UK Arena Plans For Carbon Neutral Concert & Conference Complex

Built immediately following WWII, the Brabazon Hangars were designed to develop Britain’s first commercial, rather than military, aircraft. Located outside Bristol, a major English port city, all 10 of Britain’s supersonic Concorde aircraft were built there. Now, the site is being repurposed into a live entertainment complex that will serve the south west of England all year round, in the most sustainable way possible. Expected to open in late 2025 or early 2026, the complex will be accessible via a new train station and rail link into Bristol city center and the project is investing more than $4m in transportation infrastructure to try to reduce car dependency at the site.  The setting includes a 15-acre park featuring a 2.5-acre lake and a heritage walking/cycling trail that connects the Brabazon Hangars with Aerospace Bristol Museum. Diverse housing at the site is being built with sustainability in mind and green features, such as solar panels and electric car charging, included as standard.

The heart of the district is the entertainment complex, YTL Arena Bristol, built into the three historic hangars.  

  • Central Hangar will have a seating capacity of more than 17,000, making it one of the largest auditoriums in the UK designed to host live concerts and sporting events.
  • East Hangar Festival Hall is custom-designed for trade shows, exhibitions and conventions
  • West Hangar/The Hub will provide multiple dining venues for business and leisure, in addition to other retail outlets.

Taking center stage at the YTL Arena is its focus on sustainability. Live Design talked to the arena’s CEO, Andrew Billingham.

Andrew Billingham

Live Design: What is your goal for the new arena?

Andrew Billingham: Our ambition is to build and operate the most sustainable venue in Europe and to be carbon neutral from day one. There has been a huge shift in the music and live events industry towards green practices and we take that very seriously.

We made the decision very early on that there would be no fossil fuels in the building, it will be 100% electric. We will use the vast scale of the three hangar roofs for solar panels to self-generate as much energy as we can for battery storage. Currently, that looks like 10,0002m of panels and two megawatts of battery storage. We are using air-source heat pumps and we'll harvest rainwater. Using rainwater will reduce our water consumption by more than 70% and we will only use harvested rainwater, for example for flushing toilets, so that we are not piping clean water in for that. Lighting will be LED with an efficient intelligent facilities management system.

LD: What other approaches are you taking?

AB: In terms of using products and services at the site, we are committed to using local companies in the Bristol area as much as possible to cut down on shipping costs and also to bring more economic benefits to the area. Going local also brings down our carbon footprint.

YTL Arena

We've got quite high targets in terms of recycling and composting and reducing our general and construction waste. From a construction point of view, we start that journey as we mean to go on. We are looking at zero waste to landfill construction. By re-purposing the hangars that have stood for 70 years, we will save over 18 and a half thousand tonnes of CO2, which we have been told is the equivalent of 11,000 return flights from London to New York. This is an appropriate example because the hangars were the original home for Concorde. Keeping them has a heritage value, which is important, but it absolutely has a sustainable message.  We don’t think there are any other significant aircraft hangars that have been repurposed into such a major musical entertainment venue.

Once the project is finished, we will always work with our partners to ensure that all the way down the supply chain there is buy-in to achieve our sustainability goals, from beer to catering.

LD: When the facility opens, will the solar power be used to keep the lights on or will you be able to contribute a little when bands show up with trucks and trucks of gear and generators to run the show?

AB: Battery performance is improving all the time and we may be able to cover some of the energy costs for the shows. But because of the way power usage peaks during shows it looks as though we can’t get away from generators just yet, but we are hopeful that we can give them some of that energy back.

There is this real shift from the live industry towards green processes and we believe we have a responsibility as a venue to help and encourage that. Can we assist by putting up next level rigging and speakers so that they can reduce the amount that goes on the road? We absolutely want to be part of that conversation.

LD: Have these green features pushed up the cost of this project?

AB: Solar and battery power is a significant cost upfront, but there are also significant cost benefits later. As the long-term operator we see it as a good investment. This is the way the conversations go in terms of investors, we know it's the right decision not only for the environment but for us.

We take this objective very, very, seriously, even in the houses we are developing in North Bristol, we are developing them for the future with car charging points and solar panels, and a new train station 200m from the front door of the venue, so the whole destination reflects our values.

LD: Do you think the industry has reached a tipping point? The recent Coldplay tour got the conversation started even though many of the innovations were not enough to really make up for touring requirements.

AB:  It needs a real shift in every part of the industry, but it was a huge agenda point at the International Live Music Conference in London, on how we, as an industry, can make those big steps forward. Billie Eilish and others are making a point of allowing zero single-use plastics in the building, for example.

I think it's important that somebody is setting a standard. So even though we're three years out, everyone else is looking to see how this goes. I think it's up to us to keep trying to raise the bar. I literally just come out of the meeting with a supplier and sustainability was first on the agenda. We ask where they are with their own sustainability measures and how will they help us with ours?