Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Stadium for Cornwall gets go ahead for business plan

A full business plan for the Stadium for Cornwall is to be produced following today's Cabinet discussion on the subject. The cost will be up to £120,000 and will come from Council funds.

Before today's meeting, a group of Cornish Pirates supporters came to County Hall and delivered a petition with more than 11,600 signatures in favour of an all-singing all-dancing stadium. It should be noted that much of what they want is not included in the current plans.

The debate itself raised a large number of concerns. Several Cabinet members expressed reservations about the value for money and feasibility of the scheme but gave the go ahead for the next stage on the basis that the final decision would be taken in the future.

During the discussion, I raised concerns about the description of the stadium as being 'iconic' and 'inspirational'. I tend to run a mile from any developer describing a scheme as iconic and for Cllr Eathorne-Gibbons to suggest that this plan would be 'more iconic than the Eden Project' seemed an lesson in hyperbole gone mad.

There is no doubt that, if this was built, it would be a better facility than we currently have in Cornwall. But it would still only be a 10,000 seater stadium based around four 'shed-like' stands next to a car park. It won't be Twickenham or Old Trafford and I can't really see the inspiration in playing there. Far more inspirational for young people in Cornwall comes from meeting and coaching from top flight sports people rather than the venue they play in.

Other key points that were raised included the need for proper scrutiny of the finances of the clubs that seek to occupy such a stadium. My colleague Graham Walker raised this issue as there is no point in building a stadium if there is no long term financial security among the users. If they go bust or if their millionaire backers withdraw, the Council could be left funding a white elephant.

There was also a lot of concern about any 'deals' that might be done with supermarkets or other developers involved in the scheme. Whilst it may be right that we should consider planning issues completely separately from the business case, it is difficult to do so if the entire scheme relies on huge numbers of new houses and a new supermarket.

And who will end up paying for a stadium development? Cllr Rule has previously said that she doesn't want any public money involved and she said that this remains her preference. But even if there is no actual cash involved, it seems that this project could only go ahead with section 106 money thus denying the local community huge amounts of affordable housing, road links, schools and so on.

The final question is as to why the Council is paying the £120,000 to conduct the business case. Cabinet Member Cllr Rule said that this was so that we could retain control of the project. In contrast, Cllr Eathorne-Gibbons stressed that this was an entirely private sector led proposal. I agree with him that it should be entirely private and that the Council should not be involved as we simply won't get benefits from a stadium to justify the spending.

And so the business case will be developed. I hope that this will bust the myths about the affordability and the community use of the scheme and will also tie down the exact amount of public funding that would be needed for such a scheme.

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