Why I am standing for Central ward

It has been an absolute honour to serve the residents of Ashley ward for two and a half years as one of their two Green local councillors. Gus and I have always worked as a team and split the casework pretty much down the middle, even when Gus was the Assistant Mayor for Neighbourhoods, and also during the last few months when I have been the Green group leader.

It has been great to work with him and with residents. Even during a period when local government has been under attack by successive Coalition and Tory governments, we have been able to help people on lower incomes to get their housing issues resolved or their benefits situation reviewed, as well as leading in the challenge of getting clean streets and the resources to keep them that way. Amongst all of our work, I have been particularly pleased with the new Albany Green improvements, and I look forward to a huge increase in the number of bike parking spaces in the Stokes Croft/Picton Street area in the next few months.

My term as Ashley councillor will be coming to an end in May and I recently made the decision that I would stand for a different ward, the new Central ward, which stretches from Stokes Croft and the Dove Street flats in the north, to the University of Bristol in the west, to Temple Way in the east, to the New Cut in the south.

I have taken this decision for a few reasons.

Firstly, and after 2.5 years, it has become clear to me that electing a gender-balanced pairing is better for residents – particularly for women who may need a female councillor to represent them on particular issues. I am convinced that the Green Party’s new Ashley council candidates (when announced) will be a well-balanced team and will serve the communities of St Pauls, St Werburghs, Montpelier and St Andrews with dedication and perseverance if elected in May.

Secondly, I am excited about a fresh opportunity, that of standing alongside Ani Stafford-Townsend to make Central a fully Green ward. The approach Ani has taken in her first year as a councillor has been fantastic – leading on crucial issues such as small business support, the homelessness crisis and the protection and improvement of the city centre’s green spaces. She has excelled herself in chairing a Development Control committee and is available for face-to-face meetings with residents, which is the first job of a good local councillor.

Thirdly, I have realised that two of the biggest challenges we face in making Bristol a Green city – sorting out a transport system that still does not do enough to de-incentivise motor vehicles, and ensuring we create safe, warm, low energy affordable homes – are being played out in Bristol City Centre. I am particularly energised by the idea of the centre of Bristol becoming much more pedestrian and cycle-friendly, with the four-year goal of closing more streets to through-traffic. This is an undeniably Green direction to take, because it would not only improve our air quality, but also improve social conditions – the centre would be more liveable, legible, and far more open to local traders and businesses. Our centre promenade often doesn’t feel like a “location” in the same way other cities manage with their central squares – and I want to work to make this happen.

The city centre has undergone big changes in the last decade, not least in the number of people who have come to live there. The task of bringing together diverse, sometimes isolated communities as one city centre community is one I relish and I can’t wait to get out and listen to the views of residents on what would improve things.

The recent political history of Cabot ward is not lost on me. George Ferguson and Stephen Williams, both purveyors of economic neoliberalism, have both been councillors in the central ward in the past. If elected, I will look to challenge this outdated economic consensus that they have both, in their differing ways, chosen to comply with – and provide an alternative Green vision of economic prosperity for all.

I’ll get to know a lot more about residents’ needs in the coming months, but I think one of the first challenges in Cabot/Central is to get more residents registered to vote. Cabot has had a worryingly low response rate to the Household Enquiry Form, which is in part because of the large student population, but with wider impacts too. We know that Individual Electoral Registration has caused a huge democratic deficit in the UK, with millions of people falling off the electoral register, and it is, alongside the council’s Electoral Services team, mine and Ani’s task to ensure that people are able to use their democratic right – whether they decide to vote for us or not. My overarching passion remains reforming our anachronistic and discredited electoral system so that power at the ballot box is given to people, not parties – and I will continue to work for this at all levels, not least in my current role as a council member for the Electoral Reform Society.

As always, I remain contactable on rob.telford@bristol.gov.uk if you have any questions.

Ani Stafford-Townsend, Rob Telford, in Redcliffe, Welsh Back to rear
Ani Stafford-Townsend (L) and Rob Telford, Green candidates for Central ward, May 2016

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