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As Labour and the Greens battle it out, how do their policies stack up?

Labour and the Greens are likely to be the two largest parties after Bristol’s local elections on 2 May, so we decided to delve beneath the rhetoric to see what they’d actually change.

Local Elections 2024

When Bristol’s political parties are bickering so much, it can only mean one thing. It’s local election season.

Bristol’s main opposition, the Green Party has been criticising Labour’s administration for years, including for enacting “cruel” cuts, wasting millions on needless vanity projects and dodging accountability and transparency. But now Labour are hitting back by calling the Greens NIMBYs and labelling them as unfit to run the city.

But beyond the rhetoric, the parties actually have some policies too. Labour and the Greens are likely to be the two largest parties after the local elections on 2 May, so how do their manifestos compare on the biggest issues facing Bristol?

Build your way out of a crisis?

Despite Bristol City Council building 14,500 new homes since Labour came to power in 2016, alongside attempts to drive up standards in the private rented sector, Bristol is still firmly in the grips of a housing crisis. Bristol has become the most expensive place to rent in the UK outside London, with average rents rising around 13% year-on-year, while the numbers of households in temporary accommodation and on the social housing waiting list continue to rise. 

Labour have promised to deliver over 3,000 new council homes in the next five years as part of local election pledges. Their leader, Tom Renhard, who has been the city’s housing chief during the current administration, told our Bristol Unpacked podcast: “We need to make sure we’re building the homes that help to address the housing crisis that we’re facing. That’s really something I feel really strongly and passionately about and want to drive forward.”

Meanwhile the Greens have said they would increase the number of affordable homes built per year from 600 to 1,000. The latter is very similar to what Labour promised in 2021, but the council is expected to build 600 in 2023/24. Even though this falls short of Labour’s own target, it is the highest level for 20 years.  

Both Labour and Green local election manifestos say they will campaign for Bristol to be given the right to introduce rent controls, continuing the work of the Living Rent Commission set up in 2022. 

Despite the overlap between Labour and Green policy, one original idea the Greens have proposed is to set up a new arms-length company to rent out social housing, separate from the 27,000 homes it directly manages already. This would be a bit like a council-owned housing association, which would have more flexibility around borrowing money to deliver homes and could also claim extra government funding around temporary accommodation – a massive current cost – than the council itself can do.

The Greens also pledged to work on proposals to introduce citywide landlord licensing to help raise rental property standards, which has been expanded to more areas of the city by Labour in recent years, increase the amount of community-led housing being built and work with the owners of empty buildings, especially in retail, to get them converted into housing.

Other housing policies in Labour’s manifesto were to upgrade social housing to ensure healthy, safe, secure, climate-responsible homes with lower bills, and a lettings policy prioritising local people, which has already been piloted in Lockleaze and Lawrence Weston. 

On a national level, Green co-leader Carla Denyer has said the party would give councils more funding to build affordable social housing and lift the restrictive rules on council borrowing for house building, and ending people’s right to buy their council home, so that local authorities can hold onto housing they build. 

But Labour’s accusation that the Greens have blocked vital housing being built in the city in recent years even made it onto BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. The Green local election manifesto promises to protect Sites of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI) by preventing development on them. But, as shown in this detailed recap by Bristol Live, while there have been some cases where Green councillors on planning committees have voted against controversial planning applications, there have also been applications backed by Greens. 

Green councillor Tony Dyer, who leads their housing policy, told the Cable he was frustrated by the Greens unfairly being called NIMBYs: “It’s perfectly ok for local councillors to represent their residents, and sometimes represent on behalf of a developer to bring something forward in their ward. That’s their job, what they’re elected to do. It’s not very helpful to democracy when that’s derided as just trying to stop a development.” 

In March, Bristol’s planning department was placed under special measures by the government because of delays in deciding applications on time. This comes after recent planning controversies, including over plans to redevelop Knowle’s Broadwalk shopping centre into up to 820 flats, which were first recommended for refusal before a spectacular U-turn by the planning committee that is now subject to a legal challenge by outraged local residents. 

The council has said the backlog is down to a recruitment freeze that has reduced the planning department by more than a third. The Greens said they would hire more planning officers to unblock the system and make sure homes get built, while creating more transparency around communication between councillors on planning committees and developers. 

Get Bristol moving

After Bristol’s housing crisis, the issue that dominates the headlines the most is probably our piss poor public transport. 

It’s actually the regional authority WECA that is responsible for our privatised bus services, rather than Bristol City Council, but reforming this system is a key pledge for both Labour and the Greens. Both parties have not only backed franchising these services, which would give WECA more powers over routes and fares, but fully taking our buses back into public ownership, which would only be possible if Labour wins the general election and delivers its promise. 

Other common policies include rolling out more school streets schemes, which restrict traffic around primary schools at pick-up and drop-off times to make it easier to get to school without driving, and improving walking and cycling infrastructure.

But arguably the Greens’ biggest announcement is to bring in a workplace parking levy – a charge on businesses for private parking in order to fund public transport. The party has been calling for this for years, but it’s been dismissed by Labour. It even became the subject of a transparency row when a Green councillor had to enter a legal battle in order for the council to publish a secret feasibility report into the idea. 

In 2021, Labour promised to deliver two liveable neighbourhood schemes, which are set to go ahead in east and south Bristol, but are yet to be implemented. The Labour local election manifesto makes no mention of any further schemes, despite previously talking about wanting to introduce more around the city if local people want them – perhaps a response to the backlash to the plans in east Bristol. But the Greens have committed to creating liveable neighbourhoods after the first two are in place. 

Other Green transport policies include increasing charging points for electric vehicles, making all roads in Bristol where possible a maximum 20mph, and making bus travel half price for 16-21 year-olds, subject to costs. But their manifesto makes no mention of ‘mass transit’, the project currently underway to design a major new public transport for Bristol and the wider region. 

For years, the Greens have advocated for trams and criticised Marvin Rees’ vision for an underground metro, and now politicians in the region have reached a deadlock on which options to keep developing. On the thorny issue of mass transit, Labour’s manifesto is helpfully vague, promising to “explore solutions, led by the evidence, working with partners to develop the services that will connect our city for decades to come”. 

The road to net zero

Working towards Bristol’s net zero 2030 target is something that Labour and the Greens have fought to take credit for. It was the Greens who proposed back in 2018 that the council should declare a climate emergency, the first UK local authority to do so. “Since then things have moved too slowly,” the Green manifesto says emphatically. 

But Labour are holding up City Leap as a major achievement for climate action during their time in power. The partnership with private companies will see a £771m investment in decarbonising the city’s energy systems by 2030, and the Labour manifesto says this will also create 1,000 new real living wage jobs in the process. As you would expect, the Greens would continue this project if they’re in power beyond May.

Both parties promised to plant more trees, retrofit homes to make them more energy efficient and work with community organisations to develop renewable energy solutions

The Greens also pledged to launch a new annual ‘carbon budget process’ to measure the climate impact of major council decisions, and to adapt Bristol for higher temperatures, prioritising nature-based solutions including increasing tree cover and shade in the city, with a focus on more deprived parts of the city.

The best of the rest

Labour’s local election manifesto also included policies for children and young people – creating more school places and better provision for SEND children, a commitment for high quality youth services, protecting nurseries and children’s centres and growing the early years workforce. 

There was a focus on safety too, with more CCTV and action to prevent knife crime, tackling violence against women and girls and hiring more enforcement officers to tackle anti-social behaviour. 

A big focus for the Greens is how they plan to run the council in a more open and transparent way. In practice, this would mean committing to co-operate with other paries and creating more opportunities for the public to engage with key council proposals, including more Citizens’ Assemblies that are representative of the city – after the first one met in 2021.

Other Green local election policies include leading a Bristol regional bid to become the UK’s city of culture, exploring the idea safe consumption rooms for drug users by working with other organisations and looking at the feasibility of a tourist levy.

You can read the Labour and Green manifestos in full online. We will cover the policies being proposed by the other parties as part of our series of interviews on our Bristol Unpacked podcast.

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  • Amazing you read all this about more homes and more 20mph roads but none of these parties mentioned the state of our roads they are like a third world country!!!!!

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