The Labour leader of Gravesham Borough Council, John Burden, has added his initial support to Fleet’s stadium ambitions – though cautioned that everything is still subject to planning permission being granted.
The Fleet are set to submit their planning proposals this week and Mr Burden told BBC Radio Kent that the club has worked with the council and community to ensure maximum engagement.
“The plans the club are putting forward are really exciting news,” he said. “The Council actually owns the site at the moment but we’re in the process of selling it to the club because we believe in what they’re trying to do. Their aspirations in trying to get through the leagues plus what they’re trying to do in the development of the site I think is a great thing for the area.
“The plans need to be submitted first and we need to listen to local opinion and until those details and those opinions are in, obviously I have to keep an open mind, but I think the aspirations of the club are something everybody will support.”
Questioned about the cost of the development, Mr Burden agreed that the total project costs of £7-8m were realistic: “With that figure what you’re looking at is the comprehensive remodelling of the entire site,” he said. “The ground does need refurbishment and I think the other thing that hasn’t been mentioned but which is great for the area is the fact they really are getting engaged with the local community. Peter Varney obviously came from Charlton Athletic Football Club and they had a fabulous engagement in the local area in football, health and all those sorts of agendas so what they’re going to be doing, not just in the remodelling of the site, but engaging with the council and looking at the football, the health, the energy into the area will be really good news so I’m fully supporting them.
“Some may well say no [to the idea that expanding a football club will regenerate an area] and I think we need to look at it as part of a whole package of things. You’ve got Paramount – which is also subject to a planning application and that will be decided by the Government – you’ve got the Garden City, other developments coming into the area and when you start looking at how all these large and small developments come together, that’s where you get comprehensive redevelopment.
“That’s what this area is looking at now and it’s exciting potential for Northfleet. What we’ve got to make sure of is the local people are fully consulted in this process and that’s what we’re engaged in, but also that they get benefits from it. I think what comes from this football club and the way they’re going to engage the local community on health programmes, youth, that’s all part of where the local community gains.
“There isn’t much residential property around that area, so the objections if they do come in will be on technical grounds such as highways, other government agencies and dare I say it, other local football clubs might have an interest in the Fleet not doing so well but all those objections will need to be balanced against the positive things and that’s what will be considered in due course.
“When the council got involved in the first place, we stepped in to buy the ground to ensure there was a football ground in Gravesham for the Fleet and the arrangement we had with the club then was they were going to try and put some money together to buy the ground back from us. Obviously that ownership went through a bad period and Dr Abdulla came forward and has really invested in players, management and the ground itself. We’re now in the next phase of remodelling the ground and hopefully taking the club up at least two more levels into the League and that will be great for the area.”
With the planning application due to be heard in April, a positive outcome would see redevelopment of the Liam Daish Stand commence almost immediately and Mr Burden agreed that – if given the green light – those timescales were realistic because of the way the club has approached the stadium development.
“The club have a large degree of faith in what they’re doing,” he said. “If they didn’t believe they wouldn’t be investing the way they are. Because of that and their trying to do the right thing in consulting with the council about the design, they are able to work with contractors now and get prices in and get them geared up to start work and that partnership will help deliver.”
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