News / Bristol Arena

What scrutiny councillors had to say ahead of Bristol Arena decision

By kate wilson and ellie pipe, Tuesday Sep 4, 2018

An extraordinary full council meeting called to discuss the future of Arena Island ended with a general consensus.

The vast majority of councillors, including Marvin Rees, agreed that the preferred location for an arena is in the city centre.

But, the mayor still looks set to follow the recommendations of council officers, who advise plans for an arena by Temple Meads should be scrapped, when he makes his final decision on Tuesday.

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Monday night’s vote at the extraordinary full council meeting followed almost two hours of scrutiny on the topic in City Hall, as members of the overview and scrutiny management board met to discuss the recommendation in the cabinet papers.

Representatives from operators Arena Island and contractors Buckingham Group, the firms behind the city centre arena, also attended.

John Sharkey, of Arena Island, asked the committee if they wanted “to take certainty today or the promise of maybe something that’s a bigger picture?”

He also said that most of the arenas in the UK are built in the city centre and gave Birmingham and London as two examples that have out-of-town arenas.

Sharkey also said that he had not been invited to meet with Rees since a face-to-face meeting with him in March 2017.

And Oran McCloskey from Buckingham Group, told the committee that his firm had not had a face-to-face meeting with the mayor throughout the entire process.

Rees disputed this claim during the extraordinary full council meeting stating that “many” meetings had taken place between the firms and the council.

The alternative vision for Arena Island from Legal & General

During the scrutiny meeting, Labour councillor for Horfield Olly Mead said the problem he had was that the alternative plans for Arena Island could be put in a number of locations in Bristol, but there were few places where an arena could go.

He was also one of a number of committee members to criticise the mayor for the way scrutiny of this decision had been handled.

“We have have only been able to scrutinise these big ticket items in brief the day before the decision is made,” added Mead.

But fellow Labour councillor Carole Johnson defended the mayor, stating that he “is trying to make the right decision”.

She said: “We are going through a period of austerity. There have been sizeable cuts across the board. One of the mayor’s concerns is how we spend funds and an arena at Temple Meads would use public funds.

“That is something that has to be taken very seriously and I think that is what the mayor has been trying to do.

“He has got to consider how he is going to allow public money to be spent.”

Speaking at the extraordinary full council meeting, Steve Clarke, a Green councillor for Southville, criticised Rees for not attending the scrutiny sessions, saying: “I’ll tell you one thing for sure: if I was making decisions on such a large project and I knew that the contractors and operators were going to be asked difficult questions, I would have made very sure that I was there to listen.”

A decision is due at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Kate Wilson is a local democracy reporter for Bristol.


Read more: ‘We get one shot to make sure Temple Island works best for the people of Bristol’

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