Thursday, 9 July 2009

St George and the Dinosaur

It's been interesting to observe George Ferguson's manoeuvring on the Ashton Gate Tesco supermarket proposal. Back at the beginning of June George was giving the idea very conditional support, saying
"If we're just going to end up with a big shed and whopping car park, then the answer is 'No'. "But if Tesco are prepared to do something really special, an exemplar scheme which is carbon-zero rated, which has mixed use and which puts Tesco at the heart of a community, then I think you could end up with a much better, more profitable scheme."
If only they'd had the sense to hire George, he would surely have sorted them out with something suitably community friendly. But they didn't and in due course the entirely predictable plans for a big shed and whopping car park appeared. By June 24th George is evidently losing patience with the developers. It's reported that he supports the football club in getting high value for the site in order to make its new stadium work, but any supermarket should be part of a mixed-use community if it was to find favour with him.
"They have to grow up and recognise that that form of supermarket is a dinosaur."

Still BCFC and Tesco didn't take the hint and pressed on with their dinosaur plans. Meanwhile opposition to the Tesco plan was growing in George's manor and the inaugural meeting of BERATE (Bedminster Residents Against Tesco's Expansion into Ashton Gate) was coming up, so time for another subtle position shift. At the meeting on 3rd July George said

“There is nothing like a major threat to its future to galvanise a community. This is an appalling proposal – another giant shopping shed set in a massive sea of car parking. The potential economic and environmental damage to this area is immense."

"I fully recognise the importance of Bristol City’s success but it is quite wrong to imply that a new supermarket is something to do with the new stadium or the World Cup – the two issues have to be de-coupled. It is inappropriate and legally dubious to consider the applications for the new stadium and the new supermarket simultaneously”.
Now that last point, the importance of "de-coupling" the two planning issues (Tesco and the new stadium), is a very sound one and I'm entirely in agreement. As George says, it would be "inappropriate and legally dubious" to consider the two issues as if one was conditional on the other. But of course we know that that sort of thing happens all the time with Bristol City Council.

Indeed George may well be mindful of a very recent example concerning the redevelopment of the old Chocolate Factory in Greenbank, where the city council have decided to sell a plot of Railway Path land (the long hedgerow shown below) to the developer, Squarepeg, in contravention of its own Parks and Open Spaces policies and the results of extensive public consultation. The reason given by the council is that the planned redevelopment of the Chocolate Factory depends on the land sale (because that's what Squarepeg claimed, in exactly the same way as BCFC claim that their plans for a new stadium depend on the Tesco development proceeding).

Inexplicably there appears to be no record of George Ferguson speaking out against this earlier travesty of natural justice. Yet he must surely have known all about it, seeing as he is the architect of the Chocolate Factory project and the agent who originally arranged the land sale in a private meeting with the council's Strategic Director of City Development, David Bishop. Perhaps if George had spoken out about the Railway Path land sale being wrongly coupled with the Chocolate Factory development, his current concerns about the Tesco - New Stadium linkage might have a little more credibility.


Mike said...

Point taken on the Chocolate Factory issue, but I disagree that Ferguson has really shifted position over Ashton Gate/ Tesco. He opposed "a big shed and whopping car park" but gave conditional support to something carbon-neutral and "really special" When the proposed development proved to be more like the former Ferguson called it "another giant shopping shed set in a massive sea of car parking." In my opinion that's a pretty consistent position.

Chris Hutt said...

I did refer to 'subtle' shifts, not substantial ones. And I did include his earlier quote in full including his clear 'NO' to the shed + car parking scenario, so I'm not trying to misrepresent anyone.

Mike said...

No, I'm not saying you are. But what subtle shifts do you see? I just don't see any.

Anonymous said...

He'll probably be the first to shop there when it opens like all the North Street nimbys

Anonymous said...

I've just been catching up on your blog and the Bristol Blogger's blog; haven't looked at either for a while. I enjoyed your hourbike examination and I think you're onto something with a lot of what you say about Cycling City. However, yet again I can't take what either of you say too seriously because of squalid little snipes like this post. Your obsession with George Ferguson, one you share with the Bristol Blogger, is pathetic and loses both of you an awful lot of goodwill. You are probably worse (there's a post you made a while ago that roughly runs "unemployed sons of tobacco factory workers living in the shadow of a theatre and oriental cafe that can never, never mean anything to them". It was beyond parody) but it's a close run thing.

Chris Hutt said...

Hi Anon,

I think the comment you refer to was made by me on TBB, but it was pretty much as you describe. I still think it was fair comment, a point of view.

As for the general anti-George stance, you probably know where that originated, with the dodgy deal over the Greenbank land sale that George was involved in. I stand by what I have said on that subject.

This blog is written in a provocative way in order to encourage debate and of course to be entertaining. If you want to read something that never, ever offends anyone (except the intellect) then try some council reports.

A final point - you say that the anti-George stuff loses me goodwill. But do I want goodwill? Maybe a little but it's not my prime motivation. That's probably more attention seeking, which as you see with children is often characterised by 'bad' behaviour, hence the George bashing.

Anonymous said...


Nice response, especially as I didn't really expect one on an old page. The blog is entertaining, and informative as well - I hope to make the meeting tomorrow night and wouldn't have known about it without this.

I think I used the wrong term when I said goodwill. I meant that both you and TBB are taken less seriously because of the George bashing. Probably doesn't matter but I think you'd have people listen to you and you'd have more traction if you got it in perspective.

Chris Hutt said...

I automatically get notification of any comments posted, even on old posts. But I don't expect anyone else following this blog will know about your comment unless they have opted to follow all comments.

Fair point about the George bashing (or baiting?). For the record I actually think that most of the time he makes very good sense, for example his By George column last Saturday.

It's just that George is such an outstanding advocate of, shall we say, progressive ideas that it's so tempting to have a go when one spots a chink in the armour.

I think it's even good for George in a way, because he gets some inkling of what weaknesses he's displaying and can adapt his tactics acordingly. Anyone of us has the potential to become a monstrous tyrant if never challenged.