Liverpool City Council and fans keen to keep Everton FC in the city boundaries were celebrating today after Communities Secretary John Denham refused planning permission for a new stadium in Kirkby.
Denham said in his letter spelling out the decision that the Tesco and Everton plans for a stadium and 500,000 sq ft of retail anchored by the Tesco supermarket were too large for Kirkby and would cause more harm than good to the Knowsley town.
Denham said: "….the scale of the development is inappropriate to the role and function of the suburban town of Kirkby; the scheme does not meet the sequential test [for identifying more suitable alternative sites for the same use]; the proposal would be likely to have a harmful effect on the vitality and viability of Kirkby, Bootle, Skelmersdale and St Helens and would conflict with Regional Spatial Strategy to support and enhance Liverpool city centre…"
An inquiry into the plans, which were backed by Knowsley council, concluded at the start of the year.
Denham also upheld the inspector's conclusions that the £400m Destination Kirkby scheme would not promote public transport and could generate more private car trips. On sustainability grounds, Denham said the plans were not likely to enhance or protect the environment of Kirkby.
In his own conclusions to the decision letter, the Secretary of State the "physical regeneratuin of the old [Kirkby] town centre is uncertain, and the stadium would result in harmful impact on many of the town's residents."
An alternative regeneration scheme for Kirkby should be drawn up, Denham added.
A spokesman from Tesco said the company still intended to build a scheme in Kirkby. He added: "We are disappointed with the decision. These were exciting plans that we believed would have changed Kirkby and the surrounding region for the better following our investment, jobs and associated development. We remain committed to bringing forward a new scheme in Kirkby. We will now review this decision to understand the reasons for refusal and work with our partners, Everton and Knowsley Council, to discuss a way forward."
Cllr Ron Round, leader of Knowsley Council, said: "We are sorely disappointed with the decision made by the Secretary of State which means that this important regeneration scheme will not go ahead.
"This development would have resulted in many thousands of jobs being created, alongside a range of new facilities and investment coming into the borough.
"We are currently digesting the detail of the decision note and will in the coming weeks be looking at a way forward for the town. I am sure that many people will share my disappointment but I would like to reassure the residents of Kirkby that they will not be forgotten. We have very much appreciated their cooperation and patience throughout this process and we will continue to work tirelessly in our quest to seek out other investment opportunities for the town."
Everton's chief executive, Robert Elstone, said: "Obviously, we are all bitterly disappointed with the decision as we felt that – along with our two partners – we had compiled and presented a most compelling case for the Destination Kirkby project.
"We said all along that we not only believed the project to be deliverable but that it would have proved to be hugely beneficial for both Everton Football Club and the people of Knowsley.
"We will now regroup and carefully consider the options which are open to us. I feel I must stress that we do remain totally committed to finding a new home for our football club. The hunt for that new home will now intensify."
Dave Kelly, chairman of the Keep Everton in Our City campaign group, said: "For almost three years KEIOC's position has remained unchanged, we repeatedly questioned the £52m subsidy and the cost of the stadium, the chosen location flew in the face of perceived wisdom; overall this project represented an unacceptable risk to Everton Football Club; today we have been vindicated.
The club reported £79.7m turnover in the year to the end of May and profit of £6.2m and warned that the club would fall into the bottom half of the Premier League in future seasons without added gate revenue. The Tesco-subsidised plans would have created a 50,000 seat stadium compared to the existing Goodison Park ground where capacity is 40,000.
Kelly added: "Today's decision should be looked on as a positive; we have been saved from the road to continued mediocrity. After a period of calm reflection we hope Everton have had the foresight to develop a contingency plan that all fans can embrace."
Liverpool City Council leader and Everton fan Warren Bradley led a fierce campaign to keep Everton in the city. The council was preparing its statement in response to the decision at the time of writing.
Frank McKenna, chairman of pressure group Downtown Liverpool in Business, commented: "This is a major blow to Everton, and also to the city's bid to host World Cup games in 2018, should England be successful in its bid to host the finals.
"With the financial difficulties that both Everton and Liverpool face, surely there is a need for a shared stadium to be seriously debated, with the City Council taking a lead in that discussion.
"Football is of massive importance to this city, economically and culturally, and it must make sense for our teams to explore an option that, in business terms, appears to offer the best solution."