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This report considers the suitability of two possible sites for the creation of an expanded, 40,000 seat stadium for Notts County FC.
These are the existing Meadow Lane ground, which would require a doubling of capacity, and which lies at the heart of the Waterside Regeneration Scheme in a run down area on the edge of Central Nottingham; and a new "greenfield" site at Gamston, on the edge of Nottingham. The sites are covered by Nottingham City Council and Rushcliffe Borough Council respectively.
Planning considerations are not completely clear from a desktop survey and would require detailed negotiations prior to any formal commitment. The Meadow Lane redevelopment would probably receive a favourable response from the City Council, possibly at the cost of substantial "Developers' Contributions" especially in the area of transport, where the Council has ambitious plans for a new West-East link road and Public Transport Interchange. Gamston is in Green Belt land and would almost certainly be opposed by Rushcliffe Borough Council with the backing of the County Council. However, there are already suggestions from the Regional Authority to modify the Green Belt to the South of Nottingham and, if the Gamston scheme could be presented in conjunction with housing development this might well find favour with The Secretary of State, who would have the final say, rather than Nottinghamshire County.
Physically Gamston has all the benefits of a large Greenfield site close to the main A52, whereas Meadow Lane is constrained and might require compulsory purchase to release the necessary extra space, plus risks of flooding, potential ground contamination and expensive demolition/reconstruction. Closer investigation via detailed geotechnical surveys is required but the physical site characteristics seem to favour Gamston.
Financially, the benefits of disposing of the land at Meadow Lane make the Gamston site marginally more attractive like-for-like. Furthermore, even a modest development (5 retail units and 50 houses on the site offered by the Gamston landowner is proposed) would fully fund the costs of the new stadium.
Both sites could be completed in the requisite two years although the complexities of the Waterside land ownership and infrastructure situation make this a much more risky timeline, especially if the redevelopment has to work around maintaining continuity of play, whereas these are not issues at Gamston.
There are question regarding access at Gamston, both securing legal right of access over the rest of the land held by the site owner, and physical construction of a new junction on the A52 with the Highways Agency. These are less potentially difficult than the manifold dependencies of being part of the multi-partner Waterside Scheme.
Therefore all analyses point convincingly in favour of a new stadium at Gamston as the easiest, quickest and most financially viable solution to expanding the Club's facilities. The Meadow Lane redevelopment option should be considered only as "Plan B" : an option to be kept open until remaining issues with Gamston have been resolved.
Background and Introduction
Notts County FC's current home at Meadow Lane is the oldest football stadium in the UK. It is located on the South side of Central Nottingham and has a current capacity of 20,000, which will constrain the Club's ambitions under their new owners.
To facilitate their plans the Club's new owners are prepared to fund an upgrade of the ground to a 40,000 seat stadium with new ancillary facilities. They require advice regarding the relative merits of re-developing Meadow Lane, or moving to a Greenfield location at Gamston, on the outskirts of Nottingham. The main client constraints are: a desire to maintain continuity of play during the process; a requirement to complete the project in two years; and as fast a return on their investment as possible, preferably through additional income streams.
Objectives of Report
This report aims:-
To assess what the planning issues are for each option.
As far as can be estimated from a "desk-top" survey, to highlight physical and other issues, not directly related to planning regulation.
To compare the likely financial viability of the two proposals, and assess funding streams that might contribute to a rapid recouping of the outlay
To provide a timescale for the development
To highlight risks and possible contractual issues and suggest possible "abnormal" costs or restrictions arising from planning.
Details of the Sites (see Appendix 1)
Meadow Lane borders Nottingham City Centre, close to the Cattle Market.
The land is low lying, close to the River Trent and bordered to the West by the canal. The area is mainly run-down or derelict commercial properties.
Gamston Lies on the southern fringes of Nottingham, and is currently farmland, with mainly owner-occupied housing to the west, across the main A52 road which also forms the Northern border of the site. See diagram 3.
The planning authority is Nottingham City Council, a Unitary Authority.
Not all councils have completed their Local Development Frameworks (LDF) but Nottingham City's is quite advanced with a fairly full set of Development Plan Documents (DPDs) having been approved, allowing a clear view of what kind of development the council foresees (NCC 2009)
The area which includes the current ground has been designated as the "Waterside Regeneration Scheme". NCC (2009) are aiming for "mixed-use sustainable neighbourhoods" with housing in the initial phases.
Other major elements of Waterside include:-
improvements to canal and river frontages and waterside paths;
new riverside walkway/promenade;
possible new footbridges over the River Trent;
new canal basin;
new Riverside Park/Plaza and linear park linking the river with the new canal basin;
new hotel/conference centre close to Trent Bridge;
public transport corridor through the area
leisure, waterside facilities and amenity space
Their most ambitious scheme is a new "Public Transport Interchange" and a west-east road is planned to link the Canal Pool development with the Trent riverside, via this PTI.
Several areas have been designated for development:-
Iremonger Road DS to the West.
Meadow Lane DS to the east.
Eastcroft Depot DS to the North.
Details are shown in Appendix 2.
The existing stadium itself is not one of the designated development sites. But this does not imply any resistance to development, merely that the ground is not vacant, derelict or under compulsory purchase. But the Council has indicated a willingness to assist developers who want to partner in Waterside, especially in compulsorily purchasing land where development is hampered by fragmented ownership.
The Council is non-committal in its public policies, acknowledging that football is not an ideal usage side-by-side with the residential developments it seeks to promote. NCC say that, while anticipating Notts County will remain there for the foreseeable future, the plans are flexible enough to allow the Club to relocate.(NCC 2001)
Unlike some parts of Waterside, there are no special restrictions such as possible archaeological interest. But the northern edge of the site is earmarked for the new West-East link road and the site is also constrained by existing roads which might need to be relocated to accommodate a larger footprint.
This brings up an important point: the willingness, as indicated in the brief of Nottingham Council to retain the Club within the City, may indicate a desire to make the Club contribute heavily to the infrastructure costs of Waterside. The Interim Planning Guidance for Waterside (NCC 2001) states that "The greatest potential problems may relate to car access on match days and strict on-street parking controls will be required, together with investment in public transport facilities to reduce the car dependence of football fans".
Elsewhere contributions to transport are cited as one of the most important requirements which will be expected from Developers' Contributions. So the Club, in opting for a redevelopment at Meadow Lane might find they are tied into the financial burdens as well as logistical and time delays of the Council's major infrastructure schemes, with dozens of partners and over £1billion in investments hoped for.
Gamston is in the county of Nottinghamshire but the planning authority is Rushcliffe Borough Council. The site is shown in Appendix 3.
Rushcliffe has a less complete LDF, and this gives us a less clear idea of the planners' intentions than Nottingham City Council's LDF (Rushcliffe 2010) Most of the key DPD's which go to make up the LDF are still in preparation or pending approval including the Development Requirements, Generic Control Policies, Open Space, Sport and Recreation Policies and any Site-Specific Proposals and so we can only judge from the "Interim Planning Statement" and a series of pre-2005 policies (referred to as "saved policies" which remain in force until the LDP is complete).
However, as with Meadow Lane, we can make good assumptions about the likely stance of Rushcliffe BC towards a stadium development.
The area is Green Belt. Compared Meadow Lane in a designated Redevelopment Scheme, this might make Gamston seem like a non-starter as a site in terms of planning laws alone. But the Green Belt is not sacrosanct. The East Midlands Regional Authority (EMRA) which is composed of representatives of all Local Authorities states "South of Nottingham the Green Belt, while supporting the constrainment of the urban area it is not separating major areas of developmentâ€¦ Extending Nottingham to the South (within Rushcliffe Borough)â€¦recognises that these areasâ€¦ contain less important Green Belt land " (EMRA 2006)
The Gamston site is also literally only just in the inner fringe of the Green Belt and is not pure open countryside. It borders housing and main roads as noted, and is also adjacent to a Council depot, a small airport, former gravel quarries and a golf course. So whilst Green Belt status is hard to overcome this site stands more chance than most of being allowed or the area being de-designated from the Green Belt altogether.
DEFRA issued guidelines in May 2009 specifically allowed building on Green Belt in some circumstances in order to assist in reaching the national quota for new, affordable housing. Rushcliffe has an allocation of 15,000 new homes under DEFRA's guidelines, and 10,000 of these are required to be located in Gamston and neighbouring West Bridgeford.
There has already actually been a stadium proposal on the site together with 5,000 homes, which Rushcliffe opposed. They were supported by Nottinghamshire County Council who, although they have no planning authority on the issue, actually withdrew their bid to host 2018 World Cup matches rather than support a stadium at Gamston (Notts CC 2009). This caused much protest locally, and from Nottingham City Council and there were comments in the media that Rushcliffe BC was being so obstructive to development as to risk having its Planning Authority status transferred to another Authority (BBC 2009). As the Secretary of State at DEFRA is the appeal route in the event of a refusal by Rushcliffe, there are indications that opposition by Rushcliffe might not be an insurmountable barrier.
There are best illustrated by a comparative table:-
New prestige regeneration zone
Currently much is run down and derelict
Excellent Greenfield location
Clearly suitable for construction
Probably suitable (requires geotechnical survey)
Low lying and gently sloping may indicate clay or alluvium requiring expensive ground works
Within flood risk area (Environment Agency 2010)
Outside flood risk area (Environment Agency 2010) which stops at A52
Potential toxic ground on adjacent sites due to former industrial uses: investigation required (Kelly 1999)
Farmland: no hazards anticipated but investigation recommended.
Purchase of additional land essential in order to extend stadium, provide parking and ancillary buildings: constrained by land ownership, existing roads and proposed West-East transport link
Ample land offered: enough for 40,000 seat stadium, parking, ancillary buildings and some additional development too.
Considerably more land available potentially from landowner
Conflicting land uses
Residential proposed, but this is not considered an insurmountable problem
Existing residential to West will probably generate objections to noise
Complex &expensive demolition required to be done in
stages while maintaining play
No demolition costs. Construction quicker and cheaper and no need to "work around" maintaining play on site
City Centre accessible from railway station on foot and close to new Public Transport Interchange
Restricted parking, congested streets, PIE has no clear schedule
Close to main A52
2 miles from train station. New slip road onto A52 required.
Access over land not offered to developer will need to be negotiated
Services (Drainage, electricity etc)
Cost of re-working them for new stadium unknown
Laying on new services could be cheaper than reworking existing
Unlikely to have existing services
Price of Land
The above points in favour of Gamston as a better development site, although detailed survey work on the ground is required to ascertain several points
Investigation of Funding Streams:
There are four potential main funding streams for a football stadium:
The normal income (ticket receipts, TV rights, merchandising etc)
Developing parts of the site to provide other uses eg retail units, housing
Sharing the ground with another user such as another football club or (more usually) a different sport such as Rugby, greyhound racing etc
Disposal of the Meadow Lane site (if moving to Gamston)
On criterion a) Gamston involves less interruption to play therefore it is better from the funding point of view, although in the long term that is minor and both sites could expect broadly similar levels of "normal" football income.
On criterion b) Gamston clearly has much more potential than Meadow Lane.
At Meadow Lane the Club is going to have to secure land anyway to provide enough space to expand the facilities at Meadow Lane, and so any attempts at making money from other developments (b above) are pretty much non-existent. The Club would have to raise much more money over and above the costs of its own development if it wanted to purchase other areas in Waterside and invest in speculative developments such as hotels or offices. These might be good investments, but are risky and would require the owners to raise a lot more capital.
Gamston forms part of a wider site of 1.4million m2. Of this approx 120,000 m2 has been offered to the club. The stadium itself will occupy around 30,000 m2 . Depending on the parking area (which can be reduced by using multi-storey) perhaps half of the land can be developed for other tenants. Retail units or housing are the obvious partner-usage for this edge of town location.
Housing is profitable and also low-risk, and the money is recouped much quicker as each section of the development is completed and sold. As noted under "Planning", housing will also increase the chances of obtaining planning consent on this Green Belt site, and it would be worth the site owners investigating whether they can secure the whole site from the land owner in order to undertake a major development. Costings in this report are based only on assuming 50 houese and 5 retail units on the site as currently offered.
Under criterion c) both sites would be well placed to attract a partner club to share use of the site, especially as Nottingham is in the East Midlands which is a very centrally located area with an existing concentration of prestige sports facilities.
Public funding (criterion d) for a football club is unlikely. However one of the arguments for the existing stadium proposal which was actually made at Gamston was that it would be able to host events in the 2012 Olympics and/or Possible World Cup in 2018. Presenting the new stadium as a valuable "National" facility with positive community spin-offs might attract some Government finance. There is no strong case why this should favour Meadow Lane or Gamston, but the latter is probably easier to present as something for the Country and the East Midlands region, than a simple redevelopment of an existing ground.
So Gamston is again favoured, especially on criterion b).
The following factors must be analysed:-
Land costs. It is assumed Meadow Lane is already owned but additional land would be needed.
Construction costs involved. It is reasonable to assume these will be lower at Gamston which is a "clean" quick new build. The cost of services is higher but the project can be completed much quicker and there is no messy partial demolition
Costs and income from additional development.
Land : costs of main site
To expand stadium and provide parking &ancillary buildings
Assuming it's q quicker, easier job to build on Greenfield site
From A52 and across neighbouring farmland
Developers' Contribution to Local Authority
Assuming NCC will demand high contributions to Waterside Scheme
Legal. Planning, architects fees &consultancies
Sale of Meadow Lane site
Construction cost of 50 houses @ £100,000 and 5 retail units @ £450,000
Under DEFRA density guidelines, these could be accommodated without additional land
Sale of 50 houses @ £185,000 and 5 retail leases @ £750,000
These are realistic house prices: Average for Rushcliffe is over £200,000
Sale of sub-lease to another shared usage club
These figures are very much just for illustration. What they show is the Gamston site is clearly more financially viable. Obviously this comes mainly from the profit of £5.75m made on the additional modest development of 50 new homes and 5 retail units. Although of course the Club owners would need risk more capital this effectively completely funds the cost of the new stadium outright. However, even without the profit on that development, the net cost of Gamston is still lower like-for-like due to the disposal of Meadow Lane and lower anticipated Developer Contributions.
The Problem of Maintaining Continuity
Continuity is not an issue if the Club selects Gamston. However if Meadow Lane is re-developed, it's hard to see how play could continue without hampering the reconstruction process thereby adding to the time the redevelopment takes (and therefore the cost).
A simplified Gant chart is shown in Appendix 4.
The project can be completed within the two years, but there is little buffer time in the Meadow Lane plan to cover complex issues surrounding the other elements of the Waterside Redevelopment Scheme that might cause knock on delays to the Stadium project.
The Gamston plan has more contingency time, but also it's fair to say the risks of a protracted planning process, should Rushcliffe BC oppose and an appeal to the Secretary of State result in a Public Enquiry.
Planning: Nottingham CC demands for Developer contributions make scheme non-viable.
Logistical: Delays while other elements of Waterside Scheme are fixed and compulsory purchases made.
Physical: Necessity to undertake expensive flood protection or toxic ground clean-up.
The above would all be mitigated by commencing investigations as soon as possible and not committing to this scheme until the matters are clearly settled. A commitment too early would give the Club a very weak negotiating stance with Nottingham City Council.
Planning: Rushcliffe BC opposition to Gamston upheld by Secretary of State or sent to lengthy Public Enquiry.
Legal: Disputes with landowner about access rights.
Financial: Future rent on the leasehold site.
The mitigation of the planning risk is by starting informal talks as soon as possible, both with Rushcliffe and with DEFRA to ascertain their likely response to any appeal. The legal and financial risks just require very careful legal checking prior to committing to the site.
Financial: Cost over-runs and time over-runs, especially if this imperils sub-letting to a partner club. Sensible budgeting, regular reviews by an independent auditor and strong penalty clauses on sub-contractors are the best mitigation.
Acquisition and Disposal of Land
These points have been covered under "planning" and "risk". However there are two extra points to note:
It would be possible to improve the financial attractiveness of Meadow Lane if the freehold were sold and the site leased back or alternatively mortgaged. That makes no real difference in the long run but it does generate income early in the project to reduce the impact on the Club Owners' cash flow.
To lessen the difficulty of raising the large sums required for the Gamston investment, the club could sell Meadow Lane early in the process, provided they negotiated rights to continue play there for the short term to maintain continuity.
The special conditions which can be applied when granting Planning Permission (under Section 106 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act) can create significant costs or inconvenience.
The most likely are restrictions on parking and/or making the Club responsible for funding special traffic measures and Police public order costs.
There could be restrictions on when matches can be played (Sundays, Bank Holidays, evenings etc) which, if not settled could be very costly for the Club.
It is not uncommon for developers to accept these conditions, but later claim that circumstances have changed, and get the conditions modified or dropped later. As with all planning issues, an early start to informal discussions with the authority is best.
The conclusion, expanded upon in the Executive Summary is that Gamston provides much the stronger of the two options for the new stadium. Meadow Lane should be a fall-back option in case DEFRA does not over ride Rushcliffe BC's opposition to the Gamston site.
Appendix 1 Location of the two sites, relative to Nottingham Connurbation and the Nottingham-Derby Green Belt
Appendix 2 Meadow Lane site
Appendix 3 Gamston site.
Appendix 4 Timeline