Thursday, 16 February 2012

Stadium for Cornwall - whisper it quietly, but progress is being made

The papers have been published for next week's scrutiny meeting which is set to be the first chance for councillors outside the Cabinet to consider the plans for a stadium for Cornwall. And whilst I still believe that there are many questions which have not been answered and claims which do not add up, there do appear to be some reassurances given to those of us who have, until now, opposed the project.

I've been of the opinion that Cornish taxpayers should not be footing the bill for a stadium which would be (almost) exclusively for the use of two sports clubs - however much we might want them to succeed and prosper. But, all other things being equal, if private finance can be found for the project then I'd be very supportive. Whilst there were promises made by the former cabinet member responsible for the issue, her replacement has not made the same categoric statements.

So what's new in this paper?

It's mainly the fact that we have got one stage closer to a commitment from the Council not to be putting any more money into the project. The three principle partners - Truro and Penwith College, the Cornish Pirates and Inox (the developers) have apparently said that they will be putting up the £15 million or so that it will cost to build. I'm not yet convinced that we have extracted a firm 'never' to the question of more public money, but at least we now have more confidence of where the money will be coming from. This is a very positive step.

The second key aspect of the report is the news that the stadium will feature either a 'Desso' or '4G' pitch - both of which are far harder wearing than a standard grass pitch. The latter is totally artificial and would enable a degree of community use that would not be possible with a purely grass pitch played on by two professional teams. The only trouble is that the FA currently don't allow matches to be played on artificial surfaces, although they are considering the issue again.

That's the positive news, but questions still remain.

First up there's the Economic Impact Assessment. As I said before, this is simply laughable in parts with claims of £2.6 million extra income for Cornwall and 109 new jobs. I'll be pressing for a much more realistic assessment at the scrutiny meeting next week. I don't doubt that there will be economic benefits, but we shouldn't be lying to ourselves.

Secondly, there's the whole range of planning issues. Although the stadium got past the first hurdle, there are a wide range of issues still to be addressed, not least the case being made by Truro Airfield that putting houses so close to a runway used by single engined aircraft may not be safe. I'm quite glad that I don't sit on a planning committee which will have to wade through these questions.

There is also the mysterious confidential paper which no backbench councillor has yet seen and which might be significant (or might be pretty inconsequential).

But the steps that have been made are positive ones and I hope that next Wednesday gives us some more.

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