My Speech to Extraordinary Full Council on the Arena

The motion we are debating is very simple. It asks one question: where is our preferred location for an arena? I have been on the record on that question on several occasions, I have always said the city centre would be the best location.

So, let me say it again tonight and make it clear. I support this motion.

Now let’s deal with the real questions.

  1. The first question has to be: do we need an arena?
  2. The second needs to be: can we afford it?
  3. The third is: where should we build it?
  4. And then: what is the best use of that land?

Sadly, few in the opposition parties have understood the real questions, put them in the right order or grappled with the evidence.  They focused on rubbishing the detailed independent report because they didn’t like it. But running away from the evidence and making grandiose statements without regard to the consequences is a luxury you can afford in opposition, it’s not one you can afford in power.

Let’s look at those questions.

Question 1 –“Do we need an arena”

“maybe” is the best answer for that.  It’s an addition to the city’s cultural offer and we haven’t got one; all previous administrations have failed to deliver one, because they couldn’t manage the cost.

That runs into Question 2 – “can we afford the current option”

Despite us changing contractors and driving the price down to a position that for the first time is an affordable option, the price is still at least £30 million over budget. This means borrowing £150m against council tax payer’s money at risk. The hard answer is “No”.

Half the risk of any building cost increase is with the council taxpayers, the other half is with the constructor. Once it is built, all of the future risk is with the tax payers.  If the arena was not successful and we know there are substantial expert reservations about the size of the arena and its potential reach, then we would be stuck with a £150 million pound of debt for the council tax payers of Bristol and a derelict building in the Temple Quarter. The operator, a private sector company, despite their public comments share no risk.  They have a simple position of paying rent and taking out profit.

On question 3, “where should we build it?”

The decision to use Temple Island failed to look at options, failed to control cost or state a top price, failed to address the viability of the arena, failed to put a clear criteria for success in place. That’s why I say I inherited a vanity project – it is a vanity project. We’re in the business of serving a major UK city, not our vanity. And that is especially so when you are spending public money.

And then finally, we come to the real question.  “What is the best use of Temple Island?”

We can only use it once. We get one shot to make sure this piece of land in the middle of the city works best for all the citizens of Bristol. We have a criteria for a successful city: decent jobs, affordable homes, an inclusive economy, financial competence in the local authority and sustainable public services and sustainability.

Everybody take a deep breath – the success of our city does not stand or fall on this single entertainment venue.

If a mixed use site in the east city centre will offer substantially more sustainable jobs for the city, particularly in the south and east, and would bring more affordable homes and people to the city centre – and a far greater economic boost – then we have to consider it.

All other things being equal the city centre would be the best place for an Arena.

At time of high jeopardy and uncertainty your appetite for risk should reduce. In times of high certainty and low jeopardy your appetite for risk goes up. Arenas are risky in of themselves. The margins on this project are small – there is not much room for manoeuvre. We’re being warned that the arena is too small to attract major events.

On top of that we are in time of unprecedented uncertainty. We’re coming up to a no deal Brexit. Ongoing austerity is pushing local authorities to the wall. We’ve seen Northampton go down and now, our near neighbours, Taunton Council, announcing financial difficulties.We don’t know what our financial settlement will be beyond 2020. We have a retail crisis threatening jobs and the city centre, face a challenge to jobs from automation, and the biggest challenge to jobs in Bristol is the reduction in the number of jobs in those sectors that have traditionally employed people in our poorest communities.

But this simple motion ignores the complexity of the environment we are operating in..

I am proud to stand alongside Bristol’s trade union and business leaders who support my focus on jobs and homes, which a number of them say would best be delivered by the alternative development on Temple Island.

So don’t let the organised political opposition in this chamber fool anyone into believing this represents the city view.

Along with Bristol’s business leaders and chamber of commerce, along with the trade unions and representatives of Bristol working people, the alternative site has secured the support of:

  • representatives of Bristol RIBA, the architect’s organisation,
  • representatives of VOSCUR, supporting Bristol’s voluntary sector
  • The Bristol Initiative,
  • Destination Bristol, representing Bristol’s tourism industry,
  • Homes England, the govt agency whose job it is to ensure we build homes,
  • Senior Tourism professionals,
  • Bristol branch of the National Taxi Drivers Association
  • Strong support from the BME community including many who play prominent roles in the city and in Bristol’s economy, including significant businesses in Easton and Lawrence Hill
  • the Pakistan Association of Bristol and several faith groups.
  • And, with his supportive tweet over the weekend for our jobs and homes plan, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party.
  • And I need to add that many leading voices in the BME community have expressed their concern about the way many have presented the argument about “foreign” companies.

So don’t be fooled by the shouting voices; this Labour administration values homes, decent jobs and a vibrant inclusive economy above everything else, and that will drive the decision.

£150 million of council taxpayers money building an arena at risk or no spend of council tax payers money on any venue or conference centre and used only to trigger transformative projects that support our city aims, better infrastructure, more homes, a mass transit system and more.

If we hold our nerve, we can use council tax payer’s money on projects that benefit all residents and let the private sector build a conference centre and an arena.

I support the motion because of its simplicity but it shows that opposition councillors have consistently failed to understand the decision we have to make. Just because the best place for the arena is temple island, it doesn’t follow that the best use of Temple Island is an arena.

I will make the right decision for the future of Bristol, and I will respect tax payer’s money as real money, not monopoly money.

Using an evidence base and facts rather than political opportunism, the decision will deliver the best outcomes for the whole of Bristol.

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