Meeting on future council ends in chaos

THE final public meeting of a group of councillors attempting to decide how Bristol will be governed from next May descended into chaos.

Members shouted over each other, stormed out and failed to agree on minor points over how money should be spread across the city.

In just over five months’ time Bristol City Council will be run by a series of committees in place of an elected mayor.

Details of how this will work remain unclear and undecided, a month before a new constitution is due to be voted on in January.

The committee model working group was meant to discuss how council funding could be spread into several neighbourhoods during a meeting on November 24.

But the group instead spent most of the time arguing about splitting up the funding into two streams.

Green committee member and Eastville ward councillor Lorraine Francis said: “I’m going to excuse myself from this meeting, so whatever happens will be without my consent, because this is outrageous.

“I’m not going to be channelled down the road when there’s lots of unanswered questions. This isn’t good politics.”

Working group chair and fellow Green councillor Jenny Bartle said not all members could feel they’d had a say, and the one debate at the meeting had “not resolved any answers”.

Six area committees currently decide how to spend a money paid to the council by property developers under the community infrastructure levy (CIL) scheme.

After May, these will be replaced by nine area committees, which will also be given more powers on local issues.

The committee for the Fishponds area would cover the council’s Eastville, Hillfields, Frome Vale and Lockleaze wards.

Because more development is taking place in some parts of Bristol than others, some areas have much more CIL money to spend than others.

The working group wants to share money out more fairly, so poorer parts of the city can receive more funding.

One idea put forward by Labour’s Nicola Beech, the cabinet member for strategic planning, was to give extra CIL money to areas with higher levels of deprivation, with an equity fund to spend on bigger projects.

However this would mean sticking with very large area committees, which several councillors have previously criticised for lumping entirely separate areas together, such as Avonmouth and the Harbourside.

And some areas receive so little funding that however they are grouped together, there are “no funds to spend,” said conservative councillor Geoff Gollop.

The working group ran out of time to make a firm decision, and councillors resolved to hold an emergency meeting in December to attempt to firm up the details.

The new area committees will meet twice a year, in person and twice online. They will have a greater say on issues like potholes, road safety, parks and how often grass is cut.

As well as these, the council will also have eight policy committees to have city-wide oversight of issues like transport, housing and the environment. These will mirror the current system of cabinet members.

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service