In 1966, the M32 “Hambrook Spur” opened to traffic, a major step in Bristol’s transport evolution towards dominance of the car. It also sparked the start of the revolution that prevented, amongst other things, the harbour being concreted over and a dual carriage way being built up Jacobs Well Rd. I’m sure some will say that if it had been, we would not have the traffic problems we have today; an inner ring road allowing even more cars to circulate the city, like Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds. One piece of this dream, the St Philips flyover, was built. Houses were demolished to make way for cars, and people took up residence in their new high-rise apartments built nearby. In theory, it created economic prosperity and growth and everyone was happy. The Bristol Civic Society, however, voiced their opposition and local campaign groups put a stop to further “dual-carriagisation” of Bristol. I would put it to you that not even the most ardent Bristolian supporters of car based economic growth would suggest we reconsider an inner ring road through Redland. Indeed, the removal of the Queen Square flyover is a triumph of green space over tarmac that has proved beyond doubt that it is both possible and beneficial.
It is notable, then, that the Long Ashton bypass – perhaps the last such gesture – is being built, partly excused by the need for tarmac upon which rapid transit buses (BRT) can run. On the other side of the city, more green field land (the ‘blue finger’) next to the M32 was finally turned over to the contractors to build a slipway for BRT 1.
Protests against the loss of the ‘blue finger’ marked the start of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital. Inside the Victoria Rooms were many of the activists of the last 30 years, rightly celebrating the progress that had been made in establishing Bristol as the UK city where green space, energy efficiency, cycling & walking were prioritised just as highly, if not more so, than office blocks and roads. Outside the room were today’s activists, claiming that those inside had sold out.
Ironic, then, that the ceremonial handing over of the award to Ljubljana was also marked by protests outside. This time it was a politically motivated group asking for greater transparency over how the significant sums of money raised for Bristol 2015 had been spent. The Council allocated £1.2m, Government pitched in over £7m and several more millions were found through private sector sponsorship. How it was spent is a legitimate question, and deserves a detailed answer. We won the award on behalf of the city, and the city has a right to know, especially when the city was shut out of the organisation that spent it.
It should be acknowledged, though, that the Bristol 2015 team did a fine job of exceeding their own objectives, and I’m sure the evaluation will demonstrate that Bristol’s standing in the world has leapt as a result. The team that awarded the prize are coming back in 5 years to assess its longer-term impact and so the bigger question is whether the year has achieved what it set out to do; in particular, whether it has established a vision for the next 10 years that will ensure that future investment will go into making Bristol more of a Green Capital rather than less of one. There is some evidence of that discussion having taken place, with over £1.6m allocated to a series of summits; but, early on, the private sector team hired to deliver the programme began to concentrate on the messaging rather than the message. Rather than opening up the debate to the very people that we were hoping to involve, process took over from partnership, and project management took over from grass roots passion.
More worrying is the lack of legacy. Indeed, a word search on the Bristol 2015 website brings up a nil result. This offers the green community of Bristol an opportunity, perhaps via the Green Capital Partnership should it choose to take it on, an opportunity to get stuck in again. We, Love The Future, are going to support that opportunity by championing a series of individual, organisational and institutional actions that make green easy. We must pedestrianise the old city. We must develop a circular economy. We must improve air quality. We must build affordable, sustainable, low energy houses across the city. We must make public transport, cycling & walking the preferred method of travel.
It is unlikely that there will be more fog bridges, falling fruit or wicker whales, but if we have got anything to do with it, there will be clean air, warm houses, sustainable energy, good jobs and plenty of safe green space for children to enjoy.