Commission hears from Bristol about city's infrastructure priorities

25 Jul 2022 03:20 PM

Friday last week (22 July) saw Commissioners in Bristol for our fourth regional visit of the summer, meeting the city’s Mayor and local leaders and businesses, and local residents, to understand the city’s infrastructure challenges.

After a one-to-one meeting, Sir John Armitt and the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees co-hosted a roundtable with representatives from the city and businesses responsible for key aspects of the region’s strategic energy, water and transport infrastructure. The discussion focused on how local and national policy can best work coherently to help achieve a fair energy transition, and how city regions can be best resourced to serve as champions of place-based growth strategies. The future of public transport was also discussed, alongside lessons learned from initiatives to encourage wider use of active travel.

Sir John Armitt and Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees

Following the roundtable, Marvin Rees said:

“We were delighted to welcome the National Infrastructure Commission to Bristol and have the opportunity to discuss some of the important work going on in the council and across our city.

“The National Infrastructure Commission plays an important role in government decision making and in the midst of an energy crisis, a climate emergency, and rising fuel bills, we were keen to help them understand the challenges and opportunities facing Bristol. Today was an opportunity to showcase our commitment as a city to the One City Climate Strategy and infrastructure improvements we’re already making, but also to discuss how we can optimise our strategic planning to ensure we get the most value out of the investment coming in.”  

This latest visit is part of a series of engagements with city regions to gather evidence in the run-up to the next National Infrastructure Assessment. As well as opportunities to engage directly with stakeholders, the Commission saw first hand a glimpse of how Bristol is taking active steps to decarbonise the city’s heat, during a visit to a fast-growing heat network in the centre of the city.

Commissioners in high vis jackets standing and looking at a hot water tank, part of Bristol's Castle Park energy centre

The Castle District Energy Project – nearing completion – is an initiative between the city council and Pinnacle Energy to build a water-source heat pump on the banks of the River Avon, which at its full capacity could deliver up to 3MW of low-carbon heating capacity to thousands of dwellings and businesses in the area. The Commissioners were shown the newly-installed pumping and multiple connected heat-transfer networks and heard more about how this water-source heat pump is the first to be attached to the existing network, but more are planned as conventional boilers on the network are decommissioned.

Commissioners standing together looking at a touchscreen control panel at Bristol's Castle Park energy centre

After the visit, Sir John went on to join a roundtable discussion with regional business leaders convened by Business West, where Sir John set out the Commission’s current work on the next National Infrastructure Assessment. Discussion topics included the role of effective transport networks to the region’s ambitions for a thriving, greener economy which can support more skilled jobs in the region and beyond. Sir John heard that flexible transport systems and expanding opportunities for active travel (e-scooters being a particular success story for Bristol) were essential for Bristol to fulfil its ambition of becoming a ’15-minute city’, but also that the city’s existing bus services were facing significant challenges resulting from changed patterns of usage as a result of the pandemic.

Chair talking to a group of business leaders hosted by the local chamber of commerce

Meanwhile, three Commissioners were talking with residents leading Ambition Lawrence Weston, a local initiative to improve the lives of residents in this suburb on the north of the city. Discussion focused on the organisation’s pioneering work to set up England’s largest onshore wind turbine at nearby Avonmouth – thought to be the only such community renewable energy project in the country. The group set out the challenges they have faced in organising the project and the policy obstacles that they have overcome (the turbine is due to become commercially operational in spring 2023). Discussion also covered the innovative ways in which the community group has engaged other local residents on the climate challenge, by seeking to address issues like public transport connectivity and energy efficiency retrofitting.

External image of Lawrence Weston community centre, Bristol

Insights from each aspect of the visit will feed into the Commission’s work on the second National Infrastructure Assessment, due to be published in the second half of 2023. Further regional visits are planned for later in the autumn.