For neutrals watching the debate about the proposed new stadium for Oxford United last week, to defer the decision for a consultation seems a curious one.
It will be difficult for discussions not to stray into issues which should be talked about at the planning stage. Certainly the clubs currently using the site, via a convoluted series of leases from the county council to the district council to the parish councils, will want to get a good deal. Cutting out some of those middlemen might be a positive move.
But by bringing in the public before there are plans, there will inevitably be discussions about traffic, parking, pollution, crowds, bats, newts and all the usual planning issues which don’t relate to whether the club enters into a lease with the county council. Any lease will have to be subject to planning so it’s going to be difficult to see how this consultation can avoid being an additional planning debate.
The lack of options for a suitable site in a county being rapidly developed is a hurdle in itself so it is to be hoped the club can overcome this barrier and move forward.
It has been said that if the club was not constrained by the situation it finds itself in at the Kassam Stadium with a less than perfect relationship with the landlord, crowds would be bigger and that would appear to be recognised by the ambition for an 18,000-capacity venue – and one with four sides!
There must be many opportunities for hospitality revenue too, not to mention the attraction of a better quality stadium. Unlike small clubs in many towns and cities, Oxford is not somewhere that needs to be put on the map – it’s already there. But a successful football club always helps.
In addition, the possibility of laboratories or housing on the site of the Kassam must be a very appealing one to a number of parties although the football club’s experience over many years suggests some interesting dealings with the owners may lie ahead.
But with four years until the current lease at the Kassam runs out, the club and the council have – hopefully – got the ball rolling in good time.
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