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Brentford FC revises plans for new Community Stadium

Brentford FC, together with its development partner Be (formerly Willmott Dixon Residential), presented amendments to the approved Brentford Community Stadium development to members of the London Borough of Hounslow (LBH) Planning Committee last week, August 24, ahead of plans being submitted early September for the Council to consider. These are the final changes which, subject to approval by LBH, will mean construction of the new stadium will start early in 2018 with the aim of completion by late 2019 or early 2020.

 

Since the original planning permission was granted in June 2014, significant changes have taken place both within the development marketplace and in relation to English Premier League (EPL) football and Premiership rugby union requirements. As a result, the Club and Be have undertaken a detailed review, to ensure the stadium is Premier League compliant upon completion; to enhance the urban and residential design; and to reduce the risks from the stadium construction process and its future operation.

 

The result is a stadium that is smaller in capacity (down from 20,000 seats to 17,250) and which will be sited three metres south of its original location. This will allow the incorporation of a road at the northern perimeter to improve access through the site and ease the construction constraints imposed by a site bounded on all sides by railway lines. In addition, Be are taking this opportunity to revise the residential development to create a better and more integrated sense of place, with increased permeability. The stadium and the enabling residential development will remain within the planning envelope approved in 2014 and there is no increase in either the height or the overall number of homes within the residential development.

 

These amendments will not impact on the overall quality of the stadium. In fact, recent successful seasons in the Championship have only served to harden the resolve of the owner, Matthew Benham, and the management team of Brentford Football Club to continue its pursuit of EPL status. This is illustrated by the fact that a key amendment involves the inclusion of Premier League-compliant Outside Broadcast facilities within the stadium itself, together with facilities to meet the latest EPL requirements for lighting and media. Similarly, the new stadium will benefit from premium lounges with the capability of welcoming up to 3,000 guests.  There is also provision for some safe standing, when legislation allows for this.

 

The facilities for the Brentford FC Community Sports Trust will not now be within the stadium itself. Instead, it’s proposed that the Trust’s offices, Learning Zone and Hounslow’s Interim Education Centre will be housed in the ground and first floor of the Central Eastern residential block, immediately next to the stadium, giving them dedicated facilities which can be used 365 days a year, something that was not possible if they had been located in the stadium.

 

The proposed amendments to the residential development are focussed around the first phase and specifically about improving the experience for all those who will come to enjoy the site. A new square which knits the apartment buildings and the stadium together provides a proper main entrance to the stadium, whilst the addition of non-residential uses around the square will make it somewhere people will want to come on non-match days. The look of the buildings has been improved to make them much more in keeping with the existing architecture in the local area and the apartment buildings themselves have been re-planned to better suit market needs. Of the 910 homes consented for the scheme, 487 will be delivered in the first phase with residents able to both rent and buy.

 

Cliff Crown, Chairman of Brentford FC said:

I would like to thank the fans of Brentford FC for their support and patience during this last stage of detailed planning. I know that some fans may be concerned that the capacity of the stadium will be reduced but it is critical that this project is as financially robust and deliverable as possible. I am delighted that we are continuing to prepare for life in the Premier League with enhanced media, Outside Broadcast and lighting facilities to make the stadium fully compliant from day one, with provision for safe standing as soon as legislation allows.

 

Conor Hayes, Chairman of Lionel Road Development Ltd and Corporate Adviser (appointed May 2016), added:

We are looking forward to submitting these planning amendments that are the final hurdle to us getting on site to start the stadium build itself. These proposals will help make the scheme as financially robust as possible, whilst still providing a high quality stadium and residential development that will help to regenerate this area, provide significant benefits to the local communities and deliver a Premier League ready stadium.

 

Matthew Townend, Managing Director at Be Living Ltd said:

We have had a very productive six months, working closely with the club.  These proposed amendments will improve the fans’ experience as they approach and leave the stadium, enhance the amenity for future residents and, we believe, create a greater sense of place not just on match days, but all year round for everyone coming to the development.

 

Brentford Community Stadium: artist impression

 

A personal statement from Brentford FC owner, Matthew Benham, to fans read:

Ahead of the upcoming Fans Forums on 26 August and 7 September, I wanted to take the opportunity to explain why I felt we needed to make some changes to the original plans for our new stadium.

I understand that many of you have been heavily involved over the years, giving a huge amount of your time and energy to help make the original plans a reality. I do not underestimate the importance of this project to everyone involved. It is therefore important to me that I communicate the rationale behind the changes and why they are important.

I have spent a lot of time reviewing the stadium design and associated business plan over the last couple of years. I ultimately reached the conclusion that the original plans were no longer realistic. There was a substantial chance of indefinite delays in the project, which would have tied up many tens of millions of pounds in legal limbo. The amended plan means that, after decades of waiting, a new, modern stadium will be built just a few hundred yards from Griffin Park. This will help push the Club towards a sustainable future.

The original plans were ultimately too risky for the Club to pursue. A complicated build process, for a complex stadium design, on a difficult site to develop, was likely to lead to further delays and further escalating costs and thus endanger successful completion. There was also too much risk associated with a business plan that involved the Club sharing the running of a full-time conferencing and hospitality business with potentially significant start-up costs.

While this original business plan could have been made to work, it was my judgement that there was a significant chance that the business model would fail and saddle the Club with further debt. The Club has no prior expertise in this type of hospitality and I have no desire to build that sort of business in a highly competitive marketplace such as London.

I asked for a review of the stadium design and business plan with specific instructions to de-risk the project. The end result is a stadium that is smaller, has more matchday premium seats, and has a simpler design. I acknowledge that this has resulted in the removal of some of the original elements, such as the Club Shop and pub, and I understand that some fans are concerned that we could end up with a soulless identikit of other stadium designs, so I will address each of these points in turn.

The smaller stadium is a direct result of the need to make the build process more straightforward. While it is a complicated site to develop, I feel it is preferable to have a smaller stadium in Brentford than a much bigger stadium miles away. The smaller capacity still gives significant room for growth in attendances. I have no interest in the Club taking additional risks in the short term to subsidise a hypothetical set of fans who may wish to attend in the future.

It will be possible to increase the stadium capacity in future but, as with the previous design, that expansion would be difficult and expensive. I want to be straightforward and state that I can’t imagine a situation in which the additional investment needed to expand this stadium on this site will be financially justifiable. In my view, the only situation in which a larger capacity would be needed would be if we are in the Premier League. However, in such a circumstance the revenue from ticket sales is a small fraction of the overall revenue that would be available to us.

The increase in premium seats will generate significant additional revenue that will enable us to keep prices at a realistic level for those fans who have been with us through the more difficult times. It will also help us to attract additional sponsorship revenue. There will be a range of prices that will appeal to existing fans, and there will be no shortage of high quality seats in the rest of the ground with much improved facilities compared to Griffin Park.

There will be no Club Shop at the new stadium but there will still be facilities for fans to buy merchandise. These will be distributed around the stadium site, which should make the process of buying merchandise easier for fans and more cost effective for the Club. Our current shop is open almost every day and loses money.

Some fans will be disappointed at a lack of a pub on the site, while for others it won’t be an issue. The smaller scale of the new design, along with the fact that the re-design contains facilities to ensure that it is ready for Premier League football, means that there is no space for a pub in the stadium itself. I hope that one of the benefits of the location of the new stadium is that there are suitable alternatives both in the stadium concourses and locally.

I am absolutely confident that the unique nature of the site will result in a stadium that is still different to the majority of new stadiums, is small enough to create a fantastic atmosphere yet big enough to enable the continued growth of our supporter base and offers a brilliant matchday experience for all fans.

I am fully aware that many fans would have liked to be consulted on the changes to the plans. In my opinion, it would make sense to consult only when such a consultation would be meaningful. In this instance, my concerns over the risks of the stadium build and business model took overwhelming precedence over a consultation which would not have ultimately impacted on what needed to be done. In addition, there were commercial sensitivities and confidential negotiations that needed to take place which meant that the full facts would not have been available ahead of any consultation.

I also want to acknowledge the concerns of many fans who have raised questions about how the Club will generate revenue to sustain itself in the long term and past my ownership. If and when the time comes that I am no longer involved with the Club, I will ensure that there is a business plan in place that offers long-term financial stability and the opportunity to continue to grow and achieve success on the pitch.

Football continues to change so it is impossible to predict what business model would make the Club fully sustainable at any point in future. It is important to note that the business plan associated with the original stadium design would not have been enough to sustain the club with the current Championship wage bill. As it stands, the only way to be truly sustainable is to be in the Premier League. The new stadium design is completely aligned with our Premier League ambition, will yield important additional revenues that move us towards sustainability, and will not involve the Club taking unnecessary business risks. We will continue with a transfer policy which will help to fill the rest of the funding gap.

I’d like to thank all fans for their continued support as we strive towards our ultimate goal of a new stadium in Brentford and a bright long-term future.

Images, courtesy: Brentford FC

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