Taxpayers may face £8m stadium bill

THE people of Colchester are likely to face a bill of up to £8million to build a community stadium that will be a new home for the town's football team.

By Roddy Ashworth

THE people of Colchester are likely to face a bill of up to £8million to build a community stadium that will be a new home for the town's football team.

But members of a group set up to ensure the plans come to fruition stressed yesterday that activities other than football would also take place at the new ground.

Proposals for the stadium, set to be built as part of a major regeneration project in the north of Colchester, have been on the agenda for more than five years.

And yesterday it was estimated that the new facility could be up and running - along with a new junction on the A12 - by 2008.

Members of the Community Stadium Steering Group announced that the 10,000-seater complex would deliver a regional landmark venue for the town, and one that would represent an excellent community facility.

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As well as providing a new home for Colchester United, it would also be a base for the Colchester United Community Sports Trust.

Much of the estimated £12 million to £14 million cost of the stadium will be born by both private partners and external funding bodies - around £4 million of which has already been identified.

But yesterday Steve Clarke, head of social and economic regeneration at Colchester Borough Council, said that anything up to £8 million could have to be paid from the council's capital budget to build the structure.

A separate company would probably be formed to run the stadium, and although the initial public investment would not be recovered the council would not anticipate having to provide any annual grants to fund its operation.

Members of the steering group said it was not yet clear what status this company would have or what would happen to any profits it made.

But Mr Clarke confirmed the council would want to remain the owner of the stadium and would ultimately be responsible for its upkeep.

Ken Jones, the borough's cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration, said: “From the local perspective we see this provision of a community stadium as a genuine partnership venture.

“We have formed a steering group where all the partners come together to discuss the challenges thrown up and their solutions.

“The whole project is beginning to move forward, but with projects like this there are problems from time to time.”

The steering group is made up of representatives of Colchester United, Colchester United Community Sports Trust, Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council and Colchester 2020.

Steve Bradshaw, chief executive of the sports trust, said: “This is a unique opportunity for the people of Colchester to have a truly excellent community facility, giving people far greater access to new learning and recreation opportunities.

“As well as providing a new home for Colchester united it also gives the Community Sports Trust the facilities we need to continue to provide sporting, social and educational opportunities to the thousands of children in the area.

“I certainly wouldn't say we have an easy job ahead of us - the wider regeneration plan for north Colchester is one huge jigsaw puzzle and the community stadium is just one part of it. But we now have all the key players around the table and there is tremendous energy and commitment from everyone involved.”

Mr Clarke said: “We all recognise that however committed the steering group and however good any new business plan, construction of the community stadium can only start once the new roads and services in the area arrive at our chosen site.

“This is entirely dependent on market forces and capital investment provided by private house builders. However I am confident that with goodwill on all sides this exciting ambition can be realised.”

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