Arena: car park U-turn and £28m extra bill

Published on: 26 Feb 2016

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Council's U-turn on arena car park

Arena Island and plaza paid for by property developments

 Mayor George Ferguson said last year that it would be “mad” to build a large car park on the site without strong evidence that it was needed. And Peter Mann, the council’s transport director, said in September: “Building a car park next to the arena will send all the wrong messages about the sustainability of it.”

It also emerged that a hoped-
for cycle route across Arena Island is not possible because the slope is too great, leading to fears that cyclists will use busy Bath Road.

The council says the “extra” £28m is not an increase – it is to pay for work not yet budgeted on Arena Island, such as the plaza.

The arena itself is estimated to cost £95m. But a final budget has yet to be calculated by newly-
appointed contractor Bouygues.

The council’s assessment is that there is a high probability that “the arena programme is unrealistic leading to further delays and cost increases”. All these factors are revealed in the agenda for the council cabinet meeting on March 1.

The development control committee will decide on the planning application for the arena building and an outline plan for Arena Island on March 2. 

“I’m very angry that the ward councillors haven’t been briefed on this at all,” said Deb Joffe, the Green councillor for Windmill Hill.

She called the idea for a major car park on Bath Road “mad”. 

“They are going to get traffic queuing to get into the car park on that very busy road,” she said. 

It is possible that other city centre parking spaces may be removed so the city doesn’t add to parking capacity – which would be against its own policy.

Cllr Joffe is also angry that the cycle route is being removed, meaning cyclists will have to wheel their bikes down a ramp. 

The car park replaces the plan for 200 temporary parking spaces to be built on Arena Island. These spaces were due to be replaced by commercial development in the second phase of the scheme.

Building a permanent car park sooner saves wasted effort, says the council. The multi-storey has more than twice the number of spaces as the Arena Island plan; half will be reserved for the arena operator for use by staff and event partners.

Sam Mongon, the Labour member for Windmill Hill, believes the changes announced are too big to be decided by the cabinet next week.

“I will be asking that we delay the discussion to allow it to go through the scrutiny process so we can ask more questions before it gets decided,” he said.

He asked how councillors can decide on the planning application when the new car park is not part of the scheme.

Cllr Mongon said there were a worrying number of caveats in the plans, and asked why the need for the extra works, and money, had not been spelled out before.

If Bouygues comes back in the summer with a higher estimate for building the arena, where is the authority for that going to come from, he asked, and what is the risk to council tax payers?

He also believes the eight-storey car park could affect views of the iconic Totterdown skyline.

Gary Hopkins, councillor for Knowle and Liberal Democrat leader, said there was a real risk that budgets for the project could rise further, with construction costs in Bristol going up steadily.

“It’s the Bristol tax payer who is taking the risk,” he said.

Like the other councillors, he is concerned that £8m of the extra £28m bill is being found from the Community Infra-structure Levy (CIL) – a fund intended to spread the benefits of major projects around the city.

The rest of the extra money will come from redeveloping the old sorting office site on Cattle Market Road, bringing the council an estimated £18m. The cabinet papers rate the risk that it will fall short of this target as “medium”.

Cllr Hopkins said he will demand that planning conditions are imposed, putting any residents parking scheme around the arena under the control of local councillors on the neighbourhood partnership.

Karin Smyth MP said: “People I’ve spoken to are understandably baffled by this latest expensive U-turn. The fact these new plans have been published so close to a decision being made, and that they could receive little public scrutiny is also a concern.

“As for the car park itself, I’ve heard mixed views about whether it’s a good or a bad thing.”

 Whatever the outcome, Ms Smyth said, it is essential that the  arena project creates employment and skills opportunities for local people.

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