Part of Arena Island to be sold to university

Published on: 24 Mar 2017

Engine Shed2


Pictured: Plans for Engine Shed2, the university-backed business incubator, involve a seven-storey glass box on the site of the former Grosvenor hotel, whose facade campaigners want to save

THE UNIVERSITY of Bristol is set to take over part of Arena Island in a multi-million pound deal approved by the city council.

The plan for a £300 million campus, serving 3,000 students and 1,900 staff, was made several months ago and centres on the former Royal Mail sorting office next to Temple Meads station.

The long-derelict building will now be demolished by the council and the entire site sold to the university – including the Wood Recycling centre on Cattle Market Road, which will have to move. 

But the sale of part of Arena Island is a departure from the council’s previous plans. It was originally hoped the arena could be built by 2018 and the rest of the island used as a temporary car park while commercial developers were invited to submit plans for permanent use.

The island site was granted outline planning permission a year ago for 19,000 sq m of shops, offices, leisure facilities, a hotel and homes, including affordable housing and student accommodation.

Now the arena plan is bogged down, with no contractor agreed, and completion in 2020 or later.

The deal with the university gives the council some certainty that it can develop a major part of the Temple Quarter enterprise zone, which aims to attract 17,000 jobs – many in creative and digital fields – over 25 years.

It’s not clear what uses the university will find for Arena Island. But its first proposal for the new campus is for a “digital innovation hub” for postgraduates, to open in a new building, probably on the sorting office site, in 2021.

A year later it will open a New Business School to fill a need for graduates to combine tech skills with business knowledge.

It will also build a University City Village of up to 1,185 student homes, ”spread over a number of blocks at a range of heights.” It may be that the Island will become home to the student village – though neither the council nor the university could confirm this.

An additional 2,500 homes are expected to be built elsewhere in the enterprise zone.

The council will receive between £11m and £16m from the sale of land to the university. It will receive almost £1m a year in business rates  – much less than the £2.3m it might get if the site was developed commercially. But the council believes the university will develop the site more quickly than any private developer.

However, the council has much work to do before the land can be handed over – including removing asbestos from the Cattle Market site, and dealing with a historic burial site for cholera victims on the land.

Ultimately, the finances of the project are not clear – some of the figures are kept confidential. 

The university is also backing  the Engine Shed business incubator which hopes to take over the island site opposite Temple Meads (see above).

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