Bristol Rovers stadium "could bring massive boost"
BRISTOL Rovers' chairman Nick Higgs says a new stadium for the club would bring more than £150 million of investment and hundreds – if not thousands of jobs – to the area.
Mr Higgs has spoken on the day before councillors make a decision whether to give planning permission for a new Sainsbury's store at the club's current ground in Horfield.
If they give their consent, then the store would unlock the funding which is required to help pay for the new 21,700-seat stadium.
Mr Higgs told The Post: "We fully respect that the decision on Wednesday night lies entirely with the councillors and we would not want to try to put pressure on them in any way.
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"But what I would like to flag up are the enormous positives which would stem from a new stadium and what it would mean for the region as a whole."
The club has entered into a unique partnership with the University of the West of England in order to build the new UWE Stadium in Stoke Gifford near the MoD procurement base at Abbeywood. If the £40 million stadium goes ahead, it would be built on UWE land and part of the deal is to build a new car park for students as well as fans on match days.
This would unlock the university's existing Car Park 20 for the chance of building hundreds of new homes which represents an investment package of about £75 million.
On top of this, there are also hopes of building a new retirement village on part of the car park and nearby land which would cost about £20 million. The university wants to build a new academic block which would cost an estimated £25 million as well as new sports pitches which would cost about £2 million. The stadium itself would incorporate many new facilities, particularly a 1,000-seat conference centre and a gym.
Mr Higgs said: "If you take all these things into account, what you have is a fantastic good news story for the region, not just Bristol, in these times of economic austerity."
He said building the new stadium as well as the university's hopes for its redevelopment plans would create thousands of construction jobs alone.
On top of this, there would be hundreds of new permanent jobs at the stadium, the retirement village, the new academic block and the proposed Sainsbury's store.
Mr Higgs said one of the key aspects about the plans for a new store was that it was not just a supermarket, it was a mixed-use plan with 65 new homes, nearly half of which would be built for low-income families and the provision of community space.
Gloucester Road traders and Bristol's Green Party have spoken out against the new store because they believe it is too big and would have a negative impact on existing independent shops.
But Mr Higgs said there would be three-hour free parking which would help to regenerate the northern end of Gloucester Road where traders have suffered the worst, mostly because there is so little opportunity for shoppers to park.
He praised the planning officers for their fair and neutral report.
"We are obviously very pleased that the planning officers are recommending approval but ultimately we realise that the decision lies with the councillors," Mr Higgs said.
Bristol mayor George Ferguson has declined to comment about the Sainsbury's plan since he was elected because he said he did not want to interfere with the planning process.
But in the run up to the mayoral election in November, he said at public meetings that he supported the plan because he realised that it was crucial to help the club generate the finances it needs to move to a new home.
Mr Ferguson, however, was passionately against a Sainsbury's supermarket at Ashton Gate which City has always insisted was needed in order to help them fund a new stadium at Ashton Vale – an issue which is still locked in a dispute over the future of the site.
In the planning officer's report, it says the new store would not have "a significantly harmful impact" on traders in Gloucester Road.
The current economic health of Gloucester Road is considered to be good and it is predicted "it will continue to be good in the period to 2022".
The report says: "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 football, 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."
The planning officers realise there will be more traffic as a result of the new store but "not considered significant" when compared with other developments which have been given planning consent such as Southmead Hospital.
Although there has been opposition to the new store, an e-petition in favour has collected more than 1,600 names compared with three e-petitions against with a total of nearly 800 names.
The club has made it clear that it does not intend to stand still – whatever the decision tomorrow night and despite what might happen on the pitch. The club is currently languishing at the bottom of League Two and battling to avoid relegation.
If they cannot move to a new home, then they would look a ways of building a new stadium at the current ground for which they already have planning permission.
The new UWE Stadium has already been given planning permission by South Gloucestershire councillors.
The proposed Sainsbury's store would be 4,851 sq metres in size which compares with the chain's store in Fox Den Road, Filton at 4,698 sq metres and Tesco Extra in Eastville at 4,652 square metres.
The Sainsbury's store at Ashton Gate which has already been given planning permission is nearly twice as big at 9,290 sq metres.
The new store would be open 7am-11pm on Monday to Saturday and 10am-8pm Sundays and Bank Holidays and would employ 350 staff, 105 of them full-time.
The entrance would be from a mini roundabout in Filton Avenue and there would be 572 parking spaces.
A total of 65 homes would be wrapped around the store and a further 23 homes would be built for people on low-incomes.
A community building or commercial floorspace would also be provided as well as a public open space in the area of the existing Memorial Gates.
There are no plans for a petrol station on the site.
The new store would not be built until the stadium is completed.
Fears over impact on local trade
CAMPAIGNERS claim the planned supermarket will badly hit trade on nearby Gloucester Road.
The Green Party has come out against the proposed development. According to the campaigners a survey commissioned by the council found if the development goes ahead Gloucester Road shops will lose up to 19 per cent of turnover by 2017, resulting in many local closures.
Green Party councillor Gus Hoyt, who is also cabinet member for food, neighbourhoods and communities, said: “We must protect our valuable local shops if we are to thrive and survive as a city.
“Gloucester Road is one of the last streets in Bristol where there is a choice of grocers – a mega Sainsbury close by could destroy this precious resource.”
The City Council is obliged by new planning legislation to consider any damage new supermarkets will make to local high streets.