‘Forget an underground, Marvin, how about fixing the buses, reopening toilets and cleaning up Broadmead’

Mayor Marvin Rees is about to commit a further £15 million on the mass transit project, here Bristol World reporter Mark Taylor questions the point of it all

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‘Delusional’, ‘a failure’ and ‘a joke’. Those are just a few of the more printable comments on social media in reaction to Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees’ 2022 State of the City Address last night.

The Mayor spent much of his annual speech proudly listing his achievements over the past year. He reassured us that he would ‘support the city through this national cost of living crisis’. That’s before he said operating costs at City Hall are rising and cuts will be made.

“This looks like a best-case scenario of us having to find around £30 million in savings in 2023/24, around 10% of the council budget. The worst case is £62 million.” Where such huge savings will be made is anyone’s guess but it is sure to set off alarm bells for many people already struggling across the city.

But it was his comments about building ‘a mass transit system that will transform the way we move around the city’ that will cause many Bristol citizens to raise an eyebrow or, perhaps, stifle an ironic laugh. Mr Rees says the economic and geological assessment work has been done and he is about to commit a further £15 million to take this work to the next stage.

“Overground and underground networks are fast, efficient, low carbon transport systems,” he said. “They are essential for a modern, crowded city. Bristolians have waited long enough. There cannot be any U-turns, no shying away from the challenge of delivery for those who come next, be they Bristol councillors or the combined authority. We know what needs to happen. It’s now there for you to complete it.”

Of course, Mr Rees will only remain in power until May 2024, after which Bristol will be run by various committees of councillors. Presumably, it will be up to them to sort out the promised transport system and find the money for it long after the mayor has cleared his desk and found a new job. But after so many failed projects under his watch and so much wasted taxpayers’ money, how many Bristol citizens can really believe the city is going to get a new overground and underground transport system?

Mention that to anybody who has been waiting an hour on a rainy bus stop for a service that has just been cancelled and you are sure to be met with more than just a raised eyebrow.

After the escalating costs of Bristol Beacon, the £12m lost for the cancelled Bristol Arena at Temple Meads and the £36.5m of taxpayers’ money lost over the council’s failed Bristol Energy firm, the mere suggestion of such a transformation to the city’s transport infrastructure seems pure fantasy and another vanity project for the outgoing mayor.

A map shows the ‘vision’ for Bristol’s mass transit system. The provisional Underground routes are shown here in yellow.A map shows the ‘vision’ for Bristol’s mass transit system. The provisional Underground routes are shown here in yellow.
A map shows the ‘vision’ for Bristol’s mass transit system. The provisional Underground routes are shown here in yellow.

Ask most Bristol people and they will say they just want buses that run on time in areas where they need them, public toilets and libraries back open, more affordable houses built, a real crackdown on anti-social behaviour and for places like Broadmead to be cleaned up.

Many Bristolians are already comparing the mayor’s ambitious and fanciful vanity projects with the feckless and disastrous ‘mini budget’ cooked up by Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng.

At least the former PM and Chancellor soon realised just how deluded their plans were. Bristol’s mayor may want to take a leaf out of their book and perform a similar U-turn as we all know the city will probably never get an underground system and it will simply go down as another undelivered project.