Thoughts on Bristol being the European Green Capital for 2015

The start of 2015 is a landmark year for our city. 

The city's logo for 2015
The city’s logo for 2015

As our year as European Green Capital (EGC) gets underway we may need reminding that this is the first international title Bristol has ever won. It’s a time, therefore, for making the best of such an opportunity.  To me there’s no question that it’s a chance we have to take with the enthusiasm it merits. We’d be throwing away a unique opportunity to benefit the city and all our residents if we didn’t make the most of it, frankly.

So what is the award?
It’s  actually the result of a competitive entry into an annual scheme run by the European Commission. There’s a technical stage, which we entered 3 time over the last few years, in fact, and then a finalist stage, where representatives of the city go to Brussels to make their case. We were previously finalist when the outgoing winner Copehagen won, and this time the overall winner against other cities.

I was involved in various specialist ways as a resident and professional in several workshops to develop the technical case on the last two occasions the city entered.

Competing to be European Green Capial
European Green Capital

This involved challenging the information fed in and proposing a range of ways the city needs to tackle issues to make a stronger case for its committment to merit the EGC title.

Why does the title matter?
To me the title matters mainly because it sets the scene for the whole range of bodies and institutions in the  city – especially, but by no means only, the council itself – for making long term decisions about how the city should develop over the next decade or more.  So it’s not just about why we did well enough on a technical score to look like a future exemplar of a city dealing with green issues, but also because we showed and made committments to tackling a range of problems that need to be resolve in the long term, especially traffic, but also energy, waste, and in our case we said food matters, too. 

What does it mean for us?
I have consistently said that we need to make sure the benefits are shared across all the city and as widely as possible to get people involved. This outcome is by no means certain, but I’m glad to say a good few steps have already been taken to make this more likely.
With £2m in grants made available this is the largest grants fund for green issues the city has ever seen (and larger than any previous European Green Capital has ever offered) ; the previous Sustainable City funds that offered grants to community groups were cancelled a few years ago by a previous administration, in fact. The 2015 citywide and neighbourhood grants are a good start in sharing the benefits and involvement. The latter specifically focus on funding action in every one of the  14 official neighbourhoods across Bristol. The strategic and small citywide grants also look for projects that will give a range of benefits across the city covering a range of themes like energy and waste. In addition there will be arts initiatives in every neighbourhood so that people will be engaged in many other, creative ways. Vastly more groups bid into the £2m than could ever win funds, which is inspiring but also frustrating.

My roles
I have been active as both a volunteer and a professional in the bids, as I said, but also in several EGC Partnership working groups and projects for this very reason, including projects that should reach to many people not immediately involved, such as those in fuel poverty and groups not able to access fresh good food readily; real projects that I hope will share the 2015 benefits across neighbourhoods and assist long term, sustainable changes for all in the city.

The amazing thing is that so far over 700 local businesses, community groups and other organisations have joined together to back the bids and now the make the year a success – vastly more partners than any previous city has even had to work with across their community.

Hundreds of people have put time voluntarily into the action groups and development of the partnership.

As a councillor I am also on a members’ working group looking at how we communicate everything to our colleagues and make sure all councillors and council staff knbow what’s going on and can play their part.

What about the controversies?
I agree with our Bristol West prospective parliamentary candidate Darren Hall, who in his blog in July this year called for transparency and accountability in the way the year is run. The Bristol 2015 company [set up to operate the year itself] is not the most accountable structure; I would have preferred a non-profit stucture such as a Community Interest Company accountable to the city and the partners. I also said before I was elected that we need long term change in the city, not a show for a year.
Since various changes the accountabilities are being addressed now I believe things are better; but I remain concerned that the negative sniping against the Mayor and the title could easily create the wrong atmosphere. If the issues being raised in the run up to the year continue now we are actually being the EGC city for 2015 they could damage the city, not the Mayor, frankly.
If sponsors and participants across the city and beyond are scared off by divisive negativity then we all lose, really. I wish the other parties were as actively involved in making 2015 a success for everyone in the city for the long term – that’s what we should all be doing.
Bear in mind that previous cities have all said they needed more time, but the schedule has been as it is; every bit of preparation and fundraising matters, as long as they are consistent with the principles and priorities in place! The financial side has not been tidy, to be honest, but from an award with no funds at all, as the title awarded by the Commission is, the £1m invested by the council has become a £10m programme, which is encouraging. With so many disappointed grant applicants for all the programmes I think we need to influence things in a constructive way from now so that extra funds are levered in to support even more of the grant applicants, for instance. Its a shame if some local politicians use EGC as a political football rather than a great opportunity to promote Bristol and bring about permanent change.

Every month I meet people visiting Bristol to take an interest in the European Gren Capital; there’s already been loads of national and international publicity. This will attract tourists, investors, and future residents with skills, ideas and enthusiasm. The city is now officially a destination to look at inthe coming year.

For those of us living here, everyone can take part in some way; I hope a great many people do!



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