Oxford United’s plans to develop a new stadium have moved a step forward, with Oxfordshire County Council agreeing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the project.
The League One football club currently plays at the Kassam Stadium, but does not own the venue and its lease deal to play at the 12,500-seat facility expires in 2026. The County Council’s Cabinet has now approved an agreement with United to govern open and transparent relations between the two parties while they work to explore the impact of a new stadium for the club on council owned land.
The start of initial negotiations about land known as ‘the triangle’ near Kidlington was approved at January’s cabinet meeting and have already begun. The MoU was agreed at a meeting yesterday (Tuesday), along with a plan for engaging with stakeholders and local communities over the coming weeks and months.
Councillor Calum Miller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “Whether or not a stadium is built at the triangle site is a significant decision for local people in this area, residents across the county and fans of Oxford United. As such, the decision and the process leading up to it needs to be as open and transparent as possible.
“We know that it is an urgent project for the club, who have outlined their need to find an alternative home before 2026. We are committed to responding promptly to them and to taking decisions in a timely way. That’s why officers were in touch with the club the day after the January cabinet meeting and regular discussions have been taking place ever since.
“We have now approved a timetable for the next stages and a memorandum of understanding with the club on the process in the coming months. The first step is for the club to provide further detailed proposals. We know they are working to deliver these.
“We have built into the proposed timetable a period of public and stakeholder engagement that will commence as soon as the club’s proposals have been received. It will focus on whether the club’s proposals address the council’s seven strategic priorities for the use of the land. In the meantime, we are encouraging the club to undertake their own engagement with local residents as their plans develop.
“We want everyone to be able to share their views with us before we take a final decision. The club’s need to find a new home is well understood, but any decision we take has to be guided by the overarching aim of whether it brings benefit to our community in Oxfordshire.”
The MoU requires the County Council and United to agree to nine different elements. These include that it is noted that the County Council’s participation in these discussions is predicated on supporting and recognising the community role, legacy and heritage of the club. The Council is not offering financial support to the club for the construction of the stadium or the running of the club.
The two parties must recognise the commercial viability and plans of the club are outside the scope of the working partnership and the County Council is not inclined to support additional enabling development that is not aligned to the seven strategic priorities of the project agreed at the January 24 cabinet meeting.
Cherwell District Council’s (CDC) role as the planning authority must be recognised, with planning engagement with CDC to be undertaken by United as the scheme developer and not Oxfordshire County Council as the landowner. The agreement also notes that should the MoU be broken, either party has the right to walk away from these discussions.
For United to receive in-principle agreement from the County Council to lease or buy the triangle site, its proposal must address the seven strategic priorities for the use of the land. It must also meet objectives around mitigating long-term financial risk to the Council and obtaining best value for the taxpayer from any transaction.
Oxfordshire County Council is not the final decision-maker on whether or not the scheme receives planning consent. Any final proposal by the club would need to be put through the planning process at Cherwell District Council, which will include public consultation.
United in December 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 2022, 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.
It is expected that a decision on whether United can lease or buy the land at the Triangle will be taken in public at a cabinet meeting in September.