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)
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] when "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] Ferguson has been described as "a prime mover for change in attitude to planning and redevelopment in the South West region and beyond."[4]

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. While in Gibraltar, Ferguson contracted infant polio, which has left him with a distinct limp.[9]


Ferguson was educated at Wellington College.[10] Ferguson read architecture at the University of Bristol from 1965 to 1971.[11] Ferguson has been awarded honorary degrees from the University of Bristol[12] and the University of the West of England.[4][13] 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.[4][2][14]

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,[11] and was a presenter on the 2005 Channel 4 television series Demolition.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17]

Regeneration in South Bristol[edit]

Ferguson is noted for his leading role in the regeneration of the Bedminster area of South Bristol.[18] 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.[19][20] 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.[21]


Ferguson was one of the first three Liberal Councillors to be elected to Bristol City Council, representing Cabot Ward from 1973 to 1979.[18] He stood unsuccessfully for the Liberals in the 1983 and 1987 general elections in Bristol West, after which he ceased any active political involvement.[22]

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.[23] 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."[24]

Ferguson ran as an independent but needed to register as the ‘Bristol 1st’ candidate to enable him to access information and use a Bristol 1st logo alongside his name on the ballot paper.[citation needed] 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.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27]

Ferguson takes a small portion of his salary as Mayor in the local Bristol Pound.[28][29] The salary of the Mayor of Bristol is aligned with the salary of a UK Member of Parliament.[30]

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', to better reflect that the building belonged to the people of Bristol, not the council.[28]

Ferguson appointed a "rainbow cabinet" comprising a deputy and five assistant mayors, drawn from all political parties.[31] He also appointed two youth mayors following a city wide election by the youth community.[32]

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.[33]

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[34]


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

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 2014/15 draft budget generated feedback.[36]

Ferguson advocates creatively working around the financial challenges, saying "I'm up for trying new things and in this difficult financial climate we must get creative about what we do and how we do it."[37]

Hengrove Play Park proposal[edit]

In November 2013, Ferguson and his Cabinet proposed discontinuing the staff supervision at Hengrove Play Park in order to save £120,000 as part of the Bristol City Council budget consultation. Local city councillors claimed the decision to cut the staffing could ultimately lead to the closure of the park.[38]

Sylvia Doubell, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Hengrove, disagreed with Ferguson's decision, commenting:

Following this response, the council later issued a document, which reportedly clarified the budget proposal and confirmed that there was no intention to close the park.[39]

Despite this, there was much speculation that the Mayor of Bristol and his council planned on closing the park; an accusation that Ferguson himself strongly and regularly denied, stating:

The proposal to remove the park supervision was "largely vindicated" following a safety assessment from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, where they concluded that the park could stay open if un-staffed.[41]

Following the 2014–2017 Bristol city council budget public consultation, Ferguson and the Council responded to the public feedback and amended the budget proposal to continue the staff supervision of Hengrove play park, thus resolving the controversy ending the on-going protesting.[42][43]

Petitions and protests[edit]

As a result of the proposal, an online petition was launched, urging Ferguson to not make changes to the park. More than 2,000 people signed the petition.[44]

A Facebook group entitled "Save Hengrove Park" was also launched and gained over 10,000 "likes" (supporters) as of December 2013.[45]

Celebrities who signed a written petition included television chef Dean Edwards, former Bristol City F.C. player Scott Murray and professional boxers Frank Bruno, MBE and Jane Couch, MBE.[40]

Traffic and transport[edit]

Ferguson is determined to tackle traffic congestion, a severe problem for Bristol, by trying to change the city’s culture and get people out of cars and onto buses or bicycles.[37][46] 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,[47] Mr Ferguson commented that his Tweet "has chilling echoes of 60's Deep South racism".[48] The following day he was forced to apologise following public criticism of the comparison.[49]

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.[28][50]

In July 2013, Ferguson announced that surrounding council had approved a major change he proposed to the route for the planned Bristol Rapid Transport system (BRT) to avoid it running through the Bristol Harbourside area. The system was also changed to use modern low emission vehicles.[51][52]

Ferguson played no part in negotiations with First Bus to agree a review of bus fares in Bristol, which resulted in lower cost travel for the majority of Bristol customers and "significant discounts for children and young adults". [53] [54] Ferguson also launched a three-stop bus fare with Wessex buses in March 2013.[55]

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.[56][57] The plans were scaled back as a result of protests from some residents and businesses.[58] George has maintained that his RPZ proposals enjoy a high level of support from the "quiet majority".[59] 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.[60]

Ferguson also has proceeded with expanding 20 mph speed limits across the city, following pilots in Bedminster and east Bristol in 2010[61] and contrary to a motion passed by the elected Council.[62]

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.[63]

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.[64]

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.[65] At the same time the City's Tree Department had its funding cut by Ferguson by £300k/per year by 2015.[66]

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.[67]

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.[68]

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.[69]

Ferguson was appointed High Sheriff of Bristol when that office was revived in 1996 and served for one year.[70] 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.[69]


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