Forest Green Rovers has seen its innovative new stadium plans rejected by Stroud District Council, with the English League Two football club’s chairman, Dale Vince, labelling the verdict as “farcical”.
The Gloucestershire-based club selected Zaha Hadid Architects to design its new stadium in November 2016, when it was still a non-league outfit, and has spent years working on a project that ties in with its eco-friendly business model.
Uniquely, the 5,000-seat stadium was set to be built solely using wood and a meeting of Stroud District Council’s development control committee yesterday (Wednesday) evening had been asked to approve the stadium, along with 1,700 spaces for cars and two full-sized grass pitches.
Indeed, Forest Green headed into the meeting confident of good news after planning officers last week recommended that approval be granted. However, the development control committee yesterday rejected the plans by seven votes to four, with no abstentions.
At the meeting, the councillors said the reasons behind the rejection mainly revolved around concerns over lack of community benefit, as well as noise issues and impact on the landscape of the planned site on land near the M5 motorway.
Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Haydn Jones said, according to the Gloucestershire Live website: “I think it (the plan) is stunning but we need to balance the benefits of that development against the potential costs. On balance I thought it had greater costs than benefits to the local community and road network.”
Forest Green had intended the new stadium to propel its ambition of rising to Championship status in the English Football League, and Jones added: “I certainly do support their ambition, and I admire all the effort they have put in, I do hope they are successful and I would love to see them rise up the ranks.”
In a brief statement issued this morning, the club said it “is extremely disappointed” by the decision to refuse planning permission for the Eco Park project. Vince, the owner of the electricity company Ecotricity, last night expressed his frustration at the verdict hinting that the club is unlikely to appeal.
He said: “Surprised at the decision and amused at what happened at the end when the councillors that voted the application down, realised they didn’t have any good reasons to give the officers to put in the decision notice.
“They had a recess, scratched their heads and came up with reasons that they threw at it. They did not really know what they were doing, then they had to confront the real issue that they had to give a real reason to turn it down.
“It is a poor show. Four years of work have gone into this, and the council has spent a lot of time and money doing this job properly. It was properly assessed, recommended for approval. They are on weak ground, and maybe we will appeal but that is another year of my life. How hard should I have to try to bring some progress? I do wonder if it is worth the effort.
“The fans will be disappointed and devastated. It is not just the fans, is it? If you go around the district of Stroud, there will be a lot of people disappointed.”
Forest Green has played homes games at the 5,100-capacity The New Lawn since 2006 and the new stadium was intended to be ready for the 2023-24 season.
Image: Zaha Hadid Architects