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Green Group Leader: Mayor's arena decision shows contempt for democracy

The day after he voted for a council motion supporting a Temple Meads location for Bristol's Arena, the city's Labour Mayor has scrapped the project altogether in a Cabinet meeting.

During the debate in the extraordinary Full Council Meeting of Monday 3rd September, Greens and other councillors made the points that the Temple Meads arena was confirmed to be affordable by the KPMG reports that the Mayor commissioned, is deliverable within a few years and accessible to people from all parts of Bristol. They also raised numerous concerns if the project were to be abandoned by the Labour Mayor, including the risk of potential legal challenge and financial damages to the council, the lack of good alternative sites and likelihood that any alternative arena would not be deliverable due to planning and other obstacles.

The following is a statement on the decision taken at Cabinet of 4th September, by Green Group leader Councillor Eleanor Combley.

Mayor's arena decision shows contempt for democracy

After months of back and forth, this is what we know:

-          The temple quarter arena is affordable, can be delivered within 3 years, and it is the best location for an arena according to the Mayor and councillors. It would support city centre businesses and put Bristol on the map, as the Mayor himself said in 2012.

-          Thorough plans for alternative developments on that site do not exist – all we have at this stage are pretty drawings and a lot of hype from the private sector. L+G, the City’s supposed benefactors here, are currently fighting the council’s minimum affordable housing targets on a nearby site, proposing to build just 4 affordable homes out of 120. This shows just how unlikely it is that we can trust them to deliver affordable housing.

-          These alternative proposals could also be built in a number of locations around the city, while a city centre arena can only go ahead at the Temple Meads site.

-          Once this site is sold Bristol is unlikely to get any arena for many years – there are a serious number of legal, planning, and other issues in the way of a Filton location.

-          If an arena were eventually built at Filton it would create enormous congestion and transport problems in the north of the city and drain business from the city centre.

For the avoidance of all doubt, the motion passed in Full Council yesterday evening, which the Mayor voted for, reads:

"This Council believes that the best site for Bristol’s Arena, for the benefit of Bristol as a whole, is Temple Island in the centre of Bristol and that the decision taker should be guided by the vote at this meeting."

Most people reading those words would therefore have expected the Mayor to respect the democratic process, be guided by his councillors (and his own) votes and keep the Temple Quarter arena project instead of abandoning it for as-yet non-existent mixed development plans, gifting public land and assets to the private sector.

Unfortunately it is increasingly clear that this Mayor has complete contempt for democracy – whether it’s the manifesto pledge he was elected on to “complete the new city Arena and enable it to be accessible to all communities”, the votes of councillors, including his own, at two separate meetings, the views of 10 out of 11 of the chief scrutiny committee, or the popular opinion expressed through online polls, petitions, and hundreds of public statements submitted to council meetings – at the end of the day the only view that matters to Marvin Rees is his own. Leadership surely means listening to others and not being afraid to change your mind if the evidence points another way – yet instead of putting Bristol first the Mayor has spun every which way in trying to present a decision he took months ago in secret as fair and transparent, and quell disagreements within his own party. The most recent of these efforts was his attempt to reframe last night’s motion and vote as being about the best site ‘in an ideal world’ rather than in this world, to try and allow him to say one thing on Monday and do the complete opposite on Tuesday.

First the Temple Island arena was too expensive. Then an alternative project emerged to muddy the waters, owned by a company with links to many of the senior officers around the Mayor. Finally, after reports showed the Arena Island site to be both deliverable and affordable and the cost of the project shrank, it was deemed too risky, despite there being no evidence provided to support this. The Mayor seems to have got his economics mixed up with the Conservative government – at times of uncertainty we should be investing to support the city economy – we have seen on the national stage that austerity policies do not work.

Let’s be clear: at cabinet today the Mayor has betrayed the spirit of his vote yesterday and acted against the best interests of the city – putting short term savings before long term gain, putting the private sector over a publically owned arena, and abandoning his manifesto commitment to deliver an arena for Bristol by 2020.

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