Marvin Rees says he is prioritising jobs and the long-term stability of Bristol’s economy as he shatters any final hopes of an arena by Temple Meads.
The decision follows years of waiting, months of fierce debate and millions spent on the city centre site, that now looks set to host a mixed-use development of homes, office blocks and a conference centre.
Against a backdrop of vocal opposition to scrapping plans for an arena at Temple Island, the mayor said that he wouldn’t subject public money to “huge risk” by pressing ahead with an entertainment venue at that location.
Speaking at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, he also slammed the nature of the debate surrounding the issue, accusing his opponents of political opportunism and arguing that among the loudest critics were those who had failed to deliver the long-awaited project for the city.
Some of the strongest criticism was reserved for his predecessor George Ferguson.
Rees said the former mayor is: “fighting to the death to save his greatest ever vanity project. His claim that he ‘wishes he had signed the agreement’ would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad.”
From the public gallery, a representative of Bristol Chamber of Commerce backed the recommendation to scrap an arena at Temple Island, calling it a “sensible and pragmatic approach”, while the University of Bristol urged the council to make a decision on the evidence for the available options.
Arena Island Ltd, the company behind the city centre arena, submitted a lengthy statement making the case for an arena at Temple Island, arguing it is the “right decision for the future of Bristol”.
Meanwhile, Legal & General, the firm that revealed alternative proposals for a mixed-use development on the site, said its projects are about “considered, balanced and sustainable regeneration, not opportunistic gentrification”.
Labour cabinet member Helen Holland raised concerns about the cabinet report, saying: “There’s still things in this report that make me uncomfortable. It’s not just about comparing schemes, but the wider impact on the city centre.”
She stressed that a big concern is the city’s centre of gravity drifting northwards, adding that – like others – she was distressed at the level of debate on the matter.
Other cabinet members spoke in support of the mayor’s approach, especially in the face of outspoken opposition.
Making today’s decision, cabinet member for finance and deputy mayor Craig Cheney said: “It is the council’s duty to seek the best possible value for public money and the greatest economic benefit for Bristol and this has been central to the decision.
“We cannot ignore the evidence which shows that a mixed-use scheme on Temple Island would bring an extra £500m in economic benefit to our city and create three times the number of jobs for the people of Bristol.
“We are committed to developing and sustaining a thriving city centre and the emerging options for the alternative scheme offer the lasting economic and social benefit we desperately need in Bristol. We now have the opportunity to deliver a development that raises the bar in terms of quality, sustainability and economic impact.”
Rees concluded: “Jobs and affordable homes are the key values for the delivery of my administration. I will prioritise them.
“Looking at the facts: the greater impact on jobs and the city economy, it is obvious where the facts lead us.
“The only questions that matter are the best use of council tax payers’ money and the best use of Temple Island land, jobs and the long-term stability of the city’s economy and the council’s finances.”
He added that this is unlikely to be the end of discussions on the subject as the council now gets set to explore the alternative proposals for the land formerly known as Arena Island.