By Milan Perera, Deputy Editor
In his eighth State of the City address, Mayor Marvin Rees looked at how Bristol has changed over the past eight years and what challenges it faces now and in its future.
The address was held in the Wills Memorial Building before an audience that represented the width and breadth of the city. State of the City address is part of the 2023 Festival of the Future City, that aims to facilitate a public debate about the future of cities where it brings together politicians, academics, journalists, students, the public, and the policymakers.
The proceedings for the evening commenced with the welcome speech from the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bristol, Professor Evelyn Welch who expressed her delight to be opening the State of the City Address for the second time in her tenure.
During her opening speech, Professor Welch touched on the sustainable urban planning in the face of climate change. A few minutes into her address, a group of anti-Forced Swim Test protesters entered the Great Hall and disrupted the proceedings before being escorted off the premises by the security personnel. Professor Welch made light of the interruption and commented on the ‘long and proud tradition of disruptive protest in Bristol’
The State of the City Address was preceded by a poetry recitation from the city poet, Kat Lyons and an address by the Bristol Youth Mayor, Mya Parker.
Mayor Marvin Rees commenced his address by outlining the content of his speech in three sections:
· Overview of his time in office.
· ‘Continue-to-do’ list.
· Challenges and opportunities for the future leaders of the city.
Looking back at his record for the last eight years as the Elected-Mayor of Bristol, Mr. Rees commented on the political uncertainty enveloped the country and the region in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum which saw five Prime Ministers, and eight Ministers for Local Government.
Among his achievements, Mayor Rees referred to delivering 12,534 homes, opening 106 Welcoming Spaces to support people through the coldest months, Strive Internship programme (supporting minoritised students to access careers in professional services), securing £100m for Temple Meads and Temple Quarter and signing the £1 billion Bristol City Leap energy investment deal.
Mr. Rees expanded on Bristol’s presence in the global stage where he was asked to participate several international forums such as Conference of the Parties (COP), Mayors Migration Council and the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.
Mayor Marvin Rees also expanded on Bristol’s key role placing cities at the centre of action on climate change and migration.
In his ‘continue-to-do’ list, Mr. Rees pointed out the urgent need to build more sustainable homes as the demand has soared over the years: ‘We have 42 square miles. We are 472,000 people. We have 20,000 on the housing waiting list and 1,300 households in temporary accommodation. We anticipate our population reaching 550,000 by 2050. We have to build homes faster than we have for decades just to stand still.’
Commenting on the declining house ownership, the Mayor said: ‘The last time houses were this expensive by ratio was 150 years ago. By comparison, 40 years ago house prices were four times the average earnings. As a result, home ownership has fallen, and the private rental sector is back to levels not seen since the early 1980s.’
As schemes already in the pipeline, he drew his attention to Temple Quarter – over 10,000 homes;Debenhams site – 520 homes;The Galleries – 450 homes and student living for 800 and Olympian plans for Avon House – 574 homes (of which 442 for students.
On the need to lead with initiative and political will, the Mayor said: ‘Politicians cannot be passive spectators in the development of the city. Developers must know what we are about, and we must work with them ensure their schemes match our ambition. We have been clear that we want people who can help us deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals.’
On tackling the climate change, Mr. Rees elaborated on the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. On this ‘incredibly challenging aspiration’ he referred to the operations in place, such as
· Investing over £100 million in decarbonisation work since 2016.
· Bristol City Leap deal (£630 million to be invested to cut energy bills, create green jobs, and slash carbon emissions by over 150,000 tonnes).
· Planting over 90,000 trees since 2015 and contributing to a deal with Ambition Lawrence Weston which erected the tallest onshore wind turbine in England.
On improving the transport in the city, the Mayor urged the necessity of far-reaching solutions as the current system has become ‘undeliverable’ : ‘To hear some of the opposition voices who say underground is ‘pie in the sky’, you wouldn’t think London went underground in 1863, 160 years ago.‘
‘I would say this: I understand that Bristol has failed to deliver big for so many years. People have become sceptical and cynical. But let’s not allow old failures to rob us of the ability to recognise huge opportunities when they are right in front of us.’
On the regeneration of the city, the Mayor talked at length about Temple Quarter as ‘one of the biggest and most exciting regeneration projects in Europe’ which is promised to deliver over 10,000 homes in a sustainable location, 22,000 jobs and £1.5billion annually to the economy.
On the many lessons he learnt as the Mayor, Mr. Rees said: ‘Power doesn’t exist in an abstract. As an elected politician, power is loaned to me by this city. As a city leader, I am just one of many sources of power.’
Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mayor Marvin Rees said: ‘Power properly understood is the ability to achieve purpose.’
On the need for political will and initiative he said: ‘love without power is weak and anaemic, it can’t do anything for anyone.’
Featured image: Milan Perera
How do you rate Mayor Marvin Rees’ tenure as the last elected mayor of Bristol?