Arena infrastructure costs spiral

A multi-million pound package of transport links to the Bristol Arena has hit a stumbling block after costs spiralled.

Just three months ago, the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) committee, comprising metro mayor Dan Norris and the leaders of Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset councils, awarded £6.6million for new infrastructure around the site of the major new concert venue, including walking and cycling routes and upgraded traffic lights and junctions.

But in the short time since, the bill has rocketed by half to more than £10million as a result of soaring inflation and prices in construction and utilities, according to a report to the latest committee on January 27.

While the 19,000-seat arena itself is not at risk of being cancelled, the taxpayer-funded sustainable transport project around the former Brabazon Hangars in Filton is now under review before a decision will
be made.

Mr Norris said he wanted to establish exactly why it would now cost so much more and whether the figures to the October meeting, which he said were provided by Conservative-run South Gloucestershire Council, were “wildly optimistic” or if something unforeseen had happened since then.

The council’s leader, Cllr Toby Savage, hit back, saying it is “disappointing but not at all surprising” the Labour metro mayor has again singled out the local authority for undue criticism and that the report to Weca committee was clear that inflation and higher prices for utilities were to blame.

The arena infrastructure package includes four routes
for walking and cycling, including segregated cycle lanes, wider pavements and better pedestrian crossings, along with new traffic signals and junctions near the arena and the relocation of bus stops.

Developers YTL are providing a further £60million, secured through the planning process, on a range of other measures, such as road improvements, a new footbridge across the railway, a bus gate, park and ride, and shuttle buses.

The report to committee said: “Since the approval of the outline business case, the costs of the scheme have increased owing to inflation levels above those previously allowed for, a significant increase in the cost for utilities and other increases in construction and project management costs.

“The current forecast is £10.08million, an increase of £3.44million above the allocation agreed at the committee meeting in October 2022.”

Members agreed that the full business case and additional money would not be signed off until the programme review board had examined the cost rises in detail.

After the meeting, Mr
Norris said: “I was surprised that the estimates for the Bristol Arena infrastructure costs have significantly increased since the figures provided by South Gloucestershire Council in October.

“I want to get to the bottom of whether this is about inflation or something else and if the South Glos figures presented in October were wildly over optimistic or if something has happened in the last three months.

“That is why it has been referred to the programme review board to ensure value for taxpayers’ money.”

Cllr Toby Savage said: “It’s disappointing, but not at all surprising, to see the Weca mayor again single out South Gloucestershire in this way. In a report discussed and agreed last week by members of the Weca committee, which included the Weca mayor, the reasons for the cost increase were noted as being primarily due to inflation and a rise in utility prices. Given the global financial context, this is not surprising.

“The outline business case for the project, which was based on prices in late 2021 and early 2022, identified costs from the initial designs. Since then, more detailed design work has been carried out and, due to factors beyond our control over the past year, costs have inevitably increased. I’m pleased that
South Gloucestershire Council is one of a number of organisations across the region working to deliver this project, which will bring considerable benefits to the West of England.”

At Weca committee in September, Cllr Savage said delays to the scheme would be “calamitous” and “heap utter chaos and misery” on residents, as gig-goers would struggle to get to and from the arena If the works were not done by the time it opened, now set to be the end of 2025 or early 2026.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter