One man, two plans, and approval guaranteed

In February 2020, Cabinet approved L&G’s plans to start work at Temple Quarter for their mixed-use scheme. The following month, YTL were given planning permission to build their 17,080-capacity arena on their site in Filton.

One man’s involvement in that permission, cost Bristol City Council £239,000 a year and ensured the viability of both of these projects. Thanks to the Freedom of Information requests by journalist Joe Lloyd and lawyer Freyja Hardy, among others, we know a lot more about how these two projects came to pass.

That man responsible for much of the management and planning successes, was arena consultant Nigel Greenhalgh. He was appointed in February 2018, three months after the mayor cast doubt on the ‘shovel ready’ arena at Temple Island.

With the arena at Temple Island already on city maps, and a bridge already built— costing the city £12m — the mayor ordered a £100,000 report to find out whether there could be a better use for the arena land. The risks of the arena not being completed rose to their highest score rating. Part of this report was a comparison with another plan for an arena at Filton by YTL.

The following month, YTL paid for the mayor’s trip to Malaysia where he met with YTL officers; two days after that meeting, his Executive Director of Growth and Regeneration, Colin Molton met with L&G in London.

In February the following year, Nigel Greenhalgh, who had previously worked on the Cribbs Patchway New Neighbourhood (CPNN), a project in which YTL said it is a key player, was appointed as Arena Consultant on Molton’s recommendation.

In Greenhalgh’s first week, the urgency of his appointment became clear. When Molton attempted to set up a meeting to discuss Filton Arena Transport Infrastructure for February 19, not all groups could make it at such short notice.

Steve Evans, Director of Environment and Communities at South Gloucestershire Council complained to Molton that he was “very disappointed” that the meeting would proceed when he knew that South Gloucestershire could not be present. “We are a key partner in this,” he said.

Molton replied, “Timing is a key issue for us here” and he would not be rescheduling. The issue of timing was a recurring theme in Molton’s and Greenhalgh’s emails to the groups being project managed.

Greenhalgh’s role was made clear at a Bristol City Council meeting for “Filton Arena Transport Review” on March 21, 2018.

According to the minutes, a redacted person believed to be Greenhalgh, “introduced himself to the meeting and confirmed that he has been appointed by BCC to prepare a statement of support for the Brabazon Arena project proposed by YTL. The Cabinet meeting is 1st May 2018, so the time is very tight to get this report together.”

Many of the issues were focused on transport. In an email from YTL-owned Wessex Water, in March 2018, the sender of the email [redacted] pointed out the priorities to Molton.

“I wanted to confirm that the 3 key infrastructure projects that need to be in place if an area is to be viable at Filton are:

- The rail link between Temple Meads and Filton

- The rail link between Parkway and Filton

- Phase II of Metrobus

Greenhalgh’s role was to write a report and convince Cabinet to cancel the arena at Temple Quarter. In an email in April 2018, he reiterates “a way forward on the issues raised needs to be discussed and resolved, in principle, if we are going to be able to convince Cabinet that we can deliver an Arena at Filton.”

The biggest planning issue was the sequential test. In planning, this is the principle that seeks to identify, allocate or develop certain types or locations of land before others.

For example, brownfield housing sites before greenfield sites, or town centre retail sites before out-of-centre sites.

In the case of the arena, and as stated in YTL’s sequential site assessment, “All of the above uses (apart from D1) are classified as main town centre uses under the definition in the February 2019 version of the National Planning Policy Framework (‘NPPF’).”

This means that if there had been a more suitable location for an arena closer to the town centre, the Filton arena would have failed the test. Meeting this test was Molton and Greenhalgh’s main priority.

In an email from Molton to YTL in April, he writes “I think we may have a way through the exclusivity issue”. In a further email that month, the sender was redacted but Molton was cc’d: “we agreed that BCC would work with us on the sequential test and transport in so far as they are able without compromising their legal position. In relation to that the sequential test will require the TQ [Temple Quarter] option to have been eliminated”.

The report Greenhalgh had been writing, finally went to Cabinet in September. It recommended cancelling the “proposed Arena on Temple Island and to take all steps necessary and incidental to the cessation of that project.” At the same time, it recommended that the “Council continues to work with partners to develop an alternative mixed use scheme for the Temple Island site”, which meant that the L&G work be progressed.

Greenhalgh’s role to make the Filton arena viable was predetermined from the start. L&G had to have a cabinet decision in place for use of the Temple Quarter site in order for YTL’s arena in Filton to be given planning permission.

The work to make sure this occurred involved Bristol City Council, South Gloucestershire Council, YTL, First and GWR. According to an FOI by Arena Island’s lawyer, however, it was only Bristol City Council that paid for Greenhalgh’s salary, nearly a quarter million pounds worth a year.

Freelance journalist and book editor.

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