Bristol Rovers will build stadium, even if they are relegated
BRISTOL Rovers will go ahead with their new stadium even if they lose their Football League status.
The club have been given a lift by council officers recommending approval for the plan to sell the Memorial Stadium site to build a new Sainsbury’s supermarket.
Rovers’ chairman Nick Higgs says that despite the club’s perilous position at the foot of League Two, they will build the new 20,000-seater ground even if playing non-league football.
Councillors will meet next Wednesday to decide whether to give permission for a new Sainsbury’s supermarket at the Memorial Stadium in Horfield.
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They have been recommended to approve by planning officers and if consent is given, then the Secretary of State will be asked to make a final decision.
If this hurdle is overcome and the plan does not become involved in a legal wrangle, then work on the new Rovers stadium could start in the summer.
The new store will not be built until Rovers’ stadium is finished.
Rovers cannot finance their new £40 million ground near the MoD base at Abbeywood unless they can sell their current ground to the supermarket chain for a new store.
The club has always hoped that the new stadium would be ready for the start of the 2014/15 season but they are now looking to be ready for August 2015/16.
Meanwhile, progress on City’s hopes of a new £92 million stadium at Ashton Vale is still deadlocked because of a legal dispute over the future of the site at Ashton Vale.
An inquiry is now expected to be held in October when new evidence will be put before an inspector who will have to draw up a report and make recommendations.
Even if the decision is in the club’s favour and there are no further legal disputes, the build time for the City stadium is about 88 weeks, which means it is unlikely to be ready before the start of the new season in 2016 at the earliest.
A decision on the new Sainsbury’s store in Horfield has been put back since the autumn while the council’s planning officers examine the plans and assess the impact on nearby traders and traffic issues.
Bristol Rovers’ chairman Nick Higgs said: “We are very pleased that the officer has recommended approval for the Sainsbury’s development, this is very positive news for the new stadium.
“However this is just another step in the right direction, and ultimately the decision rests with the committee next Wednesday.
“It will be a travesty if this development is not approved. Sainsbury’s have put a lot of careful thought into the mixed-use development of the land, which includes not just a supermarket, but affordable housing, community space and a Memorial Garden. As well as that, a new stadium would be a massive benefit to the whole of the South West region.”
Although the club is currently languishing at the bottom of League Two, Mr Higgs said they want to forge ahead with the new stadium whatever happened on the pitch.
He said: “Obviously we do not want to be where we are at the moment, but our position in the league will not impact the building of the new stadium should Sainsbury’s be successful. We will be pushing on with the development.”
In his report to councillors, planning officer Peter Westbury says the new store will not have “a significantly harmful impact” on traders in Gloucester Road.
The current economic health of Gloucester Road is considered to be good “and the prediction is that it will continue to be good in the period to 2022”, Mr Westbury says.
He explains: “It is predicted that although there will be levels of trade diversion from stores in Gloucester Road, particularly the convenience goods sector, including the potential for store closures and reducing footfall, there will be far greater impact on existing out-of-town convenience stores (Golden Hill for example) which are located at a further distance from Gloucester Road.”
He says there is a difference of opinion between the level of linked trips to Gloucester Road as a result of the new store being built.
He adds that free parking for three hours at the new store would also reduce the impact on Gloucester Road.
On traffic, Mr Westbury says: “The advice received is that the proposed development will lead to additional traffic within this part of the road network. It is not considered significant when compared against the impacts of consented development such as Southmead Hospital.”
He says that without taking road improvement measures, there would be increased queuing, more use of alternative routes and delays to bus services.
But a range of measures have been negotiated which include alterations to signal timing at Filton Avenue/ Muller Road and Muller Road/ Gloucester Road, increasing bus priority and providing more safety for cyclists.
He concludes: “Overall, the proposals raise issues particularly in relation to retail impact and traffic impact.
“However these concerns must be weighed against the benefits of enabling the development of improved sporting facilities for the benefit of the greater Bristol area.”
Bristol mayor George Ferguson said he did not wish to make any personal comments because he did not want to be seen as interfering with the planning process.
He said: “I think this is a matter for the planning committee and I am sure they will take all matters into account before reaching a decision.”
Although Mr Ferguson declined to comment, he made it clear during hustings events in the run-up to the mayoral election that he supported a supermarket at the Memorial Stadium.
He said he realised the new store provided most of the funding which was required for the club to get its new home.
However, Mr Ferguson was passionately opposed to a Sainsbury’s supermarket at Ashton Gate which would help Bristol City FC fund its new £92 million stadium at Ashton Vale and which is still tied up in a legal wrangle over the future of the site.
Mr Ferguson was often quizzed at the hustings on this issue and he replied by saying that he did not believe that City needed the money from Sainsbury’s as badly as Rovers and that the store at Ashton Gate was much bigger.