It takes concerted effort as a city’s first mayor to provoke discussion about removing the office before the end of your inaugural term, amirite? Yet that’s exactly what happened during George Ferguson’s first stint as Bristol mayor.
Despite voting for a city mayor in 2012,Bristolian politicians and people were openly discussing holding another referendum – this time to remove the mayoral office – just three years later.
Granted, no one has openly blamed Ferguson for the change in opinion – but, in all honesty, this would not have been on the cards had things gone better in the first place.
If Ferguson is to be remembered for any two things, it will be these: red trousers (which says it all), and an ill-conceived rollout of residents’ parking zones (RPZs).
The RPZ scheme in Bristol has been disastrous from the get go. Public transport in the city is poor, and has been for years. While improvements to buses have been recorded since Ferguson took office, for a city of more than 400,000 people, Bristol’s buses are still notoriously bad. One in five arrives late; many services run more than 10 minutes apart; Sunday services run half-hourly, or even more infrequently.
As a result of the buses, many people are forced to drive. Yet RPZs have been rolled out in Bristol’s central districts, many of which are wealthy, without thought or consideration for the people who commute to these areas. Thousands of NHS workers are employed at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) and other surrounding hospitals, yet can no longer park within walking distance to work.
Public opposition to the RPZs has been vocal: one group drove a tank through the city centre to protest an RPZ being implemented in the city’s affluent Clifton area. Yet this opposition has largely been ignored. Ferguson himself has fluctuated between admitting that things are going wrong and pledging to reassess the schemes, and then deciding that he has most of the city on side. Other protests – the vandalism of parking machines; a petition signed by 4,000 people labelling the RPZ scheme “disastrous” – suggest otherwise.
Although an undeniably well intentioned attempt to curb car use in Bristol, Ferguson has pushed through a vanity project, without properly considering the impact on the vast majority of Bristolians. And the fact that many of the RPZs have been implemented in places that include the jobs and more desirable housing has restricted parking in more affluent areas, contributing to what some critics have labelled gentrification across the city as
Bristol is congested: the city has previously recorded emissions levels of twice the EU limit. But forcing people out of their cars before providing them with effective public transport is utterly ridiculous. Encouraging residents to use public transport means providing a system that is regular, efficient and more affordable. Bullying them on to public transport is simply not right.
And it’s not just drivers complaining about the parking schemes. Shop owners in RPZ areas have blamed the schemes for loss of income and business closures. Nor are RPZs Ferguson’s only transport “reform”. A similarly detested citywide enforcement of 20 mile-per-hour speed limits – seen as the second front of Ferguson’s war on drivers – has been met with derision, not least because the man himself was fined for speeding.
Ferguson says his life has consisted of a number of projects, of which being mayor of Bristol is just one. But public office should not be considered a side project, even if it is limited to a maximum of two terms. The arrogance to suggest that a city can be a plaything is breathtaking. For that reason alone, this mayor has to go.