Marvin Rees has vetoed Bristol City Council’s own plans to name a new road after a cigarette brand following an outcry from health campaigners.
But the mayor’s decision has sparked a fresh row after he apparently changed his story as to why he overruled the idea to call the 70-home development “Navy Cut Road”, in honour of a product manufactured at the Bishopsworth site’s former Imperial Group tobacco factory.
It is the latest twist in a saga that began when the council’s street-naming team originally put forward the name of “Crox View”.
Tory ward Cllr Richard Eddy objected to the “ridiculous” idea because residents’ views of the nearby woodland the name comes from, Crox Bottom, is blocked by huge Imperial Park retail centre.
He challenged the local authority and developers Curo housing association to come up with a more “gritty” title reflecting the industrial heritage, and the council’s department proposed four alternatives, all based on Imperial tobacco products, with Navy Cut Road agreed by all.
But the Labour mayor then stepped in to review the decision following criticism from cancer charities and campaigners including Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) which branded the suggestion “morally unacceptable”.
Mr Rees has now agreed that the name is inappropriate and blocked it but gave two different answers to two different councillors about his reasons at a recent City Hall meeting.
In a written reply at member forum, he told Labour Cllr Brenda Massey: “The administration has made a decision that we will not name streets after tobacco brands.
“We’ll announce the name of this road in due course.”
But in an answer to opposition Cllr Eddy, he said while naming roads after tobacco brands was “questionable”, all four suggestions – Strand Road, Passing Clouds Road, Gold Flake Road, and Navy Cut Road – would “contravene the street-naming policy due to ‘current commercial connections’.”
Mr Rees said that although Navy Cut Tobacco cigarettes were discontinued in 2016, Wills Navy Cut was still imported to and sold in the UK, while the other three products either continued to be on sale or remained a registered trademarked product of Imperial Tobacco or related companies.
Cllr Eddy told the meeting on Tuesday, November 8, that you “didn’t need to be a brain surgeon” to realise the mayor’s answer to him was “fundamentally different” to the one he gave a fellow Labour member.
He said the answers would have been drafted by officers who were supposed to be politically neutral and give truthful, consistent information, so he called on the council’s chief executive to investigate why he had been given “such duff information”.
Cllr Eddy said: “In the original media reports the mayor’s office was quoted as reviewing the proposed name on health grounds.
“Was the mayor’s office lying or are the mayor’s comments in his reply today economical with the truth?”
Deputy mayor Cllr Craig Cheney, standing in for Mr Rees who was in Egypt for COP27, said he had not seen the press reports but the mayor’s answers were “pretty straightforward”.
Bishopsworth ward Cllr Eddy replied: “I am perplexed by the grounds given.
“Surely the street-naming team knew their own policies, so why would they propose four names not acceptable?”
He asked whether older, discontinued Wills tobacco products such as Bristol, Cinderella and Three Castles could be considered instead.
Cllr Cheney said: “Politically we struggle to support street names that endorse smoking, which is perhaps separate to the policy around the links to existing commercial brands.
“There are two things – there is a political answer and there’s a policy answer.”
Cllr Massey said: “I hope we will continue to resist naming streets after areas that are not very good.
“Smoking is just not something we should be glorifying in the names of roads anywhere.
“I hope the next administration, whatever that may be, will continue to apply that rule.”