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Mayoral candidate challenges “expensive giveaway” of arena site

The Green mayoral candidate for Bristol, Sandy Hore-Ruthven, is challenging the Mayor over proposals to pay a major financial services firm up to £120 million to develop the former arena site at Temple Island, without guaranteeing social return for the city.

Papers to the city’s cabinet meeting scheduled for next week, set out a proposal for Bristol City Council to work as a partner with the firm Legal and General to develop the Arena Island site, in a set up where the council takes all the risk and the company accrues any benefit.

The proposed development is as follows:

  1. Bristol City Council (BCC) gives Legal and General a 250 year lease for no cost, with no official tendering process
  2. The Mayor will also commit to handing over up to £500,000 towards the production of a development plan for the site
  3. Legal and General build housing and a conference centre but BCC is committed for 40 years to pay for 100,000 sq ft of the site, potentially costing £120m [1].  Whilst the Council may make a return this is not guaranteed given that there is still plenty of un-let office space in Bristol.
  4. BCC will have no control over how the site is developed as the site will be leased to Legal and General, including no control over the % affordable housing, which is a key aim for the development.

In addition, The Council has already spent £26 million of taxpayer’s money on the site and remains committed to paying for further upgrades to the site (utilities, improvements to the A4 bridge and others) at an unknown cost.

Sandy Hore-Ruthven, Green Party Mayoral candidate said: “This proposal to cabinet is poor value for money and represents an expensive give away for our citizens. In exchange for a 250-year lease, £26m of existing investment, and a guaranteed rent of up to £120m paid to Legal and General over 40 years, the Council will have little control over the development and may not achieve the desired outcomes of affordable homes, jobs or business growth.  It certainly won’t create an Arena for the people of Bristol!”

“Under the guise of an innovative business model the Mayor is selling off land paid for by the taxpayer to build the arena, in return for a guaranteed profit to a global business with no particular interest in meeting the city’s objectives on affordable homes, local jobs or business.  This is a naïve approach that is more risky than the original arena plan,” he continued.

“Legal and General have recently been criticised for reducing the number of affordable homes in another development and the Mayor’s proposal gives no guarantee they will not do the same. It could still be possible to build the arena for the people of Bristol creating a great cultural offer, jobs where they are needed in the South of the city, and reduce the number of car journeys by putting the arena next to Temple Meads. But instead we are committing millions of pounds of tax payer’s money to a multinational company and its profits, to create a conference centre.  This is a lacklustre vision for our City,” he concluded.

A number of other approaches are given in the appendix to the document but are not being considered by cabinet. These include a straight sale of the land or a joint venture.  The joint venture would ‘allow the Council to exercise control over the development’.

The BCC cabinet report further states: ‘The Strategic partnership would be supported by a non-legally binding Memorandum of Understanding’ thereby providing no legal recourse to investment made by BCC until the lease is signed.

Green Councillors will be asking key questions about the legality of this arrangement – an MOU agreed without going out to official tender – at the Cabinet meeting next week.


Notes to editors

[1] £120m is worked out as £30/ft2 (current high end market rent is £40/ft2)

[2] Full details of the cabinet papers can be found here.

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