Charity in charge of the Bristol Beacon to hand back £8million

The Beacon opens this monthThe Beacon opens this month
The Beacon opens this month | Google
Details of a new 30-year deal between the local authority and Bristol Music Trust have emerged

The charity in charge of the Bristol Beacon will have to hand back £8million of profits to the city council to help recover some of the vast sum of taxpayers’ cash sunk into the refurbishment.

Details of a new 30-year deal between the local authority, which owns the concert hall, and Bristol Music Trust (BMT), which runs it, have emerged ahead of the venue reopening after a revamp that ended up costing £132million – almost three times the original £48million price tag.

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The biggest chunk of that – £84million – came from Bristol City Council, which had expected to invest only £10million when the project was approved back in 2018.

That £84million bill will actually cost the organisation much more because the money has come from a loan that requires estimated annual repayments of £2.3million for the next five decades.

During a recent grilling by councillors, City Hall chiefs defended three crucial decisions by Marvin Rees’s Labour cabinet over the last few years to plough on with the redevelopment despite spiralling costs.

Overview & scrutiny management board members were told the new agreement with BMT would mean the charity handing over £8million to the local authority over 30 years but only during those when it made a profit and had sufficient reserves.

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There would be a two-year grace period before the first instalment was expected, and if repayments were not possible then it might be necessary to change how the venue was run, but ticket sales had already topped £2million, councillors heard.

Opposition Cllr Martin Fodor (Green, Redland) told the meeting on Thursday, November 2, that he welcomed the forthcoming reopening on November 30 but that it came with implications for the rest of Bristol’s cultural sector.

“The council has now sunk a phenomenal amount of money into this facility but it will be paying for this loan so it won’t now have money for all of the things elsewhere that need capital investment,” he said.

“I was assured at the time that the success of this project would fund culture around the city.

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“If it is instead paying the loan, it is not helping to fund smaller venues who have not had their new roof or their new auditorium or all the other things.

“We need to nurture talent in neighbourhoods and not just in the Bristol Beacon.”

Council chief executive Stephen Peacock said: “The cost to the council of not progressing in 2020 would have been more expensive, a building wrapped in plastic and a hole at the heart of our city.

“We would have spent more money to achieve that.

“So the only decision that was really possible once this building had revealed itself to us was to carry on – we were left with only worse choices throughout.

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“What we found as the layers were peeled back was the extreme end of a builder’s worst nightmare.”

He said BMT was regarded nationally as “an exemplar in creating social value through arts and music”.

“That work would have been severely if not terminally impacted if we had just come to a full stop with the Bristol Beacon, so let’s not forget everything BMT is doing in the city around social value.”

Executive director for growth & regeneration John Smith said the revamped Bristol Beacon would be worth between £325million and £412million to the local economy over 20 years.

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He said that if the trust had a bumper year then it would share the extra profits with the council.

Mr Smith said: “We have had various reviews which suggest there is no huge scope for additional earnings to be made.

“So we are not expecting BMT to make massive profits, so we have to be cautious about it, but they’re clear they’re going to work very hard to deliver a return to the city.

“If it looks like there isn’t going to be a significant return then we have agreed that we will sit down and look at a different operating model.”

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Councillors heard works outside the building, including drainage and landscaping, would continue until August 2024 but that these would not affect the venue’s operations.

BMT chief executive Louise Mitchell told the meeting:“We’ve got over £2million in the bank in ticket sales so it’s looking really promising and we look forward to delivering a great return to the city.

“The building looks absolutely amazing.

“I don’t think anybody will go in there and say, ‘Well, where’s the money gone?’.

“It functions really well, we are very proud of it and we are looking forward to putting on events for the city.

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“We take our civic responsibility very seriously, we are there for all kinds of people and all kinds of music.

“There is a huge sense of excitement in the city for some of the events coming up.

“We have got everything from the London Symphony Orchestra to Adam Ant.

“We are very open about the way we conduct our affairs.

“Our job is to spread unity and joy through live music and we want to do that to the best of our ability.”

The deal requires the trust to update the council annually on its business performance.

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