Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Arena - Disconnected Thinking?

It seems that there is now a serious push on to site an Arena (circle below) at Ashton Vale near the site now allocated for a new football stadium (rectangle below), with the Bristol Evening Post once again acting as cheerleader. Bristol's current political leaders all seem to be in favour of an Ashton Vale Arena, partly on the grounds that there is a 'synergy' between the Football Stadium and an Arena in terms of their transport infrastructure requirements, which is true up to a point.

View Arenas and Stadiums in a larger map

But an Arena isn't quite the same as a football stadium, mainly because it is likely to be staging events far more frequently and so having a much more significant impact in transport terms. The inescapable reality is that an Ashton Vale Arena will be accessed overwhelmingly by car even if the Ashton Vale BRT is developed, whereas the site previously envisaged for an Arena near Temple Meads could really make good use of our rail infrastructure and would be much more accessible by walking, cycling and bus due to its central location.

Land at Ashton Vale as it is now, following wanton destruction of trees earlier this year.

George Ferguson has been quick to speak out against the Ashton Vale proposal for this reason. This blog has had its differences with George in the past but once again he is saying clearly and loudly what desperately needs to be said. If we are even half serious about becoming a Green Capital or even just a Sustainable City then we need to think seriously about the transport implications of such iconic new developments as the Arena. Quite apart from the number of trips generated the character of the accessibiltiy of the Arena will send out signals about the future character of Bristol as a whole.

One only has to visit Cardiff Millenium Stadium to see the extent to which its proximity to Cardiff Central Station and its generally central location in the city is the key to its accessibility. Think of the 'synergy' between an Arena at Temple Meads and our rail services, which would receive a big boost during otherwise off-peak periods. The infrastructure and the capacity is there already and has the potential to be increased. Admittedly there is the posibility of some limited rail access being developed near Ashton Vale but this would be out on a limb rather than at the heart of the region's rail network and simply wouldn't have the capacity to replace more than a token amount of car journeys.

So once again those of us who care about the future direction must add our voices to that of George Ferguson and try to point out the contradictions between an Arena at Ashton Vale and a sustainable future for Bristol. Having the Football Stadium at Ashton Vale, just 750 metres further out than the existing football stadium, is one thing but an Arena that will draw crowds from the whole of Greater Bristol and well beyond is something else.


Anonymous said...

I've never agreed with one of your posts... until now! What a ludicrous location! However you fail to point out that this daft enterprise is being championed by your beloved Lib Dems if Cllr Simon Cook's comments on the news the other night are anything to go by. I wonder what your buddy Jon Rogers will have to say about this unsustainable venture?

Paul said...

Hi Chris,

First off. I 100% agree with you the arena should be built at TM rather than AV. No question about that. Central location compared to out in Ashton Vale any day.

But... (There's always a but isn't there?)

You touting the rail connections as one of the main reasons simply don’t add up.

The reason for the rail connections being given as a major positive is that Bristol would hope to draw people in from the town/cities around that don’t have an arena. I’m thinking places like, Gloucester, Cheltenham, WSM etc... If you go further afield to places such as Cardiff/Birmingham they already have their own arenas so chances are the events visiting Bristol will also be held there, so no need for people to travel.

Say there is an event on 8th December 2009 and I live in Gloucester. I could catch the train to Bristol no problem, there are lots late afternoon and early evening.

Return journey not so...

One train leaves Bristol at 22:54 and gets into Gloucester at (get ready for this) 02:05 the next day. Plus also 22:54 is too early to leave.

Okay so I’ll just catch the next one...

06:15 leaving Bristol on 9th!
I’m sure Temple Meads has comfy benches to sleep on.

You may say that FGW will put on extra trains to all the surrounding areas when the arena is in use, but for a company that can’t even run a reliable service day-to-day I find this hard to believe. I have experienced this first hand.

Still as I said, given a choice between the two sites, TM wins hands down purely for its central location.

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, I've no particular fondness for the Lib Dems in general, just the lesser of three evils as far as I'm concerned.

However Jon Rogers for one has shown a willingness to push at the limits in favour of sustainable options which I think deserves recognition.

Paul, surely if an Arena were developed at Temple Meads it would generate the demand for late night rail services which any train operator would strive to supply. The are after all in it to make money and what better way of making money than running train services that people actually want to use.

Over 3 hours for Bristol to Gloucester sounds like an extremely atypical example. Normal direct jouney times are under an hour so pretty good.

If we really want to make the most of the potential of rail then we need to plan developments that have good 'synergy' with rail around rail hubs, not stuck out on a limb like Ashton Vale.

Tim said...

How come all that arena talk is surfacing again right now? Is there a connection with the rejected Southlands development?

I also think Ashton Vale is a horrible location for such an event venue. Temple Meads is more suitable not only because of the rail links, but also because of the still planned(?) transport hub there. Not to mention that it would tie in very nicely with the redevelopment of the entire area: it would provide 'activity' and people to an otherwise pretty much dead area, which makes for a much more viable 'mixed use' environment. And in general improve transport links to the station.

The BRT link to Ashton Vale just doesn't have the capacity for this kind of thing. Even for the football stadium it was only an 'added bonus', but in no way decisive[*]. If memory serves correctly, the capacity of the BRT is something around 1500 people per hour give or take. Even if you double or triple that it's not really enough for an arena.

A new rail station there with enough suitable services is pure fiction and unlikely to happen even in the medium term (ie. in time for any arena).

[*] I was surprised to see just how many BCFC fans travel to games by car, I believe it was around 84%, a bit more if you include drop-offs.

Anonymous said...

I remember someone suggesting that the current big schemes that rely on car transport will soon be seen as dinosaurs, if they ever get built. There's very little environmental or even economic sense in them, but the momentum of the roadbuilding/big project mindset of governments has yet to run out so there will be a few built before it all finally grinds to a halt. Here's hoping it happens soon.

Andy in Germany (Blogger won't let my use a URL or open ID)

MJ Ray said...

Chris wrote: "surely if an Arena were developed at Temple Meads it would generate the demand for late night rail services which any train operator would strive to supply".

Hahahahah pull the other one it's got bells on it.

Let me take you back to WsM 2009, T4 on the Beach, an event aimed at teenagers, most of whom are too young to drive. Perfect target market for First's train and longer-distance bus monopoly in WsM. What do they do? Run an ordinary Sunday service, which is mainly a 2-car slow shuttle to Bristol. Sardines!

Conclusion: our train systems is incapable (but surely a Sunday can't be due to limited rolling stock?) or unwilling to react to demand.

Chris Hutt said...

MJ, it's relatively difficult for train operators to provide extra services for a one-off event like that in Weston. The logistics will be complicated and possible not worth the trouble for a one-off.

But we're talking here about regular events, at least every weekend presumably, so making regular changes to Friday and Saturday night train services would be much more worthwhile.

Paul said...

You seem to have a lot more faith in First Great Western than the majority of Bristol Chris.

If you have a look at CIAs website you will see the events are anything but regular. Some weeks there are events 7 days a week, then nothing for 5 days, then a single days events followed by 3 days off.

Chris Hutt said...

The point aboput train operators is that they want to make a profit and will therefore chase the customer. If customers want to travel late at night they will provide the services, providing it's profitable.

Paul said...

What's the point in putting on extra trains when you can just sit back and get tax payers money for nothing?

Chris Hutt said...

None at all in that case, but that's why I consistently argue against subsidy. Let them work for their profit, and if they sometimes make a loss, tough shit. The justification for profit is that the entrepreneur takes a risk, but these guys know that government doesn't understand markets so they milk them for all they're worth.

Anonymous said...

They don't put on extra trains for the Millenium stadium in Cardiff (Bristol ones anyway, there might have been extra local trains).

Went to see U2 there in August - since the Millenium Stadium is right by the station we'd always planned to get the train there and back. City centre stadium, right next to a major railway station - there will be trains to the neighbouring cities, right? Nope. When I went to look up train times the day before the concert, the last train across the Severn (ie to either BTM or Parkway) was either 10:00pm or 10:30pm (can't actually remember which) for a concert that finished at 11:00pm. So I drove 100 miles round trip when I'd rather have left the car at home.