Oxfordshire County Council has authorised its officers to start negotiations with Oxford United on outline legal and commercial terms relating to the League One football club’s proposal to lease land for the development of a new stadium.
Yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) decision comes after United last week called on the Council to deliver progress and clarity on the project after it emerged that officers had been recommended to authorise the start of talks.
Following a meeting yesterday, the Council said discussions to secure information and undertakings that meet its objectives will continue. Any final decision regarding the leasing of the land will be taken in public by a future cabinet meeting, based on whether the Council’s objectives have been met.
The land in question is known as ‘the triangle’. United has so far provided the council with information consistent with the first stage of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) pathway for developing proposals (stage 0).
While the Council said the site has the advantage of being close to Oxford Parkway railway station and a park and ride service, it added that it “remains mindful” that – as with a previously proposed site at Stratfield Brake – it is located on green belt land.
Cllr Calum Miller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “The cabinet has agreed that the Council should open legal negotiations with OUFC on its request for land for a new stadium at ‘the triangle’ site. These will take place alongside the ongoing discussions with the club to get to the point where a firm proposal can be published for consideration.
“Many people have questions about what the new stadium will look like and how matches will be managed for fans and local residents. There will be regular opportunities for the club to engage with the public about their plans as they develop.
“As the plans on which any final cabinet decision would be based are published, sufficient time will be allowed to seek the views of a wide-range of stakeholders. The cabinet will take into consideration the results of this engagement as part of its decision-making.
“Oxford United is close to the hearts of thousands of people across this county. We understand how strongly supporters wish to see the club secure a new and enduring home. We will work constructively and openly with the club to help them achieve a long-term home in the county and a sustainable future.”
United last month confirmed that it was in preliminary discussions regarding a potential alternative site for its proposed new stadium, a switch from the previously targeted 18 hectares of land at Stratfield Brake in Kidlington as the destination for an 18,000-seat stadium.
In March, United had been cleared to move to the pre-planning stage of efforts to develop a new stadium at this site. It came after the club had earlier asked the council to lease land at Stratfield Brake in Kidlington for 250 years.
Oxford currently plays at the Kassam Stadium, but the club does not own the venue and its lease deal to play at the 12,500-seat facility expires in 2026. Following yesterday’s decision, United will be required to provide further information and undertakings before any final agreement is entered into.
The decision taken by cabinet requires that any legal agreement with the club should be consistent with the Council’s strategic priorities, by achieving seven objectives for the use of land that include maintaining a green barrier between Oxford and Kidlington, improving access to nature and green spaces and enhancing facilities for local sports groups and on-going financial support.
Were cabinet to be satisfied that these objectives had been met and secured through a draft legal agreement, planning permission would be required from Cherwell District Council as the local planning authority.
Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, United’s chief strategy officer, Niall McWilliams, said, according to the Oxford Mail: “It is important we respect all views at all times. This decision is not just about a stadium or environmental issues – it’s about a 130-year-old institution.
“This community would not be the same without the vibrancy of yellow and blue. Despite our best efforts, Stratfield Brake was a project with difficulties. We don’t have time for years, months or even weeks for further delays – we are running out of time to save this football club.”