Bath Rugby venue plans (court) controversy


Bath Rugby update October 2020 Image: Bath Rugby & Artist impression

The English professional rugby union club Bath Rugby’s (UK) ambitious plans to develop a new arena which can pack in a crowd of 18,000 on an expanded site in the City center suffered a setback as well as a legal blow after a recent ruling from the Bristol High Court on a historic restrictive covenant on the land. Bath is now mulling on whether to appeal the ruling.

The ruling by Judge Paul Matthews at the High Court of Justice, Business and Property Court in Bristol recently translates into the fact that any future development on the land could be open to a legal challenge from objectors to a new stadium, over whether it should be permitted.

The judge ruled against the club’s lawyers who had legally challenged a historic covenant blocking development of the present Rec site if there would be “nuisance” caused. Bath Rugby’s legal team claims that the covenant is “unenforceable” and, therefore, invalid.

The covenants on the Recreation Ground protects it from development on the land, what with Bath Rugby – in partnership with Bath Rugby Foundation and Arena 1865 – looking to build a stadium for Bath on the site, including riverside regeneration, community use and a car park under a raised pitch.

Bath Rugby is an English professional rugby union club in Bath, Somerset (UK). They play in the English Premiership. The club has won England’s domestic competition, the Premiership Rugby Cup, the Heineken Cup, and the European Challenge Cup. The club was founded in 1865 as Bath Football Club.

The club’s home arena is Recreation Ground, a large open space in the center of Bath, England, next to the River Avon, which is available to be used by permission from the Recreation Ground Trust for recreational purposes by the public at large but particularly the people of Bath and those belonging to the surrounding areas.

Bath play at the Recreation Ground, also known as ‘The Rec’. The stadium sits in the center of the City. For the 2009-10 seasons, the ground capacity was expanded to 11,700, and Bath plays their entire home matches there during the club season.

A statement sent out by the club gave some background to the legal issues: “On April 6, 1922, ‘The Rec’ was conveyed to the Bath Recreation Ground Company Limited by Bath Rugby’s then President, Captain Francis W Forester. Within this conveyance there was a restrictive covenant which, if enforceable, could impact future developments at ‘The Rec’. In accordance with legal advice, the club has for some time been seeking to obtain clarity on this covenant.”

The statement added, “The judgment is on a narrow legal point relating to whether the covenant can be enforced and by whom; it did not consider the impact of this, and it was not concerned with the merits of any specific proposals for development at ‘The Rec’. The Club is assessing its options, which include an appeal, whilst we continue to focus on the day-to-day operations, planning for the new season alongside our important work via Bath Rugby Foundation supporting our community during these challenging times.”

Earlier this year, due to the cataclysmic effect of COVID-19 leading to stadium closures which led to huge revenue drain – the club was forced to put the stadium development on hold and has yet to submit a full planning application.

Following the court’s ruling, Bath Rugby CEO Tarquin McDonald told mediapersons that the club remains committed to developing a new stadium at ‘The Rec’ – “Our focus has always been at ‘The Rec’. It is our spiritual home, we have been there for 125 years playing rugby at ‘The Rec’.”

He added, “No one has ever developed a stadium in a World Heritage City before. I cannot downplay the complexity of the project and what is involved but we will continue to work through that.”

Despite a history of roadblocks to the project, McDonald says the club remains steadfast in their commitment to the project and staying in the City center.

He asserted, “It is the spiritual home of the club and that is where the council’s local plan, where they effectively plan out how they want to develop the City over the years ahead, has enshrined ‘The Rec’ as the site for a new stadium. That has always been our focus.”

McDonald added, “We have considered alternative sites but our focus has been on ‘The Rec’ being our home. We have consulted extensively and ultimately that is what people want, and I don’t just mean rugby supporters but people in Bath. It is at the heart of the City.”

The head honcho’s message was loud and clear – Bath Rugby belong at ‘The Rec’.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Recreation Ground is already home to a 14,509-seater rugby stadium, the covenants on the site are a hurdle to future, permanent development taking place with the East stand of the existing structure currently temporary.

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