Wednesday, 9 March 2011

An 'inspirational' shed for Cornwall

Last night, councillors were given a sneak preview of the plans for the Stadium for Cornwall (sic). I haven't been able to talk publicly until now as the Council has released the papers for the Cabinet meeting next week.

In short, what we have to date is a set of very colourful drawings and an idea about what the stadium might look like and how it might be funded.

The work to date has been done by a firm of architects and a team of stadium specialists working with a raft of council officers. The architect and specialist fees have been paid for by a grant of £78,000 to the Council. I presume that the officers' pay has come from council taxpayers.

The next stage is for more planning and development work to be done and this will cost £120,000 which will come from the Council's budget. The proposal to spend this money is the basis of the request to the Cabinet.

The stadium drawings envisage three options ranging from 10,000 to 15,000 seats and with a variety of facilities from the fairly basic to the fairly plush. It also seems possible that a basic stadium could be upgraded in the future to gain extra capacity if this is needed, but presumably the cost of retro-fitting would be higher than building the plush version from scratch.

The costs are said to range from about £14.6 million for the basic model up to £24 million for the plush version. But this does not take account of environmental standards which the Council has said it wants or fixtures, fittings and equipment - quite a hefty addition. The full masterplan - including relocating Truro Leisure Centre and adding in an all-weather pitch and hotel is estimated to come in at an eye-watering £41 million. The cost also ignores the price of the land itself. It is proposed that Cornwall Council donates this for a nominal fee.

As expected, the key to any stadium is to have the Pirates as anchor tenants. As I have said previously, they are the only team which could possibly make this stadium work. It is also suggested that Truro City FC might be subsidiary anchor tenants and that is one of the prime reasons for the site chosen at Threemilestone, next to the existing park and ride. Being near Truro is also said to make the facility attractive as a conference venue.

As for running costs, it is predicted that the basic model would cost about £615,000 to run per year and that the plush version would cost just over a million to run per annum. The prediction is that, once the income has been taken into account, the basic version would lose about £14k per year and the plush version make about £195k profit. I have yet to see the justification for these figures (it is admitted that they are vbery much a first guess) but am told that it includes the assumption that Truro City will be playing in the Conference national in front of gates of over 1000.

How would the money be found? According to the report from the experts, it would need to come from a mix of four sources:

- Private sector investment;
- Section 106 contributions;
- Other public sector investment (noted as unlikely due to the Olympics);
- Cornwall Council capital investment.

Crucially, it is envisaged by all the experts I talked to that there would need to be council and other public sector funding as there seemed no way that either a private sector business (presumably the Pirates) or planning gain (also known as section 106 money) could fund the whole project.

If s106 money was involved, this would be the equivalent of the entire contribution from building around 3000-5000 new homes with no contributions for affordable housing, new roads or schools. However one option which I understand is being looked at is to build a massive supermarket in place of some of the proposed housing and this is the only option being considered which would lessen the need for council money.

And so what would the Council and taxpayers get out of funding such a project if council money was needed?

The lead officer I talked to accepted that the Stadium would basically be run by the anchor tenants. In other words, the Pirates (with or without Truro City) would control what was able to happen on the pitch. I would suggest that this means that the opportunity for youth rugby and football, as well as concerts and festivals, will be strictly limited. Why? Because any groundsman would want to keep his or her pitch in as good a condition as possible and that means restricting the number of games on it. Even during the summer off-season most groundsmen want to avoid any play to allow the pitch to recover. The last thing we want is to be in the Wembley scenario of re-surfacing the playing surface every 9 months because of concerts or American Football games.

On the subject of concerts, the officers told me that they had not factored these into the use of the pitch. Applications might come forward, but they accepted that the space was far from ideal for that type of use.

And yet the gain to the Council is said to be that the Stadium will be inspirational for young people.

Personally, I agree that sport can be inspirational but I don't think that the stadia themselves can be except when they get to the size of Twickenham or Old Trafford. Certainly a set of four stands, only one of them with a roof, is hardly going to be the stuff that dreams are made of. It might be new and shiny for a few years, but the gloss soon wears off. For the £5 million or more that taxpayers might be asked to put into the project, I don't think we are going to get much inspiration for our buck. In my view, inspiration comes from meeting and being trained by your sporting heroes, not playing in a shed-like stadium in front of a couple of hundred fans. The right sort of community engagement can generate inspiration on a muddy park just as much as in a multi-million pound stadium. I'd therefore rather see such monies that appear to be available put into the excellent Cornwall Sports Partnership coaching events.

Much has been made recently about the other possible benefits to Cornwall resulting from such a project. The report says that the possible net benefits from the basic stadium might be just under £3 million per year and 114 jobs and from the plush version just over £3 million and 399 jobs. How these figures are arrived at I don't know. There is certainly no mention of the purported £20 million benefit to the Cornish economy from travelling fans. If such a study exists then it has clearly passed the experts by.

Of course, it is possible that a plan can be devised that does not require public money. If that does turn out to be the case then it is no longer a matter for me or my fellow councillors except with regard to planning and traffic concerns.

However, on the basis of the designs we have seen, I hope that there are a few changes made:

- At the moment, there only appear to be two changing rooms. If the plan is to have kids sports festivals and tournaments as well as exhibition games, then there need to be a lot more changing facilities than this;
- The designs don't show the floodlights. Given the size of the stands, they would have to be pylon mounted and therefore quite a consideration is missing;
- There is a lack of training or warm-up pitches shown on the plans at the moment. For a stadium to be truly viable - especially if used by more than one team - there needs to be adequate facilities that don't involve the main pitch.
- I am concerned about the confidence that businesses such as sports injury clinics will be rushing to take up the business space underneath the stands. These spaces will only have limited windows, look out over bare concrete and have no parking within 50 yards. Hardly an attractive proposition.

Of course, all of these flaws could be designed out before a formal planning application is made.

And so my conclusion is that this is still an interesting project without any proof behind it. I have no objection to it in principle if it is being undertaken purely by the private sector. But I don't see that enough benefit is involved for the people of Cornwall if public money is involved. The basic version is a typical 'shed' type stadium which will be an improvement on what is available at the moment but hardly inspirational. Even the plush version hardly takes your breath away and the full run out of that (as depicted in the drawings) will cost up to £41 million. At a time when Cornwall Council is cutting front-line services left, right and centre including funding for sports and other activities, I don't see that the investment in this project from public money can be justified.


Sam Marsden said...

In theory, without much thought, I would say I am an advocate of the SfC. However a lot of valid points are raised in this blog. Which does make me think that maybe there is a lot of detail which needs sorting to make it a viable development.

Only thing I would pick up on is:

There is a lack of training or warm-up pitches shown on the plans at the moment. For a stadium to be truly viable - especially if used by more than one team - there needs to be adequate facilities that don't involve the main pitch.

If its sole purpose is that of a stadium- to accommodate sporting teams- what stadiums do have separate warm up pitches? Obviously I haven't got an understanding of the designs and maybe I have misunderstood. Perhaps it is more of a sports complex?

Duncan said...

I give up with you; you couldn't have written this piece more pessimistically if you tried!

"Your piece about inspiration is frankly a joke, "a few hundred fans in a shed"....PLEASE. Whatever the stadium the inspiration will be seeing TOP professional sportsmen playing! Kids seeing Chris Aston Dive, and the stardom that brings!

You almost skirt over the fact that it can bring in £3million a Year (that’s £30 million if Mr Evans is true to has word about a 10 year cost free solution!) plus the money from travelling fans!

You seem intent on highlighting the negatives and dismissing the positives, it’s no wonder young people move away from this county with such attitudes! I guess the council can look forward to all that a second home /retirement county has to offer! A huge NHS bill and a shrinking economy.

Alex Folkes said...

Thanks for the two replies.

Sam - the warm up pitches are needed because there is only a certain amount you can do on the main pitch. Especially during wet weather, it is better to leave the main pitch for the actual game.
This is particularly the case where you have two teams playing on it regularly and cup finals, exhibition games etc.

Duncan - I think you are misunderstanding what I wrote. My apologies if it wasn't clear.

The 300 people comment was not about the Pirates games. I have always said that they are the only team with a hope of making it work and their average attendance will hopefully become enough to fill at least 75% capacity. The 300 comment referred to kids games. In my opinion, schools playing in front of a small audience in a large stadium is not inspirational.

The same is true with the comments about Chris Ashton etc (although as and when you play I hope he DOESN'T get the opportunity to score!). It is not so much about the stadium, but the use you make of having the top teams there. I wonder if anyone has done a study of what happened when Ashton, Hartly, Reihana et al were playing at your place two seasons ago and what impact that had.

My understanding is that the £3 million per year is the money from visiting fans etc and I have asked to see the basis on which this calculation is made.

I accept and welcome the offer by Mr Evans to underwrite the costs for 10 years. I do not question his integrity or commitment in any way. My question is how the stadium is built without cost to the taxpayer either in cash or lost opportunity and what happens after 10 years. It's no good having an empty stadium which costs £1m per year.
I do think that the stadium is worth looking at further, but I echo the Cabinet Member's comments in saying that it should be at no cost to the taxpayer. I think that should include the £120,000 that the next set of work will cost and I ask why this money is not being provided by the prime beneficiaries - the Pirates and TCFC. If it were then I would have no objection whatsoever to this next proposed stage.

Mossy said...

The stadium is a good idea but I have to agree with most of the points raised by Alex. The stadium might be the right place but it's the wrong place for so much housing, there are far more suitable locations for housing than out past Threemilestone. It would also be the wrong place for a supermarket. The other point to make is why has a site close to Truro college and Richard Lander School not been thought about for a stadium? There is already a sports hub here. And don't anyone say it's because the park and ride is next to the proposed stadium location because that's not the point of a park and ride. As for S106 contributions, this money should not be going to help build a stadium, this money is for health, services, affordable housing etc. Why can't the Pirates or Truro City FC start small with a pitch, clubhouse and small stand and then sustainably grow the facility? Every club across the country have had to do this. To throw two small clubs into the deep with a new bigger than they have ever been used to before stadium could be a big gamble. Just look at Plymouth AFC and the troubles they are currently in and this is in a city with a population as big as Cornwall. If they can't do it how can the Pirates and Truro City FC. May I suggest small and at the risk of the clubs, not the taxpayer.