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Council shelves plan for new Workington stadium

Plans for a new stadium proposed as a host venue for England’s staging of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) have been rejected, with the local football and rugby league clubs stating the decision puts their long-term future in doubt.

Allerdale Borough Council’s Executive has agreed to look further into the business case for a new community stadium in Workington, Cumbria; indicating their intention to look into reducing the size and scale of the scheme previously proposed.

The council was approached last year by Workington Town rugby league club and Workington Reds football club, to investigate the possibility of building a new stadium that they would share. The previous administration had agreed to finance the scheme using an investor/developer route. This meant that the council would have used a developer to both finance and build the stadium with the council having to act as guarantor for the income streams.

The plans included an 8,000-capacity stadium on the current site of Borough Park, home to the two teams, along with hospitality and conference facilities, and a 3G training pitch on nearby land. The plans also included office accommodation for the Sellafield nuclear site and new NHS healthcare facilities.

In January, the new stadium was assigned three group games for the 2021 World Cup but the project has been called into question since the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee called-in the decision made by the previous executive in March to proceed with the stadium scheme.

The new executive has since assessed the plan and at a meeting on Friday questioned the potential cost of the project and financial risk to the council. A motion was approved to continue looking into the business case for a new stadium, with a view to reducing its size and specification.

Speaking at the meeting, Leader of the Council, Marion Fitzgerald, said: “There’s no question the clubs’ need modern facilities and a new stadium would benefit them and wider the public. But we have to balance that with the risk to the council and serving the needs of the whole borough.”

Mark Jenkinson, Deputy Leader, added: “We are aware of the situation the clubs see themselves in… but we need to ensure that the business case stacks up which is why I want to take more time to look again at it. I also would like to see more investment in grassroots sporting clubs.”

The scrutiny committee had originally questioned the comparisons with other stadium projects elsewhere in the country, the importance of the project for the hosting of the RLWC and the proposed stadium’s sustainability.

In a statement, Workington Reds said: “It was the decision we all feared and one which now questions our long term future at Borough Park, or indeed, our long term future full stop.”

Meanwhile, Workington Town rugby league director Barry White said the decision was “astounding” given the projected financial upsides when compared to continuing at Borough Park. “It is a massive danger that both clubs could end up out of business,” he said, according to the BBC.

“People aren’t going to come to these kind of stadiums – they’re not going to come to a rundown stadium.”

Image: Allerdale Borough Council