More on the Bristol City Stadium saga …
This weekend found the Cancer merrily spinning away for City chairman Steve Lansdowne with a generous little page 3 hagiography on his ascent up the Sunday Times Rich List while their ‘star’ columnist George Ferguson chipped in with a typical piece of namedropping cum brown nosing:
I think Tony [Robinson], a great Bristol City supporter, would agree with me that the smiley Steve Lansdown has greatly raised our spirits south of the river with his enthusiastic chairmanship and championing of the new stadium project.
Yuck. Pass the sick bucket …
But while the Cancer continues to uncritically talk up Lansdown, further news emerges about his efforts to build his new football stadium on greenbelt land with the assistance of the Merchant Venturers and, it now seems, with other large interests drifting quietly in to view.
Although, naturally, at this early stage of proceedings the vague promises and philanthropic proposals are rolling in thick and fast.
Lansdown has almost certainly been in touch with council planning officers who have done little to dispel rumours that the stadium project will provide one of the largest planning gain (Section 106 agreements) deals Bristol has ever seen to help smooth Lansdown’s way through our greenbelt.
This might – and the word here is might – include things like a major contribution to the unpopular and technically poor BRT scheme touted for Winterstoke Road as well as contributions to other traffic measures like the proposed 20mph zone.
Although when Lansdown first floated the idea of a move to a new stadium, one of the larger “carrots” waved in front of council planning officers was that the existing Ashton Gate site could be made available for housing (towards the Regional Spatial Strategy targets) and education.
Especially identified has been a replacement for Ashton Gate Primary School, which has been described as having some of the worse structural problems in the entire city.
This was position, at least, at around December 2007 when the publication of the council’s Primary School Review (pdf) stated that South Bristol, and in particular the South 1 area including Ashton Gate Primary, would come under pressure for school places.
This promotion of the redevelopment of Ashton Gate stadium for housing and education seems to have continued until July 2008.
Indeed on 2 July 2008 the Ashton Gate governors described their school as being “designed for another century” and that redevelopment “on our current site would require some imaginative architecture and clever engineering, if possible at all – not to mention significant funding”.
However, this coincided with downturn in the housing market, which casts serious doubt on the viability of selling the stadium site for residential development let alone including provision for a school.
As a result there’s been a noticeable shift away from providing a new school.
And fancy this! Just a few weeks later, on 17 July 2008, in a response to the Primary School Review, the chairman of governors of Ashton Gate Primary said that they didn’t want to move to a new build site 1/2 a mile away (at the stadium site)!
Apparently they had been advised by a well-known local architect that, despite the ruinous state of the existing school and despite the obvious constraints of the site, it was more than capable of being adapted to provide a modern teaching environment and that much of the funding for this could come from Section 106 funding from other projects that the architect was involved in in the area.
And, in any case, the school governors did not now believe that new build was the right solution for them.
And the chairman of the governors at Ashton Gate Primary? No less than the area’s former Labour councillor Matthew “Dummy” Symonds.
And the well-known architect? Step forward George Ferguson!
Well, well, well. It rather looks like a major planning gain deal of significant value and huge public interest – the kind you might expect to be negotiated directly between developers and Bristol City Council – is now being put together by an unelected member of the Bristol Labour Party and a Merchant Venturer.
Who needs local councillors and their planning officers fighting your corner when you can have an unelected failed politician do it for you? And why bother dealing with developers when a mouthy architect is on hand to make promises he’s in no position to actually deliver?
Meanwhile the fact that this “Dummy” Symonds/Ferguson carve up possibly chimes perfectly with the requirements of Mr Lansdown in the new financial landscape he’s confronting is no doubt purely coincidental.
Now, not rebuilding this school on a decent site may certainly suit Mr Ferguson, the pro-business Bristol Labour Party and their unusual choice in wealthy friends, but is it in the best interests of the people of Southville, especially parents?
In fact perhaps they should take a very careful look at Mr Ferguson’s role in the Chocolate Factory development at Greenbank (Blogger passim).
Here too Mr Ferguson spent many years prior to any building work making grandiose promises regarding planning gain for the community. Eventually concrete figures of 30% affordable housing were touted around. As was a sum of £700k for education; £210k towards highways improvements; £60k for a library and over £0.5m for public open space.
But alas, come the planning permission meeting all these proposals and figures were quietly ditched. Instead, all Greenbank ended up with was a measly 20-odd affordable homes and a wood chip heating system costed at £1.5m that was touted by Ferguson, city councillors and planning officers as a public benefit.
Surely this couldn’t happen in Southville?