Does Bristol really need an arena..?!

Apparently the proposed arena in Bristol will be discussed on 16th January at a Cabinet meeting. Here is the recommendation in full.

The council would need to borrow up to £91million to fund the cost of building an arena.  £38 million is expected to come back to the council from rental and other related income. The council is seeking support from the City Deal Economic Development Fund, managed by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership for the remaining £53 million. A decision on this part of the funding is likely to be made in February.There are some really important decisions to be made over the next couple of months to ensure we secure the long awaited arena for Bristol. We know that there is a ready audience to come to Bristol to see performances and we know that there are operators keen to run the arena for us but we also know that arenas cannot be built without some public subsidy.  The arena funding package will go to Full Council on 18 February as part of the council’s budget proposals.

What Mayor Ferguson has to say.

At Cabinet on the 16th I will be presenting the full funding package for the arena, making sure that it offers excellent value for money, so that the city and region can have the arena it wants and deserves and make sure that we benefit from the significant regeneration and additional income that would flow into the local economy.

So lets do the sums… £91 million is what it costs. There’s a projected income of £38 million. A loss. And the remaining £53 million from the City Deal Economic Development Fund.

This looks like a vanity project by George Ferguson. A vanity project at the time of more intensive and vicious cuts. Over the next 3 years the council needs to save a total of £90.6 million.

George Ferguson Bristol’s Mayor said:

 This will be a difficult budget, but I have to balance the books in the face of tremendous pressures from the falling government grant, coupled with increased demand for some services.  We’re looking at losing a quarter of our current budget: this will mean cutting deep and to a certain extent re-defining the role of local government.

I am working hard with my Cabinet to protect the most vulnerable in the city and to find as many of the savings as we can by working in ever more cost effective ways.  We cannot afford to drag this out. Cuts will have to be fast and deep if we are to get in to recovery.  It will I’m afraid affect both the public and our staff, with council job losses unavoidable.  However I’ll also remain open to bold new ideas and investing our money when it has a clear benefit and return for the city in terms of economic growth, jobs or improving people’s wellbeing.

I am working on detailed proposals and will publish them in November, along with my vision for the city to 2016 and beyond and how the budget will help us achieve it.  I want to be clear about the options and there will be several weeks to listen and to make any changes before councillors debate the budget next February.  Although times are tough, I’m optimistic about Bristol’s prospects and am confident that Bristol has a bright future ahead.

While the pennies are being counted. Job losses “unavoidable” and cuts being “fast and deep”… Money will be found… somehow… to build an arena.

As they say, the devil is in the detail and these are the proposals in the consultation paper – Bristol Central Area Plan.

A major indoor arena (up to 15,000 seats) and complementary leisure uses;

At least 100,000m2 of net additional high quality office and flexible workspace;

Up to 2,600 new homes including live/work space;

Hotel and conference facilities;

Complementary retail uses, particularly within and adjacent to Bristol Temple Meads station;

New walking and cycle routes to connect the developments the rest of the city centre and surrounding neighbourhoods;

Green infrastructure and public realm enhancements including the improvement of

Open space to serve the new developments.

Ferguson wants us to “grasp the nettle” but money is still being sought to fund this vanity project. It cost a quarter of a million to put together plans and feasibility.  Ferguson et al think they have the £34 million sewn up by car parking. It works out £6 per head which works out a possible £24 per car for an evening’s parking. This is one expensive evening out without factoring costs for tickets and food/drink. This just smacks of a subsidy for the building operators.

Indeed the sums even so far as they do (not) add up rely on the car parking charges being exorbitant: for the 25 year life of the project this mens more traffic, more local pollution and more carbon emissions…the “vision” relies on greater car use by ripped off motorists!

Regards to ecological impact

There will be a short-term increase in environmental impacts through the consumption of fossil fuels and raw materials in constructing the Arena. Longer term, there will be on-going consumption of energy for heat and power, production of waste and travel to the site.

An increase in traffic is likely to lead to deterioration in local air quality. Air quality objectives are already being exceeded in this area.

So much for “Green” Bristol…..


In the short term, City Deal support may not match the requirements of our proposed prudential borrowing. The Council will need to cover any shortfalls. 

The aim of the financial package proposed is that there will be no recurring annual revenue cost to the Council.

And of course another aim is “affordable housing”… what is meant by affordable housing? Council housing? Or more like it rental private properties. Again, while we are all facing unprecedented cuts in Bristol… Ferguson et al is thinking of building an arena whilst closing public toilets.

Bristol is getting poorer but the vision of Ferguson in his fantasy world means will be getting richer motivated by profit. Who will use this arena? How affordable will it be? Plus the usage of it is very restricted meaning people will either get the train or drive to the arena while the surrounding area of central Bristol will not see the benefits of this increase expenditure.

In reality….

One in four children in the city live in poverty.

Bristol has distinct geographical concentrations in deprivation and affluence (which in some areas sit side by side).

Number of Bristol residents that have been unemployed for more than two years has been growing continually for the last two years. Bristol’s labour market continues to show weakness in lower skilled occupations, with over 40% of claimants looking for work in the retail sector.

Bristol’s prosperity is not shared by all its citizens: many areas experience multiple deprivation. The impact of welfare reform will primarily be targeted at working age claimants as most (80%) of those affected are in work. Many of these households claiming benefits are likely to be worse off in 2015/16 than they are now.

Ferguson should take note:

When asked, the top five residents’ priorities are public transport, congestion and traffic management, job prospects, affordable housing and anti-social behaviour.

No mention of an arena. People want better public transport, jobs, affordable housing and so on. But the proposals for this arena has had little debate (6 week consultation period). Lack of transparency and democracy (some of these proposals are covered by commercial confidentiality) plus the power of local government in the hands of a Mayor.

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8 thoughts on “Does Bristol really need an arena..?!

  1. Now … I don’t mean to be facetious (puerile possibly; I think you know me well enough by now …) but has anyone suggested taking Bristol City’s home-ground into local/public ownership? I don’t even know what league division they’re in these days but what would be wrong with holding an arts festival or such like at a football ground? More people, perhaps, than turn up for a Bristol City home match.

  2. I think there are alternatives to this arena. Also sounds like one of those mega stadium proposals. Does Bristol need one? Birmingham isn’t that far re NEC. There’s Glastonbury etc.

    Dunno much about Bristol City FC but venue at Ashton Gate is used for other things. There are other music venues in Bristol that need sprucing up and money invested such as Colston Hall etc.

    It did occur to me too re Merchant Venturers and whether individuals/companies have connections in this proposal.

    • I think this idea about Bristol City FC/Ashton Gate is ‘kicking off’ (sorry …)! Could the left in Bristol take on the ‘challenge’? Not so much Dicken’s Artful Dodger more a case of of socialism’s ‘Art[ful] Defender'; surely?

  3. What’s wrong with Bristol’s existing venues – or have they all now been sold and turned into IKEA’s and office blocks? The Colston Hall, Hippodrome, City Ground, that outdoor amphitheatre that’s meant to exist by the dockside, Ashton Court…

    I know at least two of Bristol’s theatres have been closed down since I lived there but is the Theatre Royal still going? What about all the small concert venues & clubs that used to exist? Are they all closed too?

    I’m interested to hear that George Fergusson is a “merchant venturer”. I assume you mean he’s trying to set up projects to benefit his corporate chums before he gets thrown out of office.

    I knew he wasn’t “a breath of fresh air” the moment he decided to rename the Council House “City Hall” or whatever pointless name change he suggested. Perhaps he got a lot of campaign funds from local printers and stationers, eh? How much money did that stunt funnel out of the pockets of Bristol tax payers and into private/corporate hands?

    Sounds like the proposed arena falls into exactly the same category. There’s about as much point to it as wearing red trousers rather than purple or yellow, but some charlatan’s going to make loadsamoney whether it ever gets used for anything or knocked down and turned into a car park in five year’s time.

  4. Simple answer, absolutely not. Is it right that local council taxpayers should subsidise a large commercial operator of the arena to put on the likes of X Factor and Strictly come dancing tours. No. If a commercial arena operator thinks there is an economic market for building a new arena in Bristol then let them pay for it – Mayor Ferguson might go as far as giving them the land for free as a sweetener but that’s as far as it should go.

  5. 12,000 capacity with 1000 space car park and just six coach bays. Assuming 50 in a coach and 2 per car, that’s over 9500 who won’t be able to park. Sure, there will be a few local cyclists and visitors by bus or train, but those options are terribly limited for anyone in the ‘greater region’. The shuttle train from Cardiff Bay to Queen Street is way under capacity for events at the Millennium Centre. I can see this being unaffordable and inconvenient for families and another Bristol white elephant. Despite believing Bristol does need this, I think the arena should be somewhere like FIlton

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