First impressions count. The gateway to Bristol has for too long been the antithesis of everything good that our city has to offer. It is one of the most dynamic and progressive cities in the UK, with a burgeoning economy and a quality of life that attracts people from all over the UK and further afield.
But, for visitors arriving into Temple Meads, the entrance our city is frankly an embarrassment and needs drastic attention. The Arena is key to turning this around and will act as a catalyst for regeneration, helping to completely revitalise the entire area around the station and providing a focal point that will link the Enterprise Zone with the existing Temple Quarter business area.
This will be an appropriate gateway to a world class city to rival the likes of Birmingham’s impressive newly refurbished New Street Station and Manchester’s Victoria Station, which last year underwent a £44m renovation.
There’s a real sense that Bristol is on a roll but we have some way to go if we are to catch up with the likes of these bigger cities, and a central part of that is continuing to invest in the city’s physical and economic infrastructure.
Delivering an Arena is at the heart of this. When JLL hosts investors, developers and businesses that are considering moving here, they want to see more than shiny office buildings; they want to see that Bristol can offer a good mix of leisure activities too.
A project like the Arena could be the difference between a major business choosing Bristol as its base or not, and of course that has an impact on jobs. We are now the only major UK city without one – a glaring omission for anyone looking to invest here.
The effect on tourism will also be huge. Bristol has a great name for its creative energy and independent spirit but I believe that the Arena will fill an important gap in bringing new visitors to the city and cementing our role as the capital of the region.
I believe this can be done in a way that preserves Bristol’s unique qualities but also puts us on the map among a national audience. Glasgow’s 12,000 seat SSE Hydro Arena is a good comparison – completed in 2013, it attracts 1.5 million visitors a year. Not to be forgotten is the huge amount of money this city is currently losing by not having an Arena. Each time Bristolians have to travel outside to Cardiff or Birmingham to see an act, this is money lost for the city.
With Bristol moving up the rankings as one of the UK’s most popular places to live, the Arena is an essential piece of leisure infrastructure that will surely only increase its popularity. And as the trend for city centre living continues to increase, the Arena will serve the needs of this urban dwelling population well.
The Arena has been a long time coming and further delays will be denting investor confidence. Investors want certainty and anything which raises a query over the project will be greeted with dismay. And then there’s the material impact which this delay could have. Bristol and much of the rest of the UK has a relatively strong economy and development activity is good.
But development always happens in cycles and we are probably about half way through this current one. Any delay could mean we miss this cycle and funding for projects around the Arena, such as Arena Island and the former Parcelforce sorting office, could be more difficult to secure.
Increasing build costs are another real risk. They have been going up consistently over the last three years and this is unlikely to change so this delay could mean that the cost of building the project will increase.
We shouldn’t underestimate the effect that a landmark project has on a city. You only have to look at Birmingham’s new library, refurbished station and Grand Central shopping centre to see how these sorts of projects can change people’s perceptions.
The Arena is a crucial part of the Temple Quarter jigsaw that will not only transform Bristol’s gateway but also deliver an iconic development that will make a positive statement about the city to all who come here. Bristol has been waiting for too long for its own game-changing project. I, for one, don’t want to wait too much longer.
Jeremy Richards is head of JLL’s Bristol office.
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