YTL Bristol Arena delay to 2027 frustrates Bristol's hotel bosses

Bristol’s hotel industry bosses have said delays to the building of a new arena at Filton Airfield are ‘a real blow for the city and the hospitality sector’, and called on YTL to get cracking building it.

Although there has been no official announcement, it now appears certain the YTL Arena won’t be finished and staging its first concerts or events until well into 2027 at the earliest - and Bristol’s hoteliers are increasingly frustrated at the slow progress.

The Bristol Hoteliers Association (BHA) said the city needs the kind of boost they and the hospitality sector experienced from this summer’s four Ashton Gate Stadium concerts, but all year round, and they said the continued delays in the project to create a 19,000-capacity Arena at Filton meant the city was continuing to ‘lose out’ to other cities.

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The most recent update on the progress of the YTL Arena at the Brabazon Hangar in Filton came in March this year, when YTL said they had handed over the site to a specialist team to decontaminate it, ahead of main construction work starting. That decontamination work starting is a major milestone in and of itself - it’s the first step in the project getting underway.

Back in March, YTL’s bosses said that, after that decontamination work was completed, there would be a period where some minor demolition work needed to be carried out, and at that point, the main construction work would begin - and they estimated that would take two and a half years.

That main construction phase has not yet begun, meaning as we enter the second half of 2024, an earliest possible completion date will be in 2027. Those delays are a frustration to the city’s hotel and hospitality sector, who say the Arena will be a huge boost.

The chair of the BHA said this summer’s four Ashton Gate Stadium concerts - which saw well over 100,000 people attend gigs by Take That, Kings of Leon, Ne-Yo and Craig David - showed just how important major events are for the city’s hospitality economy.

BHA Chair Raphael Herzog said more than half of those who came to see Take That were from outside the region, and thousands stayed in hotels right around the city for one or two nights. He said that kind of boost is needed all year round, and called on YTL to complete the conversion of the Brabazon Hangar at Filton Airfield into a 19,000-capacity arena as soon as possible.

CGI of cinema screen with people watching in seats
A CGI of how the outdoor cinema at Bristol Arena would look -Credit:YTL/McGregor Coxall

Mr Herzog said the city’s hospitality sector is losing out because of the lengthy delays to the project. The BHA said it was calling for ‘more to be done to speed up the development of the long-awaited YTL Arena’, while applauding the efforts of Ashton Gate for ‘putting the city on the musical map’.

“Ashton Gate’s CEO Mark Kelly said over 50 per cent of all attendees to the Take That concerts were from outside the region, which meant they were staying in hotels, dining and drinking in local bars and restaurants and putting their pounds into the local economy,” said Mr Herzog. “Mark said Bristol lacks big events and needs more all year round and we couldn’t agree more.

"While we applaud what Ashton Gate is doing, and the positive benefits they have brought to our businesses, there is a lot more that can be done, not least of which is to complete the Bristol Arena,” he added.

“The Take That concerts at Ashton Gate demonstrated that big-name acts will bring many thousands of people to our beautiful city. But while Ashton Gate is able to accommodate large events in the summer, during the winter its priority is to its sporting activities, whereas the Bristol Arena will be able to stage concerts and events all year round.

Take That, surrounded by fire at Ashton Gate
Take That, surrounded by fire at Ashton Gate -Credit:Bristol Live

“For too many years, Bristol has been losing out to the likes of Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff, but the Arena will help level the playing field,” Mr Herzog added.

“People won’t just come for the specific gig or event, they will often stay overnight – if not longer – and explore the local area, too, which is great for the city’s economy. We really hope that everything that can be done is being done to get the arena open as soon as possible.

“And Mark Kelly is absolutely right when he says the city needs more big events all year round. We’ve got the balloon and harbour festivals, of course, which are hugely popular. We’ve also just had the Bristol Comedy Garden, which has seen big-names such as Harry Hill, Sara Pascoe, Josh Widdicombe and Dara O’Briain perform live.

“But it still feels as if we’re only scratching the surface of the potential Bristol has to become a major events and entertainment destination which will not only be good for our businesses but will provide a very welcome boost to the city’s economy,” he added.

After the decision was taken by former mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees not to go ahead with the plan to build an indoor arena next to Temple Meads station back in 2018, it was another two years before YTL got planning permission to create a bigger arena on the northern edge of the city, by converting the Brabazon Hangar at Filton Airfield.

YTL Arena Bristol will be the fourth largest indoor arena in the UK when complete -Credit: JMP/Ashley Crowden
YTL Arena Bristol will be the fourth largest indoor arena in the UK when complete -Credit: JMP/Ashley Crowden

Four years on from obtaining that planning permission and work is yet to properly start on the project. YTL submitted the final part of its planning application in May this year, confirming that the YTL Arena would include an outdoor cinema, Christmas ice rink and sports courts around the 19,000-capacity indoor concert venue.

But YTL are not yet committing to when the arena might open. Previous predictions have included pretty much every year since 2022, and the most recent pencilled-in date was late 2025 or early 2026, but now it looks certain it will be in 2027 at the earliest, after the time when a new train station is due to open nearby in mid-2026.

That’s because YTL said in March this year that once main construction has started - and it hasn’t yet - the firm estimates it will take two and a half years to build.

“The initial phase of the project began with decontamination of the site carried out by Omega Environmental Services,” a spokesperson said. “This will be followed by demolition of non-essential structures before starting the main construction programme.”

Work being completed at Brabazon Hangars to transform the site into YTL Arena Bristol -Credit: JMP/Ashley Crowden
Work being completed at Brabazon Hangars to transform the site into YTL Arena Bristol -Credit: JMP/Ashley Crowden

YTL Arena’s CEO, Andrew Billingham, said in March this year that they were pleased with progress, but admitted it was going slowly.

"We're pleased with the progress and are pushing forward, albeit slower than originally planned,” he said back in March. “Handing over the hangars to Omega represents a pivotal milestone. We have tackled challenges head-on making crucial decisions to expedite the opening while ensuring we deliver one of the premier arenas in Europe. Once main construction has started, we estimate it being a two-and-a-half-year build programme."

"It is well documented that construction companies are facing difficulties, and with the international experience the YTL Group has in construction and project management, it is a logical step for us to control the whole process through to operation,” he added.