'Bristol makes terrible first impression' - George Ferguson
BRISTOL needs to make a better first impression and maximise its rail structure – that is the opinion of local architect, and now mayoral candidate, George Ferguson.
Mr Ferguson, who is an independent candidate for the coveted position of Bristol's first elected mayor, gave his opinion at a discussion evening at the recently relaunched Architecture Centre on St Augustine's Reach.
The event, called What Next for Bristol? was linked to the centre's current exhibition Bristol: Retrofit City: Making Our City Future Fit Through Retro-Fit.
It focuses on retro-fitting, or reshaping, Bristol's current buildings to modern needs and looks at how the city could adapt and develop to become sustainable.
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Mr Ferguson, who told the audience of around 50 that his opinions should not be taken as a "campaign address", said the first impression Bristol makes, especially to rail users, should be a focus.
"Why aren't we maximising the use of the rail structure we have already got in this city?" he said.
"Lets also use the fact we maybe built too many roads in this city to use some of that space for something greener, more creative and more people orientated. We should be looking at the big public spaces that have been created.
"Look at the big roundabout near Temple Meads – it's just a useless piece of space. Here we could have a more simple crossroads – traffic can now be managed in better way – to make it a great arrival into the city."
Mr Ferguson said that if he could, he would like to be the minister for "first impressions".
"The first impression someone gets to see when they arrive in Bristol is really important. The first impression when you come to our city by train is walking out of this really great station, but you look down the incline and you've got this terrible, terrible disaster of a mix of buildings in front of you. You turn right and there's an empty petrol filling station, a building with a hole through it – the whole thing is a disaster."
Mr Ferguson used his arrival into the French city of Lille on a recent trip to make a comparison.
"You come out of the station in Lille and turn right and there's this beautiful boulevard that takes your eye straight to the spire of a church – you are attracted into the city.
"I think that's really important when you arrive somewhere, it needs to be a space for people, somewhere with a real sense of oomph when you arrive. It's just about making the most of what we've got.
"I want Bristol to be a great place to arrive in – a centre that you aim for.
"St Augustine's Reach is a wonderful opportunity, but it's not made use of. It should be used as a great showcase of the history and grandeur of the city's past. We should be making more out of our history."
Mr Ferguson also pointed out that unlike Birmingham and Manchester, Bristol was a collection of old communities and villages.
"Bristol's a very different, concentric city," he said.
"It's got lots of centres all around the city, not just one big one. There are lots of places that people associate as their own."
Former Liberal councillor Mr Ferguson explained he gave up politics 25 years ago to focus on changing Bristol in a different way.
"I thought it was a headbanger trying to do it through politics," he said. He went on to say that he redeveloped the Tobacco Factory in Southville as somewhere people could live, work, eat, drink and play.
"My vision of Bristol is lots of these sorts of centres," he said.
"We should be taking difficult buildings in the hearts of our communities and making them work for the people they serve again.
"I am all for finding new uses for these buildings and structures and turning them into something completely different," he said.
"It's extremely important to make the most of what we've got."
Mr Ferguson also spoke of his support for extending the Floating Harbour by putting a barrage in the Avon Gorge – an idea which forms part of an ambitious vision for the city called Bristol 2050, which was put together by The Initiative, a group of influential business leaders.
He said he would like to see a much more bottom-up approach to planning, with communities getting much more of a say and council officers being given the freedom to circumvent planning legislation.
"An awful lot of the worst buildings are from people keeping to the rules," he said. "My first rule in planning is looking to break the rules.
"The places we love are never the places that followed planning legislation – the best places are the ones that broke them. Planners have to be ready to break the rules."