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'We will do our best to support the city through this national cost of living crisis' promises Mayor Marvin Rees in his annual City Address

By Milan Perera, Critic Columnist

Mayor Reeves looked back on what Bristol has achieved over the past year and looked forward to new plans for the city.

In his first State of the City Address since the referendum in May, when Bristol decided to scrap the mayoral model, the Mayor Marvin Rees outlined Bristol City Council’s achievements over the last 12 months under his leadership and the challenges the city is facing in the current political zeitgeist.

The address was held at the cavernous Wills Building before a well-attended audience that represented the width and breadth of the city.

The evening was launched with the welcome speech from the newly appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, Professor Evelyn Welch who expressed her delight to be present at the event. Her warm remarks about Bristol brought a round of applause from the audience.

A poem read by the esteemed city poet, Kat Lyons, captured the resilience of the city during the post-pandemic period and reminded us of the challenges that are about to unfold.  Before Mayor Rees delivered his much-anticipated address, the two youth mayors, Anika Mistry and Jeremiah Dom-Ogbonna spoke to the audience and outlined their work on various areas affecting the young people around the city.

‘Pragmatism’, ‘courage’ and ‘optimism’ were the key words in Mayor Rees’ address as he elaborated the pressing issues facing the city, such as an unprecedented cost of living crisis and impending global climate catastrophe.

Rees expressed his disappointment at the current political climate, where complex issues which require nuanced discussions are reduced to clickbait, soundbites and adversarial binary positions. Quoting the former Conservative MP Rory Stewart ‘The things that matter require quite complicated, thoughtful long conversations where you’re learning all the time what you got wrong...’, Mr. Rees highlighted the utmost necessity of measured and calm discussions on major issues the city is facing which require far-reaching solutions.

Talking specifically of affordable housing in the city where some 17,000 people are on the waiting list, Mr Rees pointed out that ‘We have started our own housing company, Goram Homes, building 268 homes in Romney House, Lockleaze. By giving Goram responsibility for housing delivery and social homes, we can build homes at a rate never seen before in Bristol — affordable house building is already at a 12-year high.’

According to the Mayor, a further £1.3 million will be provided to support small businesses, bring vacant properties back into use and reanimate rundown streets.

Touching on economic regeneration and job creation in the city, the mayor talked with great enthusiasm about Temple Island which is ‘becoming an economic hub at the heart of the Temple Quarter…to unlock 10,000 homes, 22,000 jobs and regenerate Temple Meads Station.’

He also highlighted the recent makeover of the former sorting office, which he described as ‘the chipped tooth of Bristol’s smile’ and is now being transformed into a state of the art £300m campus by the University of Bristol.

In a world where every political decision is subject to intense scrutiny by both the press and social media, the paramount importance of financial intelligence and courage was highlighted by the mayor. Speaking of the arena project which the city has been craving for years, Mr Rees compared the two models proposed at the time and opted for the YTL model.

In this plan, the Brabazon Hangars is set to be converted into a 17,000+ seater arena, since, despite voices in ‘the Twitterati and commentariat’ who preferred the L & G model at the Temple Island, the YTL model is thought to be better in line with ‘financial intelligence.’ Mr Rees was proud to announce that the YTL Arena will be the UK’s third largest and Europe’s most sustainable arena.

Turning his attention to transport of the city, the mayor highlighted transport infrastructure issues that ‘have been ignored for years’, including £18 million worth of repairs of bridges throughout Bristol.

Regarding climate change, the mayor expressed the pressing need for long-term solutions which can be only achieved through strong leadership and political will.

‘The battle against climate change will be won or lost in cities. 55% of the world now live in cities and this will be two thirds by 2070’ he stated.

In his bid to bolster Bristol’s response to climate change, Mr Rees highlighted that ‘We have taken on this challenge as part of the leadership of 3Ci. We have identified over £330 billion of low carbon and net-zero projects across the UK’s largest cities, and we are reaching out for international finance.’

During the Q&A session, the mayor responded to some of the concerns sent by the public. Mr Rees did not mince his words when he pointed out the necessity of close collaboration between the local and central government. According to the mayor, local governments are poorly understood by many at Westminster, however he is optimistic of some promising gestures he witnessed recently from politicians such as Michael Gove.

Despite the insurmountable challenges faced by the city, Mr Rees reassured the people of Bristol of a better future.