In Bristol’s green heart, we trust


Green party councillor, Gus Hoyt, says Bristol’s mayoral Cabinet has a “green heart at its core”. (Image credit Bristol 24-7)

Previously city councillors had voted for their leader. But the Coalition government gave ten of England’s biggest cities the option to vote for its own. Last May, Bristol people voted in a referendum to elect their own mayor, the only city to do so. In November, independent candidate, George Ferguson, became the city’s first “directly-elected” mayor.

Does a directly-elected mayor give more power to the people because they (rather than councillors) are voting? Or does the new role give too much power to one person, the mayor? But that’s another story.

Last November, Gus Hoyt, Bristol North’s first Green party councillor, got a late-night call from newly-elected mayor, George Ferguson, inviting him to join the new mayoral “rainbow” cabinet.  Gus Hoyt explains in his blog why he accepted.

It’s a question because the Green Party is opposed to the cuts – yet the Bristol mayoral cabinet is pledged to cut £35 million. The intention of the cabinet is to minimise hardship, says George Ferguson. “I’m trying to minimise the effect on services,” he says.

Personally, I don’t get this cuts business. For a start, the UK is one of the most powerful countries in the world. To my mind, Austerity Britain is a marketing slogan to cover up the reality which is: “Stop giving money to the poor, so the rich can get richer.” But I digress.

Last night at a Bristol Friends of the Earth meeting, guest speaker, Gus Hoyt – focusing on food and energy – described the positive things the cabinet hopes to achieve.

Green Bristol food vision

  • Make it easier for local food producers to sell their produce, building connections with local supply chains
  • Establish a “nuts-and-bolts” food market at Bristol Temple Meads railway station new enterprise zone – if successful it could be replicated in areas of deprivation
  • Aim to declare Bristol a zero waste city hopefully working with green-friendly Labour MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy, who introduced a food waste bill in parliament
  • One fruit tree to be planted for each Bristol child born so apples and nuts can be harvested at will, and children can learn where food comes from (it really does grow on trees.)
  • Edible beds in public spaces and food production in parks so food can be picked for free
  • Turn Bristol into a food capital. The city already hosts several food festivals – let’s host more
  • Enable more schoolchildren to learn how to grow food to eat and how to cook it.

At this point Gus Hoyt referred to the horsemeat scandal, and how we must bust the myth that affordable food has to be rubbish. When people cook from scratch, food can be healthy, fresh – and affordable.

At this point, let me invoke my mother invoking her mother:

“The secret of good cooking is quality ingredients. The first step to learning how to cook is knowing how to choose quality raw materials.”

My grandparents lived in poverty in the East End – but they knew how to cook. The UK media delights in making healthy food a class issue, as it sneers at middle class obsessions about organic food. Hello?! The true class issue is companies producing rubbish food and spending millions on marketing it to poor people.

Back to last night’s meeting. There was a discussion about the Blue Finger, a stretch of local land perfect for growing food. At the start of the 20th century, Bristol was ringed with market gardens which fed Bristol. Now we buy tasteless produce in supermarkets trucked in from far away.

And should the negative effects of climate change and fuel shortages take hold, making Bristol more self-sufficient in food makes a lot of sense. And more pleasant and healthy, too.

At the Friends of the Earth meeting, Phil Haughton of Better Food Company said that plenty of local farmers would be happy to lease/sell a field the land: what is missing, he said, are entrepreneurs. Meanwhile Joy Carey, author of Who Feeds Bristol, said to make Bristol food-secure, eight main things need to happen including composting, growing, learning to cook and supporting small shops and producers.

Involves all of us

Bristol Food Policy Council (the first in the UK) is developing a food plan with those eight components. Bristol, be proud.

Green Bristol energy vision

  • Bristol to become the go-to-city for renewable energy 
  • Make Bristol a truly solar city
  • Bristol can be “a living university ” for green institutions
  • Aim for Bristol to become the European Green Capital
  • Invite aeronautical businesses to use their expertise to create tidal technology (rather than bomber ‘planes) –  a kind of “swords into ploughshares” idea
  • Secure £10 million to make council houses more energy-saving
  • Work with institutions such as the NHS and universities to make energy more affordable with ‘Energy Partnerships’
  • Wind turbines at Avonmouth are due to open in December
  • Bristol to be 100 % “fracking” and nuclear-free.

So, dear reader, does this gladden your heart? It did mine.

18 responses to “In Bristol’s green heart, we trust

  1. Thanks E, for educating your readers about these developments. Given the budget cuts, do you think the Council will pay for these visions to come true? I certainly hope so!


    • Good question. According to Gus Hoyt at Monday’s meeting, the housing stock is in the black, so putting £10m towards making council houses more energy-efficient looks set to go.

      I agree – let’s hope Council can support these visions becoming reality!


  2. It gladdens my heart too! A lot of work to do and of course not easy. But great to start with these visions. As a family, we have often talked about keeping bees but don’t know how to begin, in a small garden in a city. We’ll look into it more. Very inspiring and up-lifting. Thanks Elisabeth.


  3. Great article as usual Elisabeth.
    I am also pleased to see the importance given to the little urban bee. They put over £200m a year into our economy and their loss would be very, very damaging. Paris is a superb example of what can be done with a number of restaurants having their own hives as well as commited individuals.
    There were over 1000 hives in Paris prior to the war and it is good to see the numbers increasing again. Urban bees are doing so much better than rural bees because of the vast variety of fauna in towns but huge single crop areas in the countryside. I would love to see our British cities following this template!


    • Thanks so much, John.

      Food for thought to think our countryside is given over to heavily-sprayed commodity monocultures which cannot support bees, whereas there is now more flora, fauna and wildlife in the cities than in the countryside?!

      I heard (anecdotally) that Cardiff is also a haven for bees?


  4. Yes, Elisabeth,

    It does most certainly gladden the heart.

    Thank you. Mimi


  5. Councillor Gus should go to Havana, Cuba. It is THE model of a city which perforce (due to those pesky Americans’ blockade) had to become self sustaining food wise. It has the most market gardens of a city in the world, and they emphasize organic farming. See this


  6. Re: Bristol to becoming nuclear free, please note this petition:
    Resume Nuclear Free Local Authority Status
    “In view of the recent catastrophic accident at Fukushima, and the Government’s decision to press ahead with a new generation of nuclear power stations, we, the undersigned, petition Bristol City Council to resume its Nuclear Free Local Authority (NFLA) status.
    Background information

    Bristol is a large city in close proximity to the existing and planned nuclear power stations at Hinkley Point and Oldbury. Nuclear Free Local Authorities engage in research, policy and legal work and strengthen the democratic process by holding the Government to account. Membership assists local councils in meeting their commitment to sustainable development, environmental protection and public safety. The City of Bristol could make an important contribution to the network.”


    • Thanks for highlighting this issue here Elisabeth and our petition. We were very pleased and excited to see Gus Hoyt’s inclusion of Bristol having a Nuclear Free status as one of the green-hearted Cabinet hopes/aims. Not only do we have the nuclear power stations of Hinkley Point and Oldbury on either side of the city, but trains carrying nuclear waste from Hinkley to Sellafield passing right through the centre of our city each week. Meanwhile the Council has a “no comment” stance. With the second anniversary of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster coming up, nuclear energy does appear to be the elephant in the GREEN room for Bristol.
      Ros Beauhill, for Nuclear Free Bristol.


  7. When we taught practical food-growing in Bristol primary schools with GROFUN we always had a fight on our hands finding schools with the budget to pay our team. Schools need more money OR the curriculem needs to be updated to reflect the necessity of these lost-skills.

    Otherwise, great and heart gladdened. Thank you Elisabeth for filling us in!


  8. Sounds wonderful to me….I want to live in the Bristol of your vision!!



    * “The National Curriculum in England – framework document for consultation” (see pages 156-160) says that the National Curriculum for design and technology aims to ensure that all pupils “understand food and nutrition and, where possible, have opportunities to learn to cook”. And it states that pupils in Key Stages 1 to 3 should be taught practical knowledge, skills and crafts working in fields such as “ “horticulture: to cultivate plants for practical purposes, such as for food or for decorative displays


    Interesting comments from Sustain about limitations of new draft school curriculum on cooking and growing and a link to respond to the document. Deadline April 16th.


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