Bristol Beacon cost city council more than all transport schemes combined

‘I don’t think the council has got its priorities right’

The city council spent, and wrote off, more money on the Bristol Beacon revamp than on all its transport schemes combined last year, including flood defences, traffic infrastructure, street lighting, road maintenance, car park buildings and the forthcoming Clean Air Zone.

Its annual accounts show the authority has now written off £69million refurbishing the city centre concert hall, including £30.3million in 2021/22 to add to the previous running total of £39million.

And that figure is expected to soar even further to £93million next year because the financial documents include an unpaid commitment of £23.3million to the main contractors Willmott Dixon.

The amount ploughed into the project dwarfed every other “major area of investment” apart from the council’s own housing stock, according to the accounts, and has led to accusations that the organisation has got its priorities “seriously wrong”.

Bristol City Council has now written off £69m refurbishing the city centre concert hall

In response, Bristol City Council says about £47.4million of the amount being spent on Bristol Beacon has come from grant funding and external donations, including the Government, West of England Combined Authority (Weca), the Arts Council and Heritage Lottery Fund.

It says the “vast majority” of the £2billion in its 10-year capital investment programme is dedicated to housing.

Earlier this summer, external auditors criticised the authority after the building’s renovation costs more than doubled to £107million, which came weeks after it was revealed the venue was valued at zero pounds in the 2020/21 accounts.

The latest year’s draft statement of accounts, which cover transactions from April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, give a list of the biggest areas of spend, with housing topping the list at £39.4million, including £21million building new homes.

A total of £30.3million on Bristol Beacon was second, ahead of £24.9million invested in transport schemes as the third highest.

These included electric charge points, flood defences, car park buildings, CAZ, Bus Deal programme, traffic infrastructure, street lighting, highways maintenance and Streetspace improvements, which are the cycling and walking lanes made permanent after being introduced temporarily during the pandemic to help social distancing.

Answering questions from Conservative Cllr Jonathan Hucker about the issue at a recent meeting of the audit committee, city council finance officers confirmed the £30.3million spent on the music venue in 2021/22 had been written off – “fully impaired” – taking that overall amount now to about £69million.

Speaking after the meeting, Stockwood ward Cllr Hucker said: “The spend of £30.3million on the Bristol Beacon in the year is considerably more than the combined spend on transport schemes including flood defences, traffic infrastructure, street lighting and highways maintenance.

Bristol City Council said grant funding formed large parts of the Bristol Beacon redevelopment

“I don’t think the council has got its priorities right. In fact it has got them seriously wrong.

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “There are significant sums of grant funding that make up our 10-year capital investment programme.

“Grant funding also forms large parts of the Bristol Beacon redevelopment.

“We estimate a total of £47.4million has come from various grant funding sources and donations external to the council.

“These sources include national Government, Weca, Arts Council, Heritage Lottery Fund as well as other trusts and funds too.

“Our capital investment programme commits nearly £2billion of spending over the next decade for the city.

“The vast majority of this money is dedicated to building new council housing, investing in developing new affordable housing schemes and refurbishing our current stock of council housing to improve energy efficiency and safety for almost 33,000 tenants.

“In addition to providing much-needed housing, this capital spending will be invested directly into the fabric of the city as we aim to improve current highways infrastructure and deliver the largest regeneration scheme in the South West at Temple Quarter.

“The net value of the investment in the Temple Quarter regeneration alone will see billions of pounds unlocked for the local economy that includes new jobs and homes.”

In June, auditors Grant Thornton criticised the council for having “underestimated the complexity and difficulty” of the project and that its “failure” to have effective arrangements in place caused the bill to spiral from £52million to £107million.