Bristol City could play second fiddle to Rovers - Colin Sexstone
OUTGOING Bristol City chairman Colin Sexstone says the delay over the club's planned new stadium could see Bristol Rovers overtaking them and becoming the biggest sporting outfit in the area.
While City wait for another inquiry into whether the Ashton Vale site of their 30,000-seater ground can be developed, Rovers are also making plans for a new stadium, at Frenchay.
Mr Sexstone, who is quitting the City board after 11 years at the helm as chief executive and more recently chairman, has warned his successor Keith Dawe that complacency at Ashton Gate could see Rovers become the No 1 club in the city.
And he says City should already be looking at alternative sites to Ashton Vale, to ensure a new stadium can be built in the next few years.
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Despite this, Mr Sexstone believes the group standing in the way of the current stadium plan should "hang their heads in shame", adding the opportunity to create vital jobs for deprived areas in South Bristol are being squandered the longer the project is held up.
Bristolian Mr Sexstone leaves the Robins in a far stronger position than when he first arrived at Ashton Gate in 2001, but believes City's position is under threat if the Ashton Vale project ends in failure.
Although Bristol City Council have given planning permission for their stadium, the scheme is subject to approval by a central government inspector and is no nearer getting off the ground than when first launched in December 2007.
While City have been bogged down first by a public inquiry into whether the Ashton Vale site can be designated a town green, and then by a judicial review, Rovers have applied to South Gloucestershire Council for permission to build a £40 million, 21,700 all-seater stadium at Frenchay.
The Pirates may be operating two divisions beneath City in League Two, but Mr Sexstone is concerned that they will be in a position to challenge the Championship club's position if they move into their new stadium before City's £95m Ashton Vale project comes to fruition.
Mr Sexstone said: "We are by far the biggest sporting club in the region right now. But the challenge for those who follow me is to make sure that continues and Bristol City cements its position.
"If Bristol Rovers have their new stadium project approved, which appears likely, and we have still not got Ashton Vale off the ground, that may change. You cannot afford to dismiss the impact a new stadium can have on a football club and there are plenty of examples around the country.
"A new stadium tends to give clubs renewed impetus. Crowds go up, more money is invested and teams tend to be upwardly mobile as a result. We have Steve Lansdown's (City's owner) support and wealth behind us, but we cannot afford to become complacent."
Rather than expose themselves to further lengthy and expensive delays, Mr Sexstone insists City's board of directors should already be considering alternative options in the event that they are unable to proceed with the Ashton Vale project.
He said: "We gained planning permission to redevelop Ashton Gate several years ago and may end up having to go down that route. What we cannot do is wait another three years on Ashton Vale and then nothing happens.
"The club has to decide which way it goes. Does it go for the new stadium or cut its losses and redevelop Ashton Gate?
"There are three options as I see it – stay where you are and develop, push ahead with the Ashton Vale project or look to build a new stadium elsewhere.
"Whatever they do, any of those options will be better than sitting back and doing nothing."
Mr Sexstone has campaigned vehemently for a new stadium at Ashton Vale and continues to take issue with those who oppose the scheme.
He said: "It has been such a wasted opportunity. The small minority who have stood in the way of progress should look at those youngsters who leave school in south Bristol without jobs or apprenticeships and hang their heads in shame.
"They have abused the system and, although the legal situation will change in the future, it may not happen in time for this deal.
"To be given two planning permissions and still not be able to build the new stadium has to be the biggest frustration of my 11 years at Bristol City."