Bristol Arena: now the hard work really starts

Councillors’ approval of Bristol’s flagship arena project is a welcome twist in a story that goes back two decades.

Bringing a big city arena to Bristol has been a long-standing cultural ambition. A huge collective effort has been put into getting the vision for a gleaming 12,000-capacity venue and a redeveloped cultural and residential quarter beside Temple Meads to this stage.

The former Diesel Depot site which will host the facility has lain largely fallow for years since it earned its name for engine goods storage.  And there are many good reasons for the seemingly slow progress.

Big challenges

The 3 ha site is virtually landlocked and accessible only by a winding narrow side road off one of the city’s busier routes.

The cost of the project required full commitment from Bristol City Council, the West of England LEP and government to make it a realistic proposition. Construction costs were estimated to be more than £90m and significant investment has already made to acquire and prepare the site for development.

And there’s the project’s stop-start history, which has had generated its share of bad headlines over the years. The idea to put an arena on the Diesel Depot site was first mooted at the turn of the century and abandoned in 2007 after well over £40m in public funding had been committed to the project.

After the criticism the project attracted then, it took a big decision and some important factors to come together for the pieces of the Arena puzzle to fall back into place.

Key to success

Commitment from partners has been key to getting to this stage. LEP chairman Colin Skellett declared at an early stage that the project would happen. His organisation committed £53m in funding to support infrastructure development.

Former site owner the Homes and Communities Agency invested in an impressive new bridge connecting the Diesel Depot to the rest of Bristol’s Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone before handing the site to the council.

And Bristol City Council, under the leadership of independent mayor George Ferguson, has committed funding to oversee the construction.

Partners can rightly toast the achievement of gaining consent after a brief deferral to reconsider transport concerns raised by councillors in March. But they will know that the hard work really starts now.

The planning report that went to committee in April contained a hefty set of conditions that illustrate the scale and complexity of the task ahead.

This is particularly true where public perception is concerned.

Making comms count

People will continue have concerns about traffic, parking, and disruption that will require regular, clear and open communication. They will also want to know about job opportunities connected with the project. Good connections have been made with groups and businesses who commented on the planning application that can be hopefully maintained over the coming months and years.

Details about what’s happening, when, and who is doing what should be made available in a range of formats which take account of the variety of touchpoints that will connect people with the project.

Partners, local businesses, politicians and other key stakeholders with an interest should be kept informed at every step.

And the project team should be prepared for the unexpected, and work .closely with communications colleagues to keep them up to speed on developments – just in case!

I’m looking forward to seeing progress continue on this project. When the first acts are announced at the Arena in a few years’ time, the effort will have been worthwhile.

This blog post first appeared on PPS Group’s website.

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