Saturday, 1 November 2008

By George, what an operator!

Being one of the awkward squad gives an occasional insight into how deals are done amongst the Great and the Good. Back in the summer I started to publicly question the benefits of plans for 'Cycle Houses' alongside the Bristol & Bath Railway Path as part of Squarepeg's Chocolate Factory development at Greenbank.

It became apparent that the 'cycle houses' were to be built on former railway land that currently forms part of the green corridor of the Path. I sought clarification about the relevant land acquisitions from Squarepeg (via Jenny Gee of Interface) and received the following email from George Ferguson, the architect for the scheme and major league mover and shaker in Bristol and beyond, dated 1st September.
Hi Chris – you may be surprised to receive this from me but Jenny has asked that I respond.

1. The land you refer to does not form part of the green corridor of the cycle path but is in line with the land that formed the ownership of Elizabeth Shaw which is built right up to with brick and concrete walls. The land you refer to is in effect land that by chance ‘took a chunk out of the Chocolate Factory site.

2. The development boundary will be between 4m and 7m back from the cycle path – a good distance but close enough to give some natural surveillance.

3. There are no ‘front gardens’ to the cycle houses – but roof terraces. The houses will stand behind the wide verges but with ‘bridge access’ on to the edge of the path for occupants.

4. I am very aware of your opposition which has been noted and has been taken fully into account.

I have known you for long enough not to expect to change your entrenched views but your implication of ‘secrecy’ is total invention. I would just like to say that I have been so impressed with our clients’ attitude to this project which they rescued from the disaster that would have resulted from Persimmon’s plans. They are determined to produce an exemplary and viable development that has good green credentials and like me are not interested in ‘Greener than Thou’ competition but in real results. We have engaged with the community for months, have had an excellent working relationship and nothing has been hidden.

Maybe we should meet up for a drink - where do you live nowadays?

All the best – George

I responded on September 3rd, correcting some of his assertions like the bizarre suggestion that the railway "took a chunk out of the factory site" (the railway was constructed in the 1830s, half a century before the factory). But I ignored the invitation to "meet up for a drink". I guessed how personable and persuasive he might be in a social context so decided to stay at arms length. Others might have been well advised to do the same.

Anyway, having had his overtures to me rejected and following further embarrassing revelations, George fired off the following email (just released following a FoI request) to David Bishop, Strategic Director for City Development at Bristol City Council.

From: George Ferguson
To: David Bishop
Date: Tue Sept 9, 2008. 5.22 pm
Subject:Chocolate Factory

David – I gather there is a bit of stirring going on re the cycle houses. I think you probably realise that it is a load of nonsense and that we have all been extremely open throughout a very thorough consultation exercise, and have received overwhelming support from the community. It seems that Chris Hutt, who I know of old, and who even manages to wind up John Grimshaw and Sustrans, has been busy on the net and that a minority are now trying to make political mischief. It would be good to have the opportunity to talk before I disappear tomorrow afternoon for the Venice Architecture Biennale. I am so convinced of the merits of this scheme and have been impressed by the support we have had from your planning team.

All the best – George

George Ferguson PPRIBA
Acanthus Ferguson Mann Architects

And we all know how accommodating David Bishop is being in ensuring that the Squarepeg Planning Application passes smoothly through the system, complete with a Planning Performance Agreement (which Squarepeg have cheerfully driven a coach and horses through) but without having to bother with anything as tedious as an Environmental Impact Assessment despite the obvious concerns about the development's environmental impact.

I shall be emailing John Grimshaw and Sustrans to see if they will confirm that I do indeed "wind them up" as claimed by George Ferguson.


Anonymous said...

Dear George,

Chris is not the only one who will act to preserve this green space so you needn't vilify him. This development not only concerns the local residents as there are far wider public amenity issues, as you well know, given the protest that took place over the BRT issue.

You have not consulted the wider population of Bristol who get great enjoyment from this green corridor and that the majority wish to see the trees and wildlife preserved in their present state. Your strategy for getting this approved by the local residents is short sighted.

People were assured by an officer that the trees, woods and hedgerows aligning the path are in the safe protection of the Council. We will be holding this administration to account if we see any sign of destruction to this habitat.

Jolly good day to you sir!

Anonymous said...

And George's consultation has of course actually been a bad joke.

Conducted by a PR firm, at their last effort at the Elizabeth Shaw site on 18 October, George's ridiculous PR girl, Jenny Gee, was asked by one campaigner what the outcome was.

The answer was that 79 people attended. All of whom were recorded by Gee as being totally in favour of everything.

This is because no effort was made to record their actual views on the development

greeengage said...

I attended the consultation on October 18, and the general mood was by no means unambigously in favour. Yes, there were people there who were very keen, but there were also at least as many with serious concerns esp. about traffic and the impact on the railway path. The transportation consultant in particular was getting a very hard time. What was especially interesting was how many of those hostile to the scheme were locals, contra Squarepeg's propaganda.

Spectator said...

I am a local resident, and, I too was at the 'consultation' on 18th of October. I expressed considerable concerns about the lack of proper consultation, the effects of the scheme upon the Railway path, and about the general transport and traffic problems which will impact upon the local area. If Squarepeg are now trying to claim that everyone there was in favour of their plans, THEY ARE LYING!

Chris Hutt said...

Those comments relate to the Planning Performance Agreement, which puts a legal responsibility on the developer to consult in a responsible way.

My own experience is that once you start asking awkward questions your emails are ignored, even when the lack of response is highlighted on the blog of the local MP. That is not taking consultation seriously.

Anonymous said...

George and his cronies were complacent. They thought they'd got everything stitched up.

Now that's blown away they're sitting tight and trying to put a brave face on things. Maybe they hope that if they stay stumm it'll all get buried again.

But when I went to the CON-sultation there were more paid goondas walking around than there were punters.

Not so jolly underneath, eh?

MikeA said...

Nice one Chris - as for winding up Grimshaw, well, you have to once in a while :-). After all Sustrans are promoting some pretty stupid cycle routes....


Docsavage said...

I agree, nothing wrong with stirring up Sustrans and John G.
Building picturesque cycling links between rural villages is entirely commendable, but ignoring the more politically difficult decisions that surround making Bristol actually SAFE for commuting cyclists, and failing to vocally oppose the more ludicrous actions of our inept council only make me think Sustrans get away with murder.
As for George F, his squirming and hideously sychophantic email to the council throws a truer light on his self centred activities.
It saddens me that Bristol is riddled with these types, wearing the clothes of public service and the greater good, whilst happily lining their own nests and nourishing their egos.

Nulabia said...

Oh well, you'll save on the Christmas list this year, Chris.

I think you can scratch Kerry 'Ve know who you are and vere you lif' McCarthy, and Ted 'Let's make Easton a Destination' Fowler off as well.

Errr, destination for what exactly? Thought it already was ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well, anyone who wants to shake down George Ferguson can't be all bad...

But are you in any way responsible for the half-baked FARCE which 'The Centre' has now become ?

If so, hang yourself in shame - this is an absolutely ridiculous and dangerous solution which tried to take some good ideas about traffic calming and reducing street signage, but compromised with allowing a major thoroughfare through.

Thus making it more dangerous than EITHER leaving it as it was, or going for the 'Full Solution' with proper pedestrian [no traffic !] areas.

So sling mud against Georgie Porgie if you like - but criticism is easy, doing something actually is a lot harder. As the abject and total failure which is 'The Centre' so amply demonstrated..

Anonymous said...

2 Anonymouse:

Not sure quite what you are trying to say here.

However ... "hang yourself" is probably about right. As I just read last night in Mill's "On Liberty":

"It is in the Koran, not the New Testament, that we read the maxim — "A ruler who appoints any man to an office, when there is in his dominions another man better qualified for it, sins against God and against the State."..."

There's been a hell of a lotta sinning going on in Bristol, on the part of the rich and powerful; ie. the EXECUTIVE.

Over the last 50 years and more, those in executive positions, and their backers (and the backers of their backers) in this benighted City of Bristol have completely ruined Bristol and her people.

The disgrace of the destruction of Kingsdown, the M32 Motorway massacre, and the tyrannous Easton Way are just a few examples.

Furthermore, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Acanthus Ferguson Mann have a hand in The Centre anyhow?

Anonymous said...

Methinks 'hang your head in shame' is closer to what I was trying to say..

Anonymous said...

You have carefully avoided answering any substantive issues here, Anonymouse.

Why are you evasive?

btw why don't you use a little imagination and make yourself up a name while you're at it?

Chris Hutt said...

Anonymous (4 Nov) - I had nothing to do with the centre redesign. My influence, such as it was, predated that and was more generalised. I think that Ferguson might well have had some input though!

I never thought much of the centre redesign, mainly because it remains largely dominated by traffic, only with more road noise generated by the mock paving of the surface.

Badly designed pedestrian crossings were a particular problem which resulted in a series of killings when bus drivers took the view that a green light meant they could run down any hapless pedestrians in their way!

In short I agree with you. the centre redesign tries to find some compromise between a traffic gyratory and a pedestrianised square but largely fails. 'Shared space' has it's place, but not, I think, when traffic flows are so heavy.

I'd love to have the opportunity to do something practical rather than just criticise, but the Council have a monopoly on street works and they don't want to share it with the likes of me. Witness the way they've set up Cycling City to exclude the cycle user groups!

SP said...

Only a few days ago they were doing some patchy low-quality repairs to the Centre paving that has sunken beneath buses. Big blobs of black tarmac - looks lovely.

The centre is so dangerous - the combination of fast heavy traffic and layouts and surfaces that are counter-intuitive for pedestrians, it's a recipe for disaster, and as you say some people have already come a cropper.

And as for arrogant bus drivers - don't get me started!

Chris Hutt said...

I'll make a constructive suggestion for how we might make our streets, the Centre included, more 'pedestrian friendly'.

Let's change the law, or at least the application of it, to give pedestrians the benefit of the doubt in any collision with a vehicle, so that the vehicle driver (including cyclists) would be held to be at fault unless there was good evidence to the contrary.

Such an approach would not always be fair, but it would make all of us who drive or cycle conscious of our responsibility to avoid conflict with pedestrians. It is after all the faster vehicle that is creating the danger in the first place, not the pedestrian.

sued said...

Totally agree with you about the change in the law, Chris. It's always seemed to me that the presumption should always be in favour of the one in charge of the smallest amount of power, leaving the most powerful also the most accountable. If you drive a vehicle which gives you the ability to inflict injury and death, the consequences should be clear. And that includes bikes vs pedestrians. that said, the mixing of bikes and pedestrians is just a recipe for conflict where it's busy and unclear as in the Centre and around Temple Meads, where everyone's put at risk.

Anonymous said...

I guess that in one single day SP, SueD and Chris probably have more positive, workable ideas on how to run things than Ormondroyd or any of her overpaid and under-performing cronies have in a whole year.

Likewise, and having been at the bottom of the hierarchy myself in these vastly complex and bureacratised systems, it looks to me that the undervalued and ignored men and women working at the coal-face; care-workers, porters, security staff, tea-ladies, dustbin men, cleaners, gardeners and so on, often have a lot better understanding into how things run properly than all the trendy lefty middle class managers and bosses who are supposedly "in charge" but just screw everything around - for £30K, £40K, £50K or more of our money p/a.

But of course you know why the managers are the managers?

Because they've got the right pieces of paper.

Because they go to dinner with the "right people".

Because they spout the latest trendy and idiotic jargon.

Because they believe (or make-believe) the Modern Ideology in its latest version.

Until this rotten, corrupt and incompetent system is done away with, us ordinary folk can make all the positive suggestions we like, it won't make a ha'porth of difference.

Spectator said...

Dona, you forgot something.

They're managers...

Because they lick arse!