Over the last few weeks there’s been a lot of talk around the new ground. Personally, I attended two of the three consultation events held by the Club as I wanted to find out as much as possible. Now the next few paragraphs aren’t Club propaganda or the Trust’s party line – I’m just using this platform to express a few opinions or concerns and share what I have found out.
One of the most striking things that became apparent pretty quickly was that nearly everyone was accepting that the Club need a new ground. Thankfully that is one hurdle that seems to have been jumped. Obviously there are still people who either want to or think that we can stay put. I suspect a lot of supporters, truth known, would love to stay at Blundell Park and with a bit of work think it can happen but unfortunately there a few constraints and issues that limit this possibility; not least the size of the site because of the surrounding housing, the limitation on available car parking, congestion on local streets, and, XX. John Fenty has been quoted as saying “you could spend £10 million on Blundell Park and it would not improve the business case at all, hence the reason we need to relocate.” I’m not sure whether we’ve got quotations for redevelopment so am not sure how much we’d get for £10 million or what the impacts of spending £10 million would be but even with knocking down three stands and then building three interlinking stands containing modern changing facilities for players, bars, kitchens, bookies etc you still wouldn’t be able to provide adequate coach and car parking and the congestion around the site would only become worse. As I say thankfully the people of the town are receptive to a new ground.
The biggest bone of contention is the proposed location for the new ground. A few weeks ago I was unconvinced that the Peaks Parkway site is the best – when I say best, I mean offers value for money, meets the requirements, won’t infringe on current residents too much and provides a genuine benefit to the Town.
I haven’t studied the sites available but I know the Club have. Thankfully the Local Authority have also commissioned an independent study by SLR Consultants to complete something called a sequential site study – basically an independent body is going to do an options appraisal on all the available sites and come up with the ‘best’ site.
One particular site that keeps being mentioned is the docks. Now as I say I haven’t studied all the sites but I still don’t understand how this could be an option, let alone the best. Yes it would provide a very unique entrance to the town and would link the Club very much to the former glories of the town. First of all, however, the land is owned by Associated British Ports (ABP) and we’ve all seen in the media the long battle they’ve had regarding the Able UK site so immediately they are concerns over whether the land would be available and then at a cost which wouldn’t immediately be inhibitive. I suspect given the developments in the renewables industry ABP would prefer tenants such as DONG, Centrica, E-on, and, Siemens rather than a football club. I’m not sure if it’s still the case but at one point ABP were very restrictive on dock access, for security reasons, so would they even allow supporters access? The biggest worry for me though is that residents of this Town would quite happily see part of the dock filled in to accommodate the development. The Port of Grimsby and Immingham is the largest in the country so why on Earth would we sacrifice one of the biggest assets of the area? I won’t even begin to think how much it would cost to fill in given a set of locks gates alone cost £5 million and flood defences have already had over £14 million spent on them (presumably this takes into account the water contained within the dock that would then be lost).
At this point it’s very clear to me that we need to relocate as Blundell Park isn’t fit for purpose and one of the alternative sites mentioned is totally unfeasible and would send the entire area backwards. Another site, that was banded the only option a few years ago was Great Coates. It would seem that this is still an option but as explained in this article it isn’t “economically viable”. I’m not an economist but what I think he means is that either the Club cannot afford it or the Club wouldn’t get value for money. It’s also fairly obvious that it can hardly be labelled a community asset if it’s not that easily accessible to whole parts of the town.
Now what makes Peaks Parkway suddenly the ideal site now when we were told that Great Coates was around ten years ago I’m not too sure. I’m hoping that the studies the Club conducted recently were conducted back then and maybe Peaks Parkway has jumped up the list as this one has fell down the list. It’s a bit worrying that a site can become ideal and then totally unviable in little under ten years. Thankfully the Club tell me they have learnt valuable lessons in the process and despite spending c£350,000 on the planning for Great Coates are richer in terms of knowledge and experience for that period.
Now I attended the consultation events as I wanted to find out, inter alia, the following:
* Why we can’t stay at Blundell Park,
* What makes Peaks Parkway the best option,
* What are the consequences of not being part of the Local Plan,
* What timescales are the club working to,
* What will truly make this a community complex,
* What input will fans on have the design and facilities on offer,
* How will the club make seven day a week operating income and increase commercial revenue (when already on par with League One Scunthorpe), and,
* What are the objections from local residents and how will the Club work with them to mitigate the issues.
Thankfully I now know a little more.
I can tell you that the Club are hoping to put a spade in the ground within three to five years. An over wintering bird study will take place next winter. Two studies have been commissioned by the Local Authority – one highlighting the benefits of a community complex to the area and secondly a sequential site study – both are expected imminently.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out everything I wanted to as the Club officials spent most of the time reassuring concerned Weelsby Avenue residents that football thugs won’t be rampaging through the cemetery at half two on a Saturday afternoon and that thanks to modern stadia design you won’t be able to hear whether the opposition have scored a last minute winner at the Hospice. Yes my mam can work out the score whilst shopping down the Avenue on a Saturday afternoon at the moment if the wind’s in the right direction because of the vast open corners and outdated acoustics (or lack of) at Blundell Park. Yes, Peaks Parkway can get congested during peak times but thankfully when a game finishes at 5pm on a Saturday or half nine on a Tuesday parents aren’t dropping children at school, no services are conducted at the Crematorium and a lot of people aren’t commuting to their Monday to Friday 9 to 5 jobs.
As has been pointed out numerous times, allotments are protected by Section 8 of the Allotments Act of 1925 but given the land available on this site – there’s not even a need to move or infringe in the allotments. A change in Government legislation means that further junctions can be positioned on the Parkway.
Some objections were very genuine and need resolving. The Club weren’t obliged to hold these events though and it appeared that concerns were noted and plans are afoot to reassure and work with the local residents and community groups.
Now as a supporter I found out that the ground will be built with the foundations in place to expand if necessary to meet the ground capacity requirements further up the football pyramid. What I couldn’t work out is why Great Coates was planned to be 12,000 yet this is 14,000 and as per toogoodtogodown’s blog – is that even too big for us at present ?
The community angle has been thrown about a lot and from the plans and speaking with both John Fenty and Philip Day it would appear that the ground will include:
* 650 capacity conferencing facility,
* c50 room hotel,
* 3G pitches,
* Grass pitches
* Hard court sports pitches (I think these can double up as car parking)
* The continued excellent work of the GTSET (nee football in the community)
The wider community benefits apparently could include:
* A supermarket,
* Petrol station, and,
What I was unable to find out though was that apart from the study into what are the benefits of such complexes are has the Club actually looked into what this community would like? All well and good building the above but is there actually the demand? Does the town need another conferencing facility in addition to the soon to be revamped Pier? Has the Club considered the Hotel Study for North East Lincolnshire taking into account the three new hotels that have sprung up recently? I’m hoping that the next level of consultation prior to submitting planning is to find out what the town already has, what it needs, and, what we would like.
Thankfully the Club has recently listened to supporters with regard to possibly installing safe standing but will we be consulted prior to this ground being designed? I’m hoping us here at the Trust can canvas the opinions of supporters (including those who don’t go to Blundell Park) and then these can be incorporated – I certainly see no reason why not.
I just hope that we don’t become one of them soulless concrete stadia surrounded by chain shops and restaurants that replicate every other out of town development across the country. Give me some independently owned venues that provide quality with locally sourced produce.
The consultations showed that the Club are working very hard behind the scenes in trying to make this happen and have learned lessons from the Great Coates project to even now between consultation to consultation – the material available> on the last Sunday was far better than the second event. It’s just a crying shame that the Club can’t both promote the benefits whilst reassuring and working with local residents and community groups to mitigate against the apparent issues.
Within the next few weeks the findings of the two reports will be published which will hopefully show that this is a much needed complex and this site is the only suitable option and we can move on to the next stages. I’m not entirely sure what the contingencies are if Peaks Parkway isn’t location numero uno. As much as some may say preparing a contingency is acknowledging failure I’d like to have a plan b; the question was raised at the last Fans Forum but the discussion degenerated into whether Blundell Park is fit for purpose and the promise that if this was still our home in ten years’ time John Fenty would install some new toilets in the Main Stand.
The next stage of the project will be clear before Wimbledon starts so thankfully by the start of our return to the Football League we will know a little better what’s happening, what it will look like and maybe just maybe if needed to we can petition for something we truly understand and believe in – and the local community will be on board. Swansea, Hull, Brighton, and, Doncaster haven’t done badly since relocating so let’s follow their lead and not that of Darlington.
This article reflects Craig’s personal view.