Category Archives: Local council

Secrecy, the Western Harbour, transport, and billions in development

The Local Plan is currently open to the public for consultation:

At the Central Library the previous week, a young man, looking all suited and polished and very approachable, stood in front of a Local Plan display board. I went over to take a look.

I told him I was interested in seeing the part about the Western Harbour, and he opened the plan up to the relevant section, and showed me the relevant page.

“So where will all the high-rise towers be built,” I asked him.

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He assured me there would be no high-rise towers at the Western Harbour, just a reclassification from industrial use to high-density urban. No planning applications exist for high-rise towers. The area had been used for warehouses and industrial purposes, and those were no longer needed so it was time change the usage.

When usage changes from say warehouses/industrial to residential, every few years, people who owned land that couldn’t be developed, suddenly get a windfall as their land multiplies in value.

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75% of the land at the Western Harbour is apparently owned by the council. Who owns the other 25%?

Much of what is happening has been shrouded in secrecy so we don’t know much.

Even the term Western Harbour was announced in secrecy last September when the mayor went on some visits:

The [leaked] brochure the mayor took with him overseas on his tour includes the first mention of the Western Harbour, currently known as Cumberland Basin. Bristol City Council claims [it] “is one of the most desirable development locations in the UK”.

The nice young man at the library told me that it would be too expensive to maintain the road system at the Cumberland Basin so it will be redesigned. He didn’t mention that with it gone, there would be potential for over 1000-3000 homes.

So roads & transport are a priority.

One of the first and perhaps only pieces so far to discuss the future of the Cumberland Basin was the following one on Bristol24/7: The Future of the Cumberland Basin.

“With 75 per cent of the land already owned by the city council, […] The residential elements alone hav[e] a gross development value estimated at more than £1 billion.”

The big issue is roads.

“Unless you solve the traffic issues, you don’t have a project,” said Kevin Slocombe, head of the mayor’s office who has also been working closely on the Western Harbour project. “And you would not develop that site with the existing infrastructure.”

“The transport options have to come first,” Slocombe added. “You cannot even imagine the scale of the development unless you get rid of those roads. That opens up the scale.”

Which may explain why the mayor’s head of office & Colin Molton also sit on the Bristol Transport Board. As covered by Kate Wilson in the Bristol Post:

“The two representatives [the council can nominate] are Colin Molton the interim executive director of growth and regeneration and head of the mayor’s office Kevin Slocombe.

“Mr Slocombe has no transport role as part of his brief but when asked why he was on the board as well as the mayor and what he would bring to the role, he refused to answer saying he didn’t see the “relevance” of the question.”

It seems that billions worth of investment and development rely on how transport and infrastructure is decided in Bristol. Despite the council now establishing its own housing company, the development is possibly geared to being done privately:

But the Western Harbour itself looks likely to be financed privately, with that Argos catalogue of a Bristol Investment Brochure giving investment opportunities that, in Rees’ words, “develop firm and long lasting investment partnerships with you that deliver for the people of Bristol”.

Further information about the progress of work on the Western Harbour has been gathered together at the following website: http://www.bristolnpn.net/current-topics/cumberland-basin-western-harbour/

“The stakeholder group is pressing for early community involvement in this development but so far, only a single meeting with members of the mayor’s office in June 2018 has been held.”

It’s beyond me why there’s so much secrecy. The brochure had to be leaked before the residents of Bristol knew what was for sale, and the councillor of Hotwells & Harbourside has little information.

Mark Wright told the growth and regeneration scrutiny commission:

“Why do we have to keep dragging every bit of information out of the council on this?

“It’s not usually quite so secretive about the reports. People are wondering what was in the brief.

“It wouldn’t normally be the case at the scrutiny committee a year after this started with us asking ‘where’s the brief, why can’t we see the brief?’

“In this case, all we keep hearing is the mayor has an amazing idea and then we have to keep dragging out the information.”

From the minutes:

It was confirmed that there were 10 options being drawn up and all of them would be available for the public to view.

Members asked what types of schemes were being drawn up. They were informed that the company were given a free reign.

A Member commented that they felt it was difficult to access information about this project and that in their opinion officers were being unusually guarded about it. It was agreed that the feasibility project brief would be provided to the Commission Members and would also be up-loaded onto (link: http://Mod.Gov) Mod.Gov for members of the public to see. ACTION: for the Western Harbour project brief to be sent to the Commission Members and uploaded to the meeting webpage.

See the following piece from Local Democracy Reporter Adam Postans about the goings on and complaints at the Growth and Regeneration Scrutiny Committee.

The following document is the project brief to Arup: Project Brief for Cumberland Basin feasibility study.

I have put in a freedom of information request to try to access a copy of the report that has long been promised to scrutiny and councillors but has yet to make an appearance.

The cancelled Bristol arena is costing the city £12m

The cancelled Bristol arena that is not being built is costing the city £12m.

The 2019/20 Budget shows that money has been found from reserves to cover the costs. Ordinarily, the costs would have been funded from the capital stream of the budget; the part that deals with capital costs for things such as buildings and investments. The revenue stream deals with costs like libraries, and cuts, like those to libraries.

In the Resources Scrutiny Commission report we have the following comments. There is no mention of costs incurred due to the arena in this year’s budget:
8. Arena Funding

Members wanted to understand what the revenue impact of not going ahead with the arena at Arena Island was and to know what the interest savings were. Officers confirmed that £2.5
million per year is being saved.

 Members were keen to understand more about the differing land values for the site
depending on the eventual use but were told it would be valued at the time depending on
the scheme. Members were surprised that such calculations had not already been carried
out by officers utilising the various different possibilities for the land use.

 Members requested to receive further information in due course about the alternative
business cases that will be submitted to the LEP Board for the now unused £53 million.

In the Resources Scrutiny Committee Report, (p.14) however, there is the following chart that shows £12m of arena costs have reverted to the Revenue budget because they can no longer be treated as capital.

The Revenue budget is explained by the council as follows: ”

Before the start of each financial year, we need to set a budget for our day-to-day expenditure. This is called the Revenue Budget and is the amount of money we’ll need to provide our services during the year, taking into account grants we receive from the Government. Examples include staff salaries, building maintenance and the costs of running council vehicles.”

It is from this budget that the £12m was paid, the one that impacts staff salaries. The council drew money from reserves to meet this cost.

We know that from 2020 onwards, we are on our own and almost all our funding from central government will have gone – meaning the city’s services will be almost entirely dependent on council tax, business rates and income we can raise from other sources. By this time, responsibility for funding key services will have effectively shifted from central government to local tax payers.

We know, as the budget tells us, that by next year, there will be no central grant left and it will be local tax payers who will be funding key services. This is no time for spending Bristol’s money on projects that are not being built. It is also not the time to be losing £53m of funding that would have gone into the arena from the LEP.

All Budget reports can be found at the following page with all the reports and appendices.