Bristol, the greenest city in the United Kingdom

In South West England lies a city which is at the forefront of energy and transportation planning. In terms of sustainability, this city has planned massive investments: 500 million euros for transport improvements by 2015, and 300 million euros for energy efficiency and renewable energy by 2020.

Its environmental management plan is a role model for the entire world; it is no coincidence that the city was nominated European Green Capital 2015 by the European Commission. We are talking about Bristol: the greenest city in the United Kingdom.

How did this British city become a landmark for sustainable development? Which policies have been implemented to improve the quality of life of the Bristolians? And which goals have been set for the near and distant future?

With its 441,000 inhabitants, Bristol is the sixth most populous city in England, eighth in the United Kingdom. In the past fifteen years, its population has significantly increased: between 2001 and 2011, the population growth rate was 10% (compared to the national average of 7%). In little more than a decade, local municipal offices registered about 50,000 new residents. The most noticeable consequences were a rapid increase in energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions as well as increased traffic in the city centre. Bristol City Council was thus compelled to articulate a vision for the future of Bristol and plan a series of interventions in the urban space within a rather short period of time.

The strategy developed by the public administration essentially focused on two points: mobility and energy consumption. In matters of mobility, the Joint Local Transport Plan 2011-2026 (developed by Bristol City Council in partnership with neighbouring municipalities of the city region) mainly revolved around the improvement of the public transport system and the promotion of alternative travel choices. Data provide ample testimony to the success of these investments. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of people using public transport increased by 20%, and the investment of 22 million pounds in the enhancement of the cycling network (about 300km cycling lanes) has produced substantial socio-economic benefits: indeed, the number of urban cyclists doubled in a few years, thus significantly reducing car traffic and congestion in the city centre. This has also had the effect of drastically reducing transport CO2 emissions (-15% per capita).

The main drivers for the management of public space were the need to promote means of transport alternative to the car and the will to preserve the urban environment. 20mph zones (areas where the maximum speed limit is approximately 30 km/h) have been extended with the objectives of reducing accidents and encouraging bicycle use. At the same time, thanks to the regeneration of derelict land (of which 73% has been redeveloped since 1997), the majority of residents (88%) currently live within 300m of a green space.
With regards to energy management, Bristol City Council launched important projects aimed at reducing energy consumption and several awareness campaigns. Since 2003, energy use of municipal buildings has dropped by 28%. Such an achievement was possible thanks to a significant improvement in energy efficiency. This improvement was principally obtained by promoting the installation of renewable energy systems in both municipal and private buildings. The energy efficiency of Bristol's 28,000 municipal homes has improved substantially, and domestic energy consumption was reduced by 16% between 2005 and 2010: a remarkable accomplishment.

Perhaps Bristol's success lies in its ambitious sustainability targets. The goals for the future have been clearly defined: doubling again the number of cyclists by 2020; reducing energy use by 30% over the next five years; reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. The plan is to continue innovating in order to improve the quality of life in the city and promote progress towards a green economy. All things considered, the challenge seems eminently manageable.

Translation by Teresa Ciuffoletti

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