A decision not to build an arena at a site in Bristol city centre still stands after a group of opposition councillors tried to challenge it.
The council’s scrutiny panel met to discuss the decision at a meeting on Thursday afternoon, but after nearly two hours decided they would take no further action.
Instead, the council will push forward with a mixed development on the Temple Island land, which could include a hotel, offices, homes, a conference centre and shops.
But following the decision a group of Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors agreed to call it in, in order to address what they perceived as failures in the decision-making process.
They raised 18 separate grounds which focused on the council’s local plan, the openness of the decision and whether other offers from investors were taken into account when making the decision.
Following a bit of back-and-forth, the main area of discontent seemed to focus on an offer to build an arena from American investors, with the help of performing arts promoter Harvey Goldsmith and Bristol entrepreneur Stephen Fear.
US investors met with council officials on Friday (September 14) to discuss plans.
But during Thursday’s meeting officers called it a ”speculative introductory meeting” and were adamant that no offer to build an arena near Temple Meads had officially been made.
Rees did not attend Friday’s meeting but asked senior council officer Colin Molton and his aide Kevin Slocombe to give details as they were both in attendance.
Molton told the panel: “It was a speculative introductory meeting and there was no bid, no project and no proposition.”
He also claimed the investors had said Arena Island was not suitable for their project as 10,000 capacity would not be big enough.
But this account was different to the one Anthony Negus and Tim Kent had been given by Stephen Fear, who also attended Friday’s meeting between the council and investors.
Kent, a Lib Dem councillor for Hengrove and Whitchurch Park, said he was told by Fear that the council representatives in the meeting had told the investors that Arena Island was not an option for an arena, it was not the American firm who had dismissed the site as not being viable.
According to Fear, the investors said they would look at any other city centre site as an alternative.
Negus, leader of the Lib Dem group, told the panel: “This offer was a credible offer – three senior executives flew in from America to talk about this offer seriously.”
Slocombe clarified that only one executive flew from America, the other two had travelled from London.
The Labour councillors on the scrutiny panel said the details of this offer were not relevant to the call-in.
Estella Tincknell, a councillor for Lockleaze, said: “The mayor and the cabinet made a reasonable decision with all the information available to them rather than basing it on a “speculative offer”.”
The call-in councillors also took issue with the openness and transparency of the decision-making process.
Leader of the Conservative group Mark Weston said there was a lot of concern about things “not being open and transparent” and referenced the stunt before the cabinet decision which involved a briefcase full of Malaysian banknotes left floating on the water outside City Hall.
He told the panel he did not believe the mayor had “done anything untoward” in making his decision but said “you have to be seen to be above reproach”.
“When making the arena decision there has not been a presumption in favour of openness and there has not been due consultation either,” he added.
There was also concerns about the scrutiny of the project, but Green councillor for Southville Charlie Bolton said he felt the arena decision “had been scrutinised properly” – even though he personally disagrees with the outcome.
Bolton seconded the motion to reject the call-in which was put forward by Don Alexander, a Labour councillor for Lawrence Weston, who said there was “no substance to any of the allegations”.
Following the meeting, Rees said: “I am delighted that the committee has voted to take no further action.
“I am confident that we have made the right decision about what to do on Temple Island and it’s now time to move on.
“If we hold our nerve, we could have an arena, a conference centre and thousands of new homes and jobs for the people of Bristol.”
Kate Wilson is a local democracy reporter for Bristol.