THE derelict Royal Mail site by Temple Meads is “not a good advert for Bristol”, according to the Prime Minister.
David Cameron looked around the land during a visit to the city to promote the government’s new Local Enterprise Zones.
He chose Bristol to confirm the approval of the scheme to encourage economic growth by giving businesses cheaper rates, more relaxed planning rules and fast internet connections.
Mr Cameron said creating a zone at the 70 hectare (173 acre) area near the station could bring up to 4,000 jobs and 80 businesses to the area by 2015 – just in time for any potential General Election.
The sorting office site off Cattle Market Road has been derelict for more than a decade and is a notorious eyesore, fenced off and covered in graffiti.
The Prime Minister admitted the task of transforming the area was “daunting” but said it was a “great opportunity” for Bristol.
He said: “You can see how badly it needs to happen.
“I’m a big fan of Bristol, it’s a great city and my wife went to university here.
“This [site] is not a good advert when you come in by train and it’s the first thing you see.
“But there is also a great opportunity for new businesses. New employment is great for the city and the country as a whole.
“We’re saying come to this area, bring wealth and bring jobs. It is run down but we will cut the bureaucracy, we’ll cut the business rates and we’ll help with the broadband. I think it will allow the transformation of the centre of Bristol, which has derelict buildings that ought to be a thriving business community.”
It will be up to the newly formed West of England Local Enterprise Partnership to set up the Temple Quay zone, set to focus on creative and new media businesses.
In the long-term the partnership hopes to have up to 198 businesses included in the zone.
Mr Cameron said Bristol had a great tradition of “world-beating competition” in the creative industries. Earlier, in the day he had visited firms at the Paintworks off Bath Road near Totterdown and Aardman Animation at its Harbourside headquarters, where he spoke to staff about the company’s huge success and met one of its most famous creations, Wallace.
During his visit to the Temple Meads site, the Mr Cameron met representatives from a number of businesses that have expressed interest in the Local Enterprise Zone. They included Mark Wadhwa, who owns the Soho-based Vinyl Factory and wants to open a music studio on the ground floor of the ex-Royal Mail building. Mr Wadhwa told the Evening Post the building’s owner Kian Gwan, a Thai-based equity company had a £22 million redevelopment plan.
Kian Gwan was granted planning permission for a scheme in 2005 but because it has lapsed, the company has resubmitted plans.
Mr Wadhwa said the company had already secured £8 million toward the project, which would retain the building’s original structure and bring new businesses in on different floors. But the funding is dependent on securing access to the Temple Meads station and a boardwalk connecting the site to the city centre.
He said: “There are reasons why it has been derelict for so long. There was planning permission and then the recession hit.
“The boardwalk is essential and Kian Gwan will pay for that. Permissions are the key and there is a lot of good will from the council executives we have met.
“Bristol represents a new vision for how businesses can work, it is one of the most creative, independent cities.
“Those bland business parks are not what businesses want.”
Another company that wants to help develop the area is the Bristol Wood Recycling Project, based in the former Cattle Market office.
Ben Moss told the Post the business, which employs seven people and has been running for seven years, which wants to set up a social enterprise project on vacant grassland behind the Cattle Market pub.
He said: “The underlying idea is sustainability. It’s not going to be Cabot Circus or Costa Coffee.
“It’s ridiculous, we’re in the centre of the city and this area is dead. It’s a blank canvas.”
Bristol City Council leader Barbara Janke joined Mr Cameron and Minister for Cities Greg Clark on their tour. She said: “The visit was a great success. Both the Prime Minister and Greg Clark seemed to be genuinely interested in what we’re doing here, particularly with broadband. “This is the heart of the city and there’s real potential to make it somewhere where people want to come.”
Mrs Janke said the council was planning on organising “visioning sessions” in the autumn where businesses and local residents would have the chance to say what they would like to see done at the Local Enterprise Zone site.