RED TROUSER GATE: The Cancer runs with it!

Finally after months of prevarication the Cancer is forced to acknowledge the emerging Red Trouser Gate scandal.

Interesting comments from the council too:

A Bristol City Council spokewsoman said: “The developer of the chocolate factory is negotiating with the council, which is finalising an in-principle agreement to sell a small strip of land so that some houses could be accessed by bikes from the cycle track.

“The agreement is subject to planning permission and the resolution of all legal issues.

“A planning application is due to be considered by the council so it would not be appropriate to comment further about the merits of the application itself at this stage.

“It is important to stress that the land sale proposed is subject to planning permission and that the environmental impact and any concerns raised from any quarter will be considered at the appropriate time by the area planning committee.”

They seem to be trying to conflate the issue of the planning application and the land sale, suggesting it is the job of a planning committee to agree land sales.

It is not. They are separate issues. And need to be dealt with separately. Indeed the question of the land sale and how it was conducted needs to be settled before the planning application is decided. A Planning Committee has no statutory or city council constitutional power to agree a public land sale. It is not their job.

Why are Bristol City Council pretending it is?

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38 Responses to RED TROUSER GATE: The Cancer runs with it!

  1. Josef K says:

    The land sale and planning permission for the proposal are only linked in the sense that David Bishop, who is ultimately responsible for upholding the planning system in Bristol, has effectively undermined that system by agreeing to the sale of the land on the cycle path outside the proper procedures and policies.

    Which planning officer is going to stand up and recommend refusal for this development when they know that the land sale has DB’s imprimata on it?

  2. That nice (green according to some) Mr Ferguson called the land he wants to develop

    ‘…a completely pointless bit of scrub land.’

    No surprise that this is his view since he will make money if it is built over!!

    He has of course missed the point entirely because it is council policy, specifically the establishment of Area Green Space Plans through local consultation as outlined in the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, that is supposed to determine land quality. This process is supposed to be applied to all land covered by the strategy, which includes the land Ferguson called scrub!!

    Who/what gives this land and property developer the right to ignore council policy and tell us its just scrub??

  3. Spectator says:

    “Who/what gives this land and property developer the right to ignore council policy and tell us its just scrub??”

    What a ridiculous question to ask… the answer is obvious; this right comes from edicts issued by his Imperial Majesty David Bishop, and, his Royal Highness George Ferguson.

  4. Des Bowring says:

    As always, Vowlsie hits the nail on the head – in the eyes of greedy developers and speculators, land is ‘useless’ unless it has some houses built on it.

  5. Factoid says:

    can i just ask, has this land actually been sold?

  6. Dona Qixota says:

    Mr Ferguson’s pronouncements seem to be getting wilder and more demented. Maybe he himself chose to leave the Post in a fit of pique when he found out they were finally running this story.

  7. adrian arbib says:

    A word in George Ferguson’s supports as this seems to be all very one sided.
    This summer ’08 George Ferguson spent a lot of time supporting our community canal boatyard in Oxford from being trashed by genuinely greedy developers. (If you think you are getting it bad in Bristol come here to Oxford and have a look).
    George gave up days if not weeks of his time for no money, and, i understand, did not even claim his train expenses. His input in the planning inquiry that would decide our fate was instrumental in us winning it .
    Here is a man who genuinely believes in sustainable communities and has the guts and position to do something about it and not just shout from the sidelines.
    He gained absolutely nothing from helping us other than having a headache from hours of pouring through complicated planning documents and being cross examined by the developers’ bruiser of a QC.

  8. Chris Hutt says:

    Adrian, it’s not so unusual for people who care about issues to give their time free-of-charge, especially when it helps build up their reputation as a fine and principled person (which can have pay-offs elsewhere, like being considered beyond reproach when fronting development proposals that would normally be viewed very suspiciously).

    Anyway, I’m sure George thoroughly enjoyed being cross-examined by a bruiser of a QC. Having undergone the experience myself I can say that it is strangely satisfying to be able to hold your own in such circumstances. But perhaps that’s a public school thing.

  9. Adrian Arbib – tell me if you are happy with this situation:

    Ferguson said the land is ‘pointless scrub’. However, in one email in response to my complaint the council say ‘the land has some ecological merit’, somethings others have had confirmed in various ways.

    Due to this ‘ecological merit’ initial advice was that any sale was not on.

    Ferguson then finds out, intervenes by discussing the matter with the senior planning officer David Bishop and (hey presto!) the sale is on.

    How does ‘ecological merit’ sufficient for officers to advise no land sale become ‘pointless scrub’ and therefore the sale is on within a very short time?? Doubtless there will be those in the council who will talk of ‘balancing’ the promised merits of ‘cycle houses’ vs loss of land…but council policy on green spaces has been ignored!!

  10. Chinadoll says:

    I’m still trying to work out who gave the Bristol Council permission to sell off public owned land all over the City. I can’t remember being asked if I agree with this, and as I am one of the Bristolians who votes for a Council who are being paid as caretakers, I think I should at least have been notified. There won’t be any land left soon that is not owned by a small select group of developers. They have even sold land that council houses/prefabs were originally standing on, in return for which they get a small proportion of rented accomodation which they hand over to Housing Associations? Who is going to buy all of these new private dwellings, especially in the present financial climate. Has anybody questioned what will happen in five years time when this Council has a depleted stock of housing and no rents coming in? What a shower we have been lumbered with, any idea’s on how to pull the plug on them?

  11. adrian arbib says:

    I don’t know the ins and outs of the details ( as i live in Oxford) but i do know that things aren’t black and white in council matters.
    It appears from the outside, looking in, that you should be going after the the ‘big boys’ instead of chasing those with a vision. 😉

  12. Des Bowring says:

    Perhaps, with the publication of the Bristol BAP, all ‘useless scrub’ will be re-evaluated and saved for the future.

    Oh, sorry, I was dreaming.

  13. Dona Qixota says:

    Adrian – Being from out of town, you obviously don’t realise this, but George Ferguson IS one of the big boys. He is a Merchant Venturer, which is the club of rich men who “own” Bristol.

    Look it up on Google if you don’t believe me.

    www dot merchantventurers dot org has a lot of useful information.

    I actually live in the area where Mr Ferguson is trying to take away some of our scarce green space in order to build on it. I walk past it every day. Hundreds of local people enjoy it and value it, and we can’t afford to lose it.

    Nobody is all good or all bad, and I’m sure George Ferguson is no exception. Personally I have nothing against the guy, I just want him to stop trying to take away one of the few quiet green places for wildlife that we have left in Easton.

  14. Adrian you said ‘I don’t know the ins and outs of the details ‘ but the essentials of the situation are as I have described. We are not campaigning on the general merits or green credentials of George Ferguson as such – that’s a side issue – we are campaigning on the specifics of this case.

  15. thebristolblogger says:


    Perhaps you should bear in mind that George’s original involvement with this site in Bristol was very similar to his involvement with yours in Oxford.

    He came along, supported a campaign against a very ordinary development proposal from Persimmon Homes and gave his time and advice for free. He was even – would you believe? – an expert and independent witness at the planning appeal hearing for the original Persimmon development.

    Is there a modus operandi here I wonder?

    Make your own mind up because once Persimmon was defeated at appeal, the land was quietly acquired from Persimmon by some local big boys with connections to George and – lo and behold – meet the new architect for the site!

    He’s now put forward a proposal that contains more investment flats, more houses, more parking and will generate more traffic in a residential area than Persimmon’s ever did. He also wants to take a chunk of protected park land out of the Bristol and Bath and Railway Path so he can build housing and a seven story tower block directly on to a world-class greenway.

    That’s some vision he’s got.

  16. Easton resident says:

    The Landscape Officer has stated the mature hedge is of merit in landscape terms and also forms a valuable part of the Citywide Site of Nature Conservation Interest covered by NE5, represented by this section of the cyclepath. It is imperative that it be retained. Its root zone should be protected.

    (Development Control (Central) Committee – 27 March 2002
    Application No. 01/04421/M/C : Site Adjacent To Greenbank Road Easton Bristol)

    “This strip of land is a completely pointless bit of scrub land.”

    George Ferguson

  17. Ali Robertson says:

    Quote from Vowles the Green: “We are not campaigning on the general merits or green credentials of George Ferguson as such”.

    Ok, I’ll open up another browser window (done) and give myself two minutes copying and pasting from…now:

    “he certainly thinks a lot of himself. I suppose that’s old Wellingtonians for you”

    “greedy developer”

    “The criticisms of George don’t revolve around how “green” he is. They are based on his arrogance and public school sense of entitlement.”

    “he’s a speculative developer, pure and simple.”

    “No one seriously expects someone like George, with his international reputation, to live in a sustainable way”

    “For me its a joke that Ferguson is regarded as any sort of green”

    “Red Trouser Gate’s pantomime villain”

    “George Ferguson’s saturday column of self-regarding drivel”

    “That’s what comes of being an old Wellingtonian I suppose.”

    “the Tobacco Factory (which I like to add is the most pretentious place known to man”

    “the red-trousered old fool”

    …I didn’t even have to try that hard; there’s hundreds of them.

    Many people ARE campaigning on the general merits of GF: they are lining up gleefully to take potshots and this is a/ obscuring the debate and b/ causing people who have prior positive experience of GF (like myself and (presumably) Adrian) to dismiss people we might otherwise agree with.

    As Dona Qixota (who I wouldn’t include in the above) said: “It’s like people are scared to hear something that might contradict what they have already firmly decided is their own view. And so-called “alternative” people are often some of the worst and most intolerant, I might add.” Many people have decided that everything that GF does stinks. They’re amusing themselves by creating a cartoon villain and boo-ing and hissing but they’re really not helping anything.

    (As I said when writing on this blog before, I should note that my job, and the job of the twelve people that work in the small company I run, is based in (and entirely dependent upon) the Tobacco Factory.)

  18. Chris Hutt says:

    Ali, all credit to you for coming into the lions’ den to defend George. Speaking for myself I’ve no doubt that GF has done a lot of innovative and imaginative stuff, especially in Bristol. But that doesn’t make him infallible or beyond criticism, even if he thinks it does.

    George is happy dishing it out on the international stage (Google his recent comments about Vinoly for example) so should be willing to take it too. He’s gone to great lengths to inflate his public persona so can’t complain when some people choose to take pot shots at it.

  19. Ali Robertson says:

    Interesting to read about the power station; thank you for that.

    I don’t know whether GF thinks himself beyond criticism; I hope (and think) not but that is a side point to that that I was trying to make. Many people on this blog and others do this knee-jerk thing and think that he is automatically to be criticised. (That includes the author of this blog, which I generally really like.) This habit is, to my mind, substantially worse than useless.

    For one thing it’s plain stupid: certain commenters on this blog, and yours, are at about the same idiot level as people that say “those greens are stupid and should get proper jobs”.

    More seriously, it tends to force people into pro- or anti- camps and because GF has done more (obvious) good things than (obvious) bad things in Bristol it will force many people into being unquestioningly pro- , which doesn’t help anybody. This is exacerbated by the same people often simplistically presenting things as black and white and easily linked; GF went to public school -> he’s a twat -> the council shouldn’t sell him land -> the whole development is terrible and should be stopped. I’m exaggerating, but not by all that much.

    Finally, the spittle-flecked shouting drowns out legitimate criticism. The Bristol Blogger, the person who made the initial assiduous FOI claim and others are drawing attention to what might be abuses of proper procedure*. This seems like a good thing that blogs should do and it’s a pity that the central points made are being obscured by certain people screaming about personalities.

    * To open another can of worms, on a wholly different point to the one I’ve been making, is what happened that:

    1: there was a terrible development going to happen (Persimmon)
    2: there’s now a generally-agreed-to-be-largely-better development (that has widespread but not by any means total support) going to happen and this will go ahead regardless of the sale of the extra bit of land
    3: GF wanted to push the development further and make the development, which borders the cycle path, access the cycle path
    4: to do this he had a (privileged, and that’s the most contentious bit) talk to someone at the council who made a well-intentioned but hasty promise that he might now have to go back on (and he probably regrets his haste)
    5: the central premise behind the hasty promise, that the sale of the land bordering the path will increase the uptake of cycling, the use of the path and the desirability of the path, is now being more closely examined.

    Just thought that some York notes, for people that haven’t been following, might be useful :).

  20. Chinadoll says:

    I really don’t care what anyone associated with the Council wants regarding selling off land to iffy developers, the Bristo;ians should decide when enough is enough. If we don’t stop them now they will run out of spare land and start on the cemeteries, developing their high rises over the bones of the Bristolians who lived through the war and rebuilt this City of ours. We have earned the right to have our opinions respected and acted upon.

  21. Chris Hutt says:

    Ali, one item in your list that I think misses the point. You say in 3 that “GF wanted to push the development further and make the development, which borders the cycle path, access the cycle path”.

    Access to the Railway Path is achievable without the acquisition of any Railway Path land. The Persimmon proposals included good Path access yet did not attempt to take over any part of the Path land. Even Elizabeth Saw (former chocolate factory owners) managed to provide Path access.

    It isn’t the need for access that is driving the Railway Path land grab but the desire to build on it – first it was a few ‘cycle’ houses, then more, then 12 ‘cycle’ houses with garages, a 7 storey tower, cafe, bike shop and a 4 storey block of flats.

    Even an avaricious developer like Persimmon didn’t dare to try that. Only GF could have pulled a stunt like that and may still get away with it. That is why George Ferguson is pivotal to the whole Chocolate Factory/Squarepeg/railway Path issue.

  22. Dona Qixota says:

    Ali, you had me laughing quite a few times here.

    It all reminds me of the recent Yachtgate cabaret, starring Mandelson, Osborne, Nat Rothschild and Russian billionaire Deripaska. Doubtless the analogies here are clear. We do seem to be very fond of this in Britain, and I have a great deal of sympathy with one commentator who lamented at that time our constant fascination with personality when we really need to concentrate on the serious fundamental issues underlying the problems. Another example is everbody always fixating on “George Bush” or “Tony Blair”. It’s annoying and distracting from the real issues, as they are just figureheads.

    All the world’s a stage …

    Perhaps, though, it is a fundamentally human thing to enjoy the play. Like the old-time Music Hall!

    It is also surely fair to say that we cannot always separate actors from actions in the real world. As Chris points out above.

  23. Ali Robertson says:

    I suspect we’ll soon see tumbleweed blowing through this particular entry (little goes out of date as quickly as blog comments when a more recent blog has been posted) but thank you Chris and Dona – interesting points well made.

    I love Dona’s analogy: particularly the derelict Chocolate Factory in Easton standing in for a super yacht in Corfu. What takes the place of sunset martinis on the yacht? Cider? Pints of Sunrise?

  24. Rosso Verde says:

    I think for Bristol to really improve as a city, the issue of undue influence held by Merchant Venturers needs to be examined seriously, they appear to be a cross between the Mafia, and a Gentleman’s club, with charitable events masking the real raison d’etre of keeping these rich white men exactly where they are!
    (My boss happens to be one of them Shhhh!)

  25. Ali, you quoted me as saying this,

    “We are not campaigning on the general merits or green credentials of George Ferguson as such”.

    You cut my sentence short. The full sentence is

    “We are not campaigning on the general merits or green credentials of George Ferguson as such – that’s a side issue – we are campaigning on the specifics of this case.”

    Are you saying that what I said is not the case?? I think everyone involved in the campaigning on this wants to get the issue sorted first and foremost.

    I’ve personnally not focussed primarly on George Ferguson in my complaint to the council/Ombudsman (which makes no mention of him at all) or on my blog. I’ve been drawn into commenting on him and his merits/demerits and doing blog entries that mention him but not usually as the primary focus. However, personalities and their influences, whether it is senior planning officer David Bishop or land and property developer George Ferguson are a key part of the picture and so should expect the spotlight to be on them and what they do and say to some extent.

    I’d appreciate some acknowledgement that I’m not primarily attacking individuals.

  26. thebristolblogger says:

    GF has done more (obvious) good things than (obvious) bad things in Bristol

    Has he? That’s the view he promotes among the liberal chateratti for sure. But is it true?

    Ferguson’s signature developments – Paintworks and the Tobacco Factory – are both deliberately designed and styled as little enclaves for wealthy ‘creatives’. I’m sure they’re very nice for the few people wealthy and privileged enough to live and work in them but they are of little consequence to the majority of us and are of little significance to the rest of the city.

    Ferguson’s ideas and architecture do nothing to address the long-term underlying problem of social and economic division in Bristol. Indeed the exclusivity of his developments could be seen to be exacerbating those very divisions.

    For instance Ferguson has little to say – and has done nothing about – the dearth of affordable 3 and 4 bedroom family homes this city has urgently needed for 20 years now. Instead, along with the rest of the speculators, he’s been producing profitable apartments we don’t need for investors with a few ‘green’ knobs on. And this is something he intends to do again at the Chocolate Factory. It’s architecture for the liberal conscience.

    While he’s free to do what he likes, dressing his work up in the language of social responsibility sticks in the throat for some of us.

  27. CP says:

    You don’t have to be “wealthy”, a “creative” (?????) nor “privileged” to enjoy, for a modest admission fee, the finest Shakespeare productions in the country at the Tobacco Factory. Admittedly not his productions, but the venue makes them possible.

  28. BristleKRS says:

    You don’t have to be “wealthy”, a “creative” (?????) nor “privileged” to enjoy…the Tobacco Factory…

    …but it certainly helps!

    ARF ARF!

  29. chinadoll says:

    With reference to the Tobacco Factory as a venue for Shakespeare, no you don’t have to be wealthy if you like Shakespeares plays, the Opera or the Ballet, but the vast majority of the audiences at these heavily subsidised venues are wealthy. Anyway we already have a venue in Bristol – The Old Vic, which if I understand correctly is subsidised by the ‘strapped for cash’ Bristol City Council!!
    Whatever happened to that music arena they have already spent a large slice of our dosh on, must be ‘strapped for cash’ and can’t finish what they started. Scrap heap job then, like all the council dwellings they can’t afford to build.
    If they really have to develop sites why not build low rent apartments and reduce their soaring housing list. Oops can’t do that ‘strapped for cash’.
    Anyone else notice the lovely green they all have the privilege of looking out at while they ‘work?’ The City centre is a concrete mess, parklands are mysteriously disappearing, school sports fields are distant memories, but hey don’t worry they are keeping Bristol green, well their section of it anyway!!!

  30. thebristolblogger says:

    Admittedly not his productions, but the venue makes them possible

    Along with the public subsidies Chinadoll refers to because it’s not commercially viable. It’s funny how the state sees the need to support the arts and interfere in that market but is happy to leave our housing to the vagaries of the market and speculators and the profit principle. Interesting priorities.

  31. Chris Hutt says:

    Let’s face it, Shakespeare is pretty impenetrable as far as the average Bristolian is concerned. Check out who actually goes to productions of Shakespeare – the well educated middle class. And isn’t it more of an act of worship than indulging in entertainment? Something they feel they ought to do from time to time to pay their respects to the cultural values to which they aspire?

    So in setting up a theatre specialising in Shakespeare in a disused tobacco factory in Bedminster, formerly a solidly working class area providing the labour to enrich the Wills family (and so to pay for other bastions of middle class values like the Museum and University), Ferguson has reasserted middle class hegemony over the area.

    No wonder the middle classes fawn over Ferguson. He has consolidated early settlement by young professionals of a huge new area, the displacement of the indigenous working class excused by the commendable desire to be near the Tobacco Factory, the middle class’s mosque, their spiritual home. And how audacious to call it the Tobacco Factory, to snatch the heritage from the hands of the people who actually worked there.

    Just think how it must feel to be of the working class of Bedminster and Ashton, perhaps with a long family history of working at Wills. Today they see North Street still dominated by the austere facade of the Tobacco Factory but with nothing within it of any relevance to their lives. Shakespeare, Teoh’s Oriental Bistro, creative industry work space, live/work loft apartments, animation and performing arts schools – what is there for them to engage with, apart from a handful of low paid jobs cleaning, cooking and serving behind a bar?

  32. Jog says:

    God save us from middle-class ‘workerist’ whinging……

  33. CP says:

    Well , well well. What a patronising bunch you are after all. Shakespeare too “impenetrable for the average Bristolian”? Really?

  34. Dona Qixota says:

    Winding up the Indymedia crowd must be getting boring at the moment. Fortunately though, multiple identity arguing with yourself and constantly accusing other people of “trolling” might just get noticed here – IP address.

    Ali, I have to take issue with some of these “York Notes” you’ve written on the ChocFact. (November 21, 2008, 12:19 am) For a start, I don’t think that the new development plans are “generally-agreed-to-be-largely-better”. It feels to me that most people in the area are just completely fed up with the whole thing now. A lot of people feel cheated that after all the effort that got put in by many in the community to try to make a “greener” plan, all that’s happened is that we’ve been screwed over again, in an underhand way, behind closed doors. One key force behind all this, don’t forget, is probably the market; land values have dropped like a stone since Squarepeg bought the ChocFact land at the peak of the market, and to get the profit they want to get out of the site, they are driven to intensify, intensify, intensify, regardless of the negative effects that will cause – after all they, unlike me and others, won’t be left living here with this massive overdevelopment.

    But yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if George Ferguson and David Bishop are both regretting matters – if only regretting being found out.

    George Ferguson is a very colourful character (maybe one reason why he attracts flak) with very strong ideas on how he wants to see Bristol develop. What BB wrote about this is all too true an analysis.

    “Ferguson’s ideas and architecture do nothing to address the long-term underlying problem of social and economic division in Bristol. Indeed the exclusivity of his developments could be seen to be exacerbating those very divisions…

    Instead, along with the rest of the speculators, he’s been producing profitable apartments we don’t need for investors with a few ‘green’ knobs on. And this is something he intends to do again at the Chocolate Factory. It’s architecture for the liberal conscience.”
    (November 21, 2008, 7:13 pm)

    There’s also Mr Steve Storey of Thornbury who is almost the invisible man and whose track record seems to be very hard to find . But he actually IS Squarepeg, so really ought to be in the spotlight rather more.

    Then don’t forget also the middlemen and women in the agents like Pegasus and PR companies like Interface, who are raking in the cash while the rest of us have to suffer whatever is trendy flavour of the month with the self-promoted “movers and shakers” of the city.

    But ultimately, although individuals must take responsibility for their actions, it is the whole planning system that is at fault and needs to be changed to be much more transparent and accountable.

  35. Spectator says:

    Ali, I spoke to George Ferguson at a Neighbourhood Renewal meeting (this was when Persimmon were making their bid), and he was very convincing. This was when he was a campaigner, and before he became the architect for Steve Storey. When I first heard of Squarepeg’s plans, I thought that they were a good idea – at that time, there was no mention of building outside the Chocolate Factory site – that was sprung on us much later. Now, after all that has happened, it feels more like I had the wool well and truly pulled over my eyes. I for one feel well conned, and I know I’m not alone.

    I have recently attended 2 Planning Group meetings held in Easton… the Chocolate Factory plans were discussed at both of them. The first meeting was attended by Jim Tarzey of Pegasus (a very slick outfit who represent the big boys) speaking on behalf of Squarepeg. What really struck me was the high handed way he started out… basically, by telling everyone that it wasn’t really any of our business, and that the only people who had any control over this were the council’s Development Control bunch… this struck me as NOT the way to win friends and influence people. There was considerable anger at the meetings, not least because most of the development consists of one-bed roomed flats – a housing needs study commissioned by the Planning Group in Easton concluded that there is no need for more of this type of housing in the area, and that, if anything is needed (remember, Easton is one on the most densely populated parts of the city, with less greenspace than most other places), it is needed here is 3 / 4 bed roomed accommodation, as BB has already pointed out. Squarepeg however, believe (according to Jim Tarzey at any rate) that this is where the money is, so basically, we can sod off and put up with it. At least that’s pretty much what he said at the meeting.

  36. Jog says:

    You’d better check IP addresses then, you’ll find that I contribute as ‘myself’, & no-one else.

    I’m afraid sites like this won’t struggle to find people to laugh at it …… it’s problem is credibility, inherited from it’s parent the ‘Bristolian’.

    Still, I wonder if we’ll see candidates in next years elections, fighting the good fight against the evil empire on college green, southville etc etc etc …… ah no, tried that, got stuffed 😉

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