Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Old Trafford and the Future of Test Cricket in the North West

There is no better way to spend a summer day than sat in the sunshine at Old Trafford watching Lancashire County Cricket Club. The football season is over, holidays are ahead and the outside world slowly disappears as does your pint of Thwaites as you watch the game unfold on the lush green turf.

Lancashire is one of the better run clubs with a high membership, excellent financial management and a sound youth development set up that produces a steady stream of top class players. Old Trafford is one of our historic county cricket grounds but is feeling its age. Redevelopment has commenced but much more work is needed to secure Test cricket in the North West and to secure the long term future of cricket at Old Trafford.

The plans for redevelopment have all been approved and the future was looking rosie. Then up pops a company based in Bermuda to use their corporate clout to protect their own business from competition. Another example of how, in Britan today, corporate business is the new religion and shopping centres the new cathedrals. The following is from the Lancashire County Cricket Club website:

The High Court action brought by Bermuda-based Derwent Holdings against Trafford Council over the re-development of Lancashire County Cricket Club’s ground will be heard in Manchester on Monday February 28th .

Derwent, owners of the White City shopping park near the Old Trafford ground, applied in December 2010 for a last-minute Judicial Review of Trafford Council’s planning approval of the club’s plans for a leading sports destination fit to host the 2013 Ashes.

Only recently, the club and its partners celebrated the confirmation by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that their £70m investment plans to redevelop the stadium could proceed.

Now, LCCC Chief Executive Jim Cumbessays the court’s decision will be critical to the future of the club and also the future of international cricket in Manchester and the North-west.

“This will be a make or break decision,” says Mr Cumbes. “The stakes could not be higher. The club has spent £1.5m on costs associated with planning, advisors and in particular, Derwent’s delaying tactics. There has also been a £2m reduction in grants as a result of not being able to start the development programme as planned.

“If we cannot bring the ground up to international standard, the North-west will lose Test cricket and the Ashes for good. In addition, schools and young people locally will miss out on much-needed sports and community benefits.

“Our plans have been the subject of thorough and detailed consultation. They have been debated exhaustively both locally and nationally. There was a remarkable number of letters of support from ordinary Trafford residents and cricket fans – more than 900, plus thousands of website pledges.

“A key part of our plans are guaranteed local jobs for the unemployed, links to local schools and major community benefits. But Derwent seem to care not a jot about International Cricket, the image of Trafford, or the prospects for local kids and the unemployed.”

Adds Cumbes: “LCCC has been in Old Trafford for 150 years and is seeking to secure a future for International Cricket for the next century. Derwent’s action is about securing commercial gain at the expense of the LCCC’s sporting legacy for schools, community groups and young people in the North West. Mr Gubay is based in the Isle of Man tax haven and his company is based in Bermuda. People can draw their own conclusions from the contrast of interests.”

Alan Burke of Ask Developments, the Club’s development partner, says: “Derwent have tried every available means to kill our plans. They are notorious for having a track record for this type of legal action.

“Over the summer, Derwent aggressively pressured the Secretary of State to ‘Call In’ our scheme for a public inquiry, not once but twice. He looked at it carefully over a considerable time and concluded they had no grounds to their demands.”

The partners express dismay at the cynicism of Derwent’s recent last minute move given the tight construction schedule for preparing the ground ready to bid for the prestige Ashes Series in 2013.

Adds Mr Burke: “Derwent know we are facing a demanding timetable for delivery - their tactics are designed to have the maximum possible disruption to our programme and delivery of our funding package. They hope we will fail so they can progress their own commercial agenda.

"We have a funding commitment towards our project of over £5m approved by the Northwest Regional Development Agency. The terms of that agreement dictate that we must be clear of any potential Judicial Review action by April 2011 or risk losing that money. Such an outcome would be a disaster for the Club, Trafford borough and the North West. The only factor putting this funding at risk is Derwent's ongoing action. The very extensive delays we are incurring due to the very late nature of Derwent's challenge is not only extremely frustrating but fundamentally jeopardising our ability to call down this vital funding."

In addition to financial support from the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the LCCC plans are supported by Visit Manchester, MediaCity UK, Manchester United and Manchester City, Trafford College, MIDAS, AGMA (Association of Greater Manchester Authorities), the Shadow Greater Manchester LEP, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and the Manchester Hoteliers Association.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had confirmed that without substantial redevelopment, after 2010’s Test Match against Bangladesh there would be no more Test match cricket at Old Trafford and the future of international cricket in general there would be in jeopardy.

The current £32m phase of investment that is underway will deliver new pitches, stands, state of the art player and media facilities and an extension to the ground’s indoor cricket school and public areas. Two new grandstands and a re-furbished Pavilion will ensure a capacity of 15,000 capable of rising to 25,000 with temporary seating. There will also be floodlights and a screen showing action replays. All of this work will have to stop if the planning decision reached by Trafford Council in March 2010 is over-turned by the High Court.
I can only hope that the challenge is thrown out as frivolous. Or will another nail be hammered into our way of life by the bastardised form of capitalism that is corporatism? We'll have to wait and see.


e.f. bartlam said...

How does this happen?

How does it get this far in the process before something like this comes up?

Gregg said...

God knows Erik.

Lancashire have been at Old Trafford over 100 years, White City Retail Park is a failing development that was built when the old greyhond racing track closed down about 25 years ago.It must be at least a mile from the cricket ground.

I think, and pray, it's an act of desperatioin on their part and that commonsense will prevail when it goes to court.