Thursday, 20 November 2008

Who's "Completely Pointless"?

George Ferguson has responded in a typically bullish fashion to the belated reporting in the Evening Post of the questions to Cabinet tabled by Tory councillor Ashley Fox referring to the city council's sale of Railway Path land to Squarepeg. Ferguson dismissed the land as "a completely pointless bit of scrub land".

As can be seen from the picture below the embankment slope earmarked for development by Squarepeg supports 150 metres of mature hawthorn hedge which dates back to the days of steam railway operations. This type of hedgerow is very characteristic of former railways and provides a prominent landscape feature and valuable wildlife corridor, as evidenced by the designation of the Railway path as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI).

Prior to Ferguson's involvement, the hedgerow and embankment slope had been cited as worthy of preservation by Bristol City Council itself in 2002 in connection with the housing development along Greenbank Road affecting an eastward extension of the same land. The council's Nature Conservation Officer then said "the hedge adjacent to the cycleway should be retained......The area of more mature trees at the Famous Names end of the site should be retained for wildlife purposes".

In the same report the council's Landscape Officer said "the mature hedge is of merit in landscape terms and also forms a valuable part of the Citywide Site of Nature Conservation Interest covered by NE5, represented by this section of the cyclepath. It is imperative that it be retained. Its root zone should be protected. The 'garden area' at the Famous Names end of the site which had scrub and small trees on it ... should be fenced off completely during the development period to protect the existing flora and fauna".

More recently in the case of the previous planning application for the Chocolate Factory site by Persimmon (which did not include any railway path land) the council were keen to stress that measures should be taken "to ensure that vegetation along the cycle track be protected during construction", the same vegetation that they are now happy to see condemned as "completely pointless". As for the "garden area" of "more mature trees" referred to by both officers in the 2002 report (pictured below), that is now to be largely destroyed for a 4 storey block of flats just 4 metres from the tarmac path.

Ferguson goes on to claim that "the sale of (the "completely pointless" land) enables what will be one of the most interesting, mixed-use regeneration schemes in the country". Not true, since the development would have been more or less as viable without the extra land. indeed Squarepeg went ahead and bought the Chocolate Factory land for £5 million in January of this year, at a time when the City Council were indicating quite clearly that the Railway Path land was not for sale.

Bristol City Council, not to be outdone even by the greenwash meister in the disinformation stakes, waded in with "(the council) is finalising an in-principle agreement to sell a small strip of land so that some houses could be accessed by bikes from the cycle track". Again not true. The land being sold is to accommodate a 7 storey tower and several houses. The Council spokesperson appears to be 'confusing' the land sale with a separate arrangement to allow 'easements' across a long strip of the grass verge of the Path for access purposes.

So Ferguson's "completely pointless" jibe may not find favour in many quarters, but such is his unassailable self-belief that he chooses to confront the concerns of ecologists and environmentalists head-on. It seems that every scrap of green space left in the city is only of value as a blank canvass for the works of our great architect.


greeengage said...

Excellent post Chris.

My first thought at reading George Ferguson big up his own development as "one of the most interesting, mixed-use regeneration schemes in the country" was that he certainly thinks a lot of himself. I suppose that's old Wellingtonians for you - or do they call themselves Wellies?

My second thought was that if this is really one of the most interesting regeneration schemes in the country then heaven help us. There are some houses, some flats, some offices, and a bar. It's not exactly the reinvention of architecture as we know it, is it?

Chris Hutt said...

As far as the 'cycle' houses are concerned, they are certainly nothing new, even in the UK. Just go to Yate and you will see whole housing estates, dating I think from the 70s, with houses facing a traffic free path used by cyclists and pedestrians and surrounded by greenery but backing onto an access road where they have a garage.

There's a word for that design of housing estate, although I haven't yet found it on the net. Needless to say the pristine fronts of the houses remain largely unpopulated and sterile while the backs are a hive of activity centred around the car and garage. A case of people not living the way the architects had in mind?

Anyway I'm sure that won't happen at the Chocolate Factory, especially with such a wise and wonderful architect behind the project.

Glenn Vowles said...

Great work Chris, a comprehensive demonstration of the ranting rubbish that Mr Ferguson spouted. Of course this land and property developer would say that the land he wants to build over has little or no value - he couldn't get all his own way otherwise! The tragedy is that senior council officers have gone along with him, overruling advice, ignoring council policy and being accountable to no-one!!

Anonymous said...

Spot on Chris. Keep up the good work.

simple soul said...

This isn't the only piece of land GF thinks "pointless." In his latest BEP column he floats the idea of building in "long gardens". Who owns a long garden in the heart of a conservation area in the centre of Bristol?

rosebud said...

Keep your greedy developer's eyes off our gardens, George! We will soon need them to grow our food in, even if you can't see their ecological value now. Obviously long gardens will be better for this than short in a sunless, overbuilt country.

Chris Hutt said...

I gather that George is also hoping to build some 'cycle' houses on Castle Green, where there's a cycle/walkway along the front and road access behind. It seems that any cycle/walkway way is fair game for development now thanks to the revolutionary new concept of 'cycle' houses.

Anonymous said...

"Just go to Yate and you will see whole housing estates, dating I think from the 70s, with houses facing a traffic free path used by cyclists and pedestrians and surrounded by greenery but backing onto an access road where they have a garage."

Heh, I can't believe I'd forgotten about those, seeing as I did actually live in one of them :D

As a non-driver it was quite good, being able to scoot around the back paths of all the interlocking closes and ways between Yate and Chipping Sodbury, avoiding the likes of Kennedy, Scott and Rodford. But most adults made full use of their 'back' garages; cycling was (in my experience) what the kids did.

Glenn Vowles said...

'This isn't the only piece of land GF thinks "pointless." In his latest BEP column he floats the idea of building in "long gardens".'

Gardens are very often highly biodiverse spaces. GF seems to fall flat on the key green principle of high respect for land and its biodiversity and his inclination is clearly to build over areas.

Even if the land he referred to in the local paper was 'scrub' why is he not arguing for it to be improved in green quality and value rather than advocating building over it??

Elizabeth said...

I agree with what you say Glenn. While I would like to commend George for the attention he has given to the Nordic countries and their more civilized ways with cities, housing, and transport etc., may I also commend to him the Green Revolution in Cuba? There they suddenly found they had to feed themselves on their own, after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. They rose to the challenge by growing food on every bit of green space there was, especially in their cities. If they had already built on those, they would have starved. In these worrying times we should concentrate our minds on this - and remember too that we have poorer soil, less sun, less green space - and a much bigger population.