This is an article specially commissioned by the Bishopston Society, in which Daniella Radice, our Bishopston councillor, considers the implications of this award for Bristol and its future green policies.
We’ve heard the news and possibly even seen the green trousers, but what does Bristol becoming a Green Capital City actually mean for Bristol, and will it really lead to us living in a Greener city ? As a Green Councillor, I suppose I’d like to start by defining Green. To us Greens the aims of reducing the environmental impact of our city and making our city more equal are inextricably linked. The Green Capital bid focuses on the environmental bit of ‘green’.
The Green capital status acknowledges that Bristol has made good progress in certain environmental issues, and has plans to do better. At the heart of the bid was the investment proposed in public transport and the investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Bristol is going to be the first UK council to have its own energy services company. This is a great opportunity as Bristol will be able to supply and manage and generate energy throughout the city. Profits made on energy supply will go to the council. We all know that when services are put out to tender and privatised, a proportion of the costs pays the shareholders’ profit. With its own energy company, some work will be tendered out but Bristol will be able to get the best value for the city and keep as much money in Bristol as possible.
Perhaps surprisingly, more people bike or walk to work in Bristol than any other core city. This may however be a reflection of the inadequacy of our public transport system as car ownership is also pretty high. A functioning suburban rail system will undoubtedly help, and although the money is committed, this is still a few years off. What would be great would be if we as Green capital, had a fully-funded cycling strategy. Bristol Cycling Campaign has estimated that putting in the infrastructure the city needs will cost £108 million. The long-term savings in health benefits and reduced pollution and congestion would probably exceed this sum and I would like to see our Green Capital city making those sorts of calculations. Both London and Manchester are coming up with comprehensive cycling strategies and it would be embarrassing if we were left behind.
The biologist in me is pleased with the Mayor’s ambition to double the tree canopy of the city. We are going to have to work hard to find spaces for trees in Bishopston, but if we can find some householders willing to have reduced parking spaces on their streets we could put some on roads rather than pavements. Our streets would then benefit from the shade without people’s houses being overshadowed.
Its great to have children planting trees, but I would like to go further, to say that 2015 should be the year that all children get to spend a significant amount of time in direct contact with nature. It’s only through playing in fields, woodlands and in streams that children learn a connection with nature and understand what green values are all about. These days, children get about one or two days out of school a term; some of the trips are to farms or woodlands but not all. Wouldn’t it be great if they could spend a day a week outdoors? It was recently demonstrated in a secondary school in north Bristol that disruptive pupils benefitted hugely from learning outdoors. (http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/New-branch-learning-leaves-pupils-craving/story-19336833-detail/story.html#axzz2bed1BMPj).
I would also like to see progress on local food production. A huge difference can be made to our city’s climate impact if we all consumed more food grown locally. There are some fantastic projects going on in and around the city. But food is one of those issues where inequalities loom large. Local food can be more expensive, the challenge is to make it cheap and available to those more deprived communities. It’s a hugely difficult challenge, but just saying that we need supermarkets because they provide cheap food is not an answer that is sustainable in the long term. Local food production needs to get large-scale and serious, allotments are great but this will take considerable investment and will mean working with our neighbouring local authorities.
The other issue is that the Green Capital City is coming in on the background of huge cuts to the council budge. The £80 million over several years amounts to the value of all that the council spends on so called ‘discretionary’ services, those services that it is not required by law to provide such as libraries, museums, public toilets, adult learning. It is hoped that the bid will bring more investment to the city, but will that bring in additional revenue ?
In summary, the Green Capital bid is a good opportunity for the city to showcase its environmental credentials, but it must be done wisely and must engage the whole population of Bristol, and in this aspect, actions speak louder than words.