BRISTOL looks set to finally get its long-awaited arena after a large portion of funding was agreed late last night.
City councillors committed £38 million of the £91 million needed for a 12,000 seater venue near Temple Meads.
The £53 million hole in the project's budget is expected to be filled by capital borrowed against money from Bristol's City Deal - an agreement with government.
It took the cabinet meeting at City Hall less than 15 minutes to agree that the building of an arena was a “no-brainer” - as suggested by today’s Bristol Post front page and echoed by Mayor George Ferguson.
Property advisors Jones Lang LaSalle, who have advised on major visitor and event facilities throughout the UK, urged politicians to deliver the facility for the city in today’s Post story.
Jeremy Richards, head of Jones Lang LaSalle’s Bristol office, had said: “Our message is clear – we cannot afford not to have an arena, and we know that the people of Bristol are overwhelmingly in favour of the project.”
Mr Ferguson re-iterated that an arena was and remained a “top priority” for him - and said realising it would remain down to determined leadership.
Very quickly he and members of his cabinet - most vociferously deputy mayor Geoff Gollop and Gus Hoyt - had discussed the merits of the project and approved the funding package, which will now go in front of a meeting of the full council on February 18.
The preferred arena option for Mr Ferguson is next to Temple Meads.
The mayor has also launched a international competition to find the best design for an arena, and has pledged that the project would be up and running in the next five years.
Cabinet councillors heard last night that £38m of the overall bill would made up of rent from the arena operator, car parking income and another payment from the operator.
The council hopes the remaining £53m can be borrowed against City Deal money.
The City Deal is an agreement between central Government and some of the UK’s largest cities to give councils outside the capital more economic freedom.
Mr Ferguson said if funding was granted this way it would represent an “exceptionally good deal” for the council.
He added: “The cost would be met by sources including rent, and have safeguards in place to make sure we can put on events that might not interest the operator.”
Having passed his best wishes to deputy mayor Mark Bradshaw who is being treated for bowel cancer, Mr Ferguson started what was to become the longest cabinet meeting of his tenure.
One of the first topics to rear its head, despite Mr Ferguson reversing his decision to cut staffing levels, was Hengrove play park.
Councillors Tim Kent and Sylvia Doubell submitted two petitions regarding Hengrove play park, one with 274 signatures and an e-petition with 3,292 supporters.
Ron Stone raised a chuckle when, discussing public toilets, he told the cabinet that “spending a penny is sometimes more important that spending £7 million”, after being cut off by Mr Ferguson during his speech.
The mayor also fielded statements from councillors on the bedroom tax, under-occupancy charge and Robin Hood Tax, and from members of Unison, the Bristol Tree Forum, Bristol Women’s Voice and Bristol Disability Forum.
The Post reported on Wednesday that Mr Ferguson had used a £4.4million windfall to save several key council services from being axed. He has reinstated or changed nearly 20 cuts he hopes will “take the heat out” of budget proposals, which aimed to save nearly £90million during the next three years.
Blaise Castle Museum, The Red Lodge in Park Row; The Georgian House in Great George Street and the Roman Villa in Lawrence Weston are no longer in danger of being mothballed. But the council still hopes they will eventually become self-financing.
A £410,000 cut in community transport is no longer going ahead, St Paul’s Learning Centre has been saved and a string of services affecting the elderly, including the library at home service, have been reinstated.
The consultation led to nearly 4,000 responses, 12 times as many as last year and probably more than ever before.
Mr Ferguson said he had outlined a three-year plan for his vision of Bristol.
“I have set this budget within a difficult background, while continuing to protect the most vulnerable members of the city and investing in the future of Bristol, to make it a global city and worthy of its green capital status.”