Marvin Rees brought up some blinders in his annual State of the City address, but there was one notable absence.
From ambitious plans to tear down the Cumberland Basin for redevelopment, more on his ‘mass transit’ transport system vision and a bid for a £100m investment in housing at Temple Meads, the mayor is not one to do things by halves.
But one elephant in the room was the long-awaited 12,000 capacity arena that has been described by Rees as “Bristol’s future”, yet did not feature in his annual State of the City address in the Wills Memorial building on Wednesday (October 18).
Building on last year’s themes of reducing inequality through a commitment to building homes, creating jobs, improving transport and giving children a better start in life, the mayor also used the opportunity to make some key announcements.
He has made an apparent u-turn on controversial plans to scrap the council tax reduction scheme – for now – with the confirmation it will remain for this year at least.
There was also the announcement of ambitious redevelopment plans for the Cumberland Basin, under which the “old, ugly road network” across the western end of the harbour could be torn down and a new bridge built to enable the land at either side to be used for affordable housing.
“Bristol remains a city of challenges,” he said at the event, which is part of Bristol Festival of Ideas.
“We are a wealthy city, the only region outside the south east to make a net contribution to the Treasury. We also have all the challenges of a modern city – air pollution, democratic deficit, education inequalities, health inequalities, congestion, housing shortages and insecurity.”
Rees highlighted how the city is making a mark internationally by talking about his election to the steering committee of the Global Parliament of Mayors. Bristol will also host the Global Parliament of Mayors conference in 2018.
“This is a huge opportunity, not just for the profile of the city around the world, but a chance to showcase the city, our investability, our tourism and trade match-ups,” said Rees.
Along with regional partners, Bristol City Council has submitted a bid to the Housing Infrastructure Fund to try to bring £100m to Temple Meads to unlock additional housing.
“Eradicating poverty means putting transport, housing and jobs at the centre of a thriving, inclusive and sustainable economy,” said Rees.
“This must be a city where talent, work and compassion, rather than the wealth of your parents is the key determinant of your life chances.”
On the ever controversial subject of funding, he said: “Every council now has what’s called a ‘graph of doom’. Councils have reached breaking point with everyone expecting someone to fail and hoping it won’t be them.
“We are left balancing the need to protect life and limb crisis services, against the need to invest in early interventions such as children’s centres and mental health which pay off over the medium term and in turn, against non-service areas such as the city’s cultural offer.”
But in a year in which the mayor has come under fire for budget cuts that are hitting libraries, parks, adult social care and more, he said “it would be wrong to see the council just through the lens of decline”.
Highlighting some key achievements of the last year, he mentioned the Our Learning City project accepting a UNESCO progress award and facilitating £154,000-worth of funding going to 28 community-led projects for clean energy initiatives.
Read more: ‘A mayor for the many, not the few’