U's new stadium moves a step closer

A NEW dawn beckons today for Colchester United Football Club after the Government said it would not stand in the way of a move to a purpose-built community stadium.

A NEW dawn beckons today for Colchester United Football Club after the Government said it would not stand in the way of a move to a purpose-built community stadium.

After nearly 70 years playing at Layer Road, the U's dream move to a state-of-the-art 10,000-seat venue looks set to become reality.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced it would not be "calling in" the plans for a move to the Cuckoo Farm site to the north of Colchester, a decision which prevents a major delay in the development process.

U's fans have been celebrating the decision, calling it a "paracetamol" for all the club's headaches of recent years.

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The club has said it hopes work will begin on the £12million move next year with the project to be completed by the spring of 2007 although Colchester Borough Council will have the final say on the detailed planning application.

It is hoped the community stadium will play a key part of people's lives in Colchester and offer far more opportunities to bring in revenue.

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The community stadium will offer conferencing facilities, banqueting, educational facilities, a health centre and the club's centre of excellence, meaning it can bring in revenue throughout the whole week

The package has been put together by a partnership of the club, borough council and Community Sports Trust.

The U's outdated Layer Road ground – currently leased to the club by the borough council - is set to be sold for housing with finances helping pay off an £8m loan which will be taken out by the council towards the new stadium.

Colchester United's chief executive, Marie Partner, hailed the decision as "fantastic news" for the League One side's future but also warned the finances of the scheme were a vital factor.

Mrs Partner said: "This is fantastic news and means we can sit down and think about the future but we have got to make sure the whole issue of funding is in place and make sure Colchester United are in a comfortable position with the revenue returns.

"Layer Road is outdated, football has moved on in leaps and bounds. It is more of a business than a sport and you have to look at the commercial opportunities outside football."

Colchester's Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell, a U's season ticket holder, paid tribute to the club's chairman, Peter Heard, who has helped keep them financially afloat during recent years.

He said: "This has been a team effort. It has been a very complicated procedure, but all the pieces of the jigsaw are now on the table and it only remains for the last few to be put into place. The picture looks very good."

Mr Russell had lobbied Prime Minister Tony Blair, urging him to "bang heads together" to sort out the junction issues and sale of NHS land needed for the scheme.

But Richard Agate, the chairman of Myland Parish Council, said he was disappointed in the lack of involvement they had been given so far.

"Late in the day they are involving us as they have indicated they would like to meet parish councillors and local ward councillors.

"That approach was made on Tuesday and we did not get an approach before then – the decision was made before we were involved.

"They know we are not going to be happy about the football stadium before the infrastructure going in first."

He added the council was not against to the stadium "in principal" but said he feared the A12 junction to support the Cuckoo Farm development may never go-ahead.

But with the major hurdle overcome the detailed work will now begin, with issues such as the financial arrangements, traffic management and community matters all to be looked at in the coming months.

No-one from Colchester Borough Council was available for comment last night.

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