Allerdale Council is expected to make a decision on the future of the development later this week, with the scheme’s progress now uncertain after a change in council leadership.
The mixed-use development, to be built at Workington AFC’s current ground off the A597 and near the town centre, is set to house Workington’s rugby league and non-league football teams, and was put forward in February this year. The stadium is intended to host matches as part of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
However, it has proved to be controversial, and a decision to support the scheme will go back before Workington’s executive later this week after being called in by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee.
The council’s previous Labour administration had put forward the scheme, but Allerdale has seen significant changes in recent months; Labour lost 14 seats on the authority in May’s local elections. Independents now hold 19 seats, while the Conservatives have 15, and independent Cllr Marion Atkinson is now council leader.
Councillors voted five to five to call in the scheme, with the overview and scrutiny committee co-chair Cllr Alan Pitcher casting the decisive vote.
The council’s executive will now decide again on the scheme at an executive meeting on 28 June.
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.
Planning permission was due to be secured earlier this month; officers said the development represents the most sustainable location to deliver a new stadium complex for Workington” and added “the stadium complex is well-designed and an inclusive place, both within the stadium building itself and in the wider areas to include areas of public realm, the 3G pitch, car parks, and footpaths”.
“The provision of the stadium complex in this highly accessible location would provide enhanced, substantial and sustainable employment, community and recreation and leisure facilities for the benefit of the community within Workington and the wider area,” said the officers’ report. However, the scheme was withdrawn from the committee agenda, and a planning decision is still pending.
Local groups have also signalled their support for the scheme with a public march organised through Workington town centre, organised by supporters’ groups from Workington Town and Workington Reds.
Criticism of the scheme has primarily come from Cllr Bill Finlay, the former leader of the council’s independent group, who branded a decision to push on with the scheme as “perverse”.
Finlay, who put forward the call-in to the executive, 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”.
However, Finlay is no longer a councillor following May’s election. Conservative councillors had called for a “plan B” if funding for the stadium could not be found, to ensure Workington could still host Rugby League World Cup games.
A decision is due to be made on 28 June.
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