Bristol Green Capital 2015 – time for positive thinking?

DSCN0141The launch of Bristol Green Capital (BGC) takes place this weekend, with light shows, circus acts and no little fanfare. It’s a great recognition of all the city has done over many years to push itself forward as a “green” city, at the forefront of environmental agendas, and leading the way on green issues. It’s an opportunity to recognise that we are not there yet and there’s still a long way to go in improving the city from an environmental perspective. But it is also an opportunity to recognise all the hard work that many individuals and organisations have done across the city for several decades. Bristol isn’t green capital becauseĀ of a small number of projects and ideas incorporated in a series of bids over the last few years, it’s green capital because of the longstanding commitment people in the city have had to improving the environment, providing education on sustainability issues,andĀ leading the way when it comes to projects and activities to support green issues.

As a Bristol city councillor (between 1994 and 2002) I led the council’s work on green initiatives and sustainable development. I was responsible for setting up our work on Local Agenda 21, involving local communities from across the city in the development of ideas to make our city greener and more sustainable. I am partly responsible for things like the CREATE Centre and the Eco Home, both initiatives at the forefront of thinking at the time. I was invited to speak at local government meetings across the country and in Europe to talk about the great work Bristol was doing on environmental issues in the 1990s. We were definitely seen as leading the way, others were jealous of what we had done and wanted to learn from us. I believe that could still be the case if we get things right during BGC year.

I was also the chief executive of the Western Partnership for Sustainable Development (WPSD), set up by the four councils, the chamber of commerce and a number of third sector environmental organisations, to develop environmental initiatives across the West of England. We delivered an environment festival back then, that has continued and grown since. Sadly at the time, apart from Bristol, the other councils were reluctant to provide funding, and keeping the organisation gaining was a real struggle. But it did serve to pave the way for partnership working on environmental issues in a way that was innovative and creative at the time and much of which has held strong to this day – public, private and community sectors working together on a common agenda is undoubtedly the only way real progress can be made.

You might wonder why I am tracking back to history, talking about stuff that is a good 10-15 years ago? Well, mostly because things seems be coming full circle – back then we led the way on environmental issues, now with BGC we’re seen to be leading again and have an opportunity to showcase just what Bristol can do. Whilst I haven’t been involved in BGC I do feel a real affinity with the concept and the idea because of my past involvement in sustainability issues in Bristol. I do believe that, despite a few misgivings, a whole lot of good will come from this year as Green Capital. It really is an opportunity to showcase Bristol on a European stage. I hope all those that have contributed over many years are still involved and will seize the chance to highlight their work and I hope the communities of Bristol continue to engage with the ideas and initiatives as they develop throughout the year. For sure, mistakes have been made along the way and there has been an element of negativity about some of the process to date, but now it’s here perhaps we need to embrace the concept and make it work?

I look forward to a year of serious debate about sustainability issues, and about how we can make Bristol greener, more sustainable and a better place to live. I look forward to seeing progress on improving Bristol’s transport system, reducing car use, and reducing pollution. Above all, I look forward to seeing people engage in the process, from across the city, and to seeing tangible improvements in local neighbourhoods. I’m not sure what the official measures of success are for BGC but no doubt we’ll all judge on the basis of what we believe to be important – I know I will.