In the Arena

This week we received a letter from the Secretary Of State for communities, confirming that there was no intention to call in the planning decision on the YTL Bristol Arena.  


This means the planning decisions made by the development committees in Bristol and South Gloucestershire are upheld.


In simple terms, YTL now have the go ahead to build the Bristol Arena. Their plan, as submitted, is for a 17,000 seater arena in Filton, Bristol. The arena will be the third biggest in the UK and attract major acts and sporting events. The arena will be the most environmentally friendly arena built, with the submitted plan revealing solar power and rainwater used for plumbing. It will be one of the most accessible in the world. On top of these achievements, it will be built in an existing building, massively reducing carbon output, nod to the city’s aerospace heritage, look amazing and deliver a world class package for visitors.  


Take a look at the YTL video here and you cannot fail to be excited. This is quite simply, massive news for Bristol.   


Several administrations have talked about the need for an arena since the 1980’s but none have delivered. The most high profile of these was the planned Temple Island arena that was flawed and would never have been built. That planned arena was too small to attract the bigger acts, would have been the most expensive arena ever built in the world per square meter and was placed in the worst possible location for congestion, pollution and safety – ever increasing concerns in the 21st century.  


The entire cost, and all of the risk, of that development rested on the council – that’s you, the tax payer. That is why, despite the political bluster, that arena would never have been built.  


Too often, politicians don’t take council tax payers money seriously and in this case, the costs had spiralled out of control and the risks far higher than any politician had been ready to admit. The Temple Island proposal had been pitched at £75m but by the time I came to office was already heading north of £150m.


Because I know many of you struggle to pay your council tax and balance that bill along with rent, the need to put food on the table and pay the electricity bill, I do take your money seriously. That’s why, despite the commentary of some who haven’t contended with the finances and practical realities of the city centre location, I took the decision to put Temple Island to better use and also see the risk and cost of the Bristol arena passed into the private sector, while getting a bigger and better arena in the process. Bristol City Council can focus on building homes and running adult social care, rather than gambling hundreds of millions of your pounds on high risk ventures in the wrong location.


I am grateful to YTL’s entrepreneurialism. Arenas are often built by public funds because there are few takers in the private sector due to the amount of risk. With the YTL Bristol Arena, the private company is taking all the risk. This isn’t the case of us handing profit to a private operator as some like to profess, but the city getting a stunning venue at minimal cost and no risk to the public purse.


The YTL arena will be built with a train station on its doorstep to support train travel, an advanced transport plan that enhances bus travel and cycling, and in the not too distant future, an underground stop. As part of our agreement and on top of their substantial development costs, YTL will plough over £5 million of private investment into the local area and even with supporting infrastructure, there will be a cost to public funds of no more than £1.7 million, shared between the combined authority, Bristol and South Gloucestershire.


The arena had a dry run in a temporary venue on the same site last year, with Massive Attack as the first act. While the gig itself received mixed reviews, the venue and the transport arrangements got unanimous plaudits, with the Bristol Post splashing the headline “Massive Success”. As many tickets were sold in South Bristol and further south as were sold in North Bristol and Gloucestershire, proving that the venue can be accessed across the region and that “if you build it, they will come”.


 YTL can now start to properly plan to build. Their strapline is “Let’s make memories that last a lifetime” and with the promise of the arena being in the top three venues in the UK, Bristolians will be able to make memories that have been denied to us for decades. For the current generation and our children, this venue promises top class memories on our doorstep, without the need to travel to London, Birmingham or Cardiff.  


We really are delivering for Bristol.  

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