Bristol City FC reveal plans to rebuild Ashton Gate with new £40million stadium
Bristol City FC plans to build a new £40 million stadium at Ashton Gate, The Post can exclusively reveal.
But the club has stressed that it is not going to give up its fight over hopes to build a new ground at nearby Ashton Vale.
If the club eventually decides to stay at Ashton Gate, then matches would continue at the ground and stands rebuilt in a phased programme of work over three years.
The pitch would be widened to accommodate Bristol Rugby Club which is committing itself to playing at City's new stadium - whichever site it might be.
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Rebuilding Ashton Gate would mean that plans to build a new Sainsbury's superstore at the ground would be ditched.
But majority shareholder Steve Lansdown has promised to pick up the whole bill to rebuild the ground if the funding cannot be found from other sources.
One of the club's hopes is for a new railway station to be built on land near the Ford car dealership so fans would have a rail link with Temple Meads and walk only a matter of yards from a train to the revamped ground.
The club is expected to submit a formal planning application to the city council in June or July and if permission was granted, then the new ground could be finished in time for the 2016/17 season.
Work would start with demolishing the Wedlock Stand at the end of the 2013/14 season and would take a rebuild time of 64 weeks and ready in time for the 2015/16 season.
It would include a new entrance, principally for home supporters from Winterstoke Road, and which would include a super-pub called The Wedlock.
The Williams Stand would come down at the end of 2014/15 season and take 66 weeks to rebuild and therefore finished in time for the 2016/17 season.
In the meantime, the Dolman and Atyeo stands would each be gutted and renovated in a staged programme of work.
Visiting fans would be directed to using an entrance off Ashton Road and use one end of the Atyeo Stand.
A new pitch would be laid during the 2014/15 close season.
Martin Griffiths, chairman of Bristol Sport, stressed that engagement with fans and the local community was paramount to the club.
A consultation exercise will be launched - details to be revealed later - on gathering everyone's views before the formal planning applications are submitted.
The redeveloped ground would not use a bigger footprint than is used at the moment although the Hirerite site would be demolished to create more room and the temporary huts stacked alongside the Williams stand would also go.
The club's offices would be incorporated in the revamped Atyeo Stand and players' facilities would be provided in a new basement. The players would run out onto the pitch from a tunnel near the halfway line.
The current ground can hold about 21,200 fans and the average Premiership club has an average capacity of 35,000. Championship sides have an average capacity of about 17,500.
The club's architects have come up with a scheme to provide 26,000 seats by building a two-tier Williams' Stand and filling in the corners. On the Dolman Stand, the current seating would be gutted so there would be a single rake of seats and access would be from steps rather than from the front of the stand.
Part of the architects' brief was to make sure that any fan could use a toilet and buy a pie and a pint at half-time without missing any of the second half.
Mr Griffiths said he had no idea at this stage where the new stadium would be built - either Ashton Vale or Ashton Gate.
He said they would have a clearer idea after the inquiry in October into the future of Ashton Vale which is still in dispute because of a legal wrangle.
Campaigners are still fighting for the whole 42-acre site to be registered as a town green.
Mr Griffiths told The Post: "We need to be prudent. We need to use some common sense.
"We need to have an alternative to Ashton Vale so we can bring some certainty to the long-term future of the club."
He said that during the past few months, they have looked at possible sites to build a new ground.
But the exercise has kept bringing them back to the club's spiritual home as the best alternative.
But on one point, he is absolutely clear - the club needs a brand new stadium to generate the revenue needed for a successful, thriving club in the future.
Under new football regulations, Championship clubs cannot pay more than 60 per cent in players' wages than received in revenue.
This is one of the reasons why the club is keen to incorporate a 1,000-seat conference centre in the plans, exhibition facilities and a restaurant.
There would also be community facilities including a new gym which could be used by residents in the area, a museum of sport and a club shop.
The number of car parking spaces would remain about the same - 420 in the new scheme.
Ashton Gate is currently the only ground in the country without any corporate boxes but the plans include 18 of these in the Williams Stand and 14-16 in the Wedlock Stand.
There would also be 3-4 "party boxes" for groups of 40-50 people.
During the years, the club has been given permission to rebuild various parts of Ashton Gate but all of these consents have now expired.
But Mr Griffiths said that in the latest plans, the size of the revamped stands would be smaller than those which were given permission in the past.
He said he hoped this put them in a favourable position with their latest plans - but stressed that nothing could be taken for granted.
He said: "We are hoping that our plans will be well-received but we fully realise that there can be no guarantees.
"We want the landowners to win at the inquiry in October but at this stage, there is no way of knowing.
"These plans to rebuild Ashton Gate will enable us to keep our options open.
"We will run side-by-side on both schemes to make sure we eventually get a new stadium, one way or another."
He said if the council, for example, said they could not rebuild the current ground unless the club built three new schools, then that would not be something that they could afford.
He said they hoped they would be allowed to continue building new homes on the former allotment site near the ground to offset the costs of the rebuild.
Mr Griffiths said the club had taken its eye off the ball in the past because of the wrangle over Ashton Vale.
These latest plans will be managed by Bristol Sport, an umbrella company which was set up to manage the affairs of the football and rugby clubs, so they don't affect what happens on the pitch.
He stressed they want to go ahead with a new ground - even if the club gets relegated this season.
He added that it was logical and sensible for Bristol Rugby to groundshare with the football club to cut down on costs and make full use of a new stadium.
Bristol Rugby Club chairman Chris Booy said: "We now know that in the forseeable future, there will either be a new stadium at Ashton Vale or a redeveloped multi-purposed stadium at Ashton Gate.
"I am therefore now able to confirm that it is our intention to groundshare with the football club in the future."
Sainsbury's now face the prospect of not being able to go ahead with their new store at Ashton Gate.
A spokesman for the supermarket chain said: "Whilst we are disappointed that this decision would not provide our customers and colleagues with a new store in Ashton Gate at this time, we do appreciate that the club needs to explore all options available to them to secure their future."