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Luton Town drawing up final plans for stadium project

English Championship football club Luton Town has announced that it intends to submit detailed plans for its new stadium in six months time.

The news was disclosed as Luton and its partner in the Power Court project, 2020 Developments, provided an update on the scheme, which also includes the Newlands Park mixed-use development. In January 2020, Luton was allowed to press ahead with the plans after being informed by the local council that no fresh appeal had been made against the project.

In March 2019, Luton Borough Council’s development control committee ruled that plans for the Newlands Park project should be approved after the club was granted permission to build a new stadium on the Power Court site in January of that year.

However, work has been unable to start on either site since then, with COVID-19 having a major impact on the delays. In its latest update, Luton and 2020 Developments said structural changes in the way the UK consumer shops, works and plays has required a revision to scheme plans originally conceived in 2015-16 prior to submission of original planning applications.

The two parties said: “The Coronavirus pandemic has generally served to accelerate these structural changes. Our challenge has been to ensure our vision for both sites remains viable and deliverable. Several changes were already being considered by the development team ahead of any impact from COVID-19. This is standard for any development between early stages of the process.”

The intended capacity for the Power Court stadium remains set at 23,000, with potentially an initial cap at 17,500 for transport assessment reasons, and a target opening date in 2024. In late 2020, a Planning Performance Agreement (PPA) was agreed with Luton Borough Council in respect of revised planning applications for both Power Court and Newlands Park. The aim of the PPA is to meet all statutory requirements with a target date for determination of April/May 2021.

For Power Court, the new application focuses on changes to the West and East ends of the site. The statement read: “Here the vision is that, from Guildford Street/Church Street, the site will be entered at ground level so that the walk from the town centre will be easy and seamless. By dropping the original vision of steps up to a podium we can now make use of the River Lea that is currently culverted through the centre of the site in its natural route.

“The new plans see the river brought back to life and made into a feature that will add character and a cultural identity to the piazza space at the heart of Power Court. St Mary’s Church remains a key feature in our design thinking. With the removal of the podium at the West End of the site we reduce the mass of the buildings by a considerable margin. We are also now able to open-up the site to allow greater access from St Mary’s Road.”

The original plans for Power Court proposed relocating the River Lea to run down St Mary’s Road. The statement continued: “With further work investigations we feel this is unviable and simply does not work as, in practice, the river would sit many metres below the ground and so would look and feel more like a moat or a trench and act as a barrier to access the stadium from St Mary’s Church, the University and the rest of the town centre.

“Instead, we want to work with the Council and our neighbours to reduce traffic on St Mary’s Road and introduce green space and a high-quality public realm. In revising our plans for Power Court, we have been able to increase the number of residential units to approximately 1,200 without materially increasing overall building heights. We have also increased our commitment to working with LBC and helping local housing need by volunteering a policy compliant 20% affordable provision on-site.”

The two parties said the Newlands Park project has shifted away from a retail and leisure led scheme to one with a broader mix of uses to include business space, research and development, distribution and office uses. Retail space will still be incorporated, but at a much lower scale. The statement said: “Ultimately our position remains the same in that a stadium at Power Court will not come forward without Newlands Park.”

It added: “In terms of our stadium plans we are working within the original planning permission to bring forward a final and detailed design for our club’s new home. In addition to the stadium itself the central area of the site will include a mix of food and beverage, retail, business, and community space such that it will be a hive of activity on non-match days. We believe this is critical to making Power Court a genuinely thriving new quarter for the town centre.”

Luton and 2020 Developments said they will shortly announce partnerships with sector specialists in residential and commercial development. Detailed plans for the new stadium are expected to be revealed in the summer, with a view to commencing initial work at Power Court by the end of the year.

The club has played at the 10,300-seat Kenilworth Road stadium since 1905.

Image: 2020 Developments