Matt Bacon, Account Director, considers the outcome of the Bristol City Council meeting where there was cross-party support for the Bristol Local Plan.
Last night, Bristol’s new draft local plan was approved by Bristol City Councillors by an overwhelming majority.
Following a long process to get to this point, led by a cross-party local plan working group, there was a rare showing of (near) cross-party harmony in Bristol. The final vote was 55 votes in favour, 4 against, and 4 abstentions. JBP’s political analysts attended in person, but the full debate can be watched here, and our analysis/ ‘as it happened’ summary is below.
JBP political analysis: six key takeaways
- Cross-party unity – can it last? The local plan working group appears a resounding success as even long-term critics of the Mayor came out to support Mayor Rees’s motion to approve the local plan. It may be possible for the new committee system (heading our way) to work collaboratively and achieve progress for the city. But it was still impossible to appease everybody, with the Brislington West Lib Dems voting against the plan due to the Brislington Greenbelt release, and the Lib Dem group abstaining.
- Mayor Beech – a political accumulator is building. Nicola Beech, Cabinet Member responsible for the local plan, was widely credited with bringing together a diverse range of political views through the local plan working group. Are these the skills needed for a future WECA Mayor? Although current Mayor Dan Norris has been reselected for May 2025, Mr Norris could stand concurrently in the new North East Somerset & Hanham parliamentary constituency. Currently, pollsters are predicting a Labour gain at the expense of Jacob Rees-Mogg. If Mr Norris believes this is a fight he can win, he may throw his hat into the ring, get elected, and leave a vacancy for someone to fill. Lots must happen, but it’s a long shot worth a flutter.
- Going Green – could things still change? Should the Green Party form the next Council administration next May, they may yet act to adapt the plan further using Supplementary Planning Documents. A tweet by Clifton Down’s Tom Hathway, commented that the plan does not have everything the Green Party want and that they are not in power yet. This intervention may take the form of strengthened environmental requirements or building height.
- Could Bristol pay a price on planning experience? The council will lose many experienced councillors in the May 2024 elections with about half of the cabinet (such as the local plan working group chair) stepping down, among other cross-party council stalwarts. As new councillors get to grips, this may impact quick decision-making in the planning policy and regulatory space. Note that ‘old hands’ will stand in 2024 elections, such as Mayor Rees’s former campaign manager Kelvin Blake.
- Urbanisation ahead of sprawl – sounds easy! No-one was going to argue in favour of concreting over green fields. But ultimately, this policy means height. The political sensitivity around height means approving potentially unpopular schemes with councillors and, perhaps, the public.
- WECA working together – to solve Bristol’s overspill? Mayor Rees ended the debate by stating the importance of working with neighbouring authorities and that the housing crisis cannot be solved in Bristol alone. For that to happen, there will need to be a ‘fine tuning’ of the relationships between the three authorities, given the public fallouts documented in the press.
Now that the full council has approved the plan, it will undergo pre-submission public consultation starting in November and then be submitted to the Secretary of State for independent examination in Spring 2024. Once adopted, most likely in Spring/Summer 2025, it will replace the current local plan agreed upon in 2014.
What does this mean for your projects? Contact our Bristol Stakeholder Engagement team for an informal discussion about how we can help with your sites and help build relationships with Bristol politicians.