Bristol City Council has ditched plans to develop a new arena in the city centre after Mayor Marvin Rees backed a different proposal for a mixed-use development on the site.
The decision brings an end to a highly politicised saga that dates back to 2003 and seemingly clears the path for a rival arena proposal outside the city centre.
The decision by the city council yesterday (Tuesday) follows a recommendation by officers to investigate an alternative scheme which could include a bespoke conference centre and a four or five star hotel, commercial spaces with supporting retail and residential homes for city centre living, along with affordable homes on the Temple Island site next to Bristol Temple Meads railway station.
Rees said: “Jobs and affordable homes are the key priorities for delivery by my administration and they will come first. By not borrowing the huge sums needed to build the arena, we will also release capital for other exciting city projects. I remain committed to delivering an arena for Bristol and we will continue to work closely with our partners to make sure that we make this a reality.”
The English city remains without a major arena and the council had already invested £12m (€13.3m/$15.4m) into preparing the Temple Island site for an arena. A KPMG report in June stated that the cost of building the 12,000-seat arena at the city centre site had risen to £188.6m.
Tuesday’s final decision was made by Cabinet Member for property, Cllr Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor for Finance, Governance and Performance. He said: “It is the council’s duty to seek the best possible value for public money and the greatest economic benefit for Bristol and this has been central to the decision. We cannot ignore the evidence which shows that a mixed use scheme on Temple Island would bring an extra £500m in economic benefit to our city and create three times the number of jobs for the people of Bristol.”
Rees had added in a speech ahead of the announcement: “All other things being equal the city centre would be the best place for an arena. At time of high jeopardy and uncertainty your appetite for risk should reduce. In times of high certainty and low jeopardy your appetite for risk goes up.
“Arenas are risky in of themselves. The margins on this project are small – there is not much room for manoeuvre. We’re being warned that the arena is too small to attract major events. On top of that we are in time of unprecedented uncertainty. We’re coming up to a no deal Brexit. Ongoing austerity is pushing local authorities to the wall.”
The council said a business case will be developed for the re-allocation to other projects of the £53m Economic Development Fund (EDF) money earmarked for the arena project. The business case will be submitted to the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership for approval.
The Bristol Post newspaper said Rees is now likely to push forward on talks with Malaysian investment firm YTL, which has said it can develop a privately-financed 16,000-seat arena at the Filton Airfield site in three years. YTL has previously stated it is willing to conduct a six month ‘investigation period’ to discuss the details of this project.
The decision from the Rees administration has been met with criticism from rival political parties. Leader of the Greens, Eleanor Combley, told the BBC: “At the end of the day the only view that matters to Marvin Rees is his own.
“Instead of putting Bristol first, the mayor has spun every which way in trying to present a decision he took months ago in secret as fair and transparent, and quell disagreements within his own party.”
Liberal Democrat leader Gary Hopkins added: “The decision is a disaster for the cultural and financial well-being of Bristol.”