Whilst much attention recently has been directed at divisions within Bristol City Council in general, and the Lib Dems in particular, about support for a new football stadium at Ashton Vale set to be funded by the development of a massive Sainsbury’s at Ashton Gate, it now appears that there are signs of dissension within the ranks at Bristol City Football Club itself.
Whilst Steve Lansdown and Colin Sexstone continue to publicly insist that despite planning officers already recommending refusal of a 5,500 m2 Tesco superstore, these same planners will perform an abrupt U-turn and recommend that permission be granted for a 9,000 m2 Sainsbury’s superstore, other senior figures have expressed concerns that the club, having effectively gained planning permission for the stadium itself and with high confidence of reversing North Somerset Council’s decision on the access road, are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
A source at the club has confided that “an almost fanatical obsession with a bloody supermarket” and a distrust verging on contempt for the public sector as represented by Bristol City Council is poisoning any attempt to consider realistic alternatives – “it all comes down to egos, certain people refuse to accept that if you keep banging your head against a brick wall all you get is a headache”.
The decision that has made this well-respected insider angry enough to express his concerns publicly?
The less than enthusiastic response by Lansdown and Sexstone to an offer by Bristol City Council to become junior partners in the company that will own and operate the new football stadium in order to release significant public sector investment opportunities. The City Council proposal is also linked to a commitment towards the development of an indoor arena alongside the new stadium.
However, it appears that the top brass at Bristol City FC are reluctant to concede even a minority share to the City Council in an effort to maintain the impression of the stadium development being a purely privately funded operation - despite the fact that the project is already reliant on public sector land being provided at favourable terms below commercial valuations.
“Lansdown has no sympathy for the problems faced by the Council in selling this to the public beyond Bristol City supporters, he is only concerned with what he sees as the club’s needs and is unwilling to consider compromise – as a result we could end up with nothing”
“But discussions like this are all about compromises – both sides need to be able to walk away with something that they can go back to their side and say ‘we had to give away this but in return we got this’ – we are sending the City Council away with next to nothing”
The exact details of the proposed offer remain shrouded in secrecy but it is understood that there is increasing concern that the likelihood of planning permission for a new superstore at Ashton Gate is increasingly remote, and alternative options will fall considerably short of the estimated £20m estimated to be available from Sainsbury’s – although the shortfall will not be as great as the £15m difference previously mentioned in public. The expansion of the project to involve an indoor arena, will, it is believed, provide opportunities to release additional funding streams unavailable to a purely private sector operation as well as providing a more secure footing for attracting local business investment towards the estimated £25-£30m gross expenditure for the World Cup.
However, fears are increasing that if a deal is not done soon that the new stadium will fail to be delivered because of a funding gap, and this will signal the end of any opportunities to host World Cup games in 2018. An opportunity that has been widely touted as having considerable economic benefit for Bristol’s business community.
Update: Both Bristol City FC and a senior Lib Dem have denied that any such deal has been proposed - see Jones the News for more details.