Former chief Colin Sexstone believes Bristol City fans will accept staying at Ashton Gate
FORMER Bristol City chairman Colin Sexstone believes the club's decision to push ahead with plans to redevelop Ashton Gate will be popular with supporters.
As revealed in yesterday's Post, City have announced a £40 million scheme, underwritten by majority shareholder Steve Lansdown, to rebuild Ashton Gate in case plans to construct a new 30,000 all-seat stadium at nearby Ashton Vale are thwarted.
If an inquiry into Ashton Vale goes against the landowners in October, the club will focus instead on plans to rebuild the Wedlock and Williams Stands and renovate the Atyeo and Dolman Stands and increase capacity at Ashton Gate to 26,000.
And Sexstone, who spent five years campaigning for a new stadium at Ashton Vale, appreciates the short-term benefits of staying at Ashton Gate, the club's spiritual home for more than 100 years.
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In an exclusive interview, he told The Post: "I fully understand why they are considering this option, bearing in mind that there have been five or six years of fighting over a new ground.
"It will give the fans immediate closure and there will be a lot of support from the fan-base for this. The fans will be emotionally tied to what they see as their spiritual home and that makes this scheme attractive.
"It has been a very difficult and frustrating process and their decision (to look at redeveloping Ashton Gate) does not surprise me.
"I think it is borne out of total frustration from Steve Lansdown's point of view. He has spent a shed-load of money, only to be undone by circumstances out of his control.
"Even now, there was still no certainty after more than five years. At least redeveloping Ashton Gate gives you certainty which, in itself, is quite an attractive proposition."
Sexstone fronted City's new stadium project in his capacity as City chief executive and then chairman, working closely with Bristol City Council. He is convinced it will be easier to gain planning permission to redevelop Ashton Gate.
He said: "The planning applications will not be easy, but will be fairly straightforward, because they have had planning before.
"Unless there is something vastly different going in, there is no reason why they should not get planning permission.
"Bristol City already own the land and it is under their control. They are not dependent upon outside forces that can stop you. There are no nasty secrets lurking around the corner."
Sexstone also points out that redeveloping Ashton Gate will be cheaper in the short term.
He said: "Another advantage is that you can do the work in two phases. You don't have to do phase two until you feel there is a business case to do so. The initial costs can seem, on the face of it, considerably cheaper than going to a new stadium.
"If you look at the building of new stadia, the purchase of the land and the cost of putting an infrastructure around it, together with the construction of the stadium itself, you are looking at circa £80m."
But Sexstone also sees a downside to staying put and insists the city of Bristol as a whole will lose out if the football club decides to turn its back on Ashton Vale later this year.
He warned: "You have to consider the lost income of developing, while you are playing at the stadium. Depending where you are at the time, that could cost between £5-10 million in lost ticket sales.
"You're capacity is going to go down and it could go as low as 15,000. It will be sod's law that then is when you have a fantastic season and cannot cash in.
"Obviously that compares badly to a new stadium with 30,000 seats. In that respect, it will be more expensive to stay at Ashton Gate."
He added: "The second and perhaps biggest disadvantage is loss of commercial opportunities. You only have to see what Brighton, Cardiff and Swansea have done commercially.
"Their commercial growth has been based upon the excitement of a new stadium and the sponsorship opportunities that derive from that, particularly naming rights.
"Brighton's Amex is a good example of a deal that nets you £1 million a year over 15 years. You will get minimal naming rights for a revamped Ashton Gate. It has been Ashton Gate for about 100 years and it is what it is. No-one is going to spend big money on naming rights."
Sexstone also questions whether a 26,000 all-seat Ashton Gate will be big enough in the event the Robins one day make it to the Premier League.
He told The Post: "The other big disadvantage is in terms of potential. With any new stadium, you have to look forward by between 50 to 100 years. Who is to know where Bristol City will be or might want to be 50 years from now?
"One of the reasons we gave in favour of a new stadium was that it gave us the ability to increase capacity relatively quickly and we had plans in place to build upwards to take us from 30,000 to 42,000 at relatively low cost if we felt the demand might be there.
"It is very hard to see how you can grow Ashton Gate beyond 30,000. At the moment, people will look and ask why on earth will they want 30,000?
"But if you look at clubs like Southampton, Reading, Cardiff and Brighton, they are all looking to now go beyond 30,000. None of those are clubs you would describe as being bigger than Bristol City. In terms of potential, Bristol City could be the biggest of the lot."