Bristol's £500m City Deal spending hopes revealed

Four councils have made initial bids for a share of up to £500m from a scheme designed to kick-start the West of England's economy.

Bristol's City Deal with government - which applies to the former Avon area - comes with new powers to raise funds and decide what to spend them on.

The status gives councils in the area more freedom from Whitehall to invest in and secure money for major spending projects.

Bristol was in the first wave of City Deals announced in autumn 2011.

Under the scheme, councils in the area are able to keep and set their local business rates, rather than receive a share of those decided by the government.

The paperwork for the deal was signed last autumn, but little has been said as to where the borrowed fund of up to £500m might be spent until now.

Creative hub

The Mayor of Bristol wants £40m from the fund to deliver an arena on derelict land by Temple Meads.

Even if it is approved that still leaves him £40m short - money he must find soon to meet his election pledge of delivering the venue by the end of 2016.

In Bath, the council wants £38m to transform the Avon Street car park and the former Newark Works factory into a creative hub for business known as Innovation Quays.

Bath and North East Somerset Council (Banes) would also like a further £23m to protect the riverside area in the city centre from flooding.

Paul Crossley, the Liberal Democrat Leader of Banes, said he hoped Bath would become a magnet for digital media.

"The sub-region is a great place to come and live if you are a young start-up company and young people setting up these new digital companies are looking for a quality of life.

"We think we can offer that and one of the things that will do is it will gradually upskill our labour market here and perhaps raise our salary levels because we do have a low wage economy."

South Gloucestershire's focus is on infrastructure.

It wants to open up its enterprise areas in Filton, Emerson's Green and Severnside.

Subject to approval

Road improvements, a new junction on the M49 motorway and extra flood defences would cost a total of £37m.

In North Somerset, the council has suggested £25m for a new leisure facility - so long as it can pay for itself when built.

Some early ideas on the table include a velodrome or an ice rink, but the Conservative leader of the council Nigel Ashton is very cautious about further borrowing.

He said: "My first instinct is to just see how much growth there is and when it's going to happen.

"Although we can borrow against that future income, in the meantime we would have to pay the bill back.

"I think when we're all trying to find savings in our day-to-day costs, to incur another bill would be the wrong thing to do for the residents of North Somerset until we're absolutely certain that bill could be paid for."

All these initial bids are still subject to approval by the Local Enterprise Partnership Board which is made up of business people and the four council leaders.

It is they who will decide behind closed doors which of these competing claims are successful.

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