Marvin Rees has slammed proposals for an arena on Temple Island as “a completely undeliverable vanity project” as his cabinet were presented with a report from council officers to not progress with plans for Bristol Arena on the city centre site.
The report appears to be one of the final nails in the coffin for the long-awaited arena next to Temple Meads, with cabinet expected to approve the report on September 4 before Rees confirms his final decision at a full council meeting on September 11.
It seems increasingly likely that Rees will go against the views of 10 out of 11 scrutiny members and an expected majority of Bristol councillors from all parties, who will debate the arena issue at an extraordinary meeting of the full council on September 3.
The arena update to cabinet by Bristol City Council’s arena project director Stuart Woods and arena consultant Nigel Greenhalgh recommends that the cabinet “take all steps necessary and incidental to the cessation of” the arena project on Temple Island.
Under the latest plans, Temple Island is set to be transformed into a mixed-use scheme with a conference centre, a four or five star hotel, shops, offices and flats including affordable homes.
These proposals put forward earlier this week by Legal & General (L&G) and the likely rubber-stamping of exploring this alternative scheme for Temple Island paves the way for an arena to be built within the Brabazon Hangars on the former Filton Airfield.
The report to cabinet also recommends that “a business case is developed to re-allocate £53m earmarked as public funding for the proposed arena to other targeted schemes in Bristol”.
This money will include that to be spent on housing and transport infrastructure – the latter which could smooth the way for improved transport schemes connecting Filton to the rest of the city.
Rees said: “We must make a decision which is evidence-based, set against clear criteria, for inclusive economic growth, jobs and homes, and on the best option which delivers for the future of the city centre. This cannot be a decision that serves political opportunism.
“These reports are critical to that process and lay out the facts for all to see. I’d like to thank everyone who has worked hard to support an engaging, informed debate and put real options on the table.
“The process to date has taken us from a completely undeliverable vanity project to having structured, affordable options which all have merits and put less pressure on the public purse.
“I look forward to discussing the issue in coming weeks and realising an economically-viable, inclusive and sustainable vision for Bristol city centre.”
A YTL spokesperson told Bristol24/7: “We are pleased that it looks as if a decision will be made on September 4. If the decision is to support the L&G proposals for Temple Quarter, we will be keen to develop the proposals around the Brabazon Hangars and subject to the necessary approvals we are committed to taking the project forward to develop a world-class arena for Bristol.”
Plans for an arena for Bristol on a former diesel depot site next to Temple Meads were first proposed in 2003, with initial plans for it to be home to both Bristol City and Bristol Rovers.
The city council bought the nine-acre site for £13m in 2007 and millions more pounds were spent on preparing the land, but it took until 2014 for plans for a 12,000-capacity arena to be approved.
The £11.3m Brock’s Bridge already connects to the site from Cattle Market Road, with a new footbridge to the site from Albert Road in St Philip’s due to be completed by the autumn.
Responding to his successor’s comment that the Temple Island scheme was a “vanity project”, former mayor George Ferguson told Bristol24/7 that he was “not going to get into such a childish argument”.
He said: “We bought Arena Island for the benefit of the people of Bristol – not to satisfy the ambitions of powerful commercial interests.
“I’ve not spent all my life in Bristol fighting for its character and soul to let it be hijacked by such crass development. Have we learnt nothing in 50 years?”