George Ferguson (architect)

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George Ferguson
Ferguson presenting his mayoral manifesto in 2012
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
(independent boarding school)
University of Bristol
Occupation Politician, Architect, cultural entrepreneur

George Robin Paget Ferguson CBE, PPRIBA, RWA (born 22 March 1947)[1] is a British architect, cultural entrepreneur, and the first elected Mayor of Bristol (2012 – ).

Ferguson has been described as "a prime mover for change in attitude to planning and redevelopment in the South West region and beyond."[2] 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.[3] He is a past president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (2003–2005).[4] when "he was noted for championing the causes of education, the environment and good urbanism."[2] 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. While in Gibraltar, Ferguson contracted infant polio, which has left him with a distinct limp.[9]


Ferguson was educated at Wellington College,[10] a boarding independent school, in the village of Crowthorne in Berkshire. 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.[2][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.[2][3][14]

Award-winning developments by Ferguson Mann Architects include:

  • Mackintosh Dance Studio for the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
  • At-Bristol Millennium Square project, which created new urban spaces
  • Rosemoor Garden Visitor Centre, Devon
  • The Paintworks, Bristol; the redevelopment of a former trading estate into a mixed-use creative quarter
  • Royal William Yard, Plymouth; conversion of a dockyard area into apartments, exhibition space, meeting places, cafes and restaurants.
  • Lakeshore, Bristol; conversion of the 1970s Imperial Tobacco Company building into affordable homes demonstrating many features of environmental sustainability.[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.[3]

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 wrote 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.[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]

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 renowned Tobacco Factory Theatre, café, restaurant, creative industry workspace and other creative activities that have helped kick start the regeneration of South Bristol.

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 numerous national awards including being nominated Drinks Producer of the Year in the BBC Food & Farming Awards 2011.[21] In autumn 2009, The Brewery Theatre, a new 90 seat performance space and dance and rehearsal facilities were opened in the brewery building with an adjacent baker, Mark's Bread.


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 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.[23] 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]

Bristol voted on whether to have an elected mayor in a Referendum on 3 May 2012, and was the only one of ten cities polled that voted in favour of a directly elected mayor.[25]

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.[22] 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.[26]

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 and totaling more votes than all of the other 13 candidates put together.[27]

Ferguson takes his salary as Mayor in the local Bristol Pound currency, the city-wide currency that keeps money in the local economy because it can only be spent at local and largely independent businesses.[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]


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.[33] Most of the savings in the 2013/14 budget (approximately £20 million) were achieved through reductions and changes in council staffing.[33]

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 changes and other efficiencies within the council (approximately £50 million). Several cuts proposed in the 2014/15 draft budget generated feedback.[34] For example, a proposal to save £120,000 by discontinuing staff supervision at Hengrove Play Park led to concerns that the park would close. This proposal was removed after the consultation process following feedback from supporters of the park and a £4 million windfall.[35][36][37]

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."[38]

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.[38][39]

Ferguson introduced ‘Make Sunday Special’, an idea borrowed from Bordeaux, Bristol’s sister city in France. On some Sundays in the summer, much of Bristol city centre is closed to traffic and there are stalls, entertainers, children’s games and armchairs in the streets.[28][40]

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.[41][42]

Ferguson played no part in neogtiations 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". [43] [44] Ferguson also launched a three-stop bus fare with Wessex buses in March 2013.[45]

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.[46][47] The plans were scaled back as a result of protests from some residents and businesses.[48]

Ferguson also has proceeded with expanding 20 mph speed limits across the city, following pilots in Bedminster and east Bristol in 2010.[49]

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.[50]

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.[51]

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.[52]

George's Ideas Lab[edit]

‘George’s Ideas Lab’, a website launched by Ferguson in November 2013, asks Bristol citizens to submit ideas for improving the city. Over 300 new ideas were submitted during the first seven weeks it was open. Citizens can rate the ideas submitted in order to provide input on which ideas should be taken forward. "The Ideas Lab is characteristic of Ferguson, who speaks often of the importance of doing things differently."[38]

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.[53]

Community involvement and other roles[edit]

Ferguson is active in the Bristol community, participating in several local charities including the Avon Youth Association, Cruse, and Starfish. He is also a trustee of the University of Bristol Union.[54]

Ferguson was appointed High Sheriff of Bristol when that office was revived in 1996 and served for one year.[55] He was also previously a board member of the think tank Demos from 2007 - 2010, a trustee of the Arnolfini Arts Centre until 2012, and a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers until 2012.[54]


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  2. ^ a b c d "George Ferguson". Grand Designs Awards. Retrieved 24 October 2009. 
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  6. ^ "BikeBiz". 19 November 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59282. p. 7. 31 December 2009.
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  13. ^ "Honorary Graduates of the University of the West of England". Bristol UWE. Retrieved 24 October 2009. 
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  22. ^ a b "George Ferguson’s pre-election interview". 24-7. 
  23. ^ Staff (18 April 2012). "Stand up and be counted: George Ferguson kick-starts Bristol mayor debate". (Northcliffe Media). Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
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  37. ^ "Stars show support: Backing for campaign to keep Hengrove play park open". Bristol Post. 17 December 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
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  39. ^ "Bristol mayor George Ferguson sets up congestion charge study". BBC. 9 May 2013. 
  40. ^ "In Bristol, car-free carnivals make Sundays special". Citiscope. 15 January 2014. 
  41. ^ "Bristol mayor George Ferguson gets his way on rapid transport route change". Bristol Post. 13 February 2013. 
  42. ^ "Cumberland Road option chosen for Bus Rapid Transit plan". Bristol 24-7. 28 June 2013. 
  43. ^ "Fair fares: New First bus-ticket prices welcomed". Bristol Post. 5 November 2013. 
  44. ^ "Bristol Mayor and bus operators to meet up to discuss high fares". Bristol Post. 20 March 2013. 
  45. ^ "Bristol mayor George Ferguson launches new three-stop bus fare". Bristol Post. 8 March 2013. 
  46. ^ "How residents’ parking schemes (RPS) fits into the big picture". Bristol City Council. Retrieved 19 March 2014. 
  47. ^ "Bristol petition against parking zones sparks debate". BBC. 28 May 2013. 
  48. ^ "Bristol RPZ: Eight areas removed from mayor's plan". BBC. 27 June 2013. 
  49. ^ "First Bristol 20 mph limit to come into force". BBC. 9 January 2014. 
  50. ^ "Bristol named European Green Capital for 2015". BBC. 14 June 2013. 
  51. ^ "TreePips: Project to plant 36,000 new trees in Bristol". Bristol Post. 27 February 2014. 
  52. ^ "Bristol City Council agrees to help fund £91m Arena". BBC. 19 February 2014. 
  53. ^ "Elected mayor George Ferguson has helped to unlock £1billion business investment in Bristol, says minister". South West Business. 6 March 2014. 
  54. ^ a b "Declaration of Interest". Bristol City Council. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  55. ^ The London Gazette: no. 54345. p. 3831. 14 March 1996. Retrieved 5 April 2009.

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