George Ferguson has responded in a typically bullish fashion to the belated reporting in the Evening Post of the questions to Cabinet tabled by Tory councillor Ashley Fox referring to the city council's sale of Railway Path land to Squarepeg. Ferguson dismissed the land as "a completely pointless bit of scrub land".
As can be seen from the picture below the embankment slope earmarked for development by Squarepeg supports 150 metres of mature hawthorn hedge which dates back to the days of steam railway operations. This type of hedgerow is very characteristic of former railways and provides a prominent landscape feature and valuable wildlife corridor, as evidenced by the designation of the Railway path as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI).
Prior to Ferguson's involvement, the hedgerow and embankment slope had been cited as worthy of preservation by Bristol City Council itself in 2002 in connection with the housing development along Greenbank Road affecting an eastward extension of the same land. The council's Nature Conservation Officer then said "the hedge adjacent to the cycleway should be retained......The area of more mature trees at the Famous Names end of the site should be retained for wildlife purposes".
In the same report the council's Landscape Officer said "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. The 'garden area' at the Famous Names end of the site which had scrub and small trees on it ... should be fenced off completely during the development period to protect the existing flora and fauna".
Ferguson goes on to claim that "the sale of (the "completely pointless" land) enables what will be one of the most interesting, mixed-use regeneration schemes in the country". Not true, since the development would have been more or less as viable without the extra land. indeed Squarepeg went ahead and bought the Chocolate Factory land for £5 million in January 2008, at a time when the City Council were indicating quite clearly that the Railway Path land was not for sale.
Bristol City Council, not to be outdone even by the greenwash meister in the disinformation stakes, waded in with "(the council) 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". Again not true. The land being sold is to accommodate a 7 storey tower and several houses. The Council spokesperson appears to be 'confusing' the land sale with a separate arrangement to allow 'easements' across a long strip of the grass verge of the Path for access purposes.
So Ferguson's "completely pointless" jibe may not find favour in many quarters, but such is his unassailable self-belief that he chooses to confront the concerns of ecologists and environmentalists head-on. It seems that every scrap of green space left in the city is only of value as a blank canvass for the works of our great architect.