Bristol Arena plans put on ice
Published on: 02 Mar 2016
PLANS for the long-awaited Bristol arena have been put on ice by councillors who decided the proposals didn't answer vital questions about travel and parking.
Members of the council's development control committee voted 7-4 to defer a planning application for the arena. They then voted unanimously to defer an outline application to develop the rest of Arena Island.
The decision blows a hole in the tight timetable for the arena. Newly-appointed contractor Bouygues UK wanted to start work on the project in the summer, and completion was expected in early 2018.
But councillors decided there were simply too many unknowns in the transport elements of the plan.
The council's chief planning officer, Zoe Willcox, told councillors they could satisfy some of the their demands by imposing extra condtions – for example, to double the number of cycle parking spaces.
To hold up the application would cost the developer – which happens to be the city council – £80,000, she said.
It appeared the councillors had more fundamental concerns.
The main points seeking answers at March 2's meeting were lack of detail about:
• the effect on city centre roads and car parks of arena traffic;
• whether park and ride can keep enough motorists out of the city;
• if car parks can cope with several demands at once – such as Christmas shoppers, or the Balloon Fiesta, a City game, or matinees at the Colston Hall or Hippodrome;
• which bus and rail routes can be expanded, or made to run later, to take arena-goers;
• where arena-goers can be dropped off and picked up;
• the number of taxi and coach spaces on Albert Road and Feeder Road;
• whether cyclists will ever be able to ride through Arena Island – under current plans, they have to get off and walk.
It was the general lack of detail about travel arrangements that seemed to swing councillors against the plans – though all those who spoke said they were in favour of an arena.
Councillors were also bemused at plans revealed only a week before that a multi-storey car park of up to eight storeys and 480 spaces might be built on the site of Kwik Fit on Bath Road.
This plan was taken off the table by mayor George Ferguson at a cabinet meeting on March 1, the day before the planning meeting – but the sense that the plans were constantly changing appeared to influence councillors.
"No one wants to delay this plan any longer than necessary but I don't think we have eneough information here," said Cllr Charles Lucas, a Conservative.
After referring to the apparently aborted proposal for a multi-storey, he said: "if this was [an application from a] private developer I would be throwing this out."
"We all want an arena, but it's all about the detail," said Lib Dem councillor Tim Kent. "I have never seen such a major application go through the system so quickly."
Committee chair Cllr Peter Abraham voiced some of the strongest objection to approving the scheme on the spot.
"I'm 100 per cent for this arena, like nearly everybody," he said. "It's got to be the most exciting thing that we have had in front of us for a very long time indeed."
But he warned: "There will be people living close to the arena who will suffer if we don't do our job right today, and that weighs heavily on my shoulders."
Referring to the mixed messages on parking provision, he said that offering some car parking on site could lead drivers to bring their cars to the city, when it ought to be "a totally public transport venue".
Like several others, he was worried about the lack of plans about where parents could drop off and pick up teenage pop fans.
"I want to know, if I'm a parent of a 16-year-old daughter, that I can drop her off and pick her up safely without her wandering the city centre at 12 at night," he said.
Others criticised the lack of planning to deal with crowds of possibly inebriated revellers bursting from the arena onto Bath Road – where much of the narrow and dangerous foot- and cycleway is to be left unchanged.
Cllr Olly Mead called for firm plans to ensure people are not run over.
"Let's say the Wurzels are touring the world and have sold out everywhere," the Labour councillor said to laughter, "and everyone [at the arena] is refreshed with West Country cider, and they walk together across Bath Road to get their heroes' autographs?"
The meeting had previously heard that arena staff would prevent large crowds bursting onto Bath Road with traffic cones and "event management" staff – a plan dubbed "sheer lunacy" by Knowle Lib Dem member Gary Hopkins.
A full travel plan which included ways of protecting pedestrians would be demanded before the arena could open, responded council transport office Laurence Fallon – who indicated traffic cones would not be acceptable.
Officials repeated that all of the councillors' concerns could be answered by imposing conditions, which they could re-examine befroe giving final permission to the arena.
But some councillors appeared to think that this would amount to them signing a blank cheque.
Despite warnings from planning chief Zoe Willcox that a full travel plan to answer their concerns could not be produced quickly, it became clear that a room full of people who all want to see an arena built next to Temple Meads were not gong to approve the plan.
It is unclear how long the plan will be deferred – but a detailed travel plan seems likely to be many months in the making.
Cllr Sam Mongon, Labour member for Windmill Hill, who is not on the development committee, said afterwards: "I don't think the committee were left with any other option considering the lack of progess with the transport plan and clear confusion around the approach from the cabinet papers [for the meeting the day before].
"I'm disappointed this could delay the development when the council has known there are local concerns about transport for a long time. And I'm surprised there doesn't seem to be any idea how long it would take to resolve the issues."
Cllr Deb Joffe, Green councillor for Windmill Hill, said: "I am disappointed that the plan wasn't ready to be given the go-ahead but it's absolutely critical that the transport details are worked out to make something that's practical and works on the ground, and protects local residents."
Reaction was immediate on social media.
"The arena is in the wrong place and will blight the area with traffic, parking and other problems," said a Totterdown resident.
Another said: "Oh great. More nimbyism stopping Bristol moving forward. Cheers for that."
There was no immediate reaction from mayor George Ferguson, who was not present at the committee meeting.