The fate of the £29m development, hanging in the balance following local elections earlier this month, is due to be decided at a planning committee meeting next week.
The stadium-led mixed-use development is set to house Workington’s rugby league and non-league football teams, and was put forward in February this year.
It will be built at Workington AFC’s current ground, off the A597 to the north of the town centre, and the new stadium has been chosen 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.
Prior to local elections, the council’s Labour administration had argued there was “strong strategic and economic case” for the development, which could provide an economic impact for more than £145m over the next 50 years.
However, the scheme had attracted significant criticism from areas of Allerdale Council, including 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 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”.
Allerdale’s Council remains in no overall control following local elections earlier this month, but has seen significant changes, with Labour, which had put forward the plans for the stadium, losing 14 seats on the authority. Independents now hold 19 seats, while the Conservatives have 15.
While the scheme’s main objector Cllr Finlay has stepped down, the council is now headed up by independent Cllr Marion Fitzgerald, and deputy leader, Conservative Cllr Mark Jenkinson. Ahead of the election, the Conservatives 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 the scheme next week, with planners recommending the project for planning approval. The committee is currently made up of three independents, four Labour members, and three Conservatives.
In a report published ahead of next week’s committee, planning officers argued the site of the proposed 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,” added the report.
Allerdale Council’s planning committee will decide on the proposals on 4 June.