It’s my firm belief that an arena located next to Temple Meads would serve more of the people of Bristol, than one stuck out on the edge of the city.
Even though there’s been an offer of cash from YTL, the Malaysian developers of Filton Airfield, an arena on the very fringe of the city isn’t good for anyone who actually wants to get there.
Public transport in Bristol, and in most regional cities for that matter, works on the commercial principle of taking people from where they live to where they want to go.
That in Bristol’s case is in and out of the city centre along the main road corridors which means the central area of the city is accessible to most in the city (see the map of current services here to see what I mean).
The majority of orbital services are infrequent and need public subsidy to survive such as services to/from Southmead Hospital.
So it puzzles me that our city leaders are currently considering locating a 12,000- to 15,000-seat arena in a location that would only be served by one radial and no orbital services.
You can’t run a bus service to a location where the majority of the time no one wants to go to.
Take my public transport journey as an example to the Temple Meads site: I can walk a few hundred yards to either end of my road and catch the 6 or 7 serving Whitehall Road, or the 42 or 43 serving Church Road. I’d get off at Old Market and walk the rest of the journey – a bus journey that takes 20 minutes off peak.
If we compare that to the new location proposed in Filton, I’d have the same first leg, except I’d have to travel into the centre in order to catch a service up the A38, or I could go out to Kingswood, and then get another service out to Cribbs Causeway. Neither are convenient.
A Filton location forces nearly everyone using public transport into a two-stage journey. And given our current congestion and air quality challenges, this is exactly how we need people to be travelling – maximising the efficiency of mass transit.
Make it too inconvenient, and either they’ll drive if they can, or not bother if they can’t.
It’s the latter group that worries me most. One in ten people living in Bristol don’t have access to a car, so are limited to using public transport, a bike or their own two feet.
I’m lucky. I own a car but choose not to use it to commute. I choose not to travel by public transport most of the time because I enjoy my bike ride into work every day, but am grateful of the option of the bus when it’s wet, or my bike breaks down or I’m feeling lazy. I don’t walk to work as it would take me too long.
I know many aren’t that fortunate to have those choices whether it’s a financial constraint, or a mobility impairment.
The Filton option for the arena is far less inclusive. It is after all to all intents and purposes a location that can only be accessed by car.
This is likely to benefit people with cars from further afield such as Swindon, Gloucester, Bridgwater and Taunton, rather than adding breadth and depth to the cultural offer for people living in the city.
I don’t want to see a large swathe of north Bristol turned into a car park; it would take half the existing Filton airfield runway to park 10,000 cars.
An arena in Filton would compound the issues the local and national road network faced around Cribbs Causeway, the Almondsbury interchange and Aztec West.
Let’s be clear: people could still choose to drive to the Temple Meads site but it would still mean a walk from the numerous multi-storey car parks to the venue, so it might be easier for them to get the bus, train or cycle there instead.
A Temple Meads location also means people are in the city. They’ll spend money on food and drink in the city. They’ll stay in the city. Bristol will benefit from an arena on Arena Island.
People in the past have criticised Sustrans for being beige. Well, this is black and white. An arena in Filton would be bad for transport, and bad for the people of Bristol.
Jon Usher is head of partnerships, England South, at Sustrans, the charity that makes it easier for people to walk and cycle