I have been talking with the Mayor, Marvin Rees and others over the last few weeks about the new arena and why it is essential that Bristol does not lose traction on this important issue.
Whether you like Marvin or not is irrelevant. I know for a fact that he is agonising over making the right decision.
Make no mistake this decision is a momentous one for one man and asking him to do it alone and in relative isolation isn’t really what the democratic process was meant to achieve. There are certain issues which need to be put back to the people it will most affect. In this case the people who pay Bristol Council Tax and Business Rates.
Politics or personal opinions shouldn’t come into it. Making the right decision is paramount.
I make no secret that my preferred location is near Temple Meads railway station but, this aside, it seems to me that Marvin is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
It is such an important decision that I suggested to the Mayor a week or two ago that he hold a postcode referendum. Before people say ‘Oh no not another referendum’ The infrastructure is in place to do this quickly and it would show strong leadership by the Mayor if he were to accept my suggestion.
Leadership in any walk of life is about doing the best for the most amount of people and giving the people who are being asked to pay the bill the loudest voice in any decision. In this instance it seems that anyone living in Bristol, and who pays Council Tax or Business Rates, is one of those ultimate bill payers so asking them where they think their money should go is both democratic and sensible in my opinion.
There is no reason why the postcode referendum couldn’t be held in the Autumn of this year which would set us on a firm course to get underway and building early in 2019 should the Temple Meads option be the winner, but if the people decide Filton is best then at least we can get some momentum behind that decision rather than this no-mans-land we are in at the moment.
Better late than never I reckon!
In my opinion, and it is of course only my opinion, building Bristols new arena at Filton would be a tactical error and rob much of central and South Bristol of inward investment but by letting the people who will be paying the bill decide which location is best would be a strong leadership decision by the Mayor.
The North of the city is well funded and comparatively prosperous already and the shopping draw of Cribbs drags regional shoppers from independent shops closer to the City Centre and Cabot Circus.
Any development at Filton will surely benefit South Glos more than Bristol. People would arrive, primarily in private cars, or on coaches, from distant places, and disappear back to where they came from without even knowing that there is a whole exciting City to see!
Hotels in the centre of the city would lose out on visitors, the City Centre bars and restaurants would lose much needed revenue which would go, mostly anyway, to large national chain operators who can afford the rents.
I worry about South Bristol and it’s lack of connectivity. There are kids living in Hartcliffe who have never seen Harbourside, Clifton Village or the Suspension Bridge, so it is highly unlikely their lives will be improved by a new arena in the North of the city which, to them at least, seems even more remote.
I hope Marvin Rees will accept my suggestion in the manner in which it was made.
If a postcode ballet is held I will support the outcome with enthusiasm and accept the will of the people as we all should.
I will also admire the strength of a politician who showed that thoughtful and strong leadership is what matters when life changing decisions need to be made.
Stephen Fear June 2018