There have been previous false starts for a Bristol arena, but the huge groundswell of demand for such a development has only become stronger with time. This is a project that clearly belongs to every one of us – and to a large extent, those who live well beyond the city’s boundary. So, while I have been driving the project since taking office, and am determined that we do deliver this time, it is now essential to share the emerging business plan and thinking around the current proposal for Arena Island at Temple Quarter with all parties on the city council, and to ensure there is meaningful public and entertainment industry engagement before we press the button on the project at the Budget meeting on 18 February 2014.
The people of Bristol have become weary of the procrastination and many have shown a healthy dose of scepticism as to whether an arena will ever materialise in what the principal arena operators describe as ‘the last frontier’ of a city region without a major facility of this scale.
I do realise that sharing the funding plan at this stage does give the opportunity for some selective sniping at the fact that some of the funding is yet to be secured. However, we are moving fast towards a complete package which presents us with remarkable value in terms of the cost and benefit to Bristol for such a major project. In summary a £90m project that will cost us between £8m and £15m depending on whether we pay for it over seven or 15 years. I am exploring a plan to reduce that cost further.
Sharing what is currently known is done in the spirit of wishing to work in genuine partnership with members from all political parties and none, not only to make our arena for Bristol a reality but also to ensure that it is not seen as a bargaining chip in the tough budget decisions that are to come. It is true that we face hugely challenging financial times ahead. A backdrop of further austerity and huge cuts in central government funding could cause people to question spending on anything non-essential, anything non-statutory, anything giving ‘added benefit’. And yet that cannot be a way to live, no way to grow, no way to take advantage of the many opportunities Bristol is poised to seize, the many successes the city truly deserves to reap.
The irony is that collectively, everyone agrees that an arena will be good for the city, and the wider city region. Collectively, everyone can list the positives – the jobs, the knock on investment, the additional income flowing into the local economy, the live acts and sporting events that an arena will be able to host.
For too long I have heard the city I love described as the ‘graveyard of ambition’ or ‘the place where good ideas go to die’. It is certainly true that our track record for delivering major projects has not been good – but here is the great chance to turn the corner, along with the ambitions of our two football clubs.
Many will remember the sad day when Bristol lost £98m of funding earmarked by the Arts Council to build a great Centre for the Performing Arts on Harbourside, back in the mid-1990s. There are countless other projects or initiatives that have stalled, faltered, or simply not got off the blocks, but we must stop viewing each potential new development with the same glass half empty attitude and look at filling a glass that is half full! If we don’t, things will simply stay the same, and I am pretty sure I was elected because people felt that I might be able to deliver.
My discussions with party group leaders were the beginning of what I hope will be a productive dialogue with elected members seeking their involvement and support as plans for the arena progress. I know that if we can unite behind the arena project, it will be built, and I now see no good reason why this should not happen.
We are a creative city, with a strong independent streak – we need that creative and independent thinking now, to help us find the solutions that mean Bristol is no longer denied the top class music and sporting event facilities it deserves.
I don’t knock those who have tried, and failed to deliver, such projects in Bristol. Circumstances may have been different. I do however believe that the people of Bristol expect all to work with me on this great project, and that we put negativity and cynicism behind us once and for all.
We must all open our minds to the much more exciting proposition that this time, with enough collective effort, we shall deliver – and deliver something really special – because that is what Bristol demands and deserves.