Letter to my unborn child

Hi bump,

With a bit of good fortune I should be seeing you in about 5 months time. I’m over the moon and terrified in equal measure. I have never changed a nappy and I’m turning 50 next year, but when I saw you move on the screen the emotions were unlike anything I have ever felt before; the tears were real and the fear palpable as your tiny beating heart took my breath away.

Ultrasound scan of our baby at 18 weeks

I’m sorry to say that we are bringing you into a world that I don’t much like. It scares me, it depresses me, it makes me want to hide somewhere, away from the madness of modern life. Despite all the effort and progress, hatred, mistrust, racism, misogyny and homophobia seems endless, instantly transmitted by eager fingers hitting the share button in glee or dismay. Millions are dying in wars across the globe, and the best the so-called leader of the free world can do is tweet his rage whilst hiding his pathetic narcissism behind lawsuits and payoffs. Don’t get me started on climate change, let alone terrorism and genocide.  

It isn’t much better closer to home. We sell arms, we protect the rich, we destroy the environment and we justify it all in the name of economic growth. Not human growth, just economic growth, which the faithful think is the same. We are slaves to capitalism at the altar of ego, building a future on the very consumerism that is going to destroy everything that I think is good about the world; trees, polar bears, orangutans, dolphins, songbirds, orchids, butterflies & bees. (Not wasps though). We will be reading books together saying that was what a rhino looked like before it was wiped out by poaching and greed, and re-watching Chasing Ice so that you know what a glacier looked like before they melted.  

Just down the road, inequality is so real that teachers are providing hot meals for hungry kids growing up next door to others demanding an upgrade to so last year’s smart-phone. Style advice is dispensed by ‘trend setters’ with millions of followers desperately wanting to know where they bought their fake tan products. I’m saddened to think that at some point you are going to learn about people trafficking, sexual exploitation and rape. That is if you can notice in between the emojis & likes.      

But your mum and I are incredibly thankful we are blessed with good health and opportunities, and will be all the more so with you in the world. We’ve got solar panels and bikes and walking boots and I can’t wait to take you to the beach and tell you about how precious the ocean is.  I hope you don’t feel bad when we take you to the countryside instead of going to the shops. (I also hope you don’t vote Tory when we tell  you how important democracy is, but that’s up to you). But most of all, I hope we can tell you that the people in power have realised just how precious our world is and begun to reverse the damage that is being done.

I’m learning to have faith in a bigger picture that reaches far beyond our current understanding, and I maintain hope that there is an alternative to our current path, for if not, what is the point of bringing you on this journey. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to seeing you, but in the meantime, I promise you I’m going to do everything I can to build a better world to share with you.

With love, faith & hope. x


Good Sh*t

Electric versus biomethane and the trials of being on the buses…

Have a guess how much a double-decker electric bus costs? Couple of hundred grand perhaps?

Well, you may be staggered to find out that they are actually an eye-watering £675,000. Even more astonishing is that almost half – £310,000 – is just for the battery pack – which is then only guaranteed for two years! The good news is that by comparison, a biomethane double-decker “poo bus”, soon to be seen on the roads near you, is around £300,000, only slightly more expensive than a new Euro 6 diesel.


A bus that is powered by human shit

The circular economy in action!

Last night James Freeman, Managing Director of First Bus Bristol & Bath, along with his colleague Chris Hanson, spent an evening chatting to residents of North Somerset about the challenges and opportunities of running a 21st century public transport system.

North Somerset Green party public meeting

First Bus has long been a subject of ridicule, but I think even the most disillusioned at the meeting were to a greater or lesser extent won over by their new understanding of the backdrop of legislative problems and congestion issues against which First Bus have continued to improve service and passenger numbers. Like many, I wasn’t aware that the ‘time boards’ now fitted at many stops are not actually operated by the bus company. They are council owned and managed by Travelwest, a third party, and when the bus can’t connect via GPS, the system gets easily confused. Hence the incredibly frustrating experience of timetables, smart-phone apps and electronic boards never seeming to agree.

Ultimately of course, many would like to see public transport back in public hands, but the  complexity of running 1800 busses, with 1400 drivers, on gridlocked roads, whilst trying to generate enough money to reinvest in more routes is a lot more tricky than just handing over the keys to the Council. Personally, I’m a fan of social enterprise, which if supported by public sector spending, could work in partnership with the private sector to transform the way in which we all get around. I have to say that my experience of using my local services has been 95% very good, but, as a bus user (and driver) himself, James agrees that the other 5% of the time, it is incredibly annoying!  I’m lucky though as I live near a major route; the reality is that for many people, using the bus isn’t a viable option at all.

Where busses are available, and this is the big one, the most significant reason for unreliable bus services is stop-start car & van traffic, often exacerbated by roadworks. On summer days, when the M5 is at a stand-still and locals have taken to the A roads in a forlorn attempt to get home early, the bus network is, as James put it (I paraphrase here) “screwed”. It doesn’t matter how many busses there are if they are all stuck in the same traffic jam as the rest of us. However, when the roads are moving, and double deckers can get through on time, passenger numbers are increasingly steadily, offering the opportunity to experiment with extended hours and even new routes.

There are some really significant improvements on the way – better connectivity for the electronic systems, faster cashless ticketing using phones and contactless cards, Metro-bus (fingers crossed it is positive) and yes, less air pollution due to cleaner, greener busses. So, even though I sometimes find myself tweeting First to complain, now I know that James and his team are listening, I will also let them know when I have had a good experience; we all like to get some positive feedback to help us through another difficult day. Good public transport can be transformative and the UK is decades behind the rest of Europe, so I hope we can continue to put pressure on the government and local authorities to help reverse their car obsessed transport strategies.

p.s. really looking forward to seeing the new double-decker ‘poo bus’ due to arrive in a few weeks time. If you would like to know more, there is open day at the Lawrence Hill Depot from 11am to 3pm on August 19th. 


Too late by 2050?

I have recently been elected to the Board of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership to represent its 800+ members. I was asked to introduce myself and here is an outline of what I said…

Over the last couple of years, I have had the huge privilege of speaking to an extraordinary number of people about what being green means. In broad terms, I think they can be broken into three groups:

  1. The relatively small number that get it and have already made significant changes to their lifestyle
  2. Those that get it but have lots of (often legitimate) reasons for not changing their lifestyles significantly e.g. cost
  3. Those that get it but really aren’t interesting changing their lifestyles at all unless it is mandatory i.e. it is someone else responsibility

(n.b I think the nay-sayers also get it but are willfully choosing to ignore the evidence rather than having a valid, alternative argument).

But why did I apply to be a Director, especially given that a significant number of my friends and colleagues said very pointedly “don’t waste your time”. Well, the short answer is that I think we are in real danger of creating a global catastrophe caused by climate change, the likes of which humanity has never experienced before. I cannot sit idly by and be part of that legacy, without having done everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen.

However dire the future looks, I’m hoping I will live long enough to be around in 2050 (I would be 81). This is the deadline upon which governments all now seem to be focusing their efforts. Trouble is that if 2050 is to be the year we congratulate ourselves on having averted disaster, the time to change our path is now. If we haven’t reversed global carbon emissions in the next few years, it is just a long downhill slide towards a very difficult future.

Which is, in a nutshell, why I spend almost every waking moment thinking about how we can build a better future and trying to do something about it.

It is my assumption that the Board of the Partnership’s Community Interest Company and the 800+ members are in Group 1 above. Perhaps this is a hugely optimistic assumption? To be fair, it probably depends on how we define ‘actively trying to help’. How green do we need to be in order to meet the climate change targets?

I think there is a series of relatively simple tests that give a reasonable guide as to whether we are individually walking the talk (where we can afford to do so). For example; have members changed their energy provider to a renewable tariff, have they moved their money to a bank that invests ethically & sustainably, have they changed their food buying habits to be more seasonal, local or organic, do they walk, cycle or use public transport as often as they can, and most significantly for their carbon footprint, have they cut down on the amount of flights they take?

The question you might be thinking is whether it is right for us to expect them to? Well, my view is yes – and if it turns out that there isn’t a clear intention for members to significantly reduce their carbon footprint, then how on earth do we expect anything to change. I think this is a fair challenge.

Over the next few months I would really like to understand which of the primary levers the Partnership is intending to pull on. Are we focused on consumer change or do we prioritise the role of business given its overall significance? Or is it ultimately all about regulation? Secondly, are we primarily a membership organisation where our success is manifest through their actions or is the harsh reality of survival that we are an organisation that relies upon funding linked to specific outcomes that must be achieved if the funding is to continue? Probably, its a bit of both.

So far, my discussions inside and more importantly outside the organisation would seem to indicate there is a critical need to investigate and clarify some of these issues. To survive, the Partnership must be relevant, purposeful and financially sound. I look forward to doing everything I can to help. After all, the Bristol Green Capital Partnership is the biggest and arguably the most important organisation of its kind in the UK, and its role is, or should be, pivotal to the region’s future as the most sustainable, prosperous, place in the UK to live and work.

How not to do community consultation

A parish council meeting

Cleeve Parish Council Meeting

Last night I witnessed a lesson in how not to do community consultation. Despite facing a room of people who were ready to listen and willing to accept a sensible proposal, the presenters proceeded to alienate almost the entire room with a combination of condescending rhetoric and ill-thought through profit motive dressed up as so-called evidence.


Cleeve is a small village of approximately 900 residents in North Somerset. It is split in two by the A370 and overflown by Bristol Airport’s south-western flight path, but is also home to Goblin Combe’s many owls, bats and deer. There is a small local convenience store, a craft shop, beauty salon, two Chinese takeaways and until recently one pub. Owned and operated by Greene King under its Hungry Horse brand, the Lord Nelson was too big to survive in a small community and the site was sold.

Picture of Lord Nelson Pub in Cleeve

Former Lord Nelson pub in Cleeve, due to be demolished by Tout Ltd.

The purchasers, Tout Ltd, saw the opportunity to demolish the pub and replace it with a 24hr petrol station, convenience store, beauty salon and office. The company’s Managing Director Jonathon Tout, son of Philip and Lesley Tout, supported by Mark Cosby of Consensus Communications, took up the challenge of persuading a crowded, hot and tense room that Tout Ltd simply had the best interests of their customers in mind.

Young Tout was clearly out of his depth, presumably hoping the powerpoint montage of pictures would win over an audience who were more worried about substantive issues such as road safety, opening hours, light pollution, and the impact on established businesses in the area. After all claims of “creating 100 jobs” are meaningless if the same number is lost as a result (and noting that many would be as a result of re-locating their head office, rather than new ones).

Although the Parish Council meeting was attended by the public, we were not permitted to ask questions. Instead, the Chair and Councillors patiently put a number of key points on the audience’s behalf. Unfortunately, instead of understanding this was just the start of a long, and now presumably painful process, Tout did his best to offer evidence to the contrary, with a view to getting through planning in the summer. Offering to offset the carbon footprint of a petrol station with a few beehives was a particularly laughable low point and he even appeared to be bribing the local pool team with the purchase of a new table they could put somewhere else!

Cleverly drawn to minimise the impact of petrol pumps?!

The Government’s Localism Act, in theory at least, offers local communities the opportunity to embrace progress, finding opportunities for housing and economic activity that they consider most suitable for their area. Unfortunately volume house builders and big business nearly always parachute in development proposals designed to maximize profit. Such proposals then have to be forced through the planning system with guile and cunning, before the Secretary of State finally over rules local concerns and approves them.

In contrast, Tout Ltd are a local family owned business keen to establish their vision and values as a community minded organisation, whose “uncompromising focus on service, quality and value” sets them apart from others who are also trying to “create the future of neighbourhood forecourt retailing”. As the saying goes, it is lipstick on a pig; Cleeve doesn’t need or want a 24hr petrol station.

Ultimately, I believe there is a way to work with communities to help them develop solutions to the housing crisis and to create economic activity. It requires a partnership approach, a degree of patience, and a genuine commitment to putting community at the heart of decision making. NIMBYISM is simply an allergic reaction to others benefitting at their expense. If we focus on the community first and profit second, a dialogue is not only possible, but ultimately more likely to be successful for everyone.

Sustainability isn’t a choice.

As we raise a glass to 2016 and look forward to the year ahead, there’s a lot of material for the makers of the New Year countdown shows to choose from. That said, I’m not sure I will be watching the maniacal grins of Trump & Farage, it’s enough to make me put the cork back in the bottle.

For me, the positive of 2016 was Standing Rock, when first nations people, US war veterans and environmental activists joined forces to put a stop to an oil pipeline across northern America. The fight is far from over, but coupled with news elsewhere of solar & wind capacity overtaking coal, it offered a moment of real hope.

Of course, we can’t all get involved in direct action, but if you want to make a positive difference you can choose a renewable energy provider, support local farmers and independent shops, commute by bus or train, eat less meat, walk & cycle more, and as with Standing Rock, make sure your savings aren’t being invested in oil. Or if you want to support others who are protecting the environment join a Wildlife Trust, WWF or Greenpeace. A few New Year’s resolutions perhaps?

Yet whilst these steps are important and useful, they aren’t enough. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence and international agreement, the UK government is failing to take the environmental agenda seriously. Post-Brexit they are pursuing economic growth at all costs and even those politicians who accept climate change as a real and present danger show little appetite for making the tough decisions that will deliver positive change in the timescales necessary. Indeed, many see leaving the EU as an opportunity to reduce or remove so called environmental red-tape. Even if you don’t like politics, which I don’t, I’m glad we live in a democracy where freedom of speech, an independent judiciary and regular elections are a given.

In recent months, Caroline Lucas has been criticised in the Green Party for her support of the progressive alliance in the Richmond by-election. Following the press coverage of comments I made in the run up to the Bristol Mayoral election in 2015 I found myself in a similar position. Being seen to undermine a Green Party candidate, (especially one as good as Tony Dyer), is a big thing, and not to be done lightly. However, I believe my reasoning was sound, and on occasion it can be appropriate to support candidates who share our agenda, who can win.

In financially constrained times social and environmental actions are often seen as choices to be balanced against each other, something that many in the Labour Party were saying in 2015 and are still claiming now; it is easy to see planting trees as a luxury when trying to protect social care. In the long term, however, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the foundations of a sustainable society and ultimately only serves to increase costs to society. Poor air quality and access to green space are as much social inequality & health issue as they are environmental, not least of all that it affects those living in city centre areas the most.

In the Green Party, we know that social & environmental justice is one and the same thing. The best policies are those based upon an understanding we are wholly reliant on the natural world to provide us with the fundamentals of life; air, water and materials. The best policies are those that are most cost effective in the long term, that provide the most resilient jobs, that offer the greatest increases in well-being, and that bring greatest chance for peace and stability. The leaders we need now are the ones that understand we are part of the natural world, not masters over it.

I have applied to be selected as the Green Party candidate for Metro-Mayor of the Bristol & Bath city region in order to help persuade voters that we have the opportunity to be global leaders in creating a sustainable world in which everyone prospers. A world that puts people and planet on an equal footing, secure in the knowledge that environmentally sound policies are in the best long term interests of everyone.

Sustainability isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity.

A pile of pebbles

A pound, or a euro/dollar/yen is simply a unit of trade. Indeed, we could be using different coloured pebbles as long as we all believed that the pebble’s worth would be honoured. So, if you grow potatoes and I rear chickens, you can buy a chicken from me for 3 pebbles and I can buy a bag of potatoes from you for 3 pebbles and we can both have a chicken dinner. With more people with pebbles and more variety of goods, we can have a feast!

Despite this, we seem to have arrived at a point where the exchange of money for no purpose other than to make more money is considered one of the foundations of the UK’s economic policy. This illusion is both false and dangerous.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who sees profit as a dirty word, but the problem arises when you have all the pebbles and I have none, probably because I have already had to give you all my pebbles in rent.

I believe the UK’s economic system has forgotten its purpose, prioritising individual wealth over collective progress. Our economy should enable as many people as possible to enjoy a good quality of life. It shouldn’t exist to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Through the 80s & 90s, the middle class burgeoned with grateful hard working families using their new-found wealth to get on the property ladder, fill their homes with goods, and travel abroad. Since 2008, the opposite has been true and what used to be called the treadmill of work has become “just about managing”. Even those earning incomes in excess of £50k a year are joining the those who definitely aren’t managing in wondering what on earth they can do to make life easier. The crazy reality is that most of the money isn’t going on stuff we enjoy, it is being spent on mortgages and commuting.

I believe we need a change of attitude and at risk of taking the analogy too far, we must rebalance the exchange of pebbles, offering the poor a better rate of return for their efforts (a living wage) so that they can participate in a system that understands its purpose. We can share the pebbles more equitably through taxation, using them to provide world-class health, education and public services that provide the foundations for progress and make sure that business understands it role as part of society, rather than simply existing to create pebble mountains.

We must redefine that progress as much more than GDP growth, and recognize that we can’t isolate ourselves from what is going on elsewhere. We can all do better in a more equal society; one in which collective rather than individual progress is understood to be the foundation for a successful society. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

A Brexit & Trump World?

People generally vote selfishly. They will vote for what they believe is in the best interests of themselves and their families, sometimes in the name of their country. Increasingly this means voting for a manifesto that claims they will be better off if they are masters of their own destiny, able to ‘win’ because they have control of borders and resources. In a globalized world, this is a fantasy peddled by arrogant, egotistical, isolationists who have failed to understand that we live in a single, natural, system. It is my belief that no matter where you draw the boundaries, we are literally all in this together. We share the planet, “the only home we have ever known”.

In the west, we have lived through a time of growth & prosperity, where millions of people experienced a year on year improvement in their quality of life. For a time, there was widespread recognition that this improvement was reliant on a globalization agenda, opening up borders, sharing security and offering help developing countries, where and when it suited our own progress. In other words, we would be better off if we supported free trade, movement of labour and mutual security.

But over the last decade, the tide has turned. Sufficient numbers of countries around the world are now in a position to compete, and indeed to win. So much so that a different narrative has emerged; a rhetoric of meritocracy, where the best will rise to the top of the world order again, especially if they aren’t held back by others. People want change, but what they really mean is to go back to how it was when they were winning. This is their version of hope.

There are a small number of people who are able to look beyond the current system, to understand that even when people thought they were winning, they were losing. By this I mean that they were losing control of the natural systems that are the foundations of all life. Even if business and political leaders knew this, most weren’t prepared to acknowledge it, and almost none had an incentive to do anything other than protect the status quo whilst increasing profits or getting re-elected. I now fear that those of us who grasp the enormity of this challenge have almost no hope of convincing sufficient numbers of voters to understand and act on this basic truth, especially when they are being sold a more immediately hopeful story by others.

Trump’s shock victory in the USA presidential election is an even bigger signal than ‘brexit’ that the meritocratic isolationist rhetoric is in the ascendency, offering false hope to the millions who feel they are being left behind. For a time, they might even have cause to feel good about their choice, as fossil fuel based infrastructure and manufacturing provides a surge in productivity. Meanwhile, the natural systems that support that productivity will continue to suffer, and it doesn’t matter how good you think you are, you can’t fool the planet.

If Trump withdraws the USA from the Paris climate change agreement, I think there is no chance that the world will stay within its two-degree average warming target, let alone the aspiration for less. The UK government has already signaled its support for ‘fracking’ rather than renewable energy as a means of providing energy security and supporting economic growth, but by any measure, the UK is just an indicator rather than an alarm. If, as promised, Trump opens up the coal plants again, there will be little or no incentive for the colossal economies of China, Russia and India not to follow suit. This is the road to disaster. The alarm is real. The fear is justified.

We need a different kind of hope.

New thinking or more of the same?

Is the Council’s new Corporate Strategy fit for purpose for a world-class, smart city of the future?

Mayor Marvin Rees and I definitely agree on one thing; that Bristol’s biggest issue right now is its inequality. I’m pretty sure we agree on a lot more, and there is much to applaud in the Council’s draft Corporate Strategy published yesterday.

I spent 3 hours reading and then commenting on it via the on-line consultation. It’s three hours I’ll never get back, but in theory at least, it is the single most important document for the city, driving the delivery of services and setting the direction of travel in the longer term.

Buried on page 77, I was pleased to find the following 5 year objective; to ensure that “Bristol is carbon neutral by 2050”. Aside from the obvious clash of timeline, there is something of a major issue with the inclusion of this target; that almost nothing else in the strategy is going to help achieve it. For example, two pages later, on page 79, the document calls for inwards investment to grow the economy, including an expansion in Bristol’s aerospace industry! There are notable exceptions, including renewable energy commitments, but precious little else.

It is foolish to blame Marvin for the document’s inconsistencies. He has inherited an appalling budget situation, with a system of public services established using silo mentality emanating right from the very top of government. He has rightly called for powers under devolution to join up budgets so that service delivery can be more efficient and hopefully more effective too. He has (bravely?) initiated a conversation about an increase in Council Tax to plug the gap left by the government’s disastrous austerity budgets of recent years. I’m less convinced by the proposal to set up “urban parishes” as a way of persuading council taxpayers to part with their cash.

The strategy’s constituent elements are, in the main, sensible, and it is verging on the criminal that further cuts to public finances are going to undermine their potential impact. There are very few of the Mayor’s ‘bold ideas’ that you will wish to disagree with if you get round to answering the consultation’s somewhat loaded questions.

But the documents biggest issues are its lack of overall vision and consequent coherence. The first sentence has “but” as its sixth word, setting it up as an apology rather than a compelling narrative for the UK’s ‘best’ city. If Bristol really is going to be a world-class, leading-edge, smart city of the future, then the radical shift has to start now. Tackling inequality is not going to be achieved with anything less than a fundamental shift in economic, social and indeed environmental thinking. Of course, a 5-year Council strategy document was never going to solve the ills of modern society, but by setting out broader understanding of the need for change, the Mayor might have signaled an understanding of the patient’s holistic health issue, rather than just offering a series of bandages to stop the bleeding.

You can choose from three such sticking plasters for Bristol’s housing crisis; an aspiration for 800 more ‘affordable’ houses per year, better use of existing stock, and early intervention to prevent homelessness. For me, this is a classic symptom of the Council’s lack of radical thinking, when all over the world we are seeing the emergence of far more exciting ideas, from large scale shared ownership self-build, to the provision of individual single room dwellings for the homeless. It is the same on transport, and public health.

However, that’s just me, and you may feel differently. Thankfully, we live in democracy, which means you don’t just have to wait until 2020 to have your say. Get stuck in, and tell the Council what you think. Read it here: STRATEGY and feedback your comments here: CONSULTATION.

More Bowie than Towie

“Big enough to matter, small enough to change”. This is Bristol’s USP.

A few years ago I was privileged to work with inspirational communications expert Harriet Kingaby. A former “Futerran“, Harriet arrived in Bristol with huge energy and passion for  life, to see whether it would live up to its reputation as the UK’s greenest city. For those of us who had become jaded by Bristol’s ‘damp duvet of despair’ she reminded us that Bristol is not only the greenest of any city in the UK, it also has the greatest likelihood of achieving the dream of becoming genuinely sustainable.

How did Bristol get here? I think the answer is twofold. Firstly, that Bristol is the gateway to  the south west, attracting and retaining those that are more interested in quality than quantity of life. Since the late 60’s and early 70’s when activist first began their protection of the city’s heritage and green spaces, Bristol has resisted the onslaught consumerism, concrete and to some extent cars. It is laid back, unorthodox and creative. More Bowie than Towie, if you will.

Secondly, Bristol is a small city with big ideas. Indeed, many will refer to it as a collection of 14 villages (loosely connected by a dysfunctional system of 4 local authorities). Small in its politics, but big on its technology. Small in its public transport but big on its natural history. Small in its own carbon footprint but big on its aerospace industry’s. Diverging a few degrees from Birmingham or Manchester may not seem significant, but over 30 years, that gap has widened enough for Bristol to be the only UK city to win the European Green Capital award.

We won what?

It came as a big surprise to many that we won this prestigious award. Seeing it plastered on the back of a bus as they were stuck in the same traffic jam day after day, trying to get their kids to school was not the ideal first step. However, the facts remain that when Bristol entered for the third time in 2014, it was top amongst its peers on many of the judging criteria and, combined with its aspirational carbon reduction targets, convinced the jury that the award could be transformational.

Indeed, it is already possible to walk everywhere in Bristol, often quicker than going by car. Allotments are ubiquitous, and the local economy is holding its own (just) against big business. Bristol City Council has done more than any other to reduce its energy bills and is busy doing the same for many of its social housing tenants. Indeed, resident’s satisfaction with life is well above average, and Bristol regularly tops the tables in a variety of popular media surveys.

But in terms of health & wealth, Bristol is also one of the UK’s most divided cities. Its underpinning issues are hiding in plain sight. Ask anyone about their concerns and the conversation will be dominated by congestion, expensive housing and inequality.

Herein lies Bristol principal conundrum, and most likely source (local politicians aside) of its cynicism about Bristol 2015. Of course, progress needs to be hope led, not fear driven. However, our story must be authentic and our actions better balanced. We must address directly the gap between the have and have nots. We must challenge the contradictions between ‘city of sanctuary’ and attitudes to immigration. We must put as much effort into creating jobs for the long-term unemployed as we do our university graduates. Indeed, it is a microcosm of the issues facing humanity world-wide, but rather than wring our hands in despair, we can lead the way.

Bristol’s biggest opportunity is simply to share its success.

No more looking back in anger

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and no one can accuse Bristol’s years as European Green Capital of that. It has polarised debate, with detractors jumping on the bandwagon to denigrate it as a waste of tax-payers money stereotyping those involved, and flailing around trying to find someone to blame. Supporters proudly celebrate it as the most impressive European Green Capital year in the award’s history. As is often the case, reality usually lies somewhere in between.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Bristol 2015 was a time-limited private sector company set up by the City Council to manage a programme of projects, grants and events in order to achieve the following aims (source: https://www.bristol2015.co.uk/about/organisation/):

  1. Local empowerment: to work with existing initiatives, networks and local communities to ensure that the value of sustainable living is delivered across Bristol’s neighbourhoods, businesses and the voluntary sector, resulting in attitude and behaviour change.
  2. International Reach: To build Bristol’s global profile as the UK’s most pioneering, sustainable city and region, to encourage exports, investment, tourism and economic growth.
  3. Sustainability leadership: For Bristol to become the leading forum for UK, European and global exchange in sustainability expertise, in the lead up to the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change.

For the record, my own view is that in the run up to COP21, Bristol did become a leading city forum for sustainability leadership. (I feel I can comment on the basis that I cycled to Paris that November, and saw for myself Bristol’s role in the proceedings). Bristol’s profile was such that our city’s experts were being invited to just about every conference or debate on environmental issues world-wide, from China to the US (and continue to be). Bristol 2015 Ltd secured more money for community activity in 2015 than had been available in the previous 5 years combined.


Overall I give Bristol 2015 Ltd a solid 7/10; the dropped points are about diversity, transparency and the partnership working needed to create a legacy.

The imperative now is to create common ground on the understanding that unless we urgently alter our direction of travel, it is almost certain that Bristol, the UK and the world will fail to meet targets agreed at COP 21.

Looking back is an essential part of moving forward, but lessons learned are only as useful as the process of putting them into practice. The worst offence of all is not that we could have done things differently, but that we are in danger of losing sight of the real prize – a prosperous, low carbon city for all. I hope those seeking to score points can soon change their tune, and be more Yazz than Oasis.