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AJ Exclusive: George Ferguson interview

Tom Ravenscroft talks to Bristol’s architect mayor George Ferguson about his plans for the city

How will Bristol’s built environment be improved by the end of your first term?

There is of course a limit to how much can be built by May 2016 from a standing start. By 2016 we will have made significant improvement in housing, which has fallen to an all-time low. We will also have started the changes to Temple Meads Station and the enterprise zone, including construction of the arena. My real target is 2020, if I am re-elected in 2016 – by which time I hope to have repaired the centre of the city, which is still scarred from the 1940s blitz, and to have re-connected the station to the centre via the Redcliffe/Temple Way development in partnership with the locally driven Redcliffe Forum. This is all part of a greater spatial plan for the city that I’m preparing. My greatest physical emphasis is on greening the city as the legacy for European Green Capital 2015, including the creation of ‘greenways’ connecting all our communities.

How do you intend to make Bristol the UK’s number one destination after London?

It is getting there! I am doing all I can to bring attention to Bristol’s great history, environment, quality of life, creativity and diversity, and am working closely with our two universities and other major institutions to make sure we develop the necessary skills to attract inward investment.

How do you respond to claims the city doesn’t have an overall plan for its built environment?

I would largely agree – which is why I am putting great emphasis on the development of a coordinated spatial plan for the city.

What are your main achievement as mayor so far?

Securing European Green Capital – on the back of a huge amount of work that was done in preparation, before I came into office. And changing the political dynamics by appointing a six-person cabinet made up of all four parties represented on the city council, and moving to four-year election cycle from 2016 in place of the current annual election circus. 

What limits are there to your role?

I need support from the council for the annual budget, which is the main hurdle. I’m not responsible for planning or licensing control which is a quasi-judicial council committee role. We do not have a transport authority such as Transport for London, so strategic transport decisions are made in partnership with the three surrounding authorities, the West of England Partnership.

After losing £40 million in government funding, do you still expect the Bristol Arena to be completed before the end of your first term? And the Bristol City Stadium before the end of your second term?

We never lost any funding – this is a bit of political trouble-making by a small number of anti-mayor politicians determined to see me fail! The £40 million referred to was part of one long-shot bid for the Regional Growth Fund. There will be other opportunities; meanwhile we are on course for an end of 2016 completion, opening in 2017. The two football stadium developments should also be completed, or be well on their way by 2016.

How important is bringing a high-speed rail link to Bristol, and how advanced are plans to do this?

This is vitally important – and what is more, electrification by 2017 is far better value than HS2. It will give us a regular 80-minute connection to London. I am working closely with Cardiff on strategic transport issues. We need high-speed electrification to Birmingham to connect us into HS2.

Do you still believe in the X-listing of buildings, and which buildings in Bristol would you X-list?

Yes! There are a few around Temple Meads Station that take the biscuit…

What are you actively doing to support architects in Bristol?

Encouraging procurement of local contractors and professionals as a more sustainable way forward, for instance in the construction of schools, with the intention of building the sort of regional architectural culture that Manchester has done so successfully – without excluding other national and international architects from involvement in key projects.

What are the advantages to the city of having an architect as mayor?

Clearer decision making, greater confidence and greater national and international attention. I also believe there is a huge advantage in having an independent mayor whose strings are not pulled from elsewhere!

Do you think Bristol would benefit from having a city architect?

Yes!

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