New U's stadium set for go-ahead

PLANS for a new community stadium in Colchester look set to clear their biggest remaining hurdle when they go before councillors next week, the EADT can reveal.

By Roddy Ashworth

PLANS for a new community stadium in Colchester look set to clear their biggest remaining hurdle when they go before councillors next week, the EADT can reveal.

A long-awaited business plan has shown that the scheme to build the new home for Colchester United is financially viable - a result some had feared impossible.

And in a report prepared for a full meeting of Colchester Borough Council on Monday, senior officers have backed the project and recommended the council borrow up to £14.2 million to fund it.

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This, which includes £4 million pledged from other sources, will mean the stadium could be built by a new target date of March 2008.

Although there are still some matters to be ironed out, officers are confident that the basic finances are robust and there will be little risk of an impact on council tax levels.

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The only downside in the scheme is that any new large capital projects the council might have wanted to initiate in the next few years would be limited - but in the long term the potential for such schemes would actually be increased.

It is considered this is a reasonable short-term price to pay for a major social asset that has been on the table since 1998, when the idea of a community stadium was first mooted.

Colchester United currently plays in an out-dated and increasingly dilapidated stadium at Layer Road.

The team, which was promoted to the Championship at the end of last season, urgently needs new accommodation to provide modern facilities to fans and enough capacity to meet new demand.

The new stadium will be owned by the borough council and rented out to Colchester United, who will eventually repay the loan the council is set to take out and any interest accrued on it.

It will be run by a management company made up from representatives of the council, the club and the Colchester United Community Sports Trust.

Yesterday Robert Davidson, leader of Colchester Borough Council, said: “The shadow stadium partnership board, including Colchester2020, Colchester United Football Club, Colchester United Community Sport Trust and Colchester Borough Council has worked incredibly hard to get us to this point.

“A lot of very detailed financial work has been carried out to make sure that we have a realistic business case and detailed build tenders for the stadium.

“We have come a long way over the past few months and I believe what we have now is a solid proposal which will help us to deliver a facility which could offer increasing benefits to the whole borough, a home for Colchester United Football Club and another step in developing Colchester as a prestigious regional centre.”

And Richard Bourne, a Labour councillor who had previously raised concerns about the financial viability of the stadium project, said: “I believe the calculations in the confidential business plan and in the officers' report show that this scheme does represent good value for money for the council.

“Without taking into consideration the social benefits, it still represents a good deal.”

Mr Bourne, who has been a long-term supporter of the council helping the U's find a new home, added: “There is very little risk to the council - even on the lowest forecast there is no reason for there to be an impact on council tax, and in terms of capital, although there are short-term implications, the council will get back more than it puts in.

“There are still some outstanding issues about the management of the stadium, but these two documents should make the financial case to anyone who was worried before.”

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