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Local Elections 2021: South West


By Helen Tilton, Associate

Elections: Bristol, Local

As with any local election, but especially one that has come a year late, Bristol City has seen a collection of councillors retiring, resigning or otherwise choosing not to stand for re-election. For the planning committee this has meant reduced membership and some substitutions (already in effect), with further changes likely to be required post-election.

The resignation of Labour councillor and planning committee member, Jo Sergeant, at the start of March, was notable because of her decision to accompany her exit with a strongly worded open letter that among other things, asserted unsatisfactory restrictions being imposed internally on Labour Group members. Councillor Margaret Hickman, Leader of the Labour Group and current member of planning Committee A, was among those named at Full Council later the same month as choosing not standing for re-election in May (there is no suggestion that the two events are directly connected).

The Labour and Green parties in particular share a number of similar priorities around the climate and ecological emergency, affordable homes, community involvement and Covid-19 recovery. Arguably there is no party that would currently shy away from promoting these big-ticket issues as core objectives, which has begged the question from the development industry as to where the differences might lie between the parties when it comes to balancing competing issues in decision-making. The answer is in the apportionment of emphasis, but more particularly in the specifics of the delivery of those priorities. This can be seen in the objectives and manifestos of the Bristol Mayoral candidates – more on this below.

Elections: Bristol Mayor

Of the four main mayoral candidates, incumbent Labour Mayor Marvin Rees remains the bookies favourite to retain his position, with Green candidate Sandy Hore-Ruthven emerging as a strong second place contender.

Both the Lib Dems and Conservatives are looking to abolish the role of Mayor, but with the Conservatives taking a softer approach to supporting democratic accountability and ‘supporting the offer of a referendum’, versus the Lib Dems who are operating off the back of a “Scrap the Mayor” campaign.

The Greens aren’t looking to abolish the role of Mayor, but they are seeking to substantially ‘reboot democracy’ with a cross party cabinet, redistributing power within the mayor’s office, and giving greater powers to citizens including young people and improving accessibility in politics.

The incumbent Mayor and the three main challengers

We have taken a look at how the Labour priorities have developed, and have summarised some of the priorities and pledges of the mayoral challengers – focusing particularly on aspects of housing and development and climate change.

All summaries are condensed, and are not exhaustive lists – please get in touch with us if you would like to know more!

Mayor Marvin Rees (Labour)

Labour’s manifesto shows a significant continuation of existing objectives, and ongoing alignment with the recently refreshed One City Plan. Unsurprisingly, Marvin Rees is continuing to focus on the environment and resolving social inequality, with priorities that focus on tackling transport, homes, health, the economy, culture, environment and education.
Labour is again proposing to build more than 2,000 new homes a year, but this time with 1,000 of those to be affordable, to be met by 2024.

There is a continuation of the pledge to build innovative low carbon homes and community spaces at Western Harbour and other previously identified growth locations like Temple Meads, Bedminster and Frome Gateway, plus a pledge to pilot at least two ‘liveable neighbourhood’ schemes. Labour are also looking to invest in ‘balanced communities’, including improved accessibility in newly-built social housing, as well as delivery of extra-care housing, and intergenerational flats where older and younger people can provide mutual support.

Climate change pledges include an ongoing focus on delivering a mass public transit system, investment in flood defenses, and £1bn investment in renewable energy through the City Leap programme. Alongside this is a commitment to double tree canopy coverage, invest in biodiversity and rewilding programmes and to dedicate 30% of the Council’s land to nature. There are also skills-based commitments, including using public procurement to increase employment and training provision in green infrastructure and natural solution schemes, and supporting retraining and the transfer of skills into alternative green job sectors.

The suggestion of a ‘Bristol Bond’ is an interesting pledge, designed to “develop long-term capacity for civic investment in new affordable homes, infrastructure, and economic and social development”, enabling citizens to buy bonds to invest in improving social outcomes in the city.

The Challengers

Sandy Hore-Ruthven (Green)

Sandy Hore-Ruthven is the CEO of Creative Youth Network. He is a keen supporter of the disadvantaged and vulnerable, working to give young people the best start in life and campaigning for issues such as Special Education Needs provision. He has also regularly campaigned on matters affecting the environment.

There are many pledges and priorities in what is, at 36-pages, a lengthy manifesto. There are commitments relating to unemployment and covid recovery, high streets and hospitality investment, investment in public transport, safer streets, improving standards in education, building access to learning into communities, prioritising sustainable food, mental and physical health, social care, culture and the arts, vocational training, and creating a diverse city. Perhaps more notably, there are a number of references relating to ‘energising’ the West of England Combined Authority (WECA).

Pledges broadly include, but are not limited to, the following:

Housing & development

  • Empowering local people in local development including through Neighbourhood Development Plans, making more public land available to community-led housing projects and using CPO to help site assembly, and investing in new homes and community-led housing projects.
  • Protecting the character of the city centre by avoiding over-development, recognising that high density doesn’t necessarily mean high rise, and supporting a balanced mix of homes.
  • Building 2,000 new Council homes by 2030.
  • Supporting the private sector to build 2,000 new homes a year through both new-build and redeveloping empty properties, and making sure that 20-40% of this is affordable. In addition, redefining ‘affordable’ as a home that costs no more than what a renter or buyer’s income can realistically support, and using this to guide discussions with developers over affordability in the city.
  • Using innovative building methods and also building for changing lifestyles, accessibility and ageing communities.

Climate change

  • Repurposing road building budgets, supporting walking as a priority, creating a cycle friendly city, supporting rail links, and making bus fares half-price for under-21s.
  • Ensuring wildlife in parks and gardens can thrive, protecting green spaces and encouraging planting across the city.
  • Addressing flooding risk.
  • Committing to Bristol becoming a Zero Waste city, including producing a waste prevention strategy with numerical targets for all waste, reducing the availability of single use plastics, removing street advertising that advocates consumption, and supporting cleaner streets. Where possible, facilitating sustainable energy and food production closer to home.
  • Bringing the city to legal clean air limits by 2025.
  • Ensuring all new buildings and developments are carbon neutral, that all private landlords achieve a Grade C energy efficiency rating (or better), and implementing retrofitting schemes for homes and businesses.
  • Insulating every Council house in Bristol by 2030, reducing carbon emissions and fuel bills by 40%, and charging a carbon levy of £75 per tonne of emitted carbon in all new domestic and commercial developments, to generate income to offset carbon emissions from new developments.
  • Investing £1 million in green business support, including small grants in companies with potential, working with industry to encourage manufacturing of green technologies, advertising Bristol internationally as a green business hub, and providing low-cost business space hubs for repair and re-use businesses.
  • Supporting the development of large-scale battery arrays, and investigating infrastructure opportunities for electric cars.
  • Installing more wind turbines in Avonmouth and/or the Severn Estuary, preferably with council or community ownership. Lead on tidal lagoons in the Severn Estuary.
  • Deliver renewable energy systems through the £1bn City Leap programme. Expand and prioritise district energy systems. Push for micro-generation of power in all new developments.
  • Identify and make available council-owned sites for new community micro-generation schemes, and urge major institutions in Bristol with land and buildings to generate energy. Maximise opportunities for generating energy from food waste.

Alastair Watson (Conservative)

Alastair Watson is likely to be a favourite for traditional conservative voters. He has lived in Bristol for over 30 years and is a local businessman and former Bristol City Councillor for Westbury-on-Trym, and has held the position of Lord Mayor. He has often focused on children and young people’s services and is also a lifelong campaigner for the environment.
The Conservative campaign is focusing more on the ‘basics’ of what communities need, and is also focusing on opportunities to improve infrastructure, facilities, business investment and skills development, and well paid, secure, and highly skilled jobs.
Pledges broadly include, but are not limited to, the following:

Housing & development

  • Generating more housing for Bristol by adopting best practice and working in partnership with housing associations and private developers, as well as delivering Council housing.
  • Focusing on safe and high-quality designed space and buildings, and ensuring the preservation of important views and heritage assets. Avoiding overdevelopment, making sure development is delivered in a sustainable and socially responsible way, and creating liveable neighbourhoods.
  • Ensure that developments also provide money for vital community infrastructure in the area they are built rather than the City Centre.
  • Investing in secondary shopping centres.
  • Ensuring consultation with those who are directly affected by development.
  • Stopping overdevelopment of key sites such as Western Harbour and Hengrove Park.
  • Using developer contributions to kickstart a parks improvement programme, alongside more money for play areas and sports.
  • Preservation of local amenities such as the Western Slopes in south Bristol, and preservation of the greenbelt.

Climate change

  • Ensuring clean air for everyone, but in a way that keeps the city centre as the vibrant heart of the City.
  • Supporting businesses, but also incentivising them to be more environmentally friendly.
  • Improving transport links, but focusing on green technologies.
  • Working with neighbouring local authorities to deliver their rail ambitions for the Henbury Loop and Portishead lines. Develop new train stations at Horfield and St Anne’s.
  • Expanding bus services to outer areas, and providing a ring of park and ride facilities.
  • Expanding allotment provision across the city.
  • Introducing a green bond scheme to invest in renewable energy schemes in communities.

Caroline Gooch (Liberal Democrat)

Dr. Caroline Gooch trained as a medical research scientist and now works as a consultant in the pharmaceutical industry. She is passionate about ethical business practices, and working in partnership with the NHS to achieve access to medicines for patients. Her campaign focuses heavily on prioritising Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), and investing in services such as schooling, physical and mental health, youth services, and the integration of health and social care.
In line with the ‘scrap the mayor’ campaign, her focus is on democracy and on people; devolving power back to councillors and supporting transparency in decision-making.
Pledges broadly include, but are not limited to, the following:

Housing & development

  • Providing sustainable and affordable housing; re-examining the affordability level for development’s social housing obligation, ‘control land sales’ to maximise social housing, ‘force’ developers to maximise the level of social housing in new housing developments.
  • Only release land for development once sustainable transport infrastructure is in place.
  • Address vacant land and properties.
  • Maximise opportunities for smart use of true land value to extend tenure options and deliver Community Land Trusts.
  • Require the council to create a master planning document or design briefs for developing major sites.
  • Build more eco-housing. Provide more key worker housing. Invest in Extra Care Housing and improve partnerships between elderly homeowners and potential live-in younger carers.
  • Encourage the provision of more ‘dedicated’ student housing, and implement a planning cap on unsustainable growth by the universities.
  • Seek reconsideration of how land is released for development at Western Harbour; offer greater consultation to local residents on the development plans. Work alongside communities to ensure new developments don’t adversely impact local services.

Climate change

  • Create a greener city; reducing the carbon footprint, investing in sustainable public transport, tackling waste, promoting active transport, and cleaning up both the air and waterways.
  • Establish whole life carbon cost for building and demolitions.
  • Embrace new technology to decarbonise the economy.
  • Support safe walking and cycling, with community consent.
  • Work with West of England partners to deliver ten new rail stations and two new tracks. Support suburban railways, through new stations at Brentry, Ashton Gate, St Anne’s, and Ashley Down. Improve transport interchanges. Reduce bus fares and create park and rides, including mini feeder P&R.
  • Create a Green Innovation Aviation Forum
  • Deliver a work-place parking levy to fund public transport improvements, reduce congestion and combat air pollution.
  • Plant ten million trees over the next twenty years to improve air quality, including requiring all new housing developments to include a range of new trees. Create a ‘living garden’ along the M32, and turn city centre wastelands into green space.
  • Implement a wide range of clean air solutions.
  • Make Bristol electric car friendly, tripling provision of charging points across the city, and deliver a range of other ‘smart city’ improvements.
  • Establish a Citizens Climate Assembly.
  • Ensure all public property achieves carbon neutrality.
  • Create a zero waste city.
  • Embrace the potential of the Hydrogen Economy. Revitalise the Avon Barrage. Investigate opportunities for hydro-power from the Floating Harbour and the Cut. Co-operate with the other local authorities to develop tidal lagoons in the Severn Estuary. Build a tidal power generator in Bristol. Support Bristol Green Capital Partnership.
  • Work with local energy co-operatives to invest in more renewable energy production. Extend the use of heat networks.

Elections: Avon & Somerset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC)

Whilst not usually a role to raise much attention, Bristol has made headlines around the country as a result of the forcible removal of Colston Statue, and the Black Lives Matter and the Kill the Bill protests. The city’s naturally rebellious nature seems to be attracting outside interest, which is testing the city’s excellent experience and track record at a local level in managing peaceful safe rights of expression. The need for the elected Mayor and local councillors to continue to build on existing good work liaising directly with communities and the police, is more pressing now than ever.

The candidates for the new Avon and Somerset PCC are:

  • John Smith (Independent) – former leader of the Avon and Somerset PCC’s team, and in 2020 appointed Avon and Somerset Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner.
  • Cleo Lake (Green) – former Lord Mayor of Bristol and former Councillor for Cotham in Bristol. Social justice activist, and actively involved in the arts and cultural sectors.
  • Kerry Barker (Labour) – he came second in the 2016 PCC election. A barrister who has worked in criminal justice for many years.
  • Mark Shelford (Conservative) – ex-Army officer and former Deputy Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, who sat on the Police and Crime Panel.
  • Heather Shearer (Liberal Democrat) – Vice Chair of Somerset’s Police & Crime Panel, and Mendip District Councillor with responsibility for Community Health & Safety, and a member of the Safer Somerset Partnership.
Local Elections 2021: South West