Bristol City Football Club are to get a new stadium on the city’s greenbelt at Ashton Vale after councillors voted 7-2 in favour of the controversial development last night.
At a very long meeting featuring a very short debate – skillfully dominated and dictated by Labour old-stager John Bees – the lack of experience of some members of the committtee proved to be a predictable problem.
Lib Dem rookies Fi Hance and Simon Rayner, both clearly unhappy with substantial elements of the plans, failed to ever really assert themselves or their views much at all during the debate allowing Bees to seize the meeting by the scruff of the neck and force a result for the football club with the minimum of fuss.
Ultimately, Rayner and Hance failed to convince their own Lib Dem colleagues – let alone the Labour and Tory establishment figures who were always unlikely to turn down the application – of their genuine concerns.
However, the football club didn’t get it all their own way, the councillors followed officer advice and turned down the ‘Southlands’ housing ‘enabling development’ section of the application that might leave the football club with a funding headache.
The meeting also helped draw out a few facts about the considerable levels of public subsidy going in to the project.
After considerable pressure from councillors, planning officer Richard Mathews finally agreed that waiving £7.5m of s. 106 planning gain payments represented “a public subsidy”.
“If you want to call it that,” he insouciantly told the meeting revealing an odd attitude to large sums of public money and very little interest in the importance of properly funded public services.
Well yes actually Richard, we do want to call it that. If developers are not paying for basic public services like transport, education, health, libraries and so on then the public have to. We can’t just go without them. Therefore developers are being subsidised.
It’s not like most of us are on senior planning officer wages so can afford private education for the kids and private healthcare for ourselves and are in a position not have to give a toss. The majority of people need public services to exist and new, large scale housing developments without them represent an expense for us all to cover.
Under further pressure, when he resorted to making little sense, Matthews appeared to admit that the land at the council-owned Alderman Moore’s former allotments, which will be turned into a housing estate called ‘Moorelands’ by the club, is worth at least £5m and he indicated that this land would be given away by the council to the club for nothing.
That’s £12.5m of public subsidy floating around there then.
Meanwhile, it was something of a personal nightmare evening for Matthew Cockburn, the council’s transport development supremo.
Either poorly briefed or with a lot to hide, he apparently had little idea of the cost of anything to do with transport on the development, and stumbled and mumbled hopelessly through his presentation and then questions from councillors.
However he did eventually confirm – when pressured – that a stadium development would add £5m to the cost of the proposed BRT across the stadium site. Although he claimed some of this cost would be offset by land the football club was setting aside for the BRT route. When pushed on what the value of this land might be, he gave no answer beyond saying that avoiding compulsory purchase of the land would save us some money in legal costs.
So what? It doesn’t even cost in the hundreds of thousands let alone millions to pay lawyers to compulsorily purchase land. Compared to the £5m costs involved, we’re getting little in return if we believe – the admittedly unreliable – Cockburn.
He was equally vague about the impact of the club’s totally flawed transport and travel plans too and offered little in the way of enlightenment about what we might be paying for in terms of transport at the site.
Although most of us probably went away from the meeting with some vague impression that the club would be paying something towards something to do with something transporty at the stadium.
On the basis of this woefully inadequate performance on our behalf, perhaps Mr Cockburn should consider taking a job a little more suited to his abilities? Working on the council’s Park ‘n’ Ride hotline maybe? He certainly shouldn’t be planning complex and costly transport solutions for major developments that’s for sure.
I wonder how much Mr Cockburn’s vagueness and waffling is going to cost us? It’s in the millions anyway.