> Westerneye examines the case for and against Bristol City FC’s new ground at the Ashton Vale.

> This issue we see the viewpoint of BCFC, and chat to Chief Exec Colin Sextone.

While the controversy over funding cuts continues to dominate headlines around UWE, it is not however the only part of Bristol gripped by a major issue as another debate currently rages at the heart of Bristol as to whether Bristol City Football Club’s (BCFC) proposed new stadium should be built at Ashton Vale.

Opposition groups to the plans want the site designated a “town green”, in a dispute dubbed ‘Ground Vs Green’.

 The site in question is a 42-acre piece of land in an area in South Bristol that was granted planning permission for a 30,000 seat, world-class stadium in February this year. BCFC’s current stadium has been situated half a mile away in Ashton Gate for the past 100 years. The planning permission was given by both Bristol City Council and North Somerset Council, as it sits on the county boundary, and the development is expected to bring more than £150 million of private investment into the city. In fact, 95% of the finance for the stadium is being provided privately.

 It is also believed to be the first football stadia with wildlife and wetlands integrally designed – something that was stipulated in the planning process as the land was previously designated as greenbelt land. Bristol City Council was able to legally take it out of greenbelt due to the economic benefits the development will provide.

 This was all compounded as Bristol was given host city status for the FIFA 2018 World Cup bid based on the stadium plans – but as FIFA’s announcement about the host nation has only recently been made, it is too early to speculate on the bearing the decision has had on the plans.

 However, in May, despite all of these elements being in place, a small number of objectors were successful in having an independent inspector consider the land as being given Town and Village Green status – and this was recommended in September.

 The TVG, as it is commonly known, is an archaic law aimed at protecting recreational and green spaces from being taken away from communities. The law actually dates back to the 12th Century but still has legislative powers in the modern world thanks to the Commons Act of 2006.

 If the site at Ashton Vale – half of which is former landfill – is approved as a Town Green it will effectively never be allowed to be developed on in the future.

 The land is currently owned by the chairman of BCFC Steve Lansdown and the Club immediately launched a campaign called A City United, which has been aimed at gaining public support and understanding of the issues and trying to see, as they put it, “common sense prevail”.

 Western Eye exclusively talked to BCFC Chief Executive Colin Sexstone about the campaign.

  1. 1.       What would a new stadium mean to Bristol as a city? Although we are a football club, the opportunity to bring this level of financial investment to Bristol is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We are talking about thousands of jobs, a massive boost for the construction industry and low risk to the public purse as it will be mostly funded by private investors. This is also about Bristol making its mark on the national and international scene both from a sporting point of view and as a city that has aspirations and is serious about its future, so it is incredibly important.
  2. 2.       How integral to the progress of BCFC is the new stadium? Bristol City Football Club has been situated in its current site for more than 100 years and we are committed to South Bristol both as our spiritual home and as a part of the community. However, we now need a new stadium if we are to grow and expand as a football team as well as wanting to attract top athletes and more international sporting events to the city.
  3. 3.       Of all the possible sites, what makes Ashton Vale the most suitable, and why is it more suitable than redeveloping Ashton Gate? In very simple terms, Ashton Gate does not have enough space for us to expand and to achieve what we want to. Through the years we have looked at a variety of sites across Bristol, however, this area was agreed by both local councils as being the only place in the city we could actually create a stadium that would also provide added benefits to the community such as the potential to build an entertainment arena.
  4. 4.       Has the length and complexity of this case been harmful to BCFC? It has not been harmful but, you’re right to say it’s been a very lengthy and complex process – and we’re not clear of it yet! However, you really don’t get something this good without having to stand up and be counted and we are committed to these plans whilst recognising that is something that comes with great responsibility.  
  5. 5.       In light of the ‘A City United’ campaign and other surveys, do you feel you have the support of the public? The support across all sections of the public has been overwhelming. A petition in support of the campaign broke Bristol City Council’s record within three weeks and is now topping 24,000 names, the Facebook page has more than 14,000 members, our local MPs have all taken the campaign to the Houses of Parliament to request the law is reviewed, businesses have unanimously backed us, an independent ITV poll showed the majority of Bristolians are behind us and in fact most of the residents of Ashton Vale itself support the stadium. We are hugely grateful for this and we pledge to continue for as long as it takes to make common sense prevail so we can build a world-class stadium for Bristol.

 If you want to register your support for the stadium plans, you can sign an e-petition and get involved in a number of other ways through www.bcfc.co.uk

 Next month we examine the ‘Green’ side of the debate.

Jake Procter