PROFILE: George Ferguson - "Party politics have held us back too long"
We will be taking an in-depth look at each of the candidates bidding to be Bristol's first elected mayor.
Political editor IAN ONIONS will be going beyond the manifesto pledges to the background of each candidate and look at how they arrived at this point.
Today, it's George Ferguson.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
How long in Bristol: 47 years
Job: architect and cultural entrepreneur
Marital status: single (separated 2000)
Children: Alice, John, Corinna
Religion: a deep respect for all
Secondary school: Wellington College
University: Bristol (three degrees including hon degree); UWE hon PhD
Have you ever been a member of a political party? lapsed Liberal
City or Rovers? support any team with Bristol in its name!
Odds: Ladbrokes: 7/2
GEORGE Ferguson is on a mission. He is passionately committed to making Bristol one of the best cities in Europe – if not the world – and he believes there is no better way for him to achieve this than becoming the city's first elected mayor.
"Somebody said about me the other day that I have spent my whole life preparing to be Bristol's first elected mayor without knowing it," he said. "Bristol is my chosen city, I have a passion for it and I have a real belief that I can make it a much better place for everyone."
But what makes him the ideal candidate? "I get things done, I make things happen," he said.
Perhaps the best example of this is the Tobacco Factory, which has been turned into a thriving arts and culture centre and which has been a major factor in the revival of the Southville area.
He bought it from the receivers for £200,000 at a time when most people expected the red brick building to be knocked down to make way for a supermarket car park.
"I could see the potential and I made it work," he said. "I am very proud of what has been achieved there and I want to see that kind of result in many other ways right across the city."
George is fiercely proud of his independence and it is perhaps his best trump card in his campaign to win the election on November 15.
Even his famous red trousers are a daily statement of his refusal to kow-tow to anyone.
"There came a point about 25 years ago when I was in a room with a body of men in suits and I just thought to myself, 'I don't want to be one of these. I have got a pair of red trousers at home, I will wear those.'
"Then there came a point when people would remark if I didn't wear them and so they sort of stuck.
"The red trousers are not a political statement. It's a statement of independence."
But it's true, is it not George, that you were Bristol's first Liberal councillor way back in the 1970s?
"In those days, it was the closest you could get to being independent," he said. "The council had been dominated for years by the two main parties and yes, I got elected as a Liberal but I always held my own views, I never tied myself to the party line and I was, in effect, an independent."
After some recent mud-slinging, it emerged that George was a member of the Liberal Democrats until some months back. But he responded to this by saying that he was never an active member and it was just an oversight on his part to cancel a long-running standing order with the bank.
He said: "I am independent and I will only be answerable to the people of Bristol which I think is vitally important.
"Bristol has voted bravely and sensibly for change – the only city to do that in a referendum earlier this year.
"And the only way to get that change is to break away from the party politics which has held us back for so long.
"The one thing that people keep saying to me is that having an elected mayor is a tremendous opportunity for Bristol to achieve something remarkable for the good of everyone – and I know I can deliver that.
"I feel no bias towards any political party – I only feel bias towards putting Bristol first and making it better."
We move on to George's vision for Bristol. He likes the word, 'vision' and balks at the idea of a manifesto which he describes as a politician's list of broken promises.
He starts to verbally paint a very wide canvas to show how Bristol could emerge as the best city in Britain. He wants to get Bristol moving by having a much bigger vision for integrated transport than we do at the moment and attracting new investment to the city.
He doesn't like the proposed network of bendy buses (rapid transit) but he does want an Independent Transport Authority to take charge of sorting out the city's daily traffic chaos.
He wants Bristol to be a city of innovation and to build on its growing reputation as a leader in renewable technology and hi-tech industries.
He wants the centre of Bristol (the whole of the city centre) which he describes as "a bit of a mess and a muddle" and which has not really recovered since the Second World War to be transformed into a "special place", somewhere which is inspiring, not only for the people who live here but for visitors and tourists.
"Bristol is a maritime city but it's not showing itself off as it should," he said. "If you go down to St Augustine's Reach or by the Arnolfini, that should be a wonderful place but it's actually full of second-rate grubby boats.
"That's not what you get in Copenhagen or Amsterdam.
"If you walk through the centre of Bordeaux, for example, it is the most wonderful place."
George can draw on his knowledge of many European cities and personal contact with their elected mayors to see how they have transformed themselves during the past few decades.
"When I go abroad, I have to explain that Bristol is near Bath but what I want to be able to say is that Bath is somewhere near Bristol."
He finds it difficult to believe, for example, that the Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension Bridge have not been awarded World Heritage status and knows that if they were, then they would draw many thousands of tourists to the city each year.
George, an architect who first came to Bristol as a student at the university in 1965, is a former president of RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) an influential national body and therefore has firsthand experience of being the figurehead of a major organisation.
He said: "Having led RIBA, I had the ability to lead and inspire – that is what the job of being elected mayor is all about. It's about instilling pride in the city and making sure the rest of the world realises that Bristol is a great place.
"If you look at all the other candidates, just think about which one is most capable of changing the city – that's the big issue. Bristol needs a strong champion, someone who is recognised everywhere, not just by their political party."
George points out that the elected mayor won't have much money to spend on capital projects but as a champion of the city, they will have an enormous role to play in shifting attitudes and creating a buzz in the city.
He would appoint a deputy mayor and have a cross party cabinet with five assistant mayors. He would not have a chief executive to run the council but a chief operating officer who has got "practical and relevant business experience".
He would demand that his five assistant mayors – chosen from elected councillors – would put the city first and not simply follow their party's official line.
He would also like to see them hold office for four years "although I would need to dismiss people if necessary".
He wants to devolve more power to the network of Neighbourhood Partnerships so councillors can champion their own areas which George believes they were elected for, "not playing some sort of Westminster game".
The Council House would no longer be called such. One of his first tasks if elected would be to change it to City Hall so people understood the majestic building on College Green belonged to them.
George is the son of an Army officer and so never spent more than two years at a time in any one place during his childhood. He was born in Winchester and was a boarder at Wellington College, a public school in Berkshire before moving to Bristol where he has stayed ever since.
He was separated from his wife 12 years ago but they often see each other and he is close to his three grown up children and three grandchildren.
He loves to travel but always regards his trips as adventures, not holidays. This summer, for example, he drove in his left hand drive Smart car to Russia. "I'm bored to tears lying on a beach," he said. "I learn from visiting cities."