For some compulsive gamblers, it's the spin of the roulette wheel. For the council, it's the prospect of World Cup Bristol 2018.
For some, it's their own money. For Bristol City Council, it's ours.
And for both, it gets to be an obsession that denies reality.
The bid by multi-millionaire tax exile Steve Lansdowne and his Bristol City Football Club to own a new stadium complex at Ashton Vale really has got the council hooked. A half promise of hosting some World Cup preliminaries (terms and conditions apply) in eight years time has turned normally fairly rational people into obsessives . So now, at a time of severe cuts in public services, we're still throwing money at Lansdowne. The multimillion giveaway has been beautifully lampooned on the Aurea Mediocritas blog
No matter that the new stadium could been built by the city's football establishment without public cost. There's no reason why Rovers and City couldn't both achieve their ambitions by sharing a spanking new stadium and splitting the cost. And there was no reason why the fans couldn't invest in the club to seal the (alleged) funding gap. No public subsidy either way.
In February, the Planning Committee (South and East) gave the OK to Lansdowne for his stadium, hotel, fast food outlet, and housing estate. In the process, they accepted that Bristol's Green Belt is expendable, by taking a chunk out of it. I can't guess what money value Green Belt has as a 'community asset', but most would say it's substantial. That's just in terms of health, wellbeing, and quality of life.
What's more, to help the club finance the scheme, the council agreed to waive the rules and let them build houses that will be 100% unaffordable to the people who need them most. Lost value to the community - £3.2m. Value to the club - 1.25m. That's business. (source, p13.)
In the next week or so, the council intends to gamble away even more. The next stage is to hand over the freehold of council-owned land to the football club. That's a big part of the Ald. Moore allotment site (where the unaffordable houses will go) and the part of the present stadium site that BCFC lease for car parking.
To enable the deal, both sites have been given capital valuations. Alderman Moore (rebranded 'Moorelands' by the developers) comes in at £3.4m - inexplicably reduced from the £5m quoted last November.
The car park site is said to be worth £1.15m, though that presupposes that the planning committee will do its bit to bring the World Cup to Bristol by letting Sainsburys build a megastore there. That's another 'community cost' of course - the impact on retail centres throughout South Bristol and beyond.
None of this cash will help replenish the council's depleted reserves, though. Instead, we'll be settling for 'services' provided by the club - like the occasional use of rooms, subsidised gym places, even the pitch itself (once a year). Expect to see more council 'events' move here from the usual venues, like @Bristol, the Pavilion, and Broadmead Baptist Church.
The test should really be whether the council would have bought these services from the club anyway - otherwise the notional 'value' of the services is meaningless. My guess is that, when cutting back on so many relatively essential services, and with a broad range of providers ready to offer competitive services, they wouldn't dare.
I always thought there were rules about competitive tendering for council contracts. But then I'm not that fussy about the 2018 World Cup (why should I be, I was in Middlesbrough in 1966?). Maybe I've got the wrong priorities.