Two years ago, I posted a public call for transparency, consultation and accountability of the Bristol 2015 company, set up by Bristol City Council to deliver the European Green Capital award. I did not have an axe to grind, but I fundamentally disagreed with the people parachuted in to manage it.
Supported by the Council, Bristol entered and won the award in partnership, driven by committed, passionate, determined council officers, local entrepreneurs, and environmental campaigners. Those involved were also very clear that this was not to be some glorious celebration. Far from it. Winning the green capital award was an opportunity to accelerate progress on issues such as fuel poverty, public transport, waste, air quality and housing. Of course, it was a good moment to raise Bristol’s profile as a low carbon city but the real prize was to engage everyone in the target of becoming a true zero-carbon city. It was not a vanity project, it was about a globalised future where 75% of the world’s 9bn+ population are going to be living in cities.
As the private company set up by the Council took shape in the latter half of 2014, the Board found themselves on a runaway train, fuelled by government funding and sponsorship from big business. Marketing contracts, arts projects and small grants followed, but (IMHO) the plan put in place by the subsequently sacked Director Kris Donaldson was a collection of disparate ideas rather than a strategy, the communications emphasis on celebration was inauthentic, the top-down decision process was undemocratic and consequently, the operational delivery struggled to deliver a coherent programme or narrative. Legacy played little part and despite best efforts, the incredibly hard-working team were fighting an uphill battle throughout. As the dust settles, we seem to have returned to the days of individual grass roots organisations doing what they do well – innovating, engaging and challenging the status quo, despite rather than because of the system. It is good stuff, but it isn’t going to achieve the fundamental changes we need for the future.
If Bristol is to thrive, there is an urgent need for someone to grasp the nettle, authentically, passionately, energetically and authoritatively. It must be bottom up, not top down. It must be sharp edged, not a compromise. It must provide for all, not rely on trickle down. I sincerely hope that the new Mayor Marvin Rees can be that person, and that he uses his promise to open up the books on Green Capital to look forward to 2050, rather than back to 2015. There is no point joining a witch-hunt, but there is value in implementing lessons learned. I hope the Mayor will also demonstrate through action rather than rhetoric his understanding that the environment is not something to be balanced against social policy, but an inherent part of providing a prosperous, resilient, healthy and sustainable future for Bristol and its citizens.