Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Looking at History: My Books and other publications

Looking at History: My Books and other publications: Those publications with an asterisk (*) were co-written with C.W. Daniels. This list does not include editorials for Teaching History , book...

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Watford FC, Luton FC and Bushey

The current attempts by Watford FC to seek a new stadium as Vicarage Road is no longer fit for purpose reminds me of a similar campaign in Luton that has already lasted four decades and yet remains to be concluded.  Kenilworth Road, Luton’s ground, is like Vicarage Road situated in a built up area and was officially opened in 1905, some seventeen years before Vicarage Road first hosted football.  In both cases, there are strong arguments for a move to a new site especially as current health and safety rules mean that the original capacity of the grounds had been significantly reduced.

The question then is not whether a new ground is justifiable but where that ground is best placed.  This process began in Luton with a proposal in 1982 to move to a super stadium in Milton Keynes to play as MK Hatters.  Not surprisingly, this proved short-lived and was dropped after vehement opposition within Luton.  The Football League refused Luton permission to move to Milton Keynes in 2000, saying that a member club was not allowed to leave its home-town. Unless this ruling has since been rescinded, it means that Watford would be unable to move to any location outside its boundaries and consequently not to Bushey.  

Proposals for a new ground adjacent to the M1 were suggested in 1995 , 2001 and 2007 by different club chairmen but were either rejected or withdrawn.  By 2012, the club was undertaking an independent feasibility study to determine a viable new location. Sites mooted included a ground built as part of a new housing development to the west of Luton and a site by the proposed Junction 11A of the M1, which is the preferred site of the local authorities.

Luton Town did not rule out staying at a redeveloped Kenilworth Road but by mid-2015 this had been ruled out in favour of a move to a new location. The club announced its new preferred location in December 2015—Power Court in central Luton, near the Mall and St Anne's Church, a 23,000-capacity stadium in the town centre that would be financed by a shopping and leisure facility next to the M1.  This was finally approved in early 2020. The Power Court location is popular with supporters as it remains within Luton, is around a mile from Kenilworth Road and not far from the railway station.  Things are currently on hold but 2020 Developments Ltd, the property arm of the Hatters has freehold ownership of the land and an uncontended planning permission.

AndArchitects' approved Luton Town stadium January 2019

My point is that Luton’s experience demonstrates the difficulty of developing a new ground even if it is something that the club and its supporters want.  It has taken four decades to get where we are now and the pandemic may well have an impact on the viability of the shopping and leisure facility near the M1.  What is clear about the Bushey proposal is that it has not been fully thought through.  For instance, the report in the Watford Observer on 5 March is paper-thin though this has been upped to pre-application advice between the Club and the Council in recent days.  This presumably accounts for a petition opposing the plans currently circulating…local Conservative councillors have little choice but to support this with an eye to future re-election.  There is no firm proposal as yet and, if Watford is relegated (a not unthinkable proposition), I doubt it would have the resources to sustain such an expensive project.  As Luton found, changing to a new stadium is a long road replete with pitfalls.