My apathy about the Bristol Arena was plainly completely out of step with the general view of Bristolians. “Oh well,” I concluded, once it became obvious the whole thing would probably collapse. “None of the artists I like would ever play an arena. I couldn’t care less.” In effect, “Sod everyone else in Bristol, including some of my family and friends.” Not for the first time, I missed the point, acted like a prick and wrote bollocks. Those three magic words: I was wrong.
Mayor Marvin Rees isn’t exactly playing a blinder, is he? Arena island sits, ready and willing, to host the new 12,000 arena and plans have been revealed that instead of an arena sitting pretty on Arena island, the likelihood is that it will host yet more dreary office space, a conference centre, a hotel and, to placate the lumpen proletariat, a few ‘affordable homes’. Just what Bristol needs, then. Well, not Bristolians, but the corporations who can do what they really want and make more money.
I have done a 180 on this one. For a long time, I have been bemoaning the sheer cost of such an arena, at a time when the government has imposed on Bristol eye-watering cuts to their funding. Most things for which the council are responsible are either in crisis, or near it. However, this is not just about the provision of services. This is about the council starting to bring the city into the new century, albeit 18 years late.
I am among the first to express my pride for this great city and its warm, deep and diverse mix of cultures, its proud history and its dynamic present and future. People love to live here but when it comes to the things that are not up to scratch, Bristol tinkers at the edges.
We all know that getting around the city is a nightmare. We have a monopoly bus service which can do pretty well what it likes and charge as much as it can get away with, the railways only serve very small parts of Bristol and the solution the council comes out with is the bloody Metrobus, which is basically a bus in a bus lane. What we need, obviously, is a light transit system – trams, to you and I – but we do it on the cheap instead. Now, every other big city, and not a few small cities and towns, have their arenas and whilst the Colston Hall is being redeveloped, no venue that can hold over 2000 people.
In changing my mind, I have realised the bleeding obvious; that an arena will bring jobs and money to our city. People who know about these things say that if an arena is run properly, it will easily pay for itself, in which case the council should give the go ahead straight away and hand it over to someone who knows what (s)he is doing. So, not Marvin Rees or his wretched council.
I liked it – loved it – when Bristol elected Marvin. He looked and sounded the part and, given our grim history of slavery, he is black. I have given him the benefit of a lot of doubt since his election but now I am in no doubt: he is out of his depth. To build an arena, you need to have ambition, drive, vision, constituency, strength. Marvin doesn’t seem to have any of these. I would say that if Marvin Rees pulls the plug on the arena at Arena island, it would be a resignation issue. The vast majority of people want – demand – an arena and by hook or by crook work should now start.
No, I am not interested in the overwhelming number of shows or gigs that end up in arenas. The X Factor live, Muse, Strictly Live, Liam Gallagher and so on do not appeal to me, but they do appeal to hundreds of thousands of Bristolians.
Much as building the arena half an hour’s walk from my house at the old Brabazon hangar appeals in terms of geography, Bristol has a ready made place in the here and now.
No more bullshit and evasion, Marvin, and no more excuses. Build the arena or step aside for someone who can.