‘How are the stadium plans coming along Ron?’
It’s a question I am frequently asked - but unable to give a totally satisfactory, or complete answer.
I would love to say we are due to start construction in the Spring of 2013, and we might.
What I can say is that we and Sainsbury have purchased a significant number of properties around Roots Hall and at Fossets Farm, in order to assemble both sites. I can also confirm that the tender process has long been completed and we are in a position to select a contractor. Additionally, I can say that we have delivered the majority of the planning consents needed to commence on site and that Southend Borough Council have, substantially, supported the Club’s ambitions, however there remains one further approval to be obtained from the council - which is crucial.
A successful football club contributes a great deal to its town and often as a result of growth following development of a new stadium. Both Swansea and Brighton are recent examples. Southend won promotion to the Championship at Swansea (the first season at their new 22,000 stadium), but then ‘The Blues’ and ‘Swans’ swapped places the following season. Swansea have gone on, aided by their new stadium, paid for and subsided by Swansea City Council. This has enabled the club to sustain that growth into the Premiership. I have no doubt the football club’s success has done much for the City of Swansea also.
It would not surprise me to see Brighton follow. They too built a 22,000 seater stadium (just as we plan) to meet their forecast needs and who only averaged crowds of 6-7,000 crowds in League One at Withdean Stadium. Just one year later, Brighton have increased the capacity to 30,000. This follows 14 years in the ‘wilderness’, without a real home.
I believe we can achieve similar growth at Southend United, for we have a vast catchment and limited competition on our doorstep. However, last week we had what we hope is a hiccup with the Council’s Planning Committee, deferring a renewal of our planning. We need that vital ‘line of sight’ before we are in a position to sign the contract with the Building Contractor and rocket your Club back to the Championship. Simply all conditions must be fulfilled and aligned, without this approval, they are not.
Immediately following last week’s meeting, Sainsbury and Southend United issued a joint press statement which read:
‘Sainsbury’s and Southend United are concerned at the latest delay to their plans for a new stadium at Fossetts Farm and Sainsbury’s food store at Roots Hall, due to the deferment of the planning application yesterday.
Gaining planning consent is an integral part of this overall process and essential for the success of the project.
We remain committed to working closely with Southend Council to resolve any outstanding matters in order to enable the application to be promptly reconsidered just as soon as the further information the Council are requesting from their Consultants is available to help enable a balanced decision.’
We and Sainsbury will be talking to the Council, early in the New Year - (tomorrow wouldn’t be soon enough!) and hopefully, with some compromises on both sides, we can find a way to bring the Clubs planning application, back to Committee at the earliest opportunity. The next scheduled planning meeting is February 6th.
Subject to Southend Borough Council providing the ‘crucial’ tick in the box, I will be able to answer the question I am frequently asked. This would lift an enormous pressure lifted from everyone at the Club, who behind the scenes, are being incredibly supportive, for me to be able to say:
‘Yes we are starting construction in the Spring, with the Club moving into the first phase of its, new, fantastic, stadium for the start of the 2014 season.’
I will be providing regular bulletins in each match day programme, as to the progress we and Sainsbury are making with the Council.
I hope you all have a healthy and happy new year.
My best wishes,