Mutual Learning Workshop for Bristol

The ClairCity “mutual learning workshop” for Bristol was designed for different stakeholders who are engaged in environment, health issues and policies in the city. It took place in July 2017, and was aimed at developing routes to a “clean air”, healthy, zero-carbon Bristol by 2050 by understanding specific challenges and opportunities for organisations, and engaging them to identify actions, milestones and priorities.

A broad range of interest were represented with many organisations already focussing on environment and sustainability issues.  Some organisations were already involved in political groups looking at congestion, or raising awareness, or were involved in energy and air quality consultancy and planning work.  Though the business sector was underrepresented at the workshop, participants from this sector identified their strategies around increasing the efficiency of their fleets and reducing waste.

The keynote speaker presentations are available to watch on Youtube.

Overall the workshop had a positive atmosphere.  Participants were happy to be involved and mutually learn about and discuss air pollution, health and carbon reduction.  Feedback from participants was largely positive, highlighting in particular the opportunity to talk to people they wouldn’t normally talk to. A minority of feedback suggests there should have been a bigger focus on actions but the workshop was still felt to be positive from a “getting everyone in the same room” view point.

Discussion points

Each participant was asked to share their organisation’s current actions towards air quality and reducing carbon emissions, and to suggest their vision for a “clean air” healthy zero-carbon Bristol related to their organisation. Then participants identified challenges and barriers to change. The challenges and barriers they identified can broadly be categorised as: political; business/market; housing; citizen challenges; cultural; housing.

In the political category, many comments identified lack of government funding or government inaction as barriers along with “short-termism” and business as usual approaches. Challenges for citizens were noted around a lack of options in terms of the “school run”, flexible working hours and access to public transport.  In terms of culture, ignorance of evidence and acceptance and social expectations around the conflict between sustainability and current travel behaviours were raised. Transport challenges and barriers focussed on the lack of a quality alternative to car use and the inefficiencies of public transport.  For housing affordable and efficient housing for a growing population was highlighted. Business/market challenges identified the need to think about alternatives to government spending to pay for training and new technologies.

Actions and milestones

Actions, milestones and priorities were devised in four separate groups.  Group discussions led to different actions and different areas of focus:

One group developed a timeline from 2020 to 2050 focused on moving to a clean air Bristol by promoting and enabling electric vehicles, developing joint spatial plans for 2030 to 2040 and then focussing on the different types of social, political and planning action that would be needed.

A second group focussed more on the political, social and community changes needed over the time scale, prioritising increased community, bottom-up approaches, collaborative partnerships and a change to the electoral and democratic governance of the UK to proportional representation and devolution.

A third group focussed on the actions needed in the short term by the City Council such as reporting and funding a clean air zone, improving transport links to South Bristol, challenging the decision-making process of the council, changing the procurement process and making public transport more affordable.

The final group also focussed on planning policy locally, the need for a spatial plan to focus on air pollution, address diesel generation, a comprehensive bus strategy and Clean Air Zone and delivering a mechanism to raise investment.  They also considered the role of the housing stock and the need to make all homes energy efficient.

Conclusions

Overall the Bristol mutual learning workshop successfully engaged with a variety of stakeholders from different sectors and organisations.

In Bristol, clean air and air pollution are largely linked to the transport sector – both in people’s minds and in reality.  The need for better transport and infrastructure planning in Bristol is clearly identified and links to improved housing and better connectedness across the city.  Spatial plans need to be adequately supported by effective social planning that considers health impacts, and also requires political leadership and action.

The wide representation of civil and civil society organisations led to the identification of social and cultural barriers to change, but also opportunities and potential policy actions to increase bottom-up community and citizen engagement in local governance and decision making – something the ClairCity project aims to do.

A challenge of the workshop was supporting the groups to turn their attention to definite “actions” in the scenario session at the end. Though political short-termism was identified as a barrier by stakeholders, the groups’ pathways from 2020 to 2050 were largely short-term (apart from one group) when it came to setting actions and milestones beyond the next five years.

This highlights the difficulties scientists, policy makers, industry and civil/civic society organisations all have in visualising potential transformative actions that go beyond the systems already in place.  Future workshops could seek to address this by spending more time on pathway development and less on barriers.

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