Crunch time for future of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club in Bristol
A CRITICAL moment for the future of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club is just 12 days away.
A committee of councillors will make a decision that will shape the future of cricket in Bristol.
In their hands they have the chance to vastly enhance the profile of the game in the city.
Approval of the development of the County Ground in Bishopston would guarantee the chance for international matches to be played here and would pave the way for facilities that would bring huge benefits to the wider community.
Exclusive images, right, show what the ground would look like if the proposals were granted – a remoulded pavilion with better media and conference facilities, improved seating and a development of 147 flats at one end of the ground.
But the decision hangs in the balance. Plans have already been rejected once and residents are divided over whether the value of the development would outweigh the impact it would have on their lives.
If it is rejected the club would seriously consider its future in Bristol and whether it is viable to stay at the Nevil Road site.
But the club's chief executive, Tom Richardson, is trying hard not to dwell on that possibility. Instead he is focusing on trying to persuade the "silent majority" of residents who back the plans and support the proposals to speak up and say so.
He said: "What is abundantly clear is there are huge numbers of people in Bristol who are very supportive of sport in general and the cricket club developing in particular.
"There is a huge groundswell of opinion on what we are trying to do, and we want people to contact the city council and support us. Our message that we really want to get out to those who want us to succeed is 'please make your voice heard'."
Mr Richardson has a vision for the club that could never have been dreamed of when Gloucestershire first took to the field at the site 122 years ago. That vision is not solely based around pursuing outstanding cricket, but on providing facilities and opportunities that will benefit the community for years to come.
He said: "We want to go forward as an extremely vibrant and successful club that is a key part of Bristol and is also a key part of the community.
"It is about us taking our place in the community, not just through sport but a variety of other activities. One of the things we want to do is introduce a learning centre, aimed at schools coming here and learning and teaching through the medium of cricket.
"Youngsters would be able to come here and do things like working on averages and cricket records to help their numeracy, nutrition and fitness for science or map reading for geography and writing a match report for literacy.
"We already have an agreement with Ashley Down Primary School, where they can come and play sport and have an after-school club. It is a good thing – they are our neighbours and we want to be involved with them.
"Our community engagement is also about the gym, which has 1,250 members, half of whom are local, and developing and continually improving that, and we have a Youth Trust which helps young people in cricket.
"Of course, the development is about cricket as well.
"It is about being a vibrant and successful club on the field, being a centre of excellence for people playing cricket, to attract, retain and train the very best young cricketers and develop them."
The development of the ground is also vital if international cricket is to stay in Bristol. The County Ground currently hosts one-day internationals but the England and Wales Cricket Board has said it needs to be redeveloped to provide better facilities for that to continue.
Mr Richardson said: "That is an important part of what we are doing. We want to continue hosting internationals, as they are hugely important for the club and its future.
"But cricket clubs – and other sports clubs – have to be much wider than just playing matches on a number of days a year.
"It is about running a wide and varied business and having a wide and varied group of people coming in and using it. That is fundamental."
The club has to raise £10 million for its ambitions of a new pavilion and 7,500 seats – with capacity for 9,500 more temporary seats – to be realised. But plans for a seven-storey block of 147 flats at one end were rejected in January.
The revised application – of an extended building of six storeys, which now fits more closely with the government's goals on energy-efficiency and sustainability, is before the council, and a decision will be made on May 30. But there are still mixed views from residents on the entire development, with fears of insufficient parking and accusations that developer Linden Homes has failed to offer enough money for community improvements.
Mr Richardson: "Since January we have worked really hard to try and address the issues that were brought up and have endeavoured to talk to as many people as possible and to accommodate as many views as we can. We have looked at our section 106 contributions and tried to look at the variety we offer."
Mr Richardson is optimistic that the proposals will be approved, and is trying not to think about the possibility of the club's ambitions being thwarted yet again.
He said: "We didn't expect it to take this long or for there to be this number of pitfalls.
"It has been a long road and now we are two weeks off a key stage in the club's history.
"We are going flat out to be in a position to try to convince the planning committee to give us approval.
"However, if it were to go against us I think we would have a fundamental re-appraisal of where we are going to be as a club.
"We would lose international cricket, possibly forever, and that re-appraisal is how we would seek to position ourselves as a club.
"Part of that may be moving."
But for the moment that possibility is firmly at the back of Mr Richardson's mind.
He said: "It is massively important now for the club that we get this development through. We have an opportunity to take a real leap forward, both on the field and off."
For more information and to have your say on the development, visit www.gloscricket.co.uk/information/ ground-development-get-involved.