News from Lockleaze councillor Estella Tincknell - July 2018
Estella discusses the arena and the various options.
The issue of whether Bristol should build an Arena where major cultural and sporting events could be staged and, if it should, where that would be sited, has been a hot topic in the local media and politics for many years, certainly more years than I have been an elected councillor for Lockleaze ward. Many cities across the UK, such as Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff, built arenas or equivalent structures fifteen or even twenty years ago, and have since reaped the benefits that hosting globally successful entertainers, pop acts, conferences and shows bring to their economies. These are not just about the prestige accrued by having a large an impressive venue where major events can be staged, or even the enhanced cultural offer having such a venue presents. They come in the form of the numerous extra visitors attracted by such events who spend money in local hotels, shops, restaurants and bars, and in the form of significant training and employment opportunities for local people.
Some might say that Bristol has lagged behind these other core cities, and there has certainly been a history of uncertainty over finding suitable sites, securing investment, and planning appropriate transport links that has dogged previous attempts to get a Bristol Arena built. Concerns over a lack of significant car parking provision caused further delays over the initial proposal for the Temple Meads site. Then in 2016 Marvin Rees became Bristol’s Mayor promising to deliver an Arena for the city, and work began on the site in the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone to the south of the city centre. This site had been chosen to attract visitors from Bristol and well beyond because of its excellent transport links and access to the city’s range of facilities and other attractions.
However, it has become clear that the levels of public finance required to develop the site far exceed original projections. As most people know, there have been huge cuts to the City Council’s finances which have made the situation even more challenging. Concerns about the viability of the project were expressed and a second site was identified as a cheaper alternative at the old Brabazon Hangar at Filton, which would be paid for by YTL, the Malaysian-based company that owns the Brabazon site. This site is in Bristol (just - it is in our local MP Darren Jones’s Bristol North West constituency) but is, of course, a long way from the city centre. If an Arena or similar venue were built there it would require major improvements to transport infrastructure in North Bristol.
Now, Mayor Rees has commissioned a ‘value for money’ report from the accountants KPMG on the two sites which will be scrutinised by councillors in the coming weeks and will go to Cabinet and the Mayor for a decision in July. The issue will be whether it is worth investing millions of pounds of public money in the original Temple Meads site to build a first-class Arena that will attract visitors and money into the city centre and raise Bristol’s profile, or if a much less expensive, but probably smaller and less flexible equivalent in the north of the city where congestion is already a problem, is a better option. We also need to consider the wider implications for the economy for either site. Bristol City Council has limited funds, and the original Arena site has already involved a great deal of money in initial development costs. Will this be a worthwhile investment in the long run? Or is it better to go for a much cheaper option? Whatever the decision, improved transport infrastructure is essential if the people of Bristol are to truly benefit from an Arena. Let’s hope the Mayor makes the right decision.