Response to Mayor’s ‘State of the City’ speech

Like many people, I look forward to the Mayor’s annual address. This year, I was hoping for a reminder of the Mayor’s vision for the city and the progress we have made.

Firstly, there is no doubt that the Council is in a difficult financial position. This means the scope for investing in services and new developments in Bristol is limited. However, it also makes it more important that we use the money we do have wisely and take fleet-footed action when and where we can. Unfortunately, it seems the opposite is happening at City Hall.

Last night’s address sounded and felt like a ‘management report’ not a vision for the city. The Mayor listed achievements that seemed to amount to a lot plans, strategies and consultations. The response to our problems with traffic and pollution is, for example, a transport strategy that sets out the need for more plans and feasibility studies. A review of RPZs was just that – a review with no

change. A challenge to the schools’ admissions process resulted in a ‘summit for 100 education partners who shared good practice’. More ‘planning’ is underway for the Western Harbour and a ‘working group’ has been gathered to ‘secure the future of our city centre’.

The Mayor mentioned the arena again, so I will too, because it is the one thing that would have brought some new life to our city in his term of office. A shovel ready project that would have left front line services untouched has been replaced by, you guessed it, a ‘plan’ for a mixed-use development – the conference centre no one in Bristol ever dreamt of.

In fact, as far as I can tell, housing seemed to be the only real achievement of the last two and a half years. For that, Cllr Paul Smith and council officers should be congratulated, as Bristol seems to be adding around 1% (2000 homes) to its housing stock every year. We were starting from a relatively low base so to be hitting a national average for house building is a real achievement to be celebrated.

Before the Mayor’s speech, I had called on the administration to be more ambitious. Now that the cap on borrowing is being lifted I think we should raise our sights even further. It was telling that this administration would rather celebrate its modest success, than aim higher.

Ultimately ‘plans’ are only as good as the difference they make. How many less people do we have sleeping rough or without homes? Is the air that we are breathing cleaner? How many homes have been insulated? How many people have new jobs and how many people are bringing home a living wage for their families? These are a few of the questions I would like to have heard answered.

Nobody is expecting miracles. It is tough to get things done when we have little cash but if a plan does not lead to change it represents a real a waste of the valuable and limited resources, we have. Which is surely almost worse than doing nothing?

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Greens call for Review of Bristol’s House-Building Plans

Sandy Hore-Ruthven, Green Party candidate for Mayor of Bristol is calling for the Mayor to announce a review of Bristol’s Housing strategy at his State of the City Speech on Wednesday following the government’s announced intention to lift the borrowing cap for local authorities. The cap currently dramatically limits councils from borrowing against their own existing housing stock to build new properties.

Commenting Sandy said: “The Mayor has a unique opportunity to review the city’s housing and planning policies. As a city we can afford to be much more ambitious now. This needs to be the start of a major change in the number of houses, and especially affordable houses, we’re building in the city. We need to act and deliver the right homes in the right places for the people who needs them, particularly focussing on social housing for those who need it most. This money gives us the ability to lead. We must take this opportunity.”

Despite Labour’s pledge to build 2000 extra properties a year in Bristol by 2020 – the year of the next Mayoral election – there are still more than 11,000 families on the housing waiting lists and homelessness in the city has continued to rise by more than 128% over the last three years. The recent closure of two emergency homelessness support centres has worsened the situation along with austerity led cuts to essential support services that keep people in their homes.

Sandy added: “This is an opportunity for Bristol City Council to show it can deliver, and we look forward to an announcement at the State of the City address.”

Eleanor Combley, Leader of the Green Group on Bristol City Council, said, “This administration has focused on getting housing built of any type to meet the Labour Mayor’s manifesto target, but Bristol’s housing problem is not just a numbers game. We already have thousands of empty properties in Bristol while the number of homeless people continues to rise. Encouraging developers to build more unaffordable investment properties is not going to change that.

“Bristol needs a sea change in the housing market to provide genuinely affordable and social housing, and I hope the Labour Mayor will show true ambition for Bristol and lay out plans to seize the opportunity presented by the lifting of the borrowing cap to provide it.”