‘No poor people’ housing development for rich liberals Chocolate Factory back from the dead after secret meetings?
Information about what His Royal Mayorness George was actually doing at the MIPIM conference in Cannes [see ‘JUNKET GEORGE’] has been suitably vague. He’s variously been described as “attracting inward investment”, “banging the drum for Bristol”, and – so says the great man himself – “increasing our international standing”. Conveniently for SUPERFERGO, none of this wishy-washy PR babble is provable one way or the other.
However, The BRISTOLIAN can exclusively reveal that high on George Ferguson’s list of priorities at Cannes was the attempt to restart a controversial high class housing project with which he himself had originally been closely – and financially – associated.
Whilst sunning himself on the Côte d’Azur at our expense, our Glorious Mayor Redpants had at least one private meeting with PAUL ISAACS from property developers GENERATOR GROUP. In its own words, Generator Group “comprises a specialist developer, funding partner and advisor that exercises both its intellectual capital and financial knowledge to deliver effective and innovative solutions to a full range of property related matters.” And it just so happens that Generator Group and Mr Isaacs have produced “a due diligence report and advice on a strategy to take the site forward” for an unnamed “strategic development site in the south west”. The site in question? The so-called CHOCOLATE FACTORY in east Bristol’s Greenbank, on the site of the old Elizabeth Shaw production line.
The Chocolate Factory is a site that the mayor has had both a significant personal and commercial interest in down the years. Those with longer memories may recall Ferguson was at the forefront of a campaign to have planning permission refused for the original site developers, Persimmon – only to pop up as the architect of a new “sustainable” scheme when Persimmon then sold the site on to local developers Squarepeg.
The Squarepeg-Ferguson project – basically a housing scheme for wealthy liberals – quickly unravelled when it turned out to be totally unaffordable. Despite securing planning approval, they then had to go cap-in-hand to council planners and explain that they couldn’t pay for any infrastructure costs (such as roads and education, in an area with an acute school places shortage) due to the huge cost of their upmarket scheme. Squarepeg also refused to include any more than 25 affordable homes in the 252 dwelling development, having grudgingly upped their initial offer of 14 – still short of the council’s call for 10-30% to be suitable for lower income families.
Further controversy came when it emerged that somehow George had managed to “improve” his scheme by purchasing a piece of public land next to the Greenbank section of the Bristol and Bath Railway Path. He managed this coup in a private telephone call with the City Council’s then Head of Planning, DAVID ‘BASHER’ BISHOP – against all stated city council procurement rules and regulations – in a manner never fully explained.
However, even with the granting of massive favours by his little council helpers, in 2009 George’s ridiculous scheme collapsed under the weight of its own stupidity, never to be heard of again. Until now, that is, with the declaration by Mr Isaacs’ company that the Ferguson/Squarepeg scheme “is neither deliverable nor viable” and the news that Generator Group has apparently produced a report on the site “offering various exit strategies based on appetite for risk and preferred timelines.”
At which point George – now Mayor – reappears holding private meetings in Cannes with this major stakeholder in the site. Should our mayor really be holding meetings with developers regarding a site in which he’s had a commercial interest? And what is the mysterious second project that Georgie is cooking up with Generator Group?
It’s looking murky already…