Oxford United venue plans nod with provisos



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Oxford United stadium approved Image: Kassam Stadium, Steve Daniels, CC BY-SA 2.0

Controversial plans for the League One team Oxford United F.C.’s (UK) new football stadium have edged closer to reality after the County Council agreed on September 19th to sell land to the football club.

‘OxfordshireLive’ stated that the Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet made the decision recently to sell the land, known as ‘the Triangle’ in Kidlington (village in England, UK).

The Oxford United Football Club is a professional football club in the City of Oxford, England (UK). The team plays in League One, the third tier of the English football league system.

The 12,500-capacity Kassam Stadium in Oxford, England (UK) is the home of the Oxford United Football Club and is named after the ground’s Owner and former Chairman of the football club, Firoz Kassam.

The Oxfordshire County Council is the County Council (upper-tier local authority) for the non-Metropolitan County of Oxfordshire in the South East of England. Established in 1889, it is an elected body responsible for most strategic local Government services in the county.

The ‘Triangle’ site sits east of Frieze Way and South of Kidlington and is proposed for the new 18,000-capacity ground. The Oxford United Football Club is negotiating the terms on which the sale is to be based.

‘OxfordshireLive’ further stated that the sale is subject to the receipt of planning consent and the production by Oxford United F.C. of a net zero carbon plan, which is to be fully costed with clear timescales and outcomes, from design, construction and full operation of the stadium. But rather than sell it to the club as a freehold, the Councilors voted to sell it as leasehold instead.

The sale of the land is also based on restrictive covenants to ensure that the land remains limited to use for stadium and sports purposes in perpetuity. The Oxfordshire County Council also considered the public feedback they received in July 2023 on the plans to sell the land.

The local residents and David Robey, Chair of Kidlington Parish Council, expressed “serious concerns” over traffic management in the area, citing that the likely increase in traffic in the area would spoil their quiet area. The land is also home to several different wildlife habitats, raising concerns over environmental issues.

The Councilors agreed that they change the sale from a freehold to a leasehold but with the potential of changing it to a freehold in the future. Changing the sale to a leasehold means that the County Council can still have a close engagement with the land.

Following the decision, the club will now need to submit a planning application to the Cherwell District Council. If the application is approved, work can begin on building Oxford United’s new home.
 

The Proposal

The Oxfordshire County Council and the Oxford United Football Club (OUFC) have been in negotiations on the terms on which the Council-owned land could be used for the development of a new stadium for the club.

The land, known as ‘the Triangle’, is located East of Frieze Way and South of the Kidlington roundabout.

The club had initially proposed a site at the Stratfield Brake in Kidlington, but it was recognized there were challenges associated with it. Officers subsequently identified ‘the Triangle’ as an alternative location. In January 2023, the Council’s Cabinet agreed to enter non-binding negotiations on the lease or sale of ‘the Triangle’ to the club.

The Council set out seven strategic priorities for the use of the land, which the club’s proposal had to address.
 

About the Land

‘OXFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL’ stated that the land is located East of Frieze Way and South of Kidlington roundabout. Known as ‘the Triangle’, it is approximately five hectares in size. It is situated in the green belt.

‘The Triangle’ is close to the Oxford Parkway Railway Station and the park and ride at Water Eaton (hamlet in England). It is currently let to a single leaseholder and there is no current public access.
 

The Negotiations

‘OXFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL’ further stated that the Council has been negotiating commercial heads of terms with the football club.

To receive agreement from the Council, the club’s proposal had to address the following seven key strategic priorities set out by the Council for the use of the land:

  • Maintaining a Green barrier between Oxford and Kidlington and protecting and enhancing the surrounding environment, including biodiversity, connecting habitats and supporting nature recovery;
  • Improving public access to high-quality nature and Green spaces;
  • Enhancing inclusive facilities for the local sports groups and ongoing financial support;
  • Significantly improving the infrastructure connectivity in this location, improving public transport to reduce the need for car travel in so far as possible and improving sustainable transport through increased walking, cycling and rail use;
  • Developing local employment opportunities in Oxfordshire;
  • Increasing education and innovation through the provision of an accessible sports center of excellence and facilities linked to elite sport, community sport, health, and wellbeing; and
  • Supporting the Council’s net zero carbon emissions pledge through highly sustainable development.

It also had to meet objectives around managing financial risk and obtaining the best value for the taxpayer from any transaction.
 

The Decision

As mentioned above, at its meeting held on September 19th, 2023, the Council’s Cabinet approved in principle the leasing of land at ‘the Triangle’ to the football club to develop a new stadium.

The leasehold comes with several conditions:

  • The club must be given planning permission by the Cherwell District Council;
  • The club must produce a net-zero plan that is fully costed and comes with clear timescales and outcomes from design, construction and full operation of the stadium;
  • The club must provide details of how it will meet the commitments made in its submissions to the County Council so far; and
  • Restrictive covenants will be put in place that will set aside the use of the land for football/community sports and leisure/sports stadia for the term of the lease with limited commercial activities permitted only within the stadium footprint.

 

Next Steps

The conditional agreement to lease the land is only the first step in the process. The club must now provide much more detailed proposals through the planning process.

The club will submit a planning application to the Cherwell District Council and the local planning authority. Formal public consultation is part of the planning process and the County Council will be a statutory consultee as the local highway authority.
 

Who’s Who in this Process?

  • The Oxford United Football Club (OUFC) approached the Oxfordshire County Council in March 2021 with a proposal to build a new football stadium on Council-owned land near Kidlington. The club has confirmed it must find a new home by the start of the 2026-2027 seasons as its licence agreement at the Kassam Stadium expires in 2026. The club has published a statement about this on its website;
  • The Oxfordshire County Council owns the land at ‘the Triangle’ where the OUFC want to build their new stadium. The Council set out seven strategic priorities for the club’s proposal to address if the land was to be leased or sold to the club; and
  • The Cherwell District Council is the local planning authority with statutory responsibility for deciding if the OUFC can build a new stadium at ‘the Triangle’. Formal public consultation is part of the planning process.

 

Having Your Say

The Council committed to seeking the views of a wide range of stakeholders and the public before making a final decision.

More than 5,400 people and organizations shared their views on whether the club had addressed the Council’s strategic priorities in a survey run during June and July 2023. A detailed report on the findings was shared with the Cabinet for its meeting of September 19th, 2023.

In April and May 2023, the Cabinet members and Council officers met with a range of local stakeholders to explore early views with regard to the OUFC proposals. Eleven independently facilitated meetings were held. A summary of the feedback received from stakeholders was shared with the Cabinet for its meeting of September 19th, 2023.

An initial public engagement exercise was held in January and February 2022 to canvass views on whether the Council should enter discussions with the club and on the Council’s strategic priorities. The survey resulted in over 3,700 responses.

Following the Cabinet’s approval, the next step for the club is to submit a planning application to the Cherwell District Council as the local planning authority. Residents will once again be able to share their views as part of this process.
 

Background

The OUFC approached the Council in March 2021 with a proposal to develop the Stratfield Brake playing fields and ‘the Triangle’ for a scheme including a new home stadium and commercial development.

On January 18th, 2022, the Cabinet agreed to undertake a public engagement exercise to understand local views and set out a series of objectives that any scheme should address before a final decision being made.

A Council-led public engagement exercise was undertaken in January and February 2022.

On March 15th, 2022, the Cabinet agreed that the officers would conduct discussions with the OUFC to deepen their understanding of the detailed proposals being made and to consider their compatibility with the Council’s strategic priorities.

Following consideration of the proposals, the Cabinet met on January 24th, 2023, and agreed to enter into non-binding negotiations for the use of ‘the Triangle’ only for a new stadium.

In March 2023, the Cabinet agreed on an engagement and communications strategy. During April and May 2023, the Cabinet members and the Council officers met with a range of local stakeholders to listen to the views regarding the proposal.

In June 2023, the OUFC provided information to the County Council about how it would address each of the seven priorities. This comprised summary document and a range of more detailed information. These documents were published on its public-facing stadium website.

Between June 9th-July 23rd, 2023, a further round of public engagement took place based on the information provided by the OUFC regarding the scheme.

A final decision on whether the Council should lease or sell the land to the club was taken by the Cabinet on September 19th, 2023.

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