Decision imminent for Bristol Arena

August 29 2018

THE location of the long-awaited Bristol Arena is set to be decided at a city council cabinet meeting on September 4.

Amid mounting controversy about Mayor Marvin Rees’s handling of the debate, opposition leaders from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Green groups have convened an extraordinary council meeting the day before on September 3 to discuss the Mayor’s decision on the project which will be published in Cabinet papers on August 28.

There is strong support from all opposition parties and some Labour party councillors for siting the arena at Temple Island in the city centre. This location has planning permission, is fully costed and is easily accessible from all districts of Bristol and by public transport. However, councillors are concerned that this is not a view shared by the Mayor.

An extraordinary session of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Management Board convened in June to consider the Bristol Arena Value for Money reports that were compiled by KPMG. These reports revealed that a city centre arena in Temple Island could cost £65 million more than expected, and that an arena on Filton Airfield would take just three years to build and cost £80 million in comparison, according to YTL, the private developers who own the site.

Following on from this, despite Mayor Rees stating in his blog on March 23 that the decision on the arena location had not been made, a recent freedom of information (FOI) request revealed that two days earlier, a representative of the council attended a meeting on Transport for the Filton Arena introduced himself as the man who “has been appointed by Bristol City Council to prepare a statement of support for the Brabazon Arena project proposed by YTL.”

A chain of emails between Bristol City Council and YTL on April 26, revealed the statement: “We agreed that BCC would work with us on the sequential test… [which] will require the Temple Quay option to have been eliminated.”

As a result of this coming to light, eyebrows have been raised in regards to the Mayor’s next blog on the subject in June, where he discussed alternative uses for the Temple Island site. On August 23, Legal and General, a major stakeholder in Temple Quarter, unveiled its vision for a major urban regeneration project at the Temple Island site, which includes hotels, office buildings, homes and a conference centre - but no arena.

Mayor George Ferguson has publicly criticised Mayor Rees’s handling of the arena debate, stating: “It has now become abundantly clear to me that Mayor Rees made up his mind to abandon the long awaited Bristol Arena last December, in spite of his election pledge to deliver it.”

Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze councillor and Chair of Overview and Scrutiny Management, Geoff Gollop said: “All his comments in the last few weeks indicate that he is going to decide the Arena should be built in Filton. I cannot help but feel this is a bad decision for Bristol and for the future development of the City.

“The Temple Meads Arena is in the centre of our city with good existing public transport for residents from all parts of Bristol, is virtually ready to go and has detailed plans and modelling; Its costs and benefits are quantified by experts and there is relative certainty.

“The alternative use for this site is suggested as hotels, businesses and housing, but these plans are far from developed. The council paid for a report prepared by KPMG: on 32 pages of text there are 22 caveats that the figures are high level estimates, that they were prepared by the city council but have not been verified.

“There is no clear transport plan for the alternative site at Filton; it must be accessible for all Bristol residents.  Filton would be difficult to access from, say, Hartcliffe, but ideal for residents who live in Filton and Bradley Stoke. South Gloucestershire would benefit from the additional jobs and businesses that would grow around the arena.”

Leader of the Lib Dem group, Anthony Negus, LibDem Councillor for Cotham Ward said: “An alternative ‘deal’– for that’s what it is – with a private developer to provide an arena at Filton, includes transferring £53m of public funds (intended for the city centre arena) to underwrite their required transport infrastructure costs.

“In single-dimensional value-for-money terms there could be more profitable options from the Temple Meads site. But that blow to city confidence and the effect on city growth, including the new redevelopment of Broadmead will boost the prospects for an even larger Cribbs Causeway and YTL, the subsidised Filton site developers.”

Eleanor Combley, leader of the Green Party group, said: “All the evidence suggests that while the Mayor was telling the press, councillors and public that he would ‘make an unbiased decision with all the evidence’, he was, behind the scenes, using taxpayers’ money to employ someone to lobby for a private concern and essentially sabotaging the existing Council Arena project. I think we have to ask if the Mayor has a case to answer before the Council Values and Ethics committee.”

Councillor Geoff Gollop added: “I leave you to draw your own conclusions on the fact that the Labour Mayor, who is meant to be independent and objective in making decisions, declares on his Council Declaration of Interest that he has been entertained three times by YTL the owners of the Filton site; he omits the facts that twice was in Kuala Lumpur and once in Cannes. This on its own should mean that he steps back from making the decision so that there can be no suggestion that he has been influenced. Meanwhile, the Mayor has not met with the Temple Meads proposed operator and contractor who was appointed by the Mayor in 2017.

“So here we are, with the biggest decision any City Leader has taken in many decades, with a Mayor who has accepted hospitality from one party and not met with the other, proposing to make a decision based on figures that he and his officers provided, which have not been checked in detail, and appearing to ignore the issue of accessibility, especially for residents in South Bristol.”

The outcome of the upcoming Cabinet meeting will be published in the October edition of the Henleaze and Westbury Voice.