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Council set to scrap ‘vanity project’ Bristol Arena by Populous

Bristol arena index

Bristol is set to scrap Populous’s long-awaited project for an arena in the city centre after its mayor dismissed the scheme as an ‘undeliverable vanity project’

The council’s cabinet will vote next week on a recommendation to ‘take all steps necessary’ to cease work on the project, which received planning permission in 2016.

The move follows a report in June by consultant KPMG which said that developing the site at Temple Island without the sports and music venue, and building the new arena on an out-of-town site at Filton, would provide a better cost-benefit ratio.

The report recommends that the council ‘continues to work with partners to develop an alternative mixed-use scheme for the Temple Island site’. It said that the proposals should include a conference centre and hotel, commercial and retail space and homes.

The report also called for a business case to be drawn up for the re-allocation to other projects of the £53 million earmarked for the arena project through the sub-region’s city deal with government.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees called the original city centre arena proposals, which had been championed by his predecessor George Ferguson, a ’completely undeliverable vanity project’ and said the council now had ’structured, affordable options which all have merits and put less pressure on the public purse’.

He said: ’We must make a decision which is evidence-based, set against clear criteria, for inclusive economic growth, jobs and homes, and on the best option which delivers for the future of the city centre. This cannot be a decision that serves political opportunism.’

But Karin Smyth, MP for Bristol South, in which the Temple Island site is situated, said she was disappointed that the council considering dropping the arena proposal.

She said: ‘I appreciate the financial confines within which the council is working and understand the need to ensure value for money, but Bristol South needs this development.

’The wider economic benefits – including job and apprenticeship opportunities – and the social value of keeping it within the city centre and accessible to people living in Bristol South must not be underestimated.

‘Millions of pounds have already been spent on preparations for the arena in city centre, and Bristol has already waited long enough for its own arena. I sincerely hope that we can find a way to keep the much-needed Bristol arena in the planned location and not waste any more time and money.’

Earlier this month, former Bristol mayor George Ferguson launched a ferocious attack on ‘lunatic’ proposals to build a sports and music arena on an out-of-town site.

Defending its proposals in an open letter to Rees, published on Facebook, scheme promoters Temple Island Arena Ltd said arenas built in city-centre locations, supported city centre retail and leisure destinations already ’under pressure from out-of-town developments’.

A team led by Populous, including Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and engineering firm BuroHappold, won the competition for the Bristol Arena project in March 2015, when it was selected ahead of consortia led by Grimshaw, Spain’s IDOM, White Arkitekter and WilkinsonEyre.

Last week, financial backer Legal & General unveiled a scheme designed by Zaha Hadid Architects for the site, proposing 550 homes, including 220 affordable, two major office buildings as well as a 345-room hotel.

Populous were approached for comment.


Readers' comments (4)

  • The mayor has had his head turned by groups that are purely driven by profit ( YTL and a pension fund) and not by the sensible option of good urbal regeneration. The consensus outside these two other companies , who for some reason have the ear of Marvin is a city centre arena as the travel links are already there If he doesn't go ahead with this, Bristol will be the only major city in the UK that does not have a major sized arena in its city centre. Just look at Birmingham, Manchester, & Glasgow. As a local, I fed up that for a big gig, I have to go to Brum. Marvin, we understand that you are under severe financial restraints, but look at the bigger picture and what is genuinely a better long term investment for your city.

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  • Marvin Rees seems to be waving around a lot of pc buzz-words, but if the result is the sort of 'structured, affordable option' proposed by ZHA on behalf of Legal & General then he should be very careful where his 'evidence-based' criteria are taking him - and, much more importantly, the city of Bristol.
    There are some disturbing parallels here with Michael Gove's behaviour when Education Minister.
    Heaven forbid that Mr Rees 'has it in' for his predecessor in the same way that Trump is so keen to trash Obama initiatives, but we're all human, aren't we?

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  • It would be interesting to know how the benefit of having an arena in the city centre vs out of town is measured.

    Or maybe the side effects of more trade for pubs and hotels, the sight and sound of people heading to a gig, the community sense of ownership of a building, the building's effect as a psychological market for regeneration can't be empirically measured, and therefore the out of town option in it's sad vacuum wins.

    I suppose it's the natural result of appointing accountants to design a city.

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  • C Woodhouse is right, but these are not any old accountants, not economists, not urban planners - they're KPMG.

    And it REALLY doesn't help that they were auditors to Carillion for nineteen years (for fees totalling £29 million).

    Because the joint parliamentary committee into the collapse of Carillion refused to believe KPMG's excuses for their catastrophic failure to recognise that Carillion was heading for the rocks.

    Audits that were presumably 'evidence based, set against clear criteria'? - it's hardly surprising that George Ferguson should be so outraged at Marvin Rees being taken for a ride by a bunch of discredited half-baked bean-counters - or that Karyn Smyth should have challenged the wisdom of taking KPMG's advice.

    I wonder what KPMG charged the city for their report, and just what it will cost the city in the long run if the councillors put their faith in KPMG next week?

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