Bristol has much to be positive about. It has been the fastest-growing city economy outside London for the last five years, house prices have grown more quickly than anywhere other than Cambridge and London, it is the only economy outside London to produce a positive GDP, and The Sunday Times last year dubbed Bristol the best city in the UK to live in.
It is about to become more accessible too; the £2.7bn electrification of the mainline from Paddington and benefits of Crossrail will significantly cut journey times to London to just over an hour.
In 2012, Bristol voted in as Mayor, a charismatic red-trousered independent and former president of RIBA, George Ferguson. He will claim his successes include securing the following:
- European Green Capital status
- A new £200m Metrobus (scheme to improve the city’s public transport system)
- The £91m Bristol Arena
- The acquisition of various strategic sites around Bristol Temple Meads
On the flip side, Ferguson has courted controversy and been accused of a high-handed and arrogant leadership style and driving through policies without proper professional advice, including the extremely unpopular Resident Parking Zones and 20mph speed limit (which, ironically he was caught violating as reported by the BBC’s Top Gear show!) as well as failing to deliver housing.
The result of the election is, at this stage, impossible to predict. Ferguson won in 2012, to many people’s surprise with a 35% share of the vote, and he is generally seen as the favourite for the 2016 election, albeit with stronger competition from Marvin Rees.
‘Larger than life’
Ferguson has certainly demonstrated a total commitment to Bristol and has a useful skillset in terms of the urban realm coming from his architectural background. He has a reputation for being pro-business, and has cut out the partisan bickering of general politics – although as an independent he is not necessarily kept in check by a wider party. He has done an enormous amount to raise the city’s profile, with initiatives such as the Green Capital and a trade partnership with China.
We must remember that pre 2012, Bristol lacked a voice outside of the city and was fairly rudderless as power swung between the Liberal Democrats and Labour and each party avoided taking bold long-term, strategic decisions that may have damaged party popularity in the short term. In fairness, Ferguson has changed that outlook.
Marvin Rees is passionate about the inequalities which persist in health and wellbeing. He points to the fact that only 460 homes of all types were completed in 2014-15, compared with 1,500 affordable homes recommended by Ferguson’s housing commission.
The biggest unresolved issue for the long-term future of Bristol is lack of a single controlling authority. Geographically, Bristol City Council governs approximately 60% of Greater Bristol, with the rest under the control of North Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Traditionally these three Conservative-led, mainly rural districts, have shared little common purpose with Bristol City Council. However, together they have successfully secured a £1bn Devolution Package from David Cameron and George Osborne.
This will, in effect, mean that the city region will have a ‘metro mayor’, principally controlling Greater Bristol and Bath and running city-wide aspects such as infrastructure, strategic planning, housing and business promotion, whilst the leaders from the four authorities, including the elected Bristol Mayor, will sit on the leadership board for the city.
Should Ferguson be re-elected, it is likely to provide a positive outlook for the property market in Bristol, with the built environment, infrastructure and housing remaining part of his key objectives.
Certainly, Ferguson believes he has unfinished business; he is only halfway through his ‘project’ and needs another term to deliver on his objectives for the city. There is no doubt that he has significantly improved Bristol’s reputation nationally and internationally and delivered on some challenging projects. However, there remain concerns about the lack of progress on many social aspects, including affordable housing and the highly unpopular and poorly-introduced RPZ. These factors combined mean that the race is far from over – only the people of Bristol can decide whether they want to see what a second term from Ferguson could bring.