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Sale Sharks seek return home with sports village plan

English Premiership rugby union club Sale Sharks has signalled its intention to return ‘home’ to a new stadium planned as part of a sports village development.

Residents in the Greater Manchester town of Sale have been asked for their views on the potential redevelopment of the Crossford Bridge Playing Fields site into a multi-purpose sport and activity hub that will include a new “state-of-the-art community stadium” for the Sharks.

Crossford Bridge Community Sports Village is being led by Crossford Futures, with Sale Sharks as an active partner. Over the coming months local residents and businesses will be invited to have their say on the future of the site as part of a two-phase consultation. The first phase, starting on June 22, will invite feedback on the early stage vision including suggestions for the future use of the site as well as potential concerns that the community may have.

As part of the proposals, the Sharks intend to bring their elite men’s and women’s teams back to their hometown, along with the Sharks Community Trust which delivers health, education and social inclusion programmes. This would see the North of England’s only Premiership rugby union club move from its current base in Salford, back to where it began in Trafford.

Steve Diamond, director of rugby at Sale Sharks, said: “Sale Sharks has always had a vision to return to our hometown; bringing the club closer to its original fanbase and the communities in Sale. As part of the plans for Crossford Bridge, we not only have a chance to establish a long-term home for the club, but there’s also a real opportunity for our men’s and women’s teams to inspire the next generation of sporting talent.

“Everyone at Sale Sharks is extremely excited about what this could mean for the club’s future. We will be bringing our fans along this journey with us and inviting them to tell us what they would like to see from our potential new home.”

Cllr Andrew Western, Leader of Trafford Council, added: “This is a potentially very exciting opportunity on which we have agreed to seek the views of residents. Community sports facilities are of vital importance to the Council as part of our commitment to the health and wellbeing of our residents.”

The Sharks moved to become a tenant of AJ Bell Stadium (pictured), alongside Super League rugby league club Salford Red Devils, when the 11,500-capacity facility opened in 2012. Salford City Council jointly owns AJ Bell Stadium with developers Peel L&P, but the venue is said to have been running at a loss for some time.

The Sharks’ departure would remove the stadium’s main tenant, but the club’s future at the facility has long been in question. In August 2017, the Sharks launched a bid to purchase ownership rights to AJ Bell Stadium, but also said it would pursue plans to build its own ground if it was unsuccessful.

In response to the plans, Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett told the Manchester Evening News: “We would be sorry to see Sale Sharks leave and if we could persuade them to stay we would, but they have to decide the best location for their club. Their plans are at a very, very early stage and will take some years to come to fruition but we wish them success. As a business the stadium company always has to plan for any contingency and will work through this.”

Dennett added: “Last year over 37,000 people attended nearly 500 events there and there is potential to develop that further when we can. Salford City Council earns interest on the loans we make to the company which generates income for us to maintain vital services. The loans provide working capital for the company and protect the investment Salford City Council and Peel have put into the stadium until land around the venue is sold to finally clear the debt.”

Image: AJ Bell Stadium