Petition about Bristol Beacon’s £132m cost calls for independent inquiry into overspend

Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for an independent inquiry into the spiralling costs of renovating Bristol’s biggest concert hall.

The petition is calling for an investigation into what happened to make the project to refurbish the Bristol Beacon go from something that would cost around £48 million to the new figure announced last month of £132 million.

The petition has gained more than 200 signatures since it was set up in the last week of January by Suzanne Audrey. She said having an independent inquiry would be important to help learn the lessons for the council so such a thing doesn’t happen again.

Read next: Extra Bristol Beacon costs are ‘painful reality’ admits Mayor Marvin Rees

The venue, then called the Colston Hall, closed in 2018 for a major refurbishment and was due to open in 2020 with the project costing £48 million, largely funded by Bristol City Council and Government arts grants. But the man in charge of the project told Bristol Live last month that as soon as they began stripping back the building to assess its structure, they realised it would be a much bigger job.

Then the pandemic hit, which delayed things, and since then, there’s been a hike in the cost of raw materials and labour. The project still isn’t finished, and council chiefs last month agreed to pump in an extra £25 million to make sure it is completed this year.

Ms Audrey’s petition demanded an ‘independent inquiry into the creation, implementation and management of the contract to refurbish Bristol Beacon’. “The cost has escalated to almost three times the original budget,” she said. “The business plan appears to have been badly set up, managed and implemented, and there is a possibility that the costs could increase further.

“Grant Thornton, the council’s external auditor, has said that Bristol City Council ‘underestimated the complexity and difficulty’ of the work and failed to have ‘effective arrangements’ in place. Grant Thornton has since identified managing the risks associated with the Bristol Beacon as a significant ‘Value For Money weakness’.

“An independent review is needed covering the period from 2016, when the current administration authorised funds for the preparation and submission of a detailed planning application, through the various stages at which costs to the Council have escalated, to (hopefully) the completion of the project.

“It is important that lessons are learned and recommendations made for drafting, monitoring and implementing future contracts,” she added.

In announcing the latest £25 million extra that would be required, the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, told Bristol Live that he would still have given the project the go-ahead even if he had known the total cost at the start.

“Yes I would. I wouldn’t have said it easily, but I would have said yes it was worth doing,” he said. “Because what we’ve discovered, take interest rates and inflation away, is the true cost of complex building. Anyone who’s done a house renovation knows you go in with one budget, you come out and it’s a lot more because you discover it always costs more than that.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees has a look inside the Bristol Beacon, formerly the Colston Hall, Tuesday 17 January 2023
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees has a look inside the Bristol Beacon, formerly the Colston Hall, Tuesday 17 January 2023
(Image: PAUL GILLIS / Reach PLC)

“We would, because what we’re not doing is just saying ‘do we want the venue or not?’ we’re also saying ‘what would it cost the city to have the Colston Hall/Bristol Beacon – it would have remained being named the Colston Hall – in the city, closed and slowly disintegrating over time?’

“What would that mean to the city at that particular point in time? It would have been like having another version of the Post Office sorting building at Temple Meads but smack in the middle of the city, just there as a city embarrassment,” he added.

The Bristol Beacon cost saga – read more:

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