We will deliver and build an arena for Bristol. That is a straightforward matter of fact, and it is absolutely my intention to ensure that work commences at the earliest possible opportunity. We must have an arena that will bring the biggest acts and best performances to the city, adding to our cultural, sport and overall city offer. A major city needs certain features to be considered a leading city and Bristol has historically failed to deliver them. We have no mass transit system, we haven’t modernised all of our key retail areas, our train station is the last major rail hub to not be modernised and we don’t have state of the art transport hubs. And we don’t have an arena of size.
I want to watch the best performances and events around, in Bristol. From the best bands and musical performances to world championship boxing and premier league darts, we must be a go to city that’s ‘on the tour’.
However, it is also a straightforward matter of fact, that I have responsibility to ensure the city does not make a decision it may regret for the next 75 years.
The first time the former Mayor talked about an arena, Temple Quarter was set as the location and the price tag was £79million. The first published cost set at £91million and then £95million quickly afterwards.
By the time I was elected Mayor, my first update on the arena showed the cost at £123million and rising, potentially with substantial risk. All of this was set against a backdrop of us having £53million money from the government through the Local Enterprise Partnership, and the rest had to be funded by the city, one way or another.
In addition, I inherited no transport plan associated with the arena and the papers were predicated on the assumption everyone would arrive by train, bike or on foot. There were more places set aside for bicycles than car park spaces. This meant the financial position couldn’t be eased though the kind of parking related income streams that have been pivotal to making other city arenas financially possible.
As is publicly known, we could not agree a price with the initial building company. As a result, we went to the company who had finished second in the original procurement process. We signed a pre-construction agreement, and they began work to finalise a price and agree the commencement of the work. That work is ongoing and is of course, commercially confidential. At the same time, we have received an offer from a private company to build an arena with their own money on their own land with the option of us taking a financial stake in that project.
This would need infrastructure work around transport and access that we would carry out with public money but the private company would build the arena.
It would be unwise not to now explore both these options more fully. That is what we are doing. It has been said that not building the arena on the site known as Arena Island would be a betrayal of the city. I say it would be a greater betrayal to mishandle the people of Bristol’s money and launch into a relationship we regretted for the next 30+ plus years.
I have commissioned a value for money report and am considering an options appraisal. We must know whether the prices put forward for the arena are value for money for the build itself. And this needs to be assessed against alternate locations and alternative uses of the site and the relative benefit the various combinations would have on the wider economy. Unfortunately, this work had not been done. It is being done now.
I am surprised leading city figures are making pronouncements on the arena without the facts. Emotion cannot play a part in the decision and the outcome must be evidence based so we can be sure of the economic impact and the consequences for City Council finances.
I am working through the evidence and working towards a better and more affordable outcome for Bristol. Plans have been developed for an arena since 1997 and too often, have gone backwards at key points.
We are now closer than ever before and I will ensure we make the right decisions for the city. We will build the Bristol Arena.