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Ground to a Halt Part 2
By: Mike Worden
UNFORTUNATELY the Government (Stephen Byers' department, left) has still not decided whether or not permission can be issued. It presumably is still weighing up the pros and cons.
This leaves the Council in some difficulty, but the closer the Local Plan inquiry gets, the more likely it is that the Government will either wait to see what the Inspector recommends or ask him to also examine its concerns over the planning application.
The issues at the Local Plan Inquiry should really focus on strategic matters. These could include:
The Great Coates site is greenfield in that it has never been developed before. Government policy is to encourage the redevelopment of brownfield land in towns and cities and this policy is strengthening. Greenfield development is discouraged as the Government looks to reduce the amount of derelict land in towns and stop the growth of urban areas onto surrounding countryside. Only last week Government planning minister Charlie Falconer announced a get tough campaign against Councils trying to develop greenfield sites unnecessarily. The stadium will have an impact on the strategic open gap between Grimsby and Healing and the Inspector will consider whether the scale and nature of the development is justified in this location.
Things would be much simpler if the football club proposal was just a football ground. For financial reasons it isn't and includes over 100,000 ft2 of retail units. The Government discourages out of town shopping schemes, seeing them as often harmful to existing town centres as well as leading to an increase in car journeys. The Inspector will look at the case for the retail, whether it is needed, the impact on Grimsby town centre, and whether it should go on an alternative site within the town.
The Inspector will need to be satisfied that the new stadium will accord with the Government's current thinking on transport which is to reduce car journeys and encourage the use of public transport. Although the new stadium will be located next to the A180, there will also be a need to consider the impact on the existing road network, a point presumably raised by Great Coates residents.
Given the site's location next to the railway, the Inspector may need to be content that all steps have been taken to encourage as many non-car journeys as possible. The Inspector may compare what Grimsby is offering to what other clubs have developed. Bolton Wanderers for example manage to get 20% of spectators to the Reebok by public transport despite being situated right on a motorway junction. This is achieved by using the staggering £5 car park fee to subsidise 40 chartered buses on 15 routes to the ground and by running football special trains from the town centre to a new station by the ground. Other clubs such as Southampton have agreed packages including the issuing of free bus vouchers with match tickets.
This is crucial to the consideration. The Council will need to demonstrate that there is no other more suitable site for the stadium. To help its case it has already carried out a detailed study which shows that other options are less favourable. The Council will also need to demonstrate how important Grimsby Town Football Club is to the community and economy of North East Lincolnshire and how the new stadium is vital to the Club's very existence. It will need to point to the impossibility of expanding Blundell Park and its obligations to spectator safety and comfort. It will need to clearly show how the wider community will benefit from the new facilities.
The kind of arguments that the Club and the Council need to put forward about the importance of new facilities have been highlighted recently by two applications for new training grounds and academies by two clubs. Only last month Derby County FC was granted planning permission, following an inquiry, to build a new academy and training ground in the green belt outside the city. The Inspector noted that without the facility the club would be unable to attract and retain young players and this could effect the club's Premier League status.
Importantly she went on to say that the club played a leading role in the life of both the city and the region and it was important that it could compete on an equal footing with other Premier League clubs. In February last year, Sunderland FC was granted planning permission for an academy in the green belt again following an inquiry. The club argued that the image and profile of South Tyneside would be raised by such a modern facility. The Inspector agreed and went on to say that, "the success of the club, on and off the field, would have positive benefits for the local economy due to improved attendance at work, production levels etc from those who support the club or who identify with it and, in my view, would be a significant positive factor for regeneration in the region." Whilst these proposals were for new training facilities not stadia, they show that inspectors are prepared to take a broader view of the importance of a football club in the local and regional economy.
In its own planning guidance the Government recognises that sports stadia need to be given special consideration. Guidance was first issued to Councils ten years ago following the Taylor Report, but a draft revision was issued earlier this year. It recognises that edge of town sites might be the best location in certain circumstances. It is vitally important that both the Council and the club provide evidence to the inquiry setting out the special circumstances surrounding the proposals.
Without the extra capacity that the new ground will bring and the new interest that it would generate in the town, the future of Grimsby Town looks uncertain. Ironically the team's recent good form on the field could help the arguments for the new ground, highlighting the inadequacies of Blundell Park for top level football in the 21st century. It is important therefore that this form continues until next February at least, for more than one reason.
What can Grimsby supporters do to help make the new ground happen? Post your thoughts on the Pontoonites Messages Board.
This site is by the fans, for the fans, and we will consider articles on any subject relating to the Mariners whether it be related to current news, a nostalgic look back in the past, a story about a player, a game or games in the past, something about Blundell Park or football in general. Click here to submit your article!
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