Marvin Rees’s showpiece policies are “far-fetched and financially unviable,” says Tim Davies of Colliers International.
Although the main policy ideas laid out in Bristol mayor Marvin Rees’s Annual State of the City Address have been welcomed by a leading property expert, he believes it is unlikely that any of them will ever come to fruition.
Last month Mr Rees highlighted four areas - homes, jobs, the environment and transport – as priorities in his final address before the city’s mayoral elections take place next spring.
In his address he announced plans to introduce a new Circle Line bus service that would make a circuit of central areas of the city every few minutes, enabling the city centre to be pedestrianised, as part of a Bus Deal to double services on key routes and regular commuter services down main arterial routes.
He also spoke about building a four-line mass transit underground system for the city, under which the West of England Combined Authority would need to submit a strategic outline and full business case, expected to cost around £100 million and take at least six years.
Mr Rees is also committed to building an average of 2,000 homes a year by 2020, 800 of them affordable, to ease the city’s housing crisis. Part of this would involve the Western Harbour scheme to transform the area around Cumberland Basin, which features plans to build around 2,500 waterfront homes.
But Tim Davies, head of the South West and Wales at global real estate advisor Colliers International, says it is highly unlikely that any of these key pledges will ever become a reality.
Instead, he believes a new tram system – possibly in tandem with congestion charging - is a better alternative to solving Bristol’s transport and infrastructure problems.
“The construction of an underground system is just not going to happen in my lifetime, or for that matter my children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes, attempting to build an underground system would be an engineering nightmare and financially unviable.
“The Bristol supertram project was only cancelled in 2004 and I believe the time has come to review this. A tram system is a much more viable means of reducing the number of cars on our streets and getting people into the city centre more efficiently.
“Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh are all examples of cities which operate a successful tram network and I don’t understand why our mayor hasn’t considered this alternative, alongside the possible introduction of congestion charging as a cost which we may have to bear.
“When it comes to housing, the Western Harbour scheme is a laudable idea but there are other brownfield sites in Bristol that would be far more deliverable. What is really needed to speed up the delivery of new homes however is a streamlining of the planning system and a commercially–minded planning department in Bristol could really make things happen.”
Tim Davies believes Marvin Rees’s achievements in office have so far failed to match those of his predecessor George Ferguson – or those of other big city mayors.
“Our mayor’s legacy will be one of limited success. He was elected with a very aspirational ‘to do’ list but in truth very little has been achieved.
“When you compare Bristol to the other Core Cities, Marvin Rees has not done enough to raise the profile of our city, in stark contrast to the likes of Andy Street in the West Midlands and Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester.
“Likewise, he can’t boast an achievement on a par with George Ferguson’s transformation of Bristol’s cycleways, which has resulted in more people cycling into work here than in any other major UK city.”