Verdict on arena site decision: Bristol deserves better

September 28 2018

THE decision to drop plans for a long-awaited Bristol Arena on Temple Island in central Bristol has disappointed councillors in the Bishopston Voice area.

by Keri Beckingham

It came at a council cabinet meeting on September 4, after mounting controversy about Mayor Marvin Rees’s handling of the debate. 

Announcing his decision, Mayor Rees said: “The [value for money] report clearly told me that an alternative use was far better. The arena brought fewer jobs and most jobs in arenas around the country are temporary and minimum wage.

"A mixed-use site, including a conference centre would blow away the arena for jobs and create a stronger tax base and economic output for the city."

A key site being considered as an alternative location for the arena is Filton Airfield. According to YTL, the private developers who own the site, an arena at this location would take just three years to build and cost £80 million in comparison to a city centre arena in Temple Island which could cost
£65 million more than expected.

Following the announcement of the Mayor’s decision at the Cabinet meeting, a group of five Conservative and LibDem councillors ‘called in’ the decision to scrap plans for a city centre arena, demanding that Marvin Rees’s decision be looked at again.  

Anthony Negus, LibDem Councillor for Cotham Ward is part of this group and told Bishopston Voice: “The crucial decision on whether Bristol has an arena and where it is to go for the best benefit to the city should be openly discussed.  

“As his usual practice, the Mayor said no decision would be made until revealed in the key papers released only six days before the Cabinet. But we now know the die was cast many months ago. The LibDems asked him to delay his decision until after the next Full Council, five working days later. He refused and so we called a special meeting with support from all parties. 

“The Freedom of Information process released an email trail showing BCC officers working to close down the Temple Island site to ease the Filton Arena developers’ planning application. Since then, further material has revealed officers moving jobs between rival sites and other private bids to deliver a city centre arena ignored by the Mayor. 

 “Bristol deserves better. Better, braver, clearer, faster, more open and honest decisions. Decisions sound enough to sustain open challenge. I believe the Mayor’s personal choice will damage the well-being and future of this city. Public opinion and the majority of councillors agree with me - that’s why we will keep fighting.” 

However, the challenge to the Temple Island decision was rejected at the scrutiny meeting on September 20 by a solid Labour vote not to take it any further, despite 18 separate grounds being listed focusing on the council’s local plan, the openness of the decision and whether other offers from investors were considered. 

Councillor Negus added: “We put our case well but it was not taken up. There is a risk element of operators suing us for loss of costs and operational profits they will not now be achieving. We seriously believe that the decision is a mistake.” 

Fi Hance, Green Party Councillor for Redland is also disappointed by the decision, and added: “Just when people in Bristol were actually daring to believe in the long-awaited arena finally becoming a reality, many have been bitterly disappointed that the Mayor has chosen to abandon an arena in the city centre.

 “I have to say that I share their disappointment.  An arena on the proposed site next to Temple Meads would have been paid for and owned by the city cx0ouncil, eventually turning a profit, bringing much needed trade and vitality to the centre. Whilst all arenas have transport challenges, this one at least was smack bang next to a main railway station and a number of buses.    

“The Mayor’s alternative site is in Filton, miles from the city, in an area already having transport issues from the housing development taking place there. You never know, the private company YTL who have been in discussions about the Filton site may one day overcome planning, financial and transport hurdles to build an arena. But I’m not holding my breath.”

Although Tom Brook, Labour and Co-operative Councillor for Bishopston and Ashley Down disagrees with the final decision and thinks that the council should go ahead with building an arena on Temple Island, he added: “I am disappointed by how much opposition parties are using this as a chance to score petty political points. The Mayor has done what he was elected to do, and has made his decision after reviewing the facts. The same cannot be said for some opposition politicians who are putting party over city. The decision has been made, let’s move on.” 

Meanwhile, hope has returned for a city centre venue as Global arena specialists Oakview Group, who have links with music mogul Harvey Goldsmith, have declared an interest in building an arena in the St Philip’s Marsh area of the city.