English Super League rugby league club Castleford Tigers has pivoted away from plans to develop a new stadium in favour of redeveloping its historic Wheldon Road home.
The Tigers have confirmed that they are in discussions with Wakefield Council and the owners of the proposed new stadium site at Junction 32 of the M62 motorway near Glasshoughton about the possibility of staying at a revamped Wheldon Road rather than relocating.
The decision comes after Wakefield Council last week announced its intention to give up to £2m (€2.39m/$2.67m) to the Tigers as part of a new Rugby League Resilience Fund to invest in their current stadium, commonly known as The Jungle, and improve community use.
This would coincide with the Axiom scheme at Junction 32 being refocused away from retail and leisure uses, with a high-quality employment and commercial development being proposed in its place.
Castleford has said it would use this investment to help towards funding a major redevelopment of Wheldon Road to bring the club’s home, which opened in 1926, up to modern standards. Subject to securing the investment necessary, key elements of the club’s proposals would be to demolish and rebuild a new Main Stand, and modernise the existing Princess Street Stand, Railway End and Wheldon Road End.
The Tigers said a “rich mix” of new facilities, including food and drink outlets and hospitality suites would enhance the matchday experience for fans, while new conference facilities and meeting rooms would boost non-matchday income, and enable the club to further enhance its work within the community.
Mark Grattan, Castleford Tigers managing director, said: “We welcome the Council’s announcement on making a contribution towards our plans to improve our home stadium on Wheldon Road. There is already an urgent need to invest significant sums to keep Wheldon Road functioning as a Super League ground.
“Being realistic about the timeframes to deliver the retail and leisure development with the new stadium following the COVID-19 pandemic, from the club’s perspective we believe that the time is right to explore the option of staying at our historic home. We believe that, although major new investment is needed to improve the existing stadium, this would now be in the best long-term interests of Castleford Tigers.”
In October 2020, the Tigers said they remained confident about the future of their new stadium project after reports suggested construction work was about to begin. After months of standstill, developers Lateral Property Group made an application for a Certificate of Lawful Development with Wakefield Council, which signalled the beginning of the construction process on the 10,000-capacity stadium, retail park and associated Axiom development.
A spokesperson for Wakefield Council told TheStadiumBusiness.com that the application was still under assessment at the current time. Unconfirmed local reports suggested land had begun to be excavated at the site – some five years after the project was given planning permission and more than a year after work was scheduled to start.
The Axiom development – then called Five Towns Park – was given approval by the local authorities back in 2015, and Tigers chairman Steve Gill in 2017 said the club would be at its new home by 2020. Artist’s impressions of the £160m development were released in 2018 with Lateral Property Group saying the first bricks would be laid in 2019, with hopes of it being completed by 2021.
However, work failed to begin on the site in 2019 with the company blaming the uncertainty around Brexit.
Steve McBurney, on behalf of the owners of the Junction 32 site, said yesterday (Tuesday): “We support Castleford Tigers’ intention to stay at an improved Wheldon Road stadium and the contribution the Council would make to this through the new Rugby League Resilience Fund.
“Over time we have developed a very close relationship with Castleford Tigers and the Council and it is now obvious that, working in partnership together, we need to look at an alternative option for the club. We want Castleford Tigers and the town to thrive.
“In order to secure its Super League status, the club have told us that they would prefer to stay at Wheldon Road and improve their existing stadium. We will continue to play our part and support the Tigers to make this happen.
“There is unprecedented demand for employment and commercial space. Bringing the Junction 32 site forward quickly would deliver much needed local job opportunities and socio-economic benefits following the pandemic. An employment development at the Junction 32 site would take advantage of the existing planning approval and we are looking forward to working closely with Wakefield Council to achieve this. We are confident that this would be a swift and positive outcome for all.”
Along with the £2m assigned to the Tigers, the Rugby League Resilience Fund announced by Wakefield Council last week would also grant up to £2m each to fellow Super League club Wakefield Trinity and second-tier Championship team Featherstone Rovers.
It would support all three clubs to meet the current, and potential future, Rugby Football League (RFL) conditions on stadium facilities as well as improving community use at the sites. The Rugby League Resilience Fund report will be discussed by Wakefield Council’s Cabinet at a meeting on November 29.
Image: Castleford Tigers