Mayor defends £132m Bristol Beacon refurbishment as reopening plaque unveiled

The refurbishment cost of the former Colston Hall has nearly tripled its original expected budget

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A plaque has been unveiled to mark the reopening of Bristol Beacon, where the city’s mayor defended the refurbishment costing nearly triple its original expected budget.        

Marvin Rees and deputy mayors Craig Cheney and Asher Craig joined Bristol Beacon chief executive Louise Mitchell to unveil the plaque at the building formerly known as the Colston Hall.    

The building, which closed for refurbishment in 2018 and in that time has undergone a £132m transformation, is due to open on November 30 with a concert. 

Speaking to BristolWorld at the unveiling, the mayor defended the cost of the major renovation.     

The revamp of the historic building has run over budget with the original estimate standing at £48m.  

“It’s a complex building, and if you look at the complexity then the question of overspend becomes one of playing with definitions,” Mayor Rees told BristolWorld. 

“When a complex project reveals itself to you - it always has been a £132m development - we just didn’t know that because we didn’t have access to the fullness of the building.” 

He says features discovered during renovation, such as the Elizabethan fireplaces, hollow pillars holding up the roof and “bodged” work done after the building was burnt down during the war, have made costs soar.  

He added: “These additional costs are only visible to you once you’ve taken the next step towards them, which itself costs money so it’s a project that’s revealed itself over time.    

Willmott Dixon, the developers, said this is five times as complex as other projects they’ve been in, just in terms of the heritage and the physicality as well."

Amid rising costs, Bristol City Council decided earlier in the year to finish the revamp, with another option being an immediate stop to work.      

Mayor Rees added: “The decision is not simply about whether you renovate the building or don’t do it, not doing it is not a neutral act.  

“If we did not say yes we, would have a building in the middle of the city that was surrounded by hoarding, wrapped in cellophane and just slowly deteriorating: a negative asset in the middle of the city dragging the city down.  

“So you’re not just getting an asset, you’re avoiding the liability.”     

Louise Mitchell, Bristol Beacon chief executive, added: “I’m tremendously excited to be able to offer this space to the people of Bristol and to all musicians to come and make music in it.  

“We’re opening properly next week on the 30th and from then on all day everyday, which is great. After being quiet for five years, it’s now time for music to burst out of this space, which is fantastic.   

“It’s going to be comfortable, warm enough, have a fabulous acoustic, high standards of customer service but also a lovely place for musicians to come and make music, that’s really what it’s all about - to spread joy through live music and to have the best possible conditions to do that."  

On the refurbishment overspend, she added: “I think the legacy of it will show that it has been worth it. Of course nobody wanted that to happen, and it’s a set of unfortunate circumstances, but here we are with a triumphant building.  

“We've built everything that we ever dreamed of doing and I think that will show in the longer term.”      

Following an opening night concert on November 30 by the Bristol-based Paraorchestra, a free party will take place during the venue's opening weekend on December 2. 

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