the meeting. This was interesting because I was able to work alongside different people and experience the working environment where different ideas are thrown around.

Later on that day I sat in the Full Council meeting. It was really interesting to see how the planning earlier in the day was used in the meeting, and that without good planning the Full Council meeting would not have been able to run as smoothly as it did. Also, I watched the Mayor deliver his speech and it was good to see how our earlier rehearsals were useful.

During the week I was given the task of reviewing the media to help make the councillors and members of staff aware of the news during their busy days. This was an important job because the councillors are very busy and do not have time to read all the news; I helped them to be able to quickly know all the key stories that were relevant to them.

I also summarised Local Government Association articles on housing, bullying and low pay. This was to help the team get a brief understanding of these articles during their busy days. I did more research into libraries in other cities.

Overall, it was a very interesting week in which I learned lots of new skills to help me further in life. I now have more knowledge on how the Mayor’s Office and Labour Office function and what a working environment is like. I am very thankful for my week as it has helped my understanding of work.

It’s The Economy…

During my annual address to full council on Tuesday I mentioned the UK’s retail crisis and our responsibility to support Bristol’s economy as it changes. I’ve expanded on this below.

Recent research from Centre for Cities  links the disturbing trend for boarded up, empty high streets to an over reliance on retail – but it says Bristol bucks the trend with a strong, diverse city centre.

Recent headlines about the troubles of big high-street names are troubling. But the report shows that the problem for many cities struggling to keep shops open is their overreliance on retail. In the weakest city centres almost half (43%) of commercial space is taken up by retail, and vacancy rates can be more than 20% – such as in Newport where a quarter of the city centre’s shops are empty. As the popularity of online shopping rises, the need for physical shops reduces. Large stores become unprofitable and face closure meaning the divide between struggling and strong city centres could widen further.

But Bristol is one of a group labelled ‘strong city centres’ which are instead dominated by office space rather than shops. In Bristol’s city centre, offices account for half of all commercial floorspace while retail takes up just a fifth. Having these skilled businesses and jobs in the heart of the city is the key to success. Workers provide essential footfall for shops, restaurants and gyms and as a result fewer are empty. This is reflected in Bristol’s lower vacancy rates for high-street services, which at 12% matches the UK city centre average.

The report advises shifting the focus of their city centres away from retail by converting empty shops into offices and homes, or removing them to make way for a new city landscape. I’ve already expressed my commitment to make it possible for families to live in the city centre in order to improve its viability and the report supports that approach. By expanding the city centre and building homes and mixed developments in Temple Quarter and the Western Harbour, we are bringing people and families back to the centre of Bristol.

Bristol has forty-six high streets across the city that offer retail, and we recognise our responsibility to support the entire city economy. However for us, where there is a comparatively vibrant city centre, the priority is to protect the commercial heart of the city, in the right way. More people and businesses want to be in the city centre, but this is putting pressure on the limited amount of land, pushing up prices and making it hard to accommodate growing firms. To sustain the city’s success, it is crucial that enough land is set aside to house a diverse collection of businesses, providing the variety of quality offices and other workspaces they need to thrive and innovate, as well as land for homes and communities.

Bristol’s position as one of the most productive UK cities depends on its population of innovative, high-skilled firms. Protecting the space they need to succeed is essential to maintaining this economic success and supporting local services. If we harness our growth and shape our own development with our eyes open, our city is big enough and strong enough to support both a vibrant city centre and out of town centres.

As the high-street becomes less retail-focused and technology impacts employment in industry and distribution, it’s vital the city supports workers transition to new roles. This includes supporting diversity in our economy, providing a wide range of jobs, meaningful work experience and pathways to employment.

The UK retail crisis is affecting many cities. Provided we behave like a major city, shaking off the village attitude that often prevails in our political environment, we can face that challenge.

Read the full Centre for Cities report here – Building Blocks: The role of commercial space in Local Industrial Strategies

Homes Sweet Homes

As I said at my Annual Address, housing remains a key focus for this administration. Whether by working to tackle homelessness, or through the city-wide initiatives that address the national housing crisis, my Labour administration is delivering the homes people in Bristol need and want.

Homelessness in Bristol is a growing consequence of the national austerity programme, which has eroded the support services the Council is able to provide. Despite this pressure, my administration continues to focus on early intervention and support schemes. In 2017,  Bristol City Council and key partners successfully prevented 4,486 households from becoming homeless. In addition to our network of shelters across Bristol, I am committed to getting people off the streets, out of temporary shelters, and into homes. Last year, we moved over 300 people from the streets into accommodation. To take this further, we need more affordable houses across Bristol.

When I pledged to deliver 2000 homes a year by 2020, I knew this would be a challenge. I am pleased to be able to say we are on track to exceed this target – by 2020 we will have delivered over 3,000 completed homes, over 1,000 of which will be affordable. This would not be possible without some key initiatives. Our New Build Housing Programme is regenerating brownfield sites to deliver new homes, and our City Office is launching a Housing Festival in October to explore new and innovative methods of construction which can be used to deliver affordable homes across the city.

Crucial to our Housing Plan is redeveloping and regenerating areas to ensure houses become homes integrated within communities. Millions of pounds in funding has been secured to unlock development projects in Temple Meads, Western Harbour, Hengrove, Southmead, Lockleaze, and other areas which will deliver additional houses. We have also supported the launch of a £57 million fund for housing associations to buy land and properties from the private sector. Our success is even attracting attention from other Core Cities who are interested in the momentum of our model.

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the Housing and Town Planning Act 1919, which provided for the first council house estates to be built. At the time, Britain faced a housing shortage, especially of affordable rented properties for the working classes. As we today face similar pressures, we are reflecting on the history of council estates in Bristol, and what lessons they offer for the future of place-making. With this in mind, we will be breaking ground on a new council development this autumn: Alderman Moores in Ashton Vale will provide over 130 new homes. This administration is reinvesting in our existing stock and building new homes for the future, demonstrating our commitment to deliver housing for Bristol.

It’s easy to talk about housebuilding in the abstract as units and numbers, but our priority is to create sustainable and affordable spaces people can call their home.