Bristol businesses question mayoral candidates
21 April 2016, News
Mayoral Candidates from left to right Dr Kay Barnard, Liberal Democrat Candidate; Tony Dyer, Green Candidate; Incumbent George Ferguson, Bristol First; Charles Lucas, Conservative Candidate; Marvin Rees, Labour Candidate; Paul Saville, Independent Candidate; Christine Townsend , Independent Candidate; Paul Turner, UKIP Candidate
By way of an introduction candidates were asked what they most loved and disliked about Bristol. It felt like an 80’s dating show; disappointingly nobody said they like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain. The panel was agreed the thing they love most about Bristol is how beautiful it is; the colours, the buildings, the monuments. Marvin loves that you can get to the edges of Bristol, that it’s not all-consuming. George loves Bristol’s buccaneer spirit but dislikes Bristol’s cynicism especially on social media… #redpants
It was a veritable Bristol Love in but all romances have problems. Namely housing, which happened to be the next question. Bristol is one of the best places to live but it’s also one of the most expensive; soaring house prices, costly rents and insufficient new builds. What would our would-be mayors do? Paul Saville, Independent, called for rent caps – Berlin did it last year. Charles Lucas, Conservative, said we should be developing publically owned brownfield sites. Rees wholeheartedly agreed and went further; he wants to create an at-arm’s length, publically owned development company. Ferguson defended his record; 100 Council houses have been built this year and another 100 next year. He’s brought 2.5K empty houses back into use.
Bristol has a reputation for being difficult to develop in. Most of the panel begrudgingly agreed. Rees jumped straight in with an anecdote of a developer who wants to build here but finds Bristol too difficult to work with. If elected, Rees wants to make Bristol a much more welcoming place for developers. Ferguson claims Bristol used to be an unwelcoming place for developers but the culture is changing. If he is re-elected, he’ll form a Business Board to strengthen the partnership between the council and local businesses.
Candidates were asked their views on the devolution deal. Unsurprisingly, the incumbent was proud of the deal he has negotiated with the Government. He’s fizzling with excitement over the £1bn deal but ruled out running for Metro Mayor. Lucas unashamedly pumped the party line and boasted the opportunity the government has offered Bristol. Liberal Democrat, Barnard has “grave concerns” about the deal but wouldn’t rule out running for Metro Mayor. Marvin supports the Devolution deal but he begrudges the “imposed political structures”.
Final question of the night: transport! Fitting that some of the panel and audience were caught up in congestion on the way to the hustings. The whole panel agreed, Bristol needs a mix of public and private transport and a single transport authority. Rees tells us Bristol has outgrown its transport provision. Patch-and-mend won’t work anymore. Ferguson laments the “disgusting lack of investment into transport over the decades”. He continues, people don’t see boundaries, only politicians do – Bristol needs a transport body similar to Transport for London.
The candidates breathe a sigh of relief. Hustings over.
George and Marvin are neck and neck. George lacks the budget and the party machine. Marvin and his team are toiling away – Bristol is a sea of red literature but he’s not counting his chickens. What George lacks in funds and assembly he makes up for with a record and a message – he’s pushed back against the political sclerosis of Bristol and got stuff done. He was proudly brandishing his record and it felt like the other candidates were letting him do it – even Marvin didn’t call him out on being the ’remote Mayor’. Maybe they had all bonded on the hustings circuit but now is not the time to pull punches.
George communicated his excitement about his vision for Bristol and was selling it well. Marvin’s vision was there but his communication wasn’t as passionate; he got called up on his jargon twice and there was a chasm between him and the audience.
There’s two weeks to go and it’s still all to play for. Next hustings…
Photography credit: JonCraig.co.uk