Former Bristol mayor George Ferguson has launched a ferocious attack on ‘lunatic’ proposals to build a sports and music arena on an out-of-town site
In July, a report by accountant KPMG concluded that a new arena north of the city at Filton would provide a better cost-benefit ratio than consented plans designed by Populous for the city centre.
But Ferguson, a former RIBA president, criticised this report in an open letter, and said that any planning application for a Filton arena would fail at planning.
He said: ‘I have sought expert planning advice from several quarters and established that it would be impossible for any self-respecting city planner to recommend approval for such a significant venue on the edge of the city when alternative sites exist in or near the centre, as they clearly do.
‘This is known as the Sequential Planning Test, an excellent piece of planning legislation, which was introduced in 2014 to ensure the vitality of our town centres.’
Ferguson said he realised his intervention was burning bridges with his successor, and that he wished the current mayor, Marvin Rees, all success for Bristol.
‘However my patience only goes so far when Bristol’s future is threatened by a lunatic proposal promoted by those with self-interest to a person who seems to have little understanding of how a city ticks,’ he said.
A team led by Populous, including Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and engineer BuroHappold, won the competition for the Bristol Arena project in March 2015, seeing off consortiums headed by Grimshaw, Spain’s IDOM, White Arkitekter and WilkinsonEyre.
Ferguson’s letter comes two months before the expected publication of the final version of the West of England city region’s transport strategy.
This is expected to include plans unveiled last year to create an underground railway network for the city, which Rees says will cost between £3 billion and £4 billion.
Other architects voiced mixed opinions about spending the sum on underground transportation.
Mike Harris, senior associate planner in Stride Treglown’s Places group, said: ‘It shouldn’t be forgotten that there is disused track bed across the region that could relatively simply be reopened, Portishead to Bristol being a good example.
‘A potentially more cost-effective solution might free up funds for a series of other active travel and public transport initiatives that would make a significant contribution to the ongoing success of Bristol as a place to live and work.’
Shankari Raj, founder of Nudge Group, said: ‘The topography of Bristol, the architecture and the narrow streets are why the transport debate and the solution has been an ongoing ‘head scratch’ for generations, which is why it continues to divide people.
‘And with such a large influx of people to the city over the last two years, our streets are getting pretty full and a solution does need to be found.’
But she said the estimated £4 billion cost could be used instead to create a series of ‘greenways’, plant more trees and provide local services to reduce the need to travel across the city.
‘Technology continues to be the shining beacon for many,’ she added, ‘but my gut feeling is that there will be many stops and starts with an underground scheme due to political change and wasted taxpayers’ money, loans and debts – and the only ones to win will be the consultancy firm advocating this move and the mega-contractors making millions from the continued delays that will be inevitable.’
Ashley Smith, founding director of Smith Maloney Architects, said: ‘The push for increased housing density in the centre and new urban centres popping up on the periphery will put greater demand on the existing transport infrastructure.