Don’t believe the hype

10th July 2011
To:WDC Cabinet Members
CC: WDC Councillors

PROPOSED SPORTS STADIUM PROJECT

Wycombe Sports Development Ltd is currently engaged in some last minute hype, masquerading as “community awareness”, of their proposal for a rugby & football stadium plus a possible community sporting facility at Wycombe Air Park. Their activities include publishing several pretty pictures, drawn with more than a degree of artistic licence, and presentations to various organisations, including WDC’s Cabinet & Councillors. These presentations include much rhetoric, talking about providing something “for the community” which will “leave a legacy” and “Put Wycombe on the map” by providing a stadium which is “World-Class” and “Iconic”.

On 18th July WDC’s Cabinet will announce its decision about which of the four options it has chosen. It’s therefore an appropriate time to cast some light on these claims, a response to which I’ve provided below. Additionally, GASP is reviewing the contents of the Strategic Outline Business Case and will be providing a thoroughly researched response to the document.

It’s important to ensure Cabinet’s awareness of several crucial elements to which I’m sure Members will be giving considerable thought to:

LEGACY

Correspondence (obtained from the National Archives) from 1963 between the Ministry of Aviation, Ministry of Housing & Local Government and Wycombe Rural District Council stated the rationale for selling the land at below market rate as being to preserve the airfield and prevent it being lost to flying to “some large firm of developers”. This prescient statement shows how the Air Park came ultimately into WDC’s possession as a legacy to preserve gliding and flying. A legacy from which there was no intent to make a speculative gain.

In 1947, former Wycombe Wanderers footballer Frank Adams GAVE the deeds of Loakes Park to WWFC for their lifetime. The conditions of the deeds were later negotiated so that the club could move to its new home at Adams Park, so named after the benefactor in 1990. This is a powerful example from local history of a legacy being provided for the benefit of the community, from which the benefactor gained no financial benefit.

It should be remembered that genuine legacies are provided in a way that the benefactor expects no reward and doesn’t force others to contribute. Also, legacies aren’t introduced by trampling upon previous legacies. Building on Wycombe Air Park would fatally harm the legacy of gliding and flying.

Forcing Wycombe Wanderers away from the site that they own in order to become a tenant of a site that they don’t own runs counter to the Frank Adams legacy.

PUTTING WYCOMBE ON THE MAP

The proposed stadium design is supposed to be “World Class” and “Iconic” but, to any non-rugby/football aficionado, it doesn’t look any different from the 70+ sports, or 130+ football/rugby stadia in the UK. Of the 130+ football/stadia, you may wish to ponder which of these you know to be “iconic” in being unique in architecture/design/appearance and which you’re simply aware of because of the club that plays there.

Those who consider that having a stadium puts the district ‘on the map’ should consider asking whether Fratton Park (a 20,000 seater stadium) has put the local area on the map. Or perhaps Carrow Road (a 26,000 seater stadium) or even Home Park (a 19,500 seater stadium). Unless you’re a football or rugby fan, it’s unlikely you’ll know where these places are and it shows that stadia do not put a District “on the map”.

GREEN BELT

The “Very Special Circumstances” case for building on Green Belt wasn’t considered to have been met by South Bucks District Council when they rejected Pinewood Studio’s recent planning application. That was despite the potential to it leading to 950 permanent jobs and £60 Million pounds to the economy each year.

The preservation of Green Belt has been oft cited as a Conservative Party basic principle and was, I believe, ratified at the recent annual Wycombe Conservatives Association meeting. The principle of preserving Green Belt is also supported cross-party and I’m sure you’re aware of the campaigning undertaken at the recent elections by other parties who’re against building on Green Belt. Any decision by Cabinet to endorse this philosophy by rejecting the proposal could not therefore be considered either political or predetermined.
Green Belt exists to prevent urban sprawl and to prevent the merging of villages and communities. Putting a housing development midway between Lane End, Cressex and Marlow Bottom would result in the exact situation for which Green Belt policy was established to prevent.

ECONOMIC BENEFIT

Much has been stated about the value to the area that Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps bring and about the additional revenue that a new stadium would provide. However, there is a fundamental flaw with the analysis provided in IPW’s Strategic Outline Business Case that has been presented to Cabinet for review. It cites the Socio-Economic report produced by Savill’s in asserting that a new stadium would, as a base case (i.e. without increasing attendance) deliver an additional £2.9M benefit p.a. The analysis by Savill’s actually states that £2.49M could be delivered if stadium attendance for Wycombe Wanderers increased to 273% of the current 5,545 and London Wasps would have to increase to 208% of the current 7,995. Elsewhere the IPW document states that their research suggests the ‘new stadium effect’ as leading to a 46%, or worse just a 36% increase if the impact of promotion/relegation is removed from the comparison (and WWFC have already been promoted and it’s unlikely that London Wasps will be moving further up anytime soon).

Darlington’s Northern Echo stadium, despite being a 25,000 capacity stadium, didn’t appear in WDC’s January Cabinet report on stadia and yet it has managed to put Darlington on the map when the club went into administration and the current owner sees the stadium as a “noose around the club’s neck”.

Those who label Darlington as a one-off may therefore wish to consider Doncaster’s £32M Keepmoat Stadium which hit the press when it announced unexpected losses of £2.5M within two years of opening. In both cases, the stadiums have provided a disbenefit to the area (including one whereby the council was asked to underwrite the debts of the club concerned).

A negative impact claimed in the report is that London Wasps or Wycombe Wanderers could go out of business and yet, in the risk mitigation section, there’s acknowledgement that the Clubs could be “reborn”. If this were the case then the £7M p.a. cited as the current benefit to the area provided the Clubs would remain…although ownership might not.

No consideration has been given either to the disbenefit of having a single central sports facility – either to the outlying areas of the District or to the existing sports facilities, including the NATIONAL Sports Centre at Bisham or the local amateur sports clubs (or indeed existing Council facilities). An additional sports site would have a cannibalisation effect on the economic wellbeing of existing facilities and this should be taken into consideration.

CLUBS’ FINANCIAL SECURITY

Neither Club has managed to breakeven for several years and to suggest that adopting the philosophy of the film Field of Dreams that “Build it and they will come” will suffice really doesn’t stack up.
WSDL recently stated that for the project to be viable it would need London Wasps attendance to increase to 15,000. This means an increase of 87% from the current 7,995. Yet WSDL has also stated that they believe that they could achieve an increase in attendance, based on other stadia, of 40%. One could conclude therefore that if 87% is required but only 40% is expected that they expect the Clubs not to succeed but to simply fail more slowly.

Wycombe Wanderers owns its current stadium, which is only 20 years old, and would lose this security if it became a tenant. The proposition is that without London Wasps, Wycombe Wanderers cannot survive. That may be the case currently because the Clubs have common ownership and so are intentionally run with this form of financial dependence. Wycombe Wanderers has been profitable in the past and could be independently profitable again in the future. What the Clubs need is for their businesses to be run differently, not for them to force the Council into a “Build us a new stadium or else” situation.

BIG SOCIETY

Wycombe District Council is undertaking work to establish how to best deliver against the current Central Government thinking around localised, community-based, decision making. The way that the stadium project has been run to date is a textbook example of how NOT to involve the community. Cabinet has the opportunity to now take on board the feelings of the community and stop the project on 18th July.

CONCLUSIONS

• Legacies don’t crush existing legacies, and they come from benefactors who give but don’t expect to receive
• A stadium may hold some novelty factor but the proposal is neither World class nor iconic
• The proposal could put Wycombe on the map for the wrong reasons
• The claimed Economic Benefits are undermined by research commissioned by WDC
• The Business Case proves it’ll fail
I would urge WDC Cabinet members to examine closely the rationale for considering funding and building a new stadium on Green Belt. Once you look behind the artist impressions you’ll see the risks imposed on the Council by the project, the harm to existing legacies, businesses and communities that could be inflicted, and the fact that the business case simply doesn’t add up.

Kind regards
Gary Nuttall
Chairman – GASP (Groups Against the Stadium Proposals)

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One Response to Don’t believe the hype

  1. Steve says:

    Very well written

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