A plea has been made to rethink Cardiff’s multi-million pound plan to build a huge indoor arena amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.
As coronavirus and social distancing could prevent concerts and conferences from taking place for a long time to come, councillors have questioned whether now is the right time to have another look at building the 15,000-seater arena at Cardiff Bay.
But Cardiff council insisted the arena would bring jobs and investment into the city, and a recession is the right time to spend on infrastructure.
Liberal Democrat councillor Rodney Berman said: “We’re a bit worried the administration may be burying its head in the sand and pretending nothing has changed. Our circumstances have changed more than at any time in my lifetime.”
He was speaking during a public meeting of the full council on Thursday, September 24, as opposition councillors proposed the rethink as part of the budget strategy for next year.
Cllr Berman said: “Is it sensible to make the same assumptions we made a year or two ago? While we all hope the economy may return to something more normal in the not too distant future, we don’t know when that will be.
“ Do we know to what extent organisations will want to undertake large scale conferences going forward? Do we know what the market for such conferences will be? Surely it makes sense to re-examine the business case underpinning the proposals for the indoor arena.
“We all hope the market for concerts will return. But will it return to the same extent for conferences? Let’s look again and see if the business case stacks up.”
Last week, council bosses revealed that a developer for the arena will be chosen in the “next couple of months”. More details on how the arena could look will then be revealed after the chosen developer applies for planning permission.
As part of the arena plans, the council bought the Red Dragon Centre leisure complex earlier this year for £60 million.
Conservative councillor Joel Williams said: “It’s unfortunate, the timing of that acquisition, because you don’t have to be an economist to discover that it’s likely the value of the Red Dragon Centre has plummeted.
“That leaves the council exposed to potentially millions of pounds of bad debt. I think it’s right the council pauses and considers stock and re-evaluates its position. Yes, we all want to see ambitious projects delivered in our city.
“But it’s wrong that the council seems to be borrowing an awful lot of money, and we know that money is insured by council tax payers here in Cardiff. Before we proceed with the ‘Russell Goodway conference centre’, it’s time to reconsider whether this is the right approach.”
But the Labour administration insisted during a recession is “exactly the time” to invest in ambitious infrastructure projects, and ridiculed the idea the pandemic means the “end of live music”.
Peter Bradbury, cabinet member for culture and leisure, said: “We need to be giving a signal to the music industry to those promoters and to those hard working musicians, who have not had any support from the UK government and very little from the Welsh government.
“They have been massively hit by Covid-19 and we need to be making a signal to them that we’re going forward.
“During an economic crisis is exactly the time, as a Keynesian economist, when you put money into infrastructure projects to create jobs, wealth and the very prosperity and GDP this country so badly needs.”
Russell Goodway, cabinet member for investment and development, said: “There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest the value of that piece of real estate has declined. In fact, we know real estate in Cardiff has gone up during the pandemic.
“I don’t want to just hope for an economic recovery. I’m going to work for one. I’m going to back those projects that are most likely to bring in investment to the city.
“If councillors are suggesting that all around the world, we are seeing the end of live music in centres like the arena, then all I can say is Cardiff could become the centre of live music from across the world if we have the ambition and courage to take this project forward.”
The arena is due to open in 2023, and would be double the size of the Motorpoint, the current largest indoor arena in Cardiff.