United volte-face on Fullerton Park plans



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Leeds United stadium expansion Image: Leeds United

The home of the Premier League team Leeds United Football Club (UK) – Elland Road Stadium’s future as a 55,000-person venue took a step closer to reality recently as councilors waved through a plea to scrap existing plans for Fullerton Park.

In a complete reversal of position, Leeds United requested the Leeds City Council to consider moving existing plans for Fullerton Park to the former Matthew Murray High School site in Leeds (UK) in order to make room for an Elland Road expansion.

‘Leeds-Live’ stated that the above nod comes with a rider – Leeds United will have to meet the design costs of moving the current Parklife plans to the former Matthew Murray High School site, and the Leeds City Council is on board.

Earlier, the plan was that based on land opposite Elland Road, Fullerton Park will become home to a new community sports hub, delivered in partnership with the Football Foundation and Leeds City Council.

The Leeds United Football Club is an English professional football club based in the City of Leeds, West Yorkshire (UK). The club was formed in the year 1919 following the disbanding of Leeds City by the Football League and took over their Elland Road Stadium.

The 37,792-capacity Elland Road is a football stadium in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England (UK), which has been the home of the Premier League club Leeds United since the club’s formation in 1919. The stadium is the 14th largest football stadium in England.

One councilor did criticize how late United had left their request to change the plan for Fullerton Park, which was granted full planning permission last year.

‘Leeds-Live’ further stated that however, in line with the recommendations put forward by the Council officers, members of the decision-making executive board have given a green light at this stage.

A senior Council officer admitted that United “changed their minds at a very late stage”, after the emergence of plans by the club to pull out of a proposed new training ground on the former South Leeds school site.

The above development comes close on the heels of recent news that the club no longer planned to build a training ground at the former Matthew Murray High School site, as expanding Elland Road to a 55,000 capacity venue was their topmost priority.

The club’s revised stadium plan will instead mean a proposed switch for the Parklife community facility, from Fullerton Park to the Matthew Murray site in Holbeck, where Leeds had planned to build a £25m futuristic training facility.

Members heard this was because there would not be room to include the scheme along with the extra stadium capacity, park and ride and ice rink on the Fullerton Park site.

Under the new proposals, facilities provided by Parklife would now include four 3G artificial grass pitches, a community café, a gym, and a GP practice.

The Council maintained that Leeds have agreed to cover the cost of the design fees incurred by the suggested move, believed to be in the region of £325,000.

It follows plans announced by the club back in 2019 to move the bulk of its Thorp Arch training facilities to the site of the Matthew Murray School over the next few years.

Speaking at the executive board meeting held recently, the leader of the Council’s Conservatives group, Coun Andrew Carter, observed, “Would it be true to say Leeds United have changed their minds on this at a very late stage, and that it’s somewhat delayed the whole process? I support the paper, but it has been left a bit late and delayed the whole process. That irks me, because Woodhall Playing Fields are part of the Parklife scheme. I hope the Woodhall proposals are included when this comes back.”

Senior Leeds City Council officer Martin Farrington responded, “It’s late. It couldn’t have been left any later, but as members of the Council, you would want to have regard to Elland Road as a football stadium. Leeds United have changed their position and wish to expand their stadium to 55,000 seats, so if we can facilitate that, that is the reason for the recommendations. Leeds United will pay our costs for redesign, recognizing we are acting at their request.”

He added plans for Woodhall will have to be brought forward to the Football Foundation, which will run the Parklife scheme.

The Council had agreed to sit on the negotiating table with Leeds United for the development of a new training ground and academy at the former Matthew Murray High School site back in 2017.

A number of sites were then shortlisted by the Council two years later, with Fullerton Park securing planning nod and tenders for pricing of the works were being prepared.

At the same time, they approved an agreement with Leeds United for the Matthew Murray site, to allow the club to come up with proposals for a new training ground.

However, after the club’s promotion to the Premier League, they decided they wanted to increase the stadium capacity to 55,000, and the extra space needed would mean either moving the Parklife initiative to another area within Fullerton Park, or to the former Matthew Murray High School site.

The Council was approached by the club a few months back to review the Parklife layout to see if the scheme could be resited in Fullerton Park.

A Council report revealed there was insufficient space in Fullerton Park for the ice rink, park and ride, Parklife, and stadium expansion.

The club then asked the Council to look into building the Parklife hub on the Matthew Murray site, and the club would bear any costs in the early stages of redeveloping the scheme.

Councilors agreed on the point that Council officers would work in tandem with the club on a revised masterplan for the Elland Road Stadium and Fullerton Park area, meaning designs for the stadium expansion could be put together in the coming months.

Parklife is a national program funded by the Football Association (FA), the Premier League, the Government, Sport England, and the Football Foundation aimed at introducing all-weather football facilities available all year round.

A shortfall of 13 additional full-size all-weather pitches across Leeds was identified and football authorities believe the scheme will “go a long way” to addressing that shortfall.

It would consist of one full-sized all-weather pitch, one 9v9 all-weather pitch, two 5-a-side all-weather pitches, and a National Health Service (NHS) facility including treatment rooms and pharmacy, a gym, changing rooms and café facility, and car parking.

Design development is expected to take place between then and November 2021 before a planning submission in December and potential thumbs-up in February 2022.

Work is expected to start on site in July or August 2022, and be over by August 2023.

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