Stadium joy for Colchester United

THE final major hurdle in the bid to find high-flying football team Colchester United a new home is “almost 100%” likely to be cleared today, the EADT can reveal.

By Roddy Ashworth

THE final major hurdle in the bid to find high-flying football team Colchester United a new home is “almost 100%” likely to be cleared today, the EADT can reveal.

Mental health bosses are to be advised by their chief executive this morning to sign off a deal that would free up the former Severalls Hospital site for development as part of the North Colchester regeneration project.

The decision will finally open up the way for a planning application for a new community stadium to be submitted in an effort to get the U's a new ground by start of the 2007/08 season.

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The massive land deal has taken years to negotiate and just last month the EADT revealed that the final piece of the jigsaw - the agreement of the North Essex Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust - was in danger of yet further delay.

That could have meant a shortfall in external funding which could have killed the Cuckoo Farm stadium proposal for good.

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However, the EADT can reveal that in a private session at today's trust meeting, board members will be urged to agree that the torturous legal arrangements have now been satisfactorily resolved and the land deal can go ahead.

All of the key landowners in the scheme - which include English Partnerships, Colchester Borough Council and the mental health trust - will now fund the development of infrastructure for the area.

This includes new education provision, roads and a new junction on the A12 to provide access to the new facilities.

Most of the land will then be sold at premium rate to developers who will then in turn make their cash by building and selling thousands of new homes in the regeneration zone.

The U's are currently in second place in League One and desperately need a new home, particularly if they are promoted to the Championship.

Last night one senior trust figure, who declined to be named, said: “Basically the problem that has been holding this up was the question 'What if the council doesn't build the stadium, but instead builds something far more profitable?'

“If they ended up building a supermarket or more housing the trust wanted to get the best deal so it could use the cash to invest in its services to local people.

“Obviously, the board and chief executive wanted to be absolutely sure that they would get the highest return in such a circumstance.

“They had to be sure that the final deal with the council was good for everyone involved. The lawyers have said that that issue has now been resolved.”

Yesterday one jubilant council source said: “We are almost 100% certain that it will all be sorted out today.

“This is great news for everyone who has been involved in the long and difficult process of getting this highly complicated and delicate deal acceptable for all of the different bodies."

The EADT understands that so confident are the parties that the deal will be reached, they have even drawn up a joint press release announcing the breakthrough to be issued to the media the second today's meeting finishes.

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