New details about the controversial Temple Island deal have been accidentally released by Bristol City Council, with the blunder inadvertently disclosing information that appears to be commercially sensitive.
It comes just weeks after scrutiny councillors accused mayor Marvin Rees’ administration of “deliberately withholding” the report from them.
Sections of the report that were redacted could simply be pasted into a Word document to be revealed. The redactions appear to be for reasons of commercial sensitivity, and we have chosen not to republish facts and figures that might fall into that category.
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The city council teamed up with Legal & General last summer to develop the derelict site formerly earmarked for an arena, and this week announced latest plans for 500 new homes, office blocks, a 350-room hotel and a conference centre.
It will also spend up to £32m of public money in getting the land ready before disposing of Temple Island to the asset management firm as part of a lease agreement with the council.
But as proposals were announced on Tuesday, a poorly redacted version of the report to next week’s cabinet meeting by the council’s chief finance officer was published on the council website.
Some of the redactions, including samples posted on Twitter, risk giving a false impression of the nature of the Temple Island deal and there is a public interest in giving a fuller picture.
They reveal that the much-vaunted hotel and conference centre, which would be built in the second of two phases of the project, may not even happen.
A redacted part of the report says: “Phase two is not part of the initial land disposal and the proposed uses today of hotel/conference centre and residential uses can be changed if future prevailing market conditions or council aspirations alter and other uses are preferred.”
It adds: “This phase will be a development opportunity for L&G who will be granted a right of preemption (first refusal) to be taken up by L&G at their discretion when the council decides to take phase two forwards.”
While the public part of the report says the city council will have “no obligation” to increase the £32m cap on how much it spends on remediation works and that “no provision has been made in this assessment to do so”, the very next sentence, redacted, seems to leave the door open.
It says: “Should the council want to exercise its discretion to increase the funding as outlined in the heads of terms, a further cabinet approval would be required.”
The publicly available section on arrangements to terminate the partnership between the council and L&G says that until a number of preconditions in the heads of terms are met, “there is a possibility that the deal will not progress”.
“Any legal agreement will contain provisions that allow either party to withdraw from this proposition,” it says before the next sentence is redacted.
This says: “If L&G withdrew then there is no liability on the council to cover reasonable planning costs.
“However, where L&G is unable to obtain reasonable planning (a matter outside of the council’s control), or the council decides not to progress the land disposal, it will be obliged to reimburse L&G reasonable costs incurred in pursuing planning.”
Another concealed section reveals “no allowance or budget provision has been identified for… costs in relation to ongoing maintenance costs, lifecycle costs for the office [or] operator cost and operator margins”.
Therefore, the “financial assumption is that any associated costs will be offset against the [council’s] rental profit”, which the organisation said publicly this week would be £1.69m a year.
The next redactions say some preconditions outlined in the heads of terms between the local authority and L&G have “financial implications not fully articulated or costed and no additional funds have been earmarked or included in the benefit-cost ratio”, which is a value-for-money measure.
“A plan for satisfactorily addressing these items need [sic] to prepared [sic] and evaluated to ensure the proposals remain affordable and does not have state aid implications,” it says.
These are listed as “reasonable emergency access to and from the University of Bristol’s adjacent development, the provision of appropriate/sufficient car park solutions, and compensation arrangements where obligations (some of which are outside the council’s control) have not been met”.
It says that “in seeking to ensure subsequent decisions” on them “do not destabilise the council’s capital and revenue budgets”, a substantial sum of money, which we have chosen not to disclose, from the Local Enterprise Partnership’s Economic Development Fund will be “held in abeyance”.
Cabinet members meet on Tuesday, February 4 to discuss the report. Bristol City Council have been approached for comment.
CGI image of the proposed Temple Island development courtesy of Legal & General
Adam Postans is a local democracy reporter for Bristol