Former South Africa rugby union captain Wynand Claassen has formed a group that is seeking Cape Town’s historic Newlands Stadium be declared a ‘heritage site’ amid its ongoing sale process.
The ‘Save Newlands Rugby Stadium’ campaign has emerged with the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) and South African Rugby Union (SARU) in the closing stages of determining the stadium’s future.
Western Province last year moved to Cape Town Stadium, following an initial deal that was announced in June 2020. Newlands has a current capacity of around 52,000 and opened in 1888, staging its first official rugby match in 1890. It had served as the home of the Stormers United Rugby Championship franchise and domestic team Western Province, along with being a regular venue for South Africa games.
The June 2020 agreement saw the WPRFU Council approve a proposal for the Union and Flyt Property Group to incorporate a new company called Newlands DevCo. This company was to be owned equally by both parties with the objective of developing the Newlands property into a mixed-use development consisting of residential and office property.
In February of this year, WPRFU and SARU announced that Newlands was to be placed on the market in a sealed bidding process. The deadline for entry of non-binding offers was set for April 15, with final binding offers due on May 31.
It had been reported that a sale could have been concluded on Tuesday, with a winning bidder announced at the end of the month. However, the move by Claassen’s group could yet complicate matters.
Claassen confirmed his group had applied to the Western Cape Government to declare the Newlands precinct a heritage site in order to ensure the stadium doesn’t get demolished. “It was submitted before the final sale contracts were signed on Tuesday,” Claassen told the Rugby365 website.
Claassen said his “small group” includes a city planner, someone with a planning background and a historical advisor, adding that they opted for the heritage site approach over becoming involved in the bidding process. “We simply don’t have that kind of money,” he said. “That is why we opted to have it declared a heritage site.”
Claassen admitted that it is unlikely rugby will ever be played at Newlands again, but stressed the need for its history to be respected. He said: “I am not talking just as a rugby player, but as an architect. The preservation and restoration of this historical building is close to my heart. Newlands has been in use for more than 130 years.”
Claassen said his group is seeking that “part of the field” is retained under any redevelopment plans, adding that they have some “great ideas” on how to preserve the stadium. He stated: “I don’t even want to think about it being demolished. It is not just the Newlands Stadium, but the entire precinct – including the brewery, cricket ground, etc.”