George Ferguson (Mayor of Bristol)

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George Ferguson
1st Mayor of Bristol
Assumed office
19 November 2012
Personal details
Born George Robin Paget Ferguson
(1947-03-22) 22 March 1947 (age 67)
Winchester, Hampshire, England
Political party Liberal (1970–1988)
Liberal Democrats (1988–2012)
Independent (2012–present)
Domestic partner Lavinia (separated 2000)
Children Alice, John and Corinna
Residence Southville, Bristol
Alma mater Wellington College, Berkshire
University of Bristol
Occupation Politician, former architect, businessman

George Robin Paget Ferguson CBE, PPRIBA, RWA (born 22 March 1947)[1] is a British politician, former architect, entrepreneur, and the first elected Mayor of Bristol.

Ferguson was co-founder of Ferguson Mann Architects in 1979, where regeneration and historic building work formed the foundation of the practice. He was also founder of the national architectural group Acanthus.[2] He is a past president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (2003–2005)[3] where "he was noted for championing the causes of education, the environment and good urbanism".[4] He was a founding director of The Academy of Urbanism[5] and a founding member of the British sustainable transport charity Sustrans.[6] Ferguson was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours for services to architecture, and to the community in the South West of England.[7] In November 2012, Ferguson became the first elected Mayor of Bristol. He is noted for wearing red trousers.[8]

Early life[edit]

Ferguson was born on 22 March 1947, in the city of Winchester, in Hampshire. His father’s military career took the family to Gibraltar, to the South and North of England and to Norway prior to settling in Wiltshire.[9] While in Gibraltar, Ferguson contracted infant polio, which has left him with a distinct limp.[10]


Ferguson was educated at Wellington College.[11] Ferguson read architecture at the University of Bristol from 1965 to 1971.[12] Ferguson has been awarded honorary degrees from the University of Bristol[13] and the University of the West of England.[4][14] Ferguson went to Bristol University in 1965 and, apart from one year in London, has lived in the city since.

Career in architecture[edit]

Urban renewal and environmental sustainability are central elements of Ferguson’s approach to design, exemplified by developments such as the Tobacco Factory. In 1978, Ferguson established Ferguson Mann Architects and the practice won many awards for innovative and sustainable design.[2][4][15]

In 1986, Ferguson founded Acanthus, the UK wide network of independent practices committed to excellence in design and conservation. Ferguson led the Acanthus team that contributed to the conservation plan for Foster & Partners and for Christo’s wrapping of the Reichstag in 1995.[2]

In 2006, Ferguson co-founded The Academy of Urbanism which aims to recognize and promote excellence in placemaking. This self-funded, politically independent organisation is made up of leaders, thinkers and practitioners involved in the social, cultural, economic, political and physical development of villages, towns and cities.[5]

During his career, Ferguson has written and presented articles, broadcasts and lectures on planning and architectural matters and sustainability,[12] and was a presenter on the 2005 Channel 4 television series Demolition.[16] Ferguson fully stepped down from Ferguson Mann Architects after his election as Mayor of Bristol in order to concentrate on his new role within the city.[17] In December 2014 the Architects Registration Board investigated George Ferguson for using the protected title 'Architect' without being registered to do so under the Architects Act 1997. He admitted he had deliberately let his membership lapse and removed the term from his social media status.[18]

Regeneration in South Bristol[edit]

Ferguson is noted for his leading role in the regeneration of the Bedminster area of South Bristol.[19] In 1994, he bought the last remaining major building of the old Imperial Tobacco Raleigh Road estate for £200,000 to save it from demolition and turn it into an exemplar regeneration project.[20][21] The Tobacco Factory is now a mixed-use project, that includes the Tobacco Factory Theatre, bar, creative industry workspace and other creative activities that have helped kick start the regeneration of North Street.

Inspired by the Manchester Independents, Ferguson launched a Bristol-based campaign from the Tobacco Factory in 2001 to encourage the support and patronage of local independent outlets and businesses rather than big businesses and national chains.

In 2003, Ferguson bought the defunct Ashton Gate Brewery. Renamed The Bristol Beer Factory, it resumed beer brewing in 2005 using mostly locally-grown malt and hops and has won national awards including being nominated Drinks Producer of the Year in the BBC Food & Farming Awards 2011.[22]


Ferguson was one of the first three Liberal Councillors to be elected to Bristol City Council, representing Cabot Ward from 1973 to 1979.[19] He stood unsuccessfully for the Liberals in the 1983 and 1987 general elections in Bristol West, after which he ceased any active political involvement.[23]

In March 2012, Ferguson confirmed speculation that he was planning to stand as an independent candidate for Mayor of Bristol if the referendum on 3 May chose to adopt the Mayoral system.[24] Following the referendum Ferguson resigned his membership from the Liberal Democrat party before announcing that he would stand for mayor, but explained that he had no intention to run as a party candidate: "Everyone knows that I am my own person. I'm a member of lots of things but I'm as independent as they come."[25]

Ferguson ran as an independent but registered his ‘Bristol 1st’ party to distinguish himself from other independents on the ballot paper.[26] In his campaign material, Ferguson stated “My only purpose is to make Bristol, the city I love, a better city for all. I have no political ambition beyond Bristol” and he set out his seven visions for Bristol.[27] Although having published a manifesto before the election later, in January 2015, he denied he had done so.[citation needed]

The election was held on 15 November 2012. On 16 November 2012, Ferguson was declared Bristol's first elected mayor, beating the second-place Labour candidate Marvin Rees by more than 6,000 votes. The election was held using supplementary vote and included second preference votes.[28] The election saw a low turnout of just 27.92% of the electorate participating, with commentators predicting this would create a weak mandate for the successful candidate.[29]

Ferguson takes a portion of his salary as Mayor in the local Bristol Pound.[30][31] The salary of the Mayor of Bristol is aligned with the salary of a UK Member of Parliament.[32]

Mayor of Bristol[edit]

Ferguson was sworn in as the first directly-elected Mayor of Bristol in the Passenger Shed at Temple Meads Station on 20 November 2012. On his first day of taking office, Ferguson implemented two policies. He revoked Sunday car parking charges and announced that the ‘Council House’, the administrative seat of Bristol, would be renamed ‘City Hall'.[30]

Ferguson appointed a "rainbow cabinet" comprising a deputy and five assistant mayors, drawn from all political parties.[33] He also appointed two youth mayors following a city wide election by the youth community.[34]

In May 2013 George Ferguson was caught on camera swearing, using a four-letter expletive, at a member of public, 27-year old artist Paul Saville at a public event in Bristol City centre. George Ferguson later accused him of stalking him and refused to apologise for the insult.[35]

The following month the leader of the Conservative group of city councillors made an official complaint to the City Director after another "foul mouthed" outburst from the mayor, sparking further media interest[36] During the run-up to the Mayoral Election, in September 2012, Ferguson had been forced to apologise for suggesting some ways of developing the city may be "too Irish", a derogatory term implying that they were ludicrous or illogical.[37]


On taking office in 2012, one of Ferguson's first challenges was to cut £35 million from the 2013/14 budget and plan for a further £65 million in spending cuts over the following three years.[38] Most of the savings in the 2013/14 budget (approximately £20 million) were achieved through reductions and changes in council staffing.[38]

Over the next 12 months, the challenge to cut £65 million over three years had increased to £90 million. Again, Ferguson proposed to achieve most of the savings through staffing cuts and other efficiencies within the council (approximately £50 million). Several cuts proposed in the 2014-2017 draft budget generated feedback, such as a proposal to discontinue staff supervision at Hengrove Park.[39][40][41] Following the 2014–2017 Bristol city council budget public consultation, Ferguson and the Council removed some of the proposed changes.[42][43]

Traffic and transport[edit]

Ferguson has expressed his determination to tackle traffic congestion, by trying to force a change in the city’s culture and get people out of cars and onto buses or bicycles.[44][45] On the 7th January 2015, after a Bristol motorist posted a "joke" comment on social media implying that he had driven off after hitting a cyclist,[46] Mr Ferguson commented that his Tweet "has chilling echoes of 60's Deep South racism".[47] The following day he was forced to apologise following public criticism of the comparison.[48]

Ferguson introduced ‘Make Sunday Special’, an idea borrowed from Bordeaux, one of Bristol's Twin cities. On some Sundays in the summer, some roads in the city centre are closed to traffic and various entertainments, or events are laid on.[30][49]

Ferguson’s plan to expand Residents Parking Zones (RPZ) across the city, in order to reduce the number of commuters driving into the city, has been contentious.[50][51] The plans were scaled back as a result of protests from some residents and businesses.[52] George has maintained that his RPZ proposals enjoy a high level of support from the "quiet majority".[53] However, in January 2015, the Council's own statistics revealed that over 90% of residents in the Clifton district who had responded to a request for feedback had objected to his plans despite prolonged consultation and alterations made to the scheme.[54]

Ferguson’s plan to expand Residents Parking Zones (RPZ) across the city, in order to reduce the number of commuters driving into the city, has been contentious.[55][56] The plans were scaled back as a result of protests from some residents and businesses.[57] George has maintained that his RPZ proposals enjoy a high level of support from the "quiet majority".[58] However, in January 2015, the Council's own statistics revealed that over 90% of residents in the Clifton district who had responded to a request for feedback had objected to his plans despite prolonged consultation and alterations made to the scheme.[59]

Ferguson has proceeded with expanding 20 mph speed limits across the city, following pilots in Bedminster and east Bristol in 2010[60], but contrary to a motion passed by the elected Council in November 2014 to limit the expansion only to those areas of Bristol that wanted them.[61] In February 2015 it transpired that Ferguson had been caught breaking the speed limit in a Bristol City Council fleet car whilst driving at 35mph in a 30mph area on a journey from Avonmouth along the Portway. Caught by a portable police speed camera the mayor apologised for breaking the law, though social media was quick to make accusations of hypocrisy based of his advocacy of lowered speed limits.[62] He was later "mocked" on the popular BBC TV show Top Gear.[63]

BRT, Metrobus[edit]

In September 2012, during the Mayoral election campaign, George Ferguson pledged to cancel the proposed Bristol Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project if he was elected. When he came to office this promise was reneged upon in favour of amended route proposals rather than cancellation. In July 2013, Ferguson announced that surrounding council had approved a major change he proposed to the route for the planned BRT2 to avoid it running through the Bristol Harbourside area. The system, renamed Metrobus, was also changed to use modern low emission vehicles.[64][65] However protest groups who challenged the route, cost, and feasibility of the scheme accused Ferguson of breaking the electoral promises laid out in his manifesto.[66]

A second challenge to Ferguson's support of the Metrobus project came when the next phase of the scheme was submitted for Planning Consent in March 2014 [67] Objections to the planning application were raised over the proposed felling of mature trees along the whole of the length of the North Fringe to Hengrove route, to the loss of Grade 1 agricultural land at Stapleton, the damage to the setting of Grade 1 Listed Stoke Park house and the Grade 2 Registered historic designed landscape surrounding it, and the lack of public consultation over the proposals.[68] Following the approval of the scheme by the Planning authority on August 2014 work began in January 2015 causing further protest, and activists set up camp in trees that the Council were about to fell. Ferguson's support for the project remained resolute. With Bristol's status as European Green Capital in 2015 Ferguson reiterated his support for the scheme and referred to the developing protest as "a challenging situation" and claimed he had "done more than anyone to minimise the environmental effects of the Metrobus project".[69][70] Protesters attended a press event at which Ferguson was present with Government Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss planting the 1 Millionth tree of the national Big Tree Plant programme. At it he accused the protesters of "blowing this issue out of all proportion".[71]

European Green Capital[edit]

In March 2013, Ferguson led a delegation from Bristol to Brussels to present Bristol’s bid to be European Green Capital 2015. It was announced on 14 June 2013 that Bristol had won.[72]

Green Capital Controversy[edit]

In December 2014 the proposed recipients of Bristol's Green Capital Strategic Grants were announced. Grants were awarded by a Limited Company, Bristol 2015 Ltd, of which George Ferguson was a director. 136 groups applied for funding, only 32 were accepted, 10 of which Bristol 2015 board members own, manage, or work for and accounted for £500,000 of the total grants made. George Ferguson's Daughter's company Playing Out CIC received £41,000 and questions were raised as to the public accountability of the Limited Company, conflicts in interest, and George Ferguson's role as a director of the company in securing the grant in favour of his daughter.[73]

In February 2014, Ferguson launched ‘TreePips’, an initiative to have every primary school child in Bristol plant a tree, resulting in 36,000 extra trees planted by 2017.[74] At the same time the City's Tree Department had its funding cut by Ferguson by £300k/per year by 2015.[75]

Bristol arena[edit]

Ferguson made the creation of an indoor music and entertainment arena one of the central pledges of his mayoral campaign. The scheme was approved as part of Bristol City Council's budget in February 2014 and the 12,000 capacity venue near Temple Meads station is expected to open in 2017. The bulk of funding comes as a loan of £53 million from the City Deal to be repaid by the retention of business rates arising from regeneration, via the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, while the Council will loan a further £38 million to be financed by the lease to the operator.[76]

The City Deal[edit]

In March 2014, Ferguson, together with the leaders of the three surrounding authorities that form the West of England, agreed a ‘City Deal’ with Government. This allows Bristol to retain income from business rates and decide how the money should be spent. In the past, the Government has kept business rates to be distributed nationally.[77] However, in January 2015, with Bristol City Council still to sign the deal, Ferguson launched an alternative partnership for a City Region with the cities of Cardiff and Newport in Wales. Rejecting the previous partnership negotiated with the city's neighbouring Local Authorities he stated "I like to move at the pace of the fastest, not the slowest".[78][79]

George Ferguson remains married to his wife Lavinia, though the couple separated in 2000 following a well publicised affair with a BBC Journalist, Helen Reed.[80] He has three grown children by Lavinia; Alice, John and Corrina.

Charitable involvement and other roles[edit]

Ferguson has been involved in several local charities including the Avon Youth Association, Cruse, and Starfish. He is also a trustee of the University of Bristol Union.[81]

Ferguson was appointed High Sheriff of Bristol when that office was revived in 1996 and served for one year.[82] He was also previously a board member of the think tank Demos from 2007 to 2010, a trustee of the Arnolfini Arts Centre until 2012, and a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers until 2012.[81]


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