Temple Quarter: A chance to secure Bristol’s international future

There has been lots of comment, both in favour and against, the decision taken by Bristol’s Mayor Marvin Rees to explore plans for a mixed development on Temple Island and to consider developing the new arena at Filton.

As a relative newcomer to Bristol, I know that the issue of an arena for our wonderful city has been talked about for many years before my arrival with passionate and informed voices on both sides of the argument.

As the options became clear the University of Bristol’s response to the Mayor included three central messages:

  • the new University campus can work with either option for Temple Island – the arena option or the mixed-use option incorporating a conference facility;
  • the decision must be firmly based on evidence rather than opinion or politics given the amount of taxpayers’ money involved;
  • the worst outcome for the University would be inaction when it comes to developing Temple Island and the wider Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone.

Now that a decision has been made I support the Mayor’s call to look forward and to work together to ensure Bristol is a thriving, well-connected city.

The challenge for Bristol now is to put aside differences, respect the Mayor’s decision and work together to ensure that both the Temple Island development and a possible arena at Filton are delivered as soon as possible.

Artists’ impression of the Cattle Market Road site, looking towards Bristol Temple Meads

When I arrived in the city I was honoured to take over the leadership of one of Europe’s great civic universities based in one of the UK’s most attractive and liveable cities. I was somewhat surprised, however, to learn how the city had struggled for years to deliver key infrastructure in areas such as transport, housing and education by comparison with UK and international competitors.

The consistent message I heard from frustrated Bristolians was that the city had an unfortunate track record of arguing itself into inertia when it came to major infrastructure decisions. If this is indeed fair criticism – I do not have the experience in the city to make this judgement – then perhaps now is the time to change this dynamic, to live respectfully with differences of opinion, and to work together to secure the key infrastructure and investments that will underpin the employment, prosperity and quality of life for future generations.

And perhaps never has there been more need for collective ambition and resolve than at this particular time for our city. Regardless of political views, most agree that Brexit – no matter what the final deal or outcome – will pose significant challenges for the economy of our region in the short-medium term.

Prior to coming to Bristol, I lived most my professional life in three highly competitive and successful cities – Dublin, Boston and Toronto. Each has undergone impressive growth over the past decades and weathered major economic downturns through their ability to mobilise their collective public and private resources and present a compelling investment proposition on the world stage.

Many European cities are actively courting some of our region’s most successful industries. Even within the UK, the Northern Powerhouse, the Midlands Engine and other regions are managing to put aside local differences to present ambitious, compelling and joined-up cases for investment to central government and multinational industry. Bristol simply cannot afford to spurn the opportunity for investment and development in the context of this ever more intensive competition.

As a university we are committed to delivering our new Enterprise Campus adjacent to Temple Meads station that will be a world-class centre for education, research, partnership and innovation and a success story for our city, its businesses and communities.

We have secured the necessary funding and outline planning permission and we are now in detailed planning with a target of 2021/22. The jobs and expenditure associated with our new campus are estimated to generate at least £400m for the West of England economy over 25 years, over and above the substantial economic contribution the University already makes each year.

The new campus should play a major role in securing the talent pipeline, ideas and technologies to fuel Bristol’s future economy as well as serving as an important asset for the local community and a catalyst for the holistic development of the wider enterprise zone.

Success in a decade would see a vibrant new area in the environs of Brunel’s iconic Temple Meads Station that includes our new University campus, a new conference centre, much needed new housing, retail and commercial facilities – all sitting amid a unique network of picturesque waterways and an engaging and inspiring public realm. Alongside this could sit a new world-class arena in the re-invigorated Brabazon Hangars – the centrepiece of a bustling new quarter at Filton.

Brunel and Brabazon were, in many ways, emblematic of Bristol’s ambition and achievements on the world-stage in decades past. How fitting it would be if, together, they now become synonymous with Bristol’s contemporary ambition to develop the state-of-the-art infrastructure that secures Bristol’s future international reputation and competitiveness over the decades to come.

The ball is in our court. I suggest that history will not look back on us kindly if we fail to deliver.

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor & President