Stakeholders behind Bristol’s long-awaited YTL Arena are set to be forced to wait for the final go-ahead on the project, with the COVID-19 crisis delaying a government verdict.

YTL Arena went to the UK government for final approval after being backed by South Gloucestershire Council last month. That approval came after Bristol City Council granted planning permission for the proposed complex, anchored by the 17,080-capacity arena, earlier in March.

Bristol council met to discuss four separate planning applications submitted to itself and South Gloucestershire Council in November. The latter council followed suit, with its permission needed due to parts of the project, including a temporary 1,800-space car park and a new pedestrian bridge, falling within its boundary.

Due to the scale of the project, it has moved to the Secretary of State for final approval. Planning policy dictates that the Secretary of State has 21 days to decide whether to potentially call-in the decision to approve a project, with that deadline expiring yesterday (Wednesday). However, the Bristol Post newspaper has said the ongoing turmoil surrounding COVID-19 has led to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government telling developers it needs more time.

A spokesperson for YTL Arena Bristol said: “We are in contact with the Secretary of State’s department and have been informed that due to the current coronavirus crisis a decision on our planning application may take longer than usual. We have not been given a timescale.”

The arena, which would sit in the Central Hangar of the Brabazon Hangars in the north of Bristol, has been touted as the third largest in the UK after Manchester Arena and The O2, but could be relegated to fifth spot should Oak View Group’s plans for a second arena in Manchester get the green light and plans proceed to expand Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena.

The UK represents a rapidly evolving market for the arena sector, with an early-stage redevelopment vision unveiled for Manchester Arena last month that would expand its overall capacity to 24,000, making it the largest indoor arena in Europe.

The YTL Arena site’s other two hangars would be transformed into a ‘Festival Hall’ and ‘The Hub’. The Festival Hall would host conventions and exhibitions, while The Hub would be a year-round venue incorporating a visitor attraction, leisure, workspace and food and drink offerings.

The new arena and entertainment complex intends to create more than 500 jobs and inject £1.5bn (€1.71bn/$1.85bn) into the local economy over a 25-year period. Malaysian investment firm YTL is backing the venture to transform the 28,000 square metres of floorspace in the three hangars.

YTL hopes to break ground on the arena in early 2023. Grimshaw Architects and Manica Architecture were last year named as the design team to deliver the project.

Image: Manica Architecture