Meeting of The West of England Initiative Ashton Gate Stadium – 17th September 2015
Sporting themes prove just the ticket for September Initiative gathering
It’s been 35 years of hurt since Bristol had a top-flight football club, but members of The West of England Initiative got a taste of what it might feel like to see those glory days return at the September gathering. They also took a ride with the head of First Bus, who told of how Bristol has learned to love the bus.
Bristol City vs Arsenal followed by Bristol playing Saracens: two tasty fixtures coming up in the next two weeks… fact or fantasy?
A convincing Sky Sports broadcast welcoming members to this quarter’s gathering showed Bristol City and Bristol Rugby Cub both playing in the higher echelons of the two Premierships.
And while some might dismiss that as wishful thinking, failing to achieve a double promotion in the next couple of years won’t be down to a lack of ambition. Bristol Sport is confidently creating a state of the art 27,000-seater stadium in preparation for top flight sport, and the backing of one of the UK’s most successful businessmen is proving pivotal in giving the city hope that it can soon resume its place at the top sporting tables.
The venue was the Lansdown Club, part of the spectacular new redevelopment of Ashton Gate – still a year away from completion, but already light years from where the stadium was when work began. As Vice-President of Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative Jaya Chakrabarti MBE pointed out in her introduction to the evening’s meeting, Bristol Sport has already been a major investor in the city – notably South Bristol.
The 450-capacity Lansdown Club is an exclusive business membership club which aims to inspire business growth through the power of sport, and forms one part of Ashton Gate’s new “business offering” to the city.
That offer, when the redevelopment is complete next year, will also include major new exhibition and conference facilities, making full use of the stadium for the 300 days a year when it won’t be occupied by sport or major events.
Initiative on tour…
Members were also treated to a tour of the stadium and an insight into Bristol Sport’s ambition by CEO Andrew Billingham before moving onto the main business of the evening, which included a presentation by James Durie on recent progress by the Initiative as well as new and upcoming developments impacting on the city.
There is plenty to be optimistic about, he said, but there are challenges too – not least for smaller businesses and exporters.
Politically, we have Bath weighing up the possibility of holding a mayoral referendum while Bristol now has nominations in for next year’s elections from the main parties, as well as from the incumbent Mayor George Ferguson.
Regional devolution is being pushed hard by Government – giving the region an opportunity to take more control of its finances and destiny – while an EU referendum is possible some time next year. How can we as an organisation, James asked, take on board members’ views and interests and represent them?
Building a bigger, better Bristol
The most visible sign of development – cranes – are all around us at present …at the airport, around J21 at Weston-super-Mare, the Bristol Arena, speculative office building and housing in the city, refurbishment of Clevedon’s Marine Lake, a new 5-star hotel in Bath, more hotels in prospect for Bristol and the South Bristol Link taking shape, as well as new schools and hospitals underway.
“We are most definitely in a up phase at the moment,” he said.
Critically, transport and infrastructure investment make up a large part of this burst of growth, with new schemes such as the Portishead rail link reopening moving forwards. A team from the Initiative has just been in London making its case for a new M4 motorway Junction close to the Science Park, Junction 18A – with the Transport Minister responding positively.
Work was progressing on all front for a new transport plan for the sub region, and
LEPs representatives were in discussions with the four Local Authority transport chiefs to help shape this.
Plans were also proceeding for a new joint spatial plan – looking at growth plans for the sub-region, and how to accommodate an additional 88,000 jobs, the housing to go with this and the infrastructure to join the jobs to the houses.
“Not least,” asked James, “how can we resolve the serious shortage of housing locally – especially affordable housing.”
A group of Initiative representatives has just retuned from Cambridge, where the need to accommodate growth has long been recognised, and plans put in place to deal with it. “Their long term plans have been focussing on what community wants and needs. We want people to invest in places, not just housing.”
Reshaping Bristol’s public transport
Finding a practical solution to the city’s congestion problems has long exercised the minds of business and civic leaders alike. And while there is general agreement that this can only be achieved by encouraging and enabling more people to use public transport, the service on offer has never been able to persuade commuters to give up their cars.
But all that appears to be changing.
James Freeman, First Bus Managing Director and self-confessed public transport “zealot”, set out his company’s investment-led ambitions – beginning with how much progress has been made in the last few years.
First Bus is the largest, but not the only, service provider locally. But they alone were now transporting 170,000 passengers a day across the sub-region – 20,000 a day more than they were just over 18 months ago when they radically restructured fares, enabling 70% of customers to pay less.
The growth in passenger numbers – which shows no sign of slowing – has actually caused logistical problems, with a staff shortage of some 150 drivers holding back expansion. Journey times have been extended to allow more people on, and more services provided.
Growth was also being accommodated through new technology, such as smartphone and smartcard ticketing, as well as cleaner buses coming into service. The famous (or infamous) “poo” bus, fuelled by methane from Avonmouth sewage works – a flagship for the future is providing cleaner, cheaper transport. And a new generation of hybrid buses was also now being incorporated in the fleet, 14 times cleaner than the buses they replaced.
Public transport was keeping in pace with demand by providing all-night services, and running more express services, as well as offering an option to those city dwellers who still needed to use a car at times: a partnership with the City Car Club.
All this… and the Metrobus still in the wings. And his final call to action was for business leaders to talk with First Bus to see how they could incentivise their staff to use public transport.
Can sport play a part in improving productivity?
Well can it? That was the question posed by the evening’s final speaker, Steve Nelson, former basketball professional and now CEO of The West of England Sport Trust (Wesport). He explained how his organisation is working to inspire more participation in sports and physical activity in the sub region.
As part of their work to demonstrate the value that sport brings to society and the economy, UWE undertook research which showed that in the West of England area alone, sport delivers £876.7 million GAV each year to the local economy.
Moreover, for every £1 invested there is a return of £2.82.
The biggest single contribution to this was the £328.9 million of direct investment in sports businesses, but significantly £260.9m in being saved each year through people living longer, healthier lives through playing sport. Inactivity, on the other hand, is the fourth biggest killer in society.
Wesport is now making its case to businesses, local authorities and the LEP as to why sport and physical activity should be supported as an integral part of the economy.
Local businesses can get involved by sponsoring Wesport’s work and also by taking the workplace challenge. There’s a raft of activities they can take part in, including netball, dodge ball and a “row the channel” challenge: a 25 mile target for teams to achieve.
If you’d like to make YOUR workplace healthier and more productive, take a look at www.wesport.org.uk
James Freeman – First Bus Presentation
Steve Nelson – WESPORT Presentation