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Stadium planning: How to win public support

New stadium planning and development can be a contentious issue for fans and communities alike, not to mention local planning authorities. Planning expert Paul Walton assesses what sporting clubs can do to gain public support for stadium development.

History, tradition, identity and atmosphere are all words used by the fans to express their potential concern when their sporting club moots the possibility of a move to a new stadium, or reveals plans to knock down existing stands and start again.

It’s an issue that’s usually overcome if the club is able to effectively communicate the financial, operational and sporting performance benefits of moving stadium. After all, fans always want the best for their club.

The real challenge is often in convincing local communities where your proposed stadium development is going to take place and, in doing so, satisfying a whole range of planning issues. Having been involved in a number of planning applications for new football stadia, including developments for Scunthorpe United, AFC Fylde and Forest Green Rovers, here’s some of my top tips for clubs and their development partners.

Think at least ten years ahead

Ok, this is a bit of an obvious one, but stadium development does not happen quickly. Think how much deliberating the likes of Liverpool and Everton football clubs have done in recent years on the issue of moving to new a stadium. Even when a club announces an intention to complete a move to a new stadium within three years, the amount of work that will have already been done behind the scenes will be colossal. If you don’t need to move now, it might be necessary in the future. It’s worth assessing the options available, what the likely challenges are, and who you need to be having discussions with before the need for a move becomes acute. Engaging with planning consultants along with the Local Development Plan process can help align long term plans and enable them to become realistic development opportunities.

Always be scouting for locations

Even if you’ve exhausted all possibilities of staying in your current stadium and have decided a move is the only way forward for the club, your options might still be pretty limited. For example, does the right development site exist in the surrounding area, is stadium development on that site feasible, will the local authority be supportive of the plans, and what other barriers exist? Engaging with experienced professional advisers is essential and should be done at the earliest stage to ensure the club does not miss out on any land and development opportunities. PWA has engaged early in the process on numerous schemes helping to select the best sites and inform the best designs.

Consider the benefits for the wider community

These days it’s not enough for new stadium development to serve the narrow interests of the club. To get public backing and support, there usually has to be a strong sense of community engagement and ownership. Whether it’s making some of the facilities in the new development a community asset or bringing about other benefits, local politicians, planning officials and the public at large are going to be much more receptive if they can see what’s in it for local people. Successful community consultation both before and during planning permission helps to shape schemes, relay the facts and gain positive planning outcomes.

See the whole development picture

Modern stadium development is often tied in with wider commercial development, community regeneration and public realm improvements. For example, it might form part of a wider masterplan that includes new housing, commercial, leisure and retail space. It might offer a redevelopment solution to a derelict part of town. Again, selling this wider vision and its benefits to the local area will be key to winning public support, particularly during the planning process. Early engagement with the Local Planning Authority can often identify what benefits may be sought from such a proposal.

Work with the right partners

Whether the club intends to self-fund the development, or secure funding from external backers, forming partnerships with the right professional advisers and choosing development partners with a track record in stadium development will be key. Planning consultancy will play a major role. Experienced planning consultants, working with other property professionals, will be able to advise on a wide range of planning matters, including relevant land opportunities, environmental reports, and development potential assessment, as well as pre-application advice and negotiation with the local planning authority.

PWA Planning are experts in new stadium planning. For further advice on planning issues surrounding stadium development, e-mail Paul or call him on 01772 369669.

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