Decision deferred on Oxford United’s stadium proposal

Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) has elected to defer a decision on League One football club Oxford United’s plans to develop a new 18,000-seat stadium, instead opting to open a month-long public engagement exercise on the project.

The Council met yesterday (Tuesday) to discuss United’s stadium proposal, which emerged earlier this month. The football club has asked the Council to transfer 18 hectares of land that it owns at Stratfield Brake in Kidlington for 250 years. In addition to the stadium, the club’s proposal includes facilities such as a hotel, retail, conferencing and training and community grounds.

At yesterday’s meeting the council’s Cabinet concluded it did not have sufficient information to give its approval for officers to enter into negotiations with both the club and the Council’s current tenants on the land.

The Cabinet decided that there should first be a period of engagement with the public and local organisations on the principle of entering negotiations and on the Council’s objectives for the use of the land. This will run from January 25 to February 21.

It also instructed officers to move forward with exploratory discussions with United and its existing tenants and sub-tenants at Stratfield Brake. It requested that a recommendation on whether to proceed with negotiations be made to its meeting on March 15.

Cllr Calum Miller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “This is a very significant proposal. There are implications for the people of Oxfordshire in general and residents in this area in particular as well as for the environment, the wider economy and job creation and the future of the county’s only professional football club.

“Very careful consideration was given at our Cabinet meeting as to whether we had sufficient information to authorise officers to start negotiations with the club.

“In the last week, it has been clear that many local residents and interested individuals and organisations want more time to consider the idea and to share their views with the County Council. The Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance is committed to participatory, open and transparent decision-making.

“These initial exchanges of view have highlighted a number of important issues. Rather than rushing into a decision, we have asked officers to run a four-week public engagement exercise so that we can hear the views of those who care about this proposal. We hope that this will help us understand the views of the public on whether to proceed and, if so, which principles to apply to the negotiation.

“We appreciate that Oxford United face a tight timeline as they seek to secure a new home for their matches from 2026. We have asked officers to continue exploratory conversations with the club to address some of the issues that have been raised already and to take account of what we hear during the engagement exercise.

“When the Cabinet meets in March, we will then have more information on which to base a decision on whether to enter into formal negotiations.”

OCC purchased part of the land at Stratfield Brake in 1937 to provide a strategic gap between north Oxford and Kidlington. The site is in the green belt and is currently leased by OCC to Cherwell District Council.

Part of the site is already sports ground. United has proposed that the football club will take responsibility for the cost to replace or mitigate the loss of any community sports facilities at Stratfield Brake.

United currently plays at Kassam Stadium (pictured) but the club does not own the venue. Its lease deal to play at the 12,500-seat stadium expires in 2026.

Commenting on the Council’s decision, the club said: “Oxford United Football Club thank Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet for their consideration of our proposal regarding a potential new stadium at Stratfield Brake.

“We trust and were reassured that the County Council understands the vital need to safeguard our club’s future within Oxfordshire. We also appreciate the concerns raised by councillors, and reaffirm our commitment to ensuring our proposals genuinely serve the wider community and is an asset that the whole county can be proud of.

“We were already committed to undertaking our own wide-reaching programme of community engagement and fully respect the council’s decision to bring this process forward. We look forward to supporting and working with the County Council to undertake their four week engagement programme prior to a final decision being made.”

Image: Oxford United