Bid to stall ‘perverse’ £29m Workington Stadium plans

Allerdale Council will be forced to debate proposals for the £29m stadium-led development following a bid by independent councillors to halt the scheme’s progress.

A planning application for the new home for Workington’s rugby league and non-league football teams was put forward in February this year; the stadium is proposed to be built around Workington AFC’s current ground, off the A597 to the north of the town centre, close to council office Allerdale House.

The stadium is intended to be a community facility, using a hybrid surface in the stadium and also having a synthetic pitch on the campus. The stadium has also been selected to host matches as part of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.

In addition to the sports facilities, plans include 29,000 sq ft of offices, set to host 300 staff from Sellafield, along with 28,000 sq ft of floorspace for the NHS, and a pharmacy.

While the council had argued its case for the scheme, citing the perceived success of similar stadium developments in the UK, this has been questioned by independent councillor Bill Finlay, who has proposed Allerdale’s executive should look again at the plans at a meeting next week.

A business case had already gone before the council’s executive in March; this report argued there was a “strong strategic and economic case” for the development, which could provide an economic impact for more than £145m over the next 50 years.

Estimated costs if the proposals were supported by council borrowing are £28.6m, while if the scheme was supported by a investor or developer, the GDV stands at £33m.

However, Cllr Finlay argued it would be “perverse” to progress works on the stadium “without any certainty that the council will agree to act as guarantor, and thus that a developer [or] financier will come forward”.

In a letter to go before the council’s executive, Finlay argued: “The proposal relies on predictions regarding an increased and sustained performance of both sports clubs resulting in increased attendances and hence gate receipts. It does not use status quo data, i.e. an indication of revenues generated if the clubs maintain current levels of performance and gate receipts. Increased performance is a hope, not a probable outcome”.

He added two of the stadia used as comparisons to the development – York’s new stadium, currently under construction, and the Warrington stadium – were not suitable to be used as models to see how the stadium would be delivered and sustained.

“No sustainability appraisal has been carried out on the Leigh and Warrington stadia to understand their viability in the context of local demographics, demand for sporting venues, transport opportunities and constraints, and then applied to the Allerdale and West Cumbria contexts to evaluate whether the proposed stadium could ever by viable without continuing public subsidies,” he added.

The proposals have also been called in to the executive ahead of local elections; Finlay argued there was a “high probability” the council, which has been in no overall control since 2003, would change hands.

“The current drive to push this proposal forward beyond a ‘fail-safe’ before the elections take place is unnecessary for the sustainable delivery of the proposed project and attracts risks that could be mitigated if the determination was reserved to the new council,” he concluded.

Allerdale’s executive will discuss the proposals on 24 April.

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