At it's meeting on Tues 15th March, the County Council Cabinet authorised it's officers to enter detailed discussions with Oxford United Football Club (OUFC). The next stage will examine the feasibility of their plans to build an 18,000-capacity stadium, community and sports grounds
along with commercial development needed to fund the stadium, for example hotel, retail and conference facilities.
Speaking at the meeting, Suzanne McIvor of HRARA noted that the majority (~60%) of local consultation respondents were opposed. She also pointed out that the ‘green barrier’ which is repeatedly mentioned is very different from the Green Belt. Cllr Ian Middleton (Kidlington East) pointed out the lack of information and uncertainties about the site's suitability. Cllr Liz Wade (Wolvercote) highlighted the irreplaceable loss of Green Belt. Andrew Gant pointed out that match day traffic is terrible (will Frieze Way fare better than Grenoble Road?).
Several Councillors, led by our own Nigel Simpson (Kirtlington and Kidlington North) used the debate to say just how much they love OUFC. We learned that Nigel is a 4th generation fan who took his wife to an OUFC game on their 1st date (that's true love 💛); another played football as a teenager and was once an OUFC mascot; someone remembered the Milk Cup victory of 1986. Well, with respect that's all totally beside the point. No one thinks football is a bad thing or wants the club to fail. (Read Oxford Mail's coverage of the meeting here).
OUFC seem to have got this far by riding a wave of fan-fuelled emotion and optimism that a new build multi-million ££££ stadium will be the answer to their problems. Now they need to prove the development proposals will be massively beneficial to the local area and have negligible downsides.
The County have not yet agreed to enter into lease negotiations. It wants now to scrutinise the club's proposals closely. OUFC will need to provide nitty-gritty details on a wide range of issues including: the true scale of the proposals, links with local sport clubs, access to the site, traffic and parking proposals, net-zero carbon construction /biodiversity gain and financial viability. OUFC should also be asked to prove that Stratfield is the only possible stadium option. Do they really need to lease the whole 44 acres when the stadium footprint is much smaller? Will it be possible to reduce the height of the stadium by lowering the pitch below ground level ?
The County also want to ask Cherwell Council to give a preliminary opinion on the likelihood of it granting planning permission to develop this Green Belt site.
Similarly, both Gosford & Water Eaton and Kidlington parish councils say they are keeping 'open minds' but have significant reservations. They want detailed assurances before considering any transfer of the lease.
For our part, we think this is just the beginning of a long and sorry saga which will preoccupy OUFC, their fans, the Councils and everyone affected by these proposals for years to come. Progress is likely to be slow and tortuous.
Mr Kassam's unreasonable treatment of OUFC is now causing unnecessary grief to many thousands of people, affecting and potentially dividing whole communities. Why are Oxford City not doing more to hold him to account and help secure a future for the club?