Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Should the Council swap Hengrove Park for Ashton Gate?

The story so far…..

Bristol City FC would like a new stadium and would like to build it at Ashton Vale. The City Council, by and large, would like them to have that new stadium, especially as this may offer the opportunity for Bristol to be a host city for the World Cup if England is selected as the host for the 2018 tournament (which, we are told, will bring untold wealth to the city). However, Bristol City FC have said that the only way that they can fund their new stadium is by selling their existing stadium at Ashton Gate for somewhere in the region of £20m.

In the current economic climate it appears that the only way to raise £20m for Ashton Gate is by getting planning permission for a new supermarket on the site. Therein lies the rub, because existing planning policy and independent surveys all point to there being no need for a new supermarket in South West Bristol or even any major expansion of existing convenience retail in that part of the city.

A previous proposal for a Tesco at Ashton Gate was withdrawn when it became clear that planners were going to recommend refusal – hence the new plan to relocate Sainsburys. However any relocation involving a significantly expanded store would come up against similar planning objections as the previous application, whilst a store of the same size could potentially fail the sequential test (because its existing site already meets the need) and would not appear to make commercial good sense for Sainsburys (why spend £20m on a site plus another £20m building a new store just to end up with what you’ve already had before?)

The Core Strategy of the Bristol Development Framework published last week, does however highlight a potential need for additional retail in South Central/ South East Bristol. A site for a new centre, to be underpinned by retail, has been vaguely identified for somewhere near the focus of South Bristol’s regeneration at Hengrove Park.

Policy BCS1 of the Core Strategy includes; “…A new centre, either on a new site or at an enhanced existing centre, may be appropriate in South Bristol, acting as a new focus for the area and helping to improve provision of shops, services, employment and community facilities”.

The exact details and location for this new centre will be guided by the results of a South Bristol Retail and Centres Study which is in the process of being completed. However, the second worst kept secret in South Bristol is that Computershare will not be moving from their Bedminster Down offices to a new 19,000m2 office and warehouse development at Hengrove Park. This, perhaps, opens up an opportunity for a new centre on the site at Hengrove Park intended for Computershare – a new centre which could include some form of convenience retail as part of a more sustainable retail-led development incorporating District Heat and Power and linked to the other public buildings proposed for the area (the community hospital, the Healthplex, and the Skillscentre).

With Morrisons at Hartcliffe, Asda in Whitchurch, and Tesco at Brislington and Imperial Park, this leaves Sainsbury’s as the only one of the Big Four retailers unrepresented in the eastern half of South Bristol and thus they could well be interested in an opportunity to move into the area. However the land involved is owned by Bristol City Council not Bristol City FC, and Sainsburys are in discussions about new retail opportunities with Bristol City FC not Bristol City Council.

Let’s revisit the original problem.

Bristol City FC own land at Ashton Gate which they want to sell to a retailer to build a supermarket, but Ashton Gate is located where a supermarket is not needed. Bristol City Council doesn’t want retail at Ashton Gate but do want retail (which will almost certainly include a supermarket) at Hengrove Park. They also want Bristol City FC to have their stadium because they feel it will benefit the city as a whole. But for Bristol City FC to get their stadium they need to sell land to a retailer and the only land they have is at Ashton Gate and we are back where we started.

I have already mentioned the second worst kept secret in South Bristol, now it is time to introduce the first. Bristol City FC and their development partners are (allegedly) in negotiations with the South West Regional Development Agency to swap the piece of land at Ashton Vale now known as “Southlands” for land owned by the SWRDA, almost certainly on the site originally identified for an Arena near Temple Meads. If the “land swap” is successful the SWRDA will seek to build an Arena at “Southlands”, whilst BCFC and their partners will be able to acquire residential planning permission for their newly acquired land at Temple Meads and sell it on to a developer to raise funds towards the new stadium (replacing the funds that they had originally anticipated coming from housing permission for “Southlands”).

What I am suggesting is that Bristol City Council and Bristol City FC pick up the phone and discuss whether a similar land swap involving potential retail land at Hengrove Park being exchanged for potential residential land at Ashton Gate is viable and offers the best consideration for Bristol City Council taxpayers and a better solution for Bristol City Football Club then squaring the circle of building a superstore where it isn't needed.

There may well be perfectly obvious showstopping reasons why my suggestion is completely absurd, but if there is even a chance that it could form a basis for a solution to the problem…….

Just one phone call…….is it too much to ask?


  1. I tend to agree with George Ferguson's view that the best place to put an arena is next to Temple Meads rather than on the outskirts of the city at Ashton Vale.

    It makes sense for people visiting an arena at TM for transport links, food and bars and hotels all near by. An arena at Ashton Vale would just create more transport problems.

  2. An Arena at Temple Meads would certainly require more people to travel to it by modes other than private car - and reducing private car usage is an overarching ambition of the council. Whereas an Arena at Ashton Vale just looks like an opportunist grasp at building on green field land(and thus no contamination problems that stymied the last Arena proposal) without worrying too much about the travel implications for the existing transport infrastructure.

    One of the less publicised concerns that the planners highlighted when recommending refusing the application for housing at "Southlands" was regarding access which, for motor vehicles was restricted to a 400m causeway. It is difficult to see how those concerns will be alleviated by replacing what was effectively a cul-de-sac of private housing with a 10,000 seat Arena without a major upgrade to the road system?

    The proposed South Bristol Link (SBL) road would, of course, provide an opportunity for providing alternative access to the site - some of that may be by BRT but the majority would almost certainly be by car. You might say that the Arena and the SBL proposals were mutually supportive.

  3. Tony: nice, this idea actually makes sense, unlike the Temple Meads site swap (I still don't quite see why all of a sudden financing for an arena next to the stadium in Ashton could be found, but not for an arena next to TM - and IIRC that was what killed the project, wasn't it? Besides, if residential development at Ashton Gate doesn't bring in enough money at this point in the economic cycle, which was the argument for a supermarket at Ashton Gate if I recall, then why would a residential development in the city centre suddenly bring in enough cash?)

  4. So the land at Ashton Vale would be swapped for the Arena site at Temple Meads and the arena built at Ashton Vale.This means, in theory, the arena at Ashton Vale could fall foul of the planning ctte. (green belt, etc.) and we, the taxpayer, end up with a site only fit for the wildlife that at present lives there having given away land that cost us £10 million to prepare for development. Thanks, but no thanks. It's a secret I hope, and no more!

  5. Paul,

    Except of course, that in the haste to get a World Cup capable football stadium built on Green Belt land the council (or, rather, its "quasi-judicial" planning authority) are in the middle of setting a precedent that if a development can be shown to bring benefits to the city as a whole, and these benefits are considered by planning officers (and their argument accepted by a majority of DC committee members)to outweigh the disbenefits of building on the Green Belt, then the Green Belt should be sacrificed....a policy that appears to have the support of all three main parties in Bristol.

  6. TonyD, The football club were able to argue successfully that there were no other sites suitable for their new stadium. Could the same be said for the Arena when you have just swapped a perfectly good site? Also at the stadium planning, two of the councillors who voted in favour said with reluctance. With less pressure for an arena the outcome may be different! You are right to highlight the support from all three main parties which has it's own irony. The very same made a big issue of how the Core Strategy would protect the Bristol Green Belt for the next twenty years. Infact, within hours of voting for the Core Strategy, the Deputy Leader of The Council was on TV advocating building an Arena at Ashton Vale on the Green Belt. I sometimes wonder if it's me who is going mad!