Mayoral candidate, Sandy Hore-Ruthven, at Temple Island site

Temple Island deal bad for Bristol

03 February 2020

Bristol’s Mayor talks a lot about ‘getting stuff done’. He has used this phrase to describe his new deal this week with investment company Legal & General to develop Temple Island – the site behind Temple Meads that was originally intended for the Bristol Arena. But is he really a mayor who gets things done?

Mayor is failing to deliver

The arena would be open by now if the Mayor had signed off the shovel-ready project on Temple Island. Instead, the site will be empty for at least another five years. Even the first phase of the L&G deal will not be complete before 2025.

And meanwhile, work on the Filton site now earmarked for the arena isn’t even under way.

The Chocolate Path and Cumberland Road are now closed because the Council did not invest quickly enough in shoring up the riverbank that they run on. The Hartcliffe recycling centre is still nowhere near open, and we still have no realistic plan for a Clean Air Zone in Bristol.

An appropriate hashtag for the Mayor’s achievements would be #gettingnothingdone.

Bad for Bristol and democracy

But now that the Mayor has finally taken action on Temple Island, it’s the wrong one. His L&G deal is bad, both for Bristol and democracy.

The deal is bad for democracy because it has been put together behind closed doors, even though it involves huge amounts of money that you and I have paid in council taxes. And it’s bad for Bristol because of how some of that money has been wasted and will now be risked.

Yet more commitments to spend taxpayers’ money

The report of the Council’s chief finance officer to Cabinet points out that Bristol City Council will pay £32m to prepare the site for L&G. But this is on top of the £26m we have already paid for two bridges to nowhere that were built for the original arena that the Mayor ditched. The report then promises that the Council will rent out 100,000 sq ft of office space they build there, for 40 years. If it cannot be rented  – and there is plenty of empty office space in Bristol – that could cost up to £3.5m of taxpayers’ money each year.

And there is another problem. L&G has promised to build 40% of the homes as affordable, but this is not legally binding. And this is a company that recently took Bristol City Council to appeal to ensure it only had to build 4 of the 23 affordable homes that the council had specified for the company’s latest development at Temple Quay.

The development at Temple Island will create jobs, and I welcome that, but the project aims to attract financiers and lawyers to set up their companies there, not provide jobs for local people. This is not a development for the whole city – like the arena would have been – but for a very small part of our population, and with at least five years to wait.

Also, this is a one-sided deal with almost all the risk sitting with the Council and us – the taxpayers.  The deal does not even commit the developer to build a conference centre, which was supposed to be part of the plans for the Temple Island site if market conditions are not right.

Under my leadership, I would make sure that any private sector development would be subject to an open procurement process; businesses would put forward ideas and prices on a competitive basis. That way, the Council gets the best deal.

Developing a city is hard, which is why it is so heartbreaking that the Mayor has thrown away the chance of having the arena next to Temple Meads. For our part, we still stare at an empty space on Temple Island. It’s sickening that this process could now cost £58m in public money, and this makes the deal on Temple Island a really bitter pill to swallow. It’s a legacy of a mayor who is #gettingnothingdone.

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