Fresh hope on U's new stadium

By Roddy AshworthA NEW community stadium that will be home to Colchester United could be built within two years after a council agreed to borrow up to £8million to help get the project back on track.

By Roddy Ashworth

A NEW community stadium that will be home to Colchester United could be built within two years after a council agreed to borrow up to £8million to help get the project back on track.

Talks have been held between Colchester Borough Council, Colchester United and Colchester United Community Sports Trust to break the deadlock holding up progress on the stadium - to be built at Cuckoo Farm in north Colchester.

One of the main hurdles has been waiting for a complex set of deals over the nearby Severalls Hospital site to be agreed, so that this land could be released for housing developments that in turn would fund the construction of a new junction off the A12.

This chain of events needed to take place before the community stadium could be opened for business, but the three bodies agreed on Tuesday on a new funding arrangement that could see it ready two years ahead of schedule.

Under the proposal, the council is hoping to borrow up to £8m to fund the project from the prudential borrowing scheme, a central fund set up to help local authorities with major regeneration programmes.

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In return, the football club will pay the council a cut of its ticket sales at the new stadium and the local authority will retain the freehold of the ground, which will also be available for other community purposes.

The council also intends to recoup some of its outlay by selling Colchester United's current home, Layer Road, for housing.

The new proposal will mean the stadium will be built before the A12 junction, although a previous plan to build hotels, conference facilities and retail outlets at the same time has been shelved. It is now hoped these will come after the new ground is up and running.

If the proposal goes ahead, work on the stadium could begin as early as next year and be completed during the 2006/2007 season.

Colchester MP Bob Russell had been so concerned about delays to the stadium project that he lobbied Prime Minister Tony Blair, urging him to “bang heads together” to sort out the NHS land sale and A12 junction issues.

Mr Russell, who is a U's season ticket-holder, welcomed the latest move and added: “I am delighted with anything which takes things forward.”

Marie Partner, chief executive of Colchester United, said: “This gives me a feeling of relief and at the same time excitement that it now appears that the stadium is a very real possibility.”

John Jowers, leader of the council, added: “I don't underestimate the size of the challenge ahead, but I do know that this kind of progress would not have been possible without a real commitment to work together and tackle some very difficult issues. This is great news for the people of the borough.”

Darren Barrenger, chairman of the sports trust, said: “The trust is completely committed to ensuring that the new stadium provides suitable facilities to enable the delivery of a wide range of sporting opportunities for the people of Colchester and its surrounding neighbours.”

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