Northampton Town, Oxford United buoyed by positive stadium news

English League Two football club Northampton Town has hailed a council decision that could see a stand finished at Sixfields Stadium that has been left incomplete for over seven years, while League One team Oxford United has welcomed another positive step in its efforts to develop a new home.

West Northamptonshire Council has agreed to an offer from Town’s owners to acquire land next to the stadium, after what has been years of talks. A club statement read: “This is a very important decision for the club, coming in the week of our 125th anniversary, and this now allows the process to move on to the contractual stage with legal papers to be drawn up.

“We would like to thank all supporters, partners, stakeholders and the community for their loyal support throughout the process and we will provide more details over the coming days.”

A decision on the deal was deferred by West Northamptonshire Council last month. Ahead of that meeting, Town announced that it had made an improved offer to the council for land next to the stadium to satisfy the council’s stated objectives for the project. Plans had been in place for the council to sell the former landfill area around Sixfields to the club for £890,000 (€1.06m/$1.17m).

The club’s new offer included an agreement to match a payment of £2.05m from property developer Cilldara, which recently submitted a bid for the land. Town’s offer also included a provision that ownership of the stadium’s athletics track be transferred to the club following completion of the deal.

Sixfields’ East Stand has been mothballed since 2014 after work was suspended as contractors went unpaid. County Developments (Northampton) Ltd (CDNL) is now set to secure the land, with a proviso that the council will be able to buy back part of the site for £1 if the East Stand isn’t completed within five years.

The BBC reports Cabinet member for finance, Councillor Malcolm Longley, told yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) meeting that it was “time to wrap up the discussions”, and that “personal guarantees” from the club’s owners were key.

Longley will now oversee the sale process, but stated “unless I’m entirely satisfied with the terms and conditions, I won’t sign it off”.

Northampton revealed designs for a proposed redevelopment of Sixfields’ East Stand in June last year. The project will increase the capacity of Sixfields to just over 8,000.

Oxford stadium project

Meanwhile, Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) Cabinet has authorised permission to negotiate an in-principle agreement with Oxford United over its plans to develop an 18,000-seat stadium.

OCC in January elected to defer a decision on United’s plans to develop a new stadium, instead opting to open a month-long public engagement exercise on the project. United’s stadium proposal emerged earlier in the 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.

The latest news follows the end of the public engagement venture. OCC has said United’s proposal to lease the land will be discussed by the authority’s Cabinet on March 15 after more than 3,700 people responded to the public engagement exercise.

Should approval be given for further talks at next week’s meeting, and discussions on the lease of the land be subsequently concluded, the club would then need to apply to Cherwell District Council for planning permission.

From the 3,740 responses to the public engagement project, a total of 80% of respondents overall were in favour of the OCC entering into discussions with the club. However, of the 818 local residents who responded, 58% were against discussions taking place.

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 of Kidlington, Gosford and Water Eaton in particular, as well as for the environment, the wider economy and the future of the county’s only professional football club.

“Very careful consideration will be given at our Cabinet to the results of the public engagement exercise. I am grateful to the very large number of people who took part.”

Oxford United added: “We strongly believe that our aspirations for the site can not only meet, but significantly exceed the priorities of Oxfordshire’s Fair Deal Alliance and this decision will form an important first step in securing the future of a much loved community asset, one that is anchored in the heart of Oxfordshire’s sporting and cultural legacy.

“We wish to thank our fans, local residents and stakeholders for participating in what was a far reaching and through consultation. Whilst support amongst the fanbase could be argued to be expected, it is worth noting that over a third of residents directly local to the proposed site who participated in the consultation also expressed their support.”

Image: Northampton Town