photos on a bus,

It has been a momentous year in Bristol politics, marked by strikes, protests, shock U-turns, and significant events such as the Barton House evacuation, Marvin Rees’s last full calendar year as Bristol mayor, his unsuccessful bid to run as an MP, and a power shift at the South Gloucestershire local elections.

West of England metro mayor Dan Norris faced controversy over giant images of him and his dog on a bus, hopes for an underground system were quashed, and Bristol Beacon reopened after a £132 million refurbishment that nearly tripled in costs.

The year also saw Bristol’s lord mayor spending a month in a coma, government watchdogs giving Avon Fire & Rescue Service the lowest possible rating, and Avon & Somerset Police’s chief constable declaring the force “institutionally racist.” Here, we recap the 17 biggest Bristol political moments of 2023.

  1. Barton House Evacuation:
    • Bristol City Council declared a major incident on November 14, evacuating 400 residents from Barton House due to concerns about its structural integrity in case of a fire.
    • Residents were moved to temporary accommodations, and confusion ensued until further investigations revealed no structural issues, allowing residents to return eventually.
  2. Underground Plans Abandoned:
    • Metro mayor Dan Norris vetoed the long-held dream of a Bristol underground, deeming it “unaffordable and unrealistic” with an estimated cost of up to £18 billion.
  3. Busgate Controversy:
    • Metro mayor Dan Norris faced controversy over spending £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on giant images of him and his dog on a bus, ruled as “unlawful” by Weca legal and finance officers.
  4. Marvin Rees’s Parliament Ambitions Dashed:
    • Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees missed out on the chance to represent Bristol in the House of Commons as Lewisham mayor Damien Egan was selected as the Labour candidate for the new Bristol North East constituency.
  5. South Gloucestershire Council New Coalition:
    • The local elections led to a change in South Gloucestershire Council’s power dynamics, ending eight years of Conservative rule as Lib Dems and Labour formed a new coalition.
  6. Bristol Beacon Reopens:
    • Bristol Beacon reopened after a £132 million refurbishment, though the project’s costs almost tripled the original budget, with £84 million landing on council taxpayers.
  7. Council Tax Benefits U-Turn:
    • The council initially approved £3 million cuts to Bristol’s council tax reduction scheme, leading to protests and disruptions. In a surprise U-turn, the proposal was scrapped in November.
  8. Strikes:
    • Various strikes occurred throughout the year, including the largest NHS strike in Bristol’s history and industrial action by bin workers in South Gloucestershire.
  9. Rail Ticket Offices Saved:
    • Controversial plans to shut every railway ticket office in the Bristol region were scrapped in a major government U-turn in October.
  10. Damning Fire Service Inspection:
    • Avon Fire & Rescue Service received the lowest rating for responding to emergencies in a damning report by government inspectors, raising serious safety concerns.
  11. Institutional Racism Declaration:
    • Avon & Somerset Police’s chief constable declared the force “institutionally racist,” citing differential experiences in interactions with people from different ethnic backgrounds.
  12. Bristol City Council Planning Rows:
    • Political spats emerged over the planning system at Bristol City Hall, with accusations of interference and lack of faith in the system.
  13. M49 Ghost Junction:
    • The motorway junction on the M49 is set to be joined to the local road network after years of delays, with planning permission granted in November.
  14. Colston Statue’s Future:
    • The statue of Edward Colston, toppled by protesters in 2020, is set to go on permanent display at the M-Shed museum, pending a planning decision.
  15. Special Needs Families Failed:
    • South Gloucestershire Council was criticized in a public interest report for denying vital respite care to families of special needs children, with nearly a third of those needing support being failed.
  16. Lord Mayor in Coma:
    • Bristol’s lord mayor, Cllr Paul Goggin, spent a month in a coma due to pleurisy after pneumonia, receiving a standing ovation upon his return.
  17. Glimpse of the Future?:
    • The final meeting of the committee deciding Bristol’s governance from May 2024 descended into chaos, highlighting challenges in the new way of working to replace the mayoral system.

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