Marvin Rees’ State of the City Address

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In the Wills’ Memorial building on Wednesday 16th October, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees gave his seventh annual State of the City address. Rees celebrated the achievements of his term so far, while also outlining his plan for Bristol’s future as a ‘City of Hope’.

Following speeches by Bristol’s youth mayors, Siena Jackson-Wolfe and Mohamed Aidid, and a poem from City Poet, Vanessa Kisuule, Marvin Rees addressed the city. He began by drawing comparisons between the circumstances of his own childhood forty years ago and those of children growing up in Bristol today, illustrating the contradictions and inequalities of Bristol, where poverty and wealth coexist.

Rees’ vision is that of Bristolian Exceptionalism, with Bristol a city-on-a-hill for the rest of the UK, taking the lead on global issues and acting as a ‘force for good in the world’. This vision is underscored by a need for fundamental change, with Rees decrying ‘tinkering’ as no longer enough to tackle problems of Brexit, Universal Credit, population growth, inequality and climate change. Through the ‘City Office’, ‘One City Plan’, the declaration of the Climate Emergency and ‘City Leap’, Bristol has an opportunity to make a material difference.

Rees also demonstrated that change had already arrived in Bristol, with every one of his campaign pledges having been delivered. RPZ expansion has been stymied, Children’s Centres has been saved from austerity-driven cuts, the ‘Through the Works’ programme has helped deliver 3,500 meaningful work experience work placements in the last year, schools are being built in both Lockleaze and Silverthorn, culture and sport have been made more accessible for all, while Bristol is both on target to be run entirely on clean energy by 2050 (driven by the £1 billion ‘City Leap project’) and have 2000 new homes by 2020. Rees has also made great strides in tackling ‘Period Poverty’ and knife crime (following Glasgow’s lead of a public health approach), as well as promoting opportunities for LGBT+ and BME people (with the ‘Stepping Up Programme’ being a particular success).

Rees ranked his most significant achievement as the change in city leadership he has effected, having established a city plan for Bristol until 2050, transcending the electoral cycle. However, he warned that such progress cannot be taken for granted, with a delivery focused approach that is unafraid of complexity being necessary for continued growth. He also called for an improvement in civic discourse, warning that mud will be thrown in the coming election (possibly a veiled response to the accusations of a cover-up over a £98,000 payout error), urging the electorate not to become distracted from the real issues.

Rees then took time to praise people who had played a crucial role in city leadership over the last year, before looking ahead to Bristol’s future. He outlined his comprehensive plan to improve Bristol’s housing situation and meet his ambitious campaign pledge, with the tabled Western Harbour development central to his plans. Alongside the progress in housing, a ‘truly transformative transport solution’ is also planned, improving Bristol’s connectivity.

Rees then highlighted Bristol’s role as a leading voice in the UK’s Climate response, with Bristol the first council to declare a Climate Emergency as well as embed leadership of the New Green Deal with a named Cabinet lead. This climate action is all underpinned by a £1 billion programme of investment in cleaner energy. Despite Rees’ impressive record in tackling climate change, the pledge was met by a silent protest over the proposed expansion of Bristol airport (a point reiterated later by a lone heckler).

Rees concluded by reminding Bristol of the opportunity we have to make tangible change, and encouraging us to work together in building a ‘City of Hope’, and Bristol certainly has reason to look forward to its future, with mayor, council and city partners all committed to making positive changes to every aspect of life in Bristol, whether that be Residents Parking Zones or tackling our climate crisis. As 2019 comes to an end, Bristol’s future looks bright.