English League One football club Oxford United can move to the pre-planning stage of efforts to develop a new 18,000-seat stadium, following the latest decision made by Oxfordshire County Council (OCC).
It was announced yesterday (Tuesday) that United’s proposal to lease land from OCC to develop the new stadium will be discussed by the club, County Council and other stakeholders based on objectives that have been guided by public feedback.
In January, United asked the County Council to lease 18 hectares of land 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.
OCC later 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. OCC last week said United’s proposal to lease the land would be discussed by the authority’s Cabinet on March 15 after more than 3,700 people responded to the public engagement exercise.
From the 3,740 responses to this 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.
At yesterday’s meeting, OCC noted that the County Council cannot enter into any lease agreement with the club without the consent of its current tenant, Cherwell District Council, or the sub-tenants, Kidlington and Gosford & Water Eaton Parish Councils. It said a “roundtable approach” will therefore be required to share information and establish whether there is support from all the necessary parties for more detailed proposals from United.
In the event that OCC ultimately leased the land to United, the club would then need to apply to Cherwell District Council for planning permission. Taking account of the feedback received, Cabinet yesterday authorised that OCC should enter discussions based on the following seven objectives:
- Maintaining a green barrier between Oxford and Kidlington and protecting and enhancing the surrounding natural environment, improving biodiversity, connecting habitats and supporting nature recovery
- Improving public access to high-quality nature and green spaces
- Enhancing facilities for local sports groups and on-going financial support
- Significantly improving the infrastructure connectivity in this location, improving public transport to reduce the need for car travel in so far as possible, and improving sustainable transport through increased walking, cycling and rail use
- Developing local employment opportunities in Oxfordshire
- Increasing education and innovation through the provision of a sports centre of excellence and facilities linked to elite sport, community sport, health and wellbeing
- Supporting the County Council’s net zero carbon emissions pledge through highly sustainable development
Cllr Calum Miller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said:“We didn’t want to rush into this in January. We wanted to take stock and gather views from the public. We now want people from all sides of this debate to be absolutely assured that their thoughts will have a real influence during the forthcoming discussions with the club. We will be reflecting people’s comments and concerns.
“A key element of the feedback was that people wanted to see more detail. We agreed. For this reason, we do not think it is appropriate to start formal negotiations at this stage. Instead, cabinet approved the start of discussions to find out more about the detail of OUFC’s plans and why Stratfield Brake is their preferred location. This is not a final decision to go ahead and lease the land.”
Miller added: “We also recognised that this is not a decision the county council can take alone. Cherwell District Council are our tenants and have a lease on Stratfield Brake out to 2097. Unless they support this proposal, it will go nowhere. The situation is complicated as they are also the planning authority. So we have proposed that OUFC start an early dialogue with them – akin to a pre-application consultation – to find out whether or not Cherwell support the plans.”
United currently plays at Kassam Stadium (pictured), but the club does not own the venue and its lease deal to play at the 12,500-seat facility expires in 2026. Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, Oxford United managing director Niall McWilliams said: “There is no opportunity for United to extend the license agreement at the Kassam Stadium beyond 2026, or purchase the stadium from the owner. After that, the very existence of the club comes into question.”
Following the meeting, United said in a statement: “Whilst the decision today remains the first stage of the process, it is a historic one, an important step forward to enable us to progress to the pre-planning stage.
“We look forward to negotiating with officers to agree the finalised terms of the deal and as part of the pre-planning process, working with the local community to answer many of the valid issues that were raised as part of the consultation. We will provide a further update on our intended approach forward in due course.”
Image: Oxford United