SWINDON Town have revealed outline plans for the first phase of the multi-million pound County Ground redevelopment, which could start next year.
Chief executive Nick Watkins said the stage focuses on the Town End, doubling the capacity to 4,000, and providing pitchside-view function rooms, possibly with an associated hotel.
Mr Watkins stressed that the club could not secure any funding until the planning application was approved, but said they had already had discussions with banks, venture capital houses and individuals.
Swindon Council owns the land the stadium is on but will not provide any funding. Instead, when the club’s lease expires in March, the council plans to give them a 250-year lease through a collaboration agreement, which will act as a fixed asset against which to lever funding.
The club is to work with Swindon Council to draw up an agreement which will guide what uses and architectural styles are acceptable and unacceptable when the planning committee considers the planning application itself.
Mr Watkins said: “They’re reviewing that proposal. Nothing has been green-lit at this stage.
“They’re reviewing our submission – if they find agreement with that, the next stage is to agree a structural agreement and that will give us the comfort to invest the considerable amount of money as necessary to proceed with a full planning application.
“Hopefully that will not be in the too distant future. Things got put back a little for the simple reason we were awaiting for the outcome of the local elections, but that work is back on track.”
The function rooms would enhance those which already exist at the County Ground and the hotel would support this facility.
Mr Watkins said work on the three-phase development could start in 2013, and the first stage would take 12 to 18 months. Further phases would focus on the Arkell’s stand, then the Don Rogers Stand, and finally the Stratton Bank.
Mr Watkins said: “Any football club needs to move towards some form of self-sustainability.
“A football club only operating one day in 14 cannot create a scenario where it can be self-sustaining. Football clubs have to find ways to operate on 14 days in 14, so any redevelopment initiative is designed to generate income for the entity Monday to Friday, not just on Saturday afternoon.”
The 14,000-capacity stadium is rarely full at present, but Mr Watkins said that if Swindon fulfilled their ambition of reaching the Championship, they would need a 20,000-plus capacity.
He also pointed out that it was possible to build a stadium with capacity to expand, so extra seating could be installed if required, such as in Milton Keynes.
Coun Dale Heenan, Swindon Council’s cabinet member for strategic planning and sustainability, said he hoped a planning application would be submitted in the next four to six weeks, and the details would be agreed during the course of the next season.
He said: “Over the years, we know that the football club have had a desire to rebuild and extend their stadium for a variety of reasons but there always seems to be barriers.
“Clearly, this is a situation now which we would like to overcome and find a way forward for the town.
“As part of that, we’ve now started discussions with Swindon Town FC around rebuilding the Town end to double the capacity, which will be good news for the fans, and it will also show any potential players that Swindon is serious about getting back into the Premier League.”
Parking is still an issue for club’s neighbours
RESIDENTS around the County Ground say they want restricted parking on match days if the redevelopment plans are approved.
Householders in Marsh Farm Lane say that despite being given cones to put out, cars still enter their estate during home games, blocking garages and driveways and parking in residents’ spaces.
Lynton Elcocks, 51, who organised a petition on the issue, said he was glad there could be progress on the stadium, but not to the detriment of residents.
He said: “As a short-term solution, it has reduced the parking by a fair percentage but there’s still some people who move the cones.
“They’re really thinking along the lines that a longer term solution is residential parking only, whereby there would be signage and me and all my neighbours cough up £80 a year or whatever to park in our road, which I think is a downright liberty when the problem is from match-day parking and not the majority of people.
“The long-term solution for us would be restricted parking on match-days and other events, which apparently is the case in Old Walcot and a lot of roads, but the council is saying this costs a lot of money to do that.”
Coun Dale Heenan, Swindon Council’s cabinet member for strategic planning and sustainability, said that at the end of the month, the council would set up an advisory group with ward councillors and the club to tackle the issue of match-day parking.
Once the group had come up with proposals, they would discuss this with residents and football fans to find a solution.
Plans through the years
THE Swindon Town fanbase over the last 15 years has been subjected to a wealth of unsubstantiated promises over the stadium redevelopment.
In 1996, the board announced the construction of a casino at the County Ground.
Billed as a way of creating local jobs and increasing the club’s revenue, the notion supposedly broke down over the 80-year-old covenant placed on the ground by the original leasehold passed down by the Goddard family.
Sources at the planning consultants advising the club, however, said the 1997 general election result, causing a change of government and a tweak in gambling legislation, prevented work from being started.
In 1999 secret negotiations took place between the club, the council and planning consultants to move Swindon Town to the Wichelstowe redevelopment area. A location owned by the council but leased by the Goddard family, in similar circumstances to the County Ground, was proposed. Negotiations with the council broke down, however, before the embryonic blueprints could take shape. In 2001, supposed ‘STFC Saviour’ Terry Brady believed he would be able to relocate to Swindon’s Front Garden.
However, despite the council agreeing to afford Brady preferential status, the deal fell through. In 2004, reports insisted that Willie Carson’s boardroom would be moving the club to a “dream home” in West Swindon.
A state-of-the-art all-seater stadium was rumoured to possibly be ready in time for the 2006/07 season. The proposed site was the Shaw tip, but local residents put up a stubborn fight and the club were forced to back down. In 2006 a redevelopment campaign for the County Ground began with the club and TrustSTFC raising a petition to Save Our Home, urging the council to facilitate the redevelopment of the stadium and do everything they could to keep the club within the borough.