A proposal to develop a new stadium for English Premier League football club Watford appears to have ended after revelations that the plans were not being taken forward.
The news was disclosed at a planning meeting of Hertsmere Borough Council yesterday (Thursday) evening. In April, Watford engaged US agencies Rhino Marketing and Gemini Sports Group to explore potential naming rights for a new stadium as speculation continued over its apparent ambitions for a new home.
Proposals for Watford to relocate from its Vicarage Road home resurfaced in March after the private owners of a nearby golf course put forward their land as a potential site for a new stadium. In October, representatives from the club were reported to have been in contact with Hertsmere Borough Council about a potential move to Bushey Hall Golf Club, which is located around 1.5 miles from Vicarage Road (pictured). The move was said to have been in the “earliest stage of the planning process”, with a number of sites being considered.
In March 2020, renderings were published of what a new stadium on the Bushey Hall Golf Club site might look like. A virtual public meeting of Hertsmere Council held in March saw Bushey Hall Golf Club proposed as one of 21 new employment sites put forward by landowners as part of the Council’s plans for development in the borough through to 2036.
Bushey Hall closed as an 18-hole golf course in 2019, with the clubhouse being redeveloped into 32 flats. The site’s owners, Veladail Leisure, had proposed a two-phase plan for development of a package of land spanning over 40 hectares.
The site, officially proposed by HGH Consulting on behalf of Veladail, named Watford FC as the proposed occupier. A 33,000-seat stadium anchored the mixed-use project, which would also have included the likes of a 6,000-seat arena and a hotel and conference facility.
However, this proposal now appears to be over following yesterday’s meeting. It was disclosed that an application to change the status of the greenbelt site to employment land had been turned down.
Responding to comments made by Bushey Councillor Jerry Evans about the potential future of the golf course, the Watford Observer newspaper reported Council planning chief Ross Whear as stating: “It (Bushey Hall) was a submission as part of a call for sites for employment sites…and the submission made in respect of that site did not meet that threshold for employment and therefore it’s not being taken forward for that purpose.”
A petition formed by Hertsmere Conservatives last year opposing the stadium plan gained more than 5,000 signatures from local residents. Responding to yesterday’s news, Evans, who had been fighting the plans alongside his Liberal Democrat counterparts in Bushey, wrote on Facebook: “Excellent news the call to remove Bushey Hall Golf Club from the greenbelt has been thrown out! This means no application for a stadium can go ahead. I’m sure the people of Bushey will be much relieved, this is excellent news.”
In October 2019, it was reported that Populous had been enlisted to advise Watford on the expansion of Vicarage Road, specifically to finalise designs for a two-phase, £40m (€46.7m/$55.6m) project that would significantly increase the stadium’s capacity from 21,577 to 32,000.
Watford has played at Vicarage Road since the stadium opened in 1922. The ground last underwent expansion in 2015 when 700 seats were added to the Sir Elton John Stand. The club won promotion back to the Premier League last season.