Holding Our Nerve

There are some people, who like to shout loud, gasping to sign an agreement on the arena in Temple Island. There are others, demanding to know why it wasn’t signed 2 years ago. And then there are those who think being dogmatic is a badge of honour.

The answer to these unquantified demands is straightforward. Two years ago when I took office, just like three months ago when the Green party carried a motion to build the arena, we would have committed the city to almost £200 million of debt to build one of the most expensive arenas in the UK.

Anyone can make decisions – getting them right is the challenge. And this is a decision that will impact on the city for 50 years. Just saying “let’s build an arena with no clear criteria for success and the costs, jobs, effectiveness and sustainability don’t matter” is the very definition of a vanity project. I will not sign up to that, I will make an evidence based decision for the best outcome for the city using public money.

Much of the conversation, including in some parts of the media and at the council scrutiny committee last week, has erroneously fallen into a binary choice of the Temple Meads Island location versus the Brabazon Hangar in Filton. If it were a simple choice of “where to put the arena” with no other economic and social factors, everyone would opt for the Temple Island location.

But that simplistic debate misses a fundamental point. There are bigger questions around the potential developments of Temple Quarter, starting with the very basic premise of what is the best option for that land.

The KPMG report has been crystal clear on that point. An alternative option with a conference centre, hotel and a mixed use site of retail, commercial and housing would deliver at least three times as many jobs and over twice the economic output for the city. That cannot be ignored and all the people calling for the jobs and economic growth for Bristol South and East should welcome that clarity.

On top of those socio-economic factors, we have to consider the transport and environmental issues alongside the sustainability and the ability of the arena to do the very job it was predicated to do; bring the best entertainment to the city.

On transport, around 70% of people arrive by car and leave straight after the event. On an average of 2.5 people per car, that’s 3500 vehicles arriving into the city centre on every sold out event night into the most congested areas of the city and then looking for somewhere to park.

On environmental issues, those same vehicles would be arriving into the worst air quality areas of the city. It does surprise me that some politicians who purport to fly the flag of environmentalism conveniently gloss over that important fact. An arena would also be the highest of the options for carbon output in the city. As a rough estimate, using figures from a 2010 report, there are around 18 kg CO2e per ticket for an arena music event in the UK. For a 12,000 sell-out crowd at the suggested Temple Island arena that’s 216,000 kg CO2e or 216 metric tons. With 200 events a year, there would be 43,200 tons of CO2e generated.

Despite the demands for instant agreements, we have held our nerve. We inherited a project that was underfunded and far more expensive than had ever been told, but we have worked to make an arena deliverable.  We mutually terminated the agreement with the first contractor because costs were too high. Since then, we have reduced costs by working with Buckingham to value-engineer building costs. Then, a private developer entered ‘the arena’ and offered to build one at their cost and at their risk, meaning the city could possibly release tens of millions for other development. Then the operator made an improved offer to add revenue to the project, even if the numbers they stated in Scrutiny aren’t recognised by us.

By holding our nerve the operator has suggested they can do more and we are discussing that with them.

By holding our nerve the contractor has suggested it could come under the current target price and remove risk to the council. We have immediately asked them to formally table that offer.

We remain with a substantial funding gap to build Temple Island arena and those who claim it is ‘shovel ready’ are ignoring that basic point. Those that do bother to deal with that question, simply say ‘borrow it’. That’s easy when it’s not your money, but I will not risk council tax payers money when we have worked so hard to bring the city back into financial shape.

I have made space for Buckingham Group to table their publicly stated offer and then we will proceed.

I am committed to delivering an arena which our city needs, can afford, and which Bristolians can be proud of.

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