Bristol’s Labour Mayor Marvin Rees on What His Party Has Done for the City

As a member of the local Labour party, I got this general email from Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, explaining what his administration has done to improve conditions in Bristol. I’ve mixed feelings about Rees. He can be stubborn and obstinate, insisting on what he wants against the wishes of local people. He did this in the case of the housing development now being built in Hengrove park. His plans for the development were opposed by local people, who wanted fewer houses and more amenities, like shops, to be built on the site. But despite the fact that Rees’ own plans for the area were also criticised by the planning authorities for exactly the same reasons, Rees overruled the suggestions of the locals and went ahead with his own plans. There has also been a similar controversy over his scheme for a new arena for the city. Common sense would say that it should be built nearer to the city’s centre, where communications are excellent and visitors from outside the city could easily get to it via the motorway. However, for some reason best known to himself, Mayor Marv has decided instead that he wants it built in Filton, a suburb some distance away from the centre in the north of the city. Which is far more difficult to get to.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by his handling of the pulling down of Colston’s statue by Black Lives Matter. There have been demands from Bristol’s Black community for the statue to be taken down for decades, and so the assault on it probably shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, it followed similar attacks on Confederate statues across the Pond in America. Despite loud criticism from people of the right, like Alex Belfield, I think Bristol’s police did exactly the right thing in not trying to defend it when it was attacked. It was the only monument affected. The other statues nearby, such as one to Bristol’s sailors, and of the 18th century politician, Edmund Burke, and Queen Victoria (Gawd bless ‘er) weren’t touched. Neither were the surrounding shops and offices. But I think there would have been a full scale riot if the cops had tried to defend it. And I think it’s extremely likely that some in the mob that attacked the statue were hoping for a chance to fight the police as symbols of racist authority. The police didn’t give them the opportunity, and saved the people and property in the area from harm. As for Marvin himself, while he has made it very plain that, as a man of colour, he personally loathes the statue, he has been extremely diplomatic and careful in his handling of the controversy.

Here’s what he says in his email:

“Dear member,

I am writing to you to thank you for your support in the recent elections and to let you know how your Labour administration is repaying your trust in us. 

I want to start by reiterating how grateful I am; for everyone that voted for me and for the activists who knocked on doors, called voters, and spread our message of hope on social media. It’s been an enormously difficult year – which makes me even more appreciative for the support – but we still managed to adapt to the circumstances and get Labour’s message out to the voters. Our activists are the cornerstone of our movement – we wouldn’t have won the mayoral elections if it weren’t for the strength of our members. 

However, despite winning the Mayoralty and gaining a Labour Metromayor in the West of England Combined Authority, we lost a number of excellent councillors and had hard-working, dedicated candidates miss out on their seats. I know how talented our candidates were and how much they cared about their communities, so these results were hard to take. 

Despite the disappointment, we’ve regrouped and have been working to put Labour values into action and to continue delivering on your priorities. I want the next three years to be defined by inclusivity, sustainability, and delivery – everything we do will be defined by those three principles. 

At the first Full Council since the election, we put forward a motion that forbids the Council or its partners from following Home Office guidance that uses rough sleeping as a reason to cancel someone’s leave to remain, resulting in their eventual deportation from the UK. It should go without saying that we found this guidance deplorable – it shows how out-of-step Priti Patel and the Home Office is with Bristol’s collective conscience. Read more on Cllr Tom Renhard’s Blog. 

This announcement follows a recent further £4m investment to help tackle rough sleeping and the setting up of Bristol Street Outreach, a new service to support rough sleepers. Since 2019, we’ve reduced the levels of people rough-sleeping by 80% – this new service will focus on on-street engagements, particularly with those who have been sleeping rough for a long time, to help enable them to move off the streets and live independently.

As well as this we’ve:

Won Gold Food Sustainable City Status – only the second city in the UK to do so – for excellence in tackling food waste, urban food growing, and action to address food inequality. Awarded by the independent, Sustainable Food Places Board, the accolade recognises the work of Bristol’s good food movement and the city’s work to tackle the impacts of food on public health, nature, and climate change. More information here. 

• Offered residency to a number of Afghan interpreters who worked with the British Army, as they were at risk of persecution by the Taliban. 

• Moved forward building a 17,000 seater arena and its surrounding district – which now includes a 15 acre public park, £3.1m for transport infrastructure, 2,600 news homes, employment space, up to three new schools, a health centre and retail and leisure facilities – with it now set to open by the end of 2023.

• Allocated £34m in funding to help businesses in the city centre upgrade to cleaner vehicles, so they can avoid fines when the Clean Air Zone is implemented.  Despite pushing back the implementation date for the Clean Air Zone, by giving people and businesses time to adapt we will still have cleaner air by 2023 – the same time as we would if it had been implemented this October. 

• Painted a trans-inclusive rainbow crossing on Wine Street to as part of our celebrations for Pride Month. As well as this, we passed a motion that will strengthen mental health provision for LGBT+ people within the Council, and to work with our partners to improve services across the city.

Built the largest water-source heat pump in the UK, bringing zero-carbon energy to 5,000 homes in central Bristol. This comes after we built the largest land wind turbine in the country in Avonmouth. We’re also pushing ahead with finding a partner for the City Leap Programme, which will see us invest £1bn in decarbonising Bristol’s energy systems. 

• Started work to transform the Bear Pit into a haven for bees and butterflies. We declared an ecological emergency last year and are working to turn make our built environment more ecology-friendly – We’re investing in green structures and bright native flowers in the bearpit to attract pollinators and make it a thoroughfare the city can be proud of. 

• Invested £4.7m to rejuvenate our high streets, including Bristol city centre, East Street, Church Road, Shirehampton, Filwood Broadway, Stapleton Road, Brislington Hill, Filton Avenue, Two Mile Hill and Stockwood. The funding will help develop a support programme for existing and new high street businesses, while funding improvements to the streets in a bid to boost footfall through them. Financial support will also be offered to new or expanding businesses, such as pop-up stores or galleries, to reduce the number of vacant premises on the streets.

This is just a small selection of the work we’ve been doing for you. As this next term is only three years rather than four, we wanted to hit the ground running, but we have much, much more in the pipeline that will be ready for announcement in the near future.

If you would like to find out more about the work we’ve been doing, have questions over specific policy, or just want a general chat, then please feel free to ask your constituency executive to invite myself or a Cabinet member to one of your party meetings. 

I hope everyone has an enjoyable summer – I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Best wishes, 

Marvin Rees”

The various green projects Labour has introduced shows the administration is taking ecological issues seriously and shows that the Labour party in the city would be behind the Green New Deal proposed by the left, which would not only help the planet, but also create jobs and new industries. I’m also particularly impressed by the investment in local high streets and their businesses, and the offer of residency to the Afghan interpreters who worked for the British army. With the Taliban now advancing in Afghanistan, these people’s lives would very much be at risk if they remained there, and they undoubtedly deserve to be given sanctuary here in the UK, no matter what Priti Patel may think.

Despite my strong criticisms of some of Rees’ policies, I think overall he has been good for the city, and hope his administration will continue to do its best for Bristol and its great people.

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