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Monday, 13th Aug 2018

Checking the numbers on alternatives to the Bristol Arena

What is the best use of Temple Island, should we build an arena there or are the alternatives more appealing? This is the question that Mayor Marvin Rees proposes to bring to September’s cabinet meeting with a recommendation. 

When this question is being addressed we would expect to see the term ‘best’ encompass social, cultural and environmental considerations as well as pure economic and employment considerations.  

However, looking specifically (and only) at the economic and employment considerations, Marvin has said that the best economic and employment outcome for Bristol could be to not build an arena on Temple Island. He has stated that it is difficult to walk away from the potential alternative uses of Temple Island. As a Green, I'm all for looking at the evidence on the alternative uses of Temple Island, so where do things stand on this at the moment?

Marvin said, “I have to consider the Value for Money Report that says that… a mixed use site including a conference centre, hotel and residential brings an economic output of over 900 million pounds and over 2000 jobs.” Of course, this ‘value for money’ report had no calculations of the social, environmental and other impacts of this decision, let alone the enormous effect that rejecting a city centre arena for an out of town site would have on the city centre economy.

You might get the impression from listening to the Mayor that these numbers had been generated and thoroughly assessed by KPMG, who drafted the report. So where do these numbers come from and can we rely on them? Buried in the detail of the KPMG report it states, “Although alternative use plans for the Temple Island site have not yet been fully developed Bristol City Council has undertaken an initial ‘land use optioneering’ exercise to consider and develop potential options for the site.”

So, at this stage, it’s solely on the basis of the Council’s own obscure calculations that KPMG has noted down that a conference centre, hotel, 460 homes, and shops and offices could be fitted onto the relatively small plot of land where it is planned that the arena will be located.

The council then builds on these assumptions to generate some even more extravagant employment numbers. The council told KPMG that over 1800 full time jobs could result directly from the alternative Temple Island development. While the informal response to this number of jobs on this relatively small plot of land might be, “You must be having a larf!” the equivalent response of the professional services is more restrained: “KPMG has not validated Bristol City Council’s estimates of the direct employment associated with the Temple Island site.”

In other words, the experts engaged by the council have declined to provide professional judgement on the numbers provided by Marvin’s own staff that form the basis of any claims that alternative uses of Temple Island will generate higher employment and economic activity.

So in summary, at this stage, councillors and KPMG have seen no proper alternative use development plans for Temple Island – all we have is numbers from a back of the envelope style ‘land use optioneering’ exercise that has been carried out by Marvin’s staff. Even if accurate, these numbers would be insufficient to support an informed decision as they say nothing about the social, cultural or environmental impacts of the decision the Mayor faces.

Finally, as with the vague assertions made around the Filton arena, these unverified numbers are then being repeatedly requoted and weighed against the statistics for a Temple Meads arena as if they were equally valid. Bristol deserves better than this.

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