Opposition politicians have given their views on the mayor’s annual address, with arguments it was a “PR puff piece” and “a rehash of previous pledges”.
Marvin Rees received a standing ovation for his fourth State of the City speech at Wills Memorial Building on Wednesday night, which set out key achievements during his time in office and commitments of what he would deliver if re-elected in 2020.
Housing, transport and a commitment to creating a city in which “everyone can find hope” were some of the mayor’s focus points, as well as aspirations for a mostly-underground mass transit system and redevelopment of the Western Harbour.
Green mayoral candidate Sandy Hore-Ruthven accused Rees of failing to put his words into actions, while Conservative group leader Mark Weston dubbed the speech “froth”.
Mary Page, the Lib Dem mayoral candidate who is running on a pledge to scrap the mayoral system, questioned what change there has actually been under the mayor’s term in office.
“We have the right to expect that, after four years in the job, our mayor would have begun to tackle Bristol’s housing and transport issues in earnest,” said Hore-Ruthven.
“Yet what was clear from the long list of minor achievements cited last night was that Bristol has not yet begun to impact the major problems we face. Our air is still filthy. Our buses move at a snail’s pace through the city centre. There is no sign of an arena. Affordable homes are still far too rare and, very importantly, little has been done to begin the urgent task of tackling climate change.
“What really struck me about the speech was the mayor’s list of plans, strategies, reviews and charters that claim to be ‘getting stuff done’ but are not making our city any better for people. On the doorstep, residents don’t tell me how the city has improved because of the latest iteration of the One City Plan. The people of Bristol are looking for action not words.”
The Green mayoral candidate also praised Bristol’s youth mayors, who preceded Rees on the podium on Wednesday, saying: “We are committed to hear their views and to act on them. Only a bold approach will create the world they dream of and to deliver anything less is a betrayal of their future.”
Earlier this year, Weston joined the Lib Dem councillor group in calling for Bristol’s mayoral system to be scrapped. The party is yet to announce its candidate for the 2020 mayoral elections.
Responding to the State of the City address, the Conservative group leader said: “As has become the norm with this formal event, the mayor’s plan for the city contains a lot of ambition and aspiration with a sprinkling of facts.
“Perhaps it is useful as an insight into his thinking, but I would suggest there is a massive disconnect revealed here between rhetoric and reality. For example, the continued commitment to a ‘mainly underground’ mass transit system is simply fantastical given we are not told how this regional multi-billion pound project is ever going to be paid for or approved.
“Clinging to his idea when we have seen no concrete steps towards its realisation only undermines the credibility of other parts of his statement – such as around housing – where some progress is being made.
“Similarly, I can foresee substantial obstacles in delivery of his promises around pedestrianisation of the city centre, an attractive bus deal and achieving carbon neutrality.
“Taken in the round, this was little more than a rehash of previous pledges delivered in a flurry of sound bites as the mayor kicks off his re-election campaign. It remains to be seen whether Bristolians will be convinced by such froth.”
Page said: “I’m not sure Bristolians will be convinced on this latest PR puff piece from an administration who have presided over denial of the cover up and mispayment to senior executives, no delivery of an arena to serve the needs of all of Bristol, delays to the clean air plan with potential unnecessary deaths of Bristolians due to the lack of action.
“And on the climate emergency, it is strange that the mayor thinks it’s climate friendly to create an out-of-town arena instead of one by the main transport hub, to knock down a big but perfectly serviceable road bridge with a new bigger road to add pollution to the harbourside and that it makes sense to cut down 500 trees in Hengrove to build housing.
“We can’t build our way out of the climate crisis. We need to rethink, reduce, reuse and recycle before we ride roughshod over local communities.”
Main photo by Evan Dawson