FOREST Green Rovers’ owner Dale Vince has urged councillors to approve plans for a new stadium for the football club when they meet tonight to make a decision.
Stroud District Council‘s development control committee will convene at 6pm today (Wednesday) to decide whether to approve the planning application for Eco Park, on fields off junction 13 of the M5.
Planning officers have recommended approving the application but the councillors on the committee will have the final say.
The plans – submitted by Mr Vince’s energy firm, Ecotricity – include a 5,000-seater stadium designed by world-renowned architects Zaha Hadid.
There will also be a club shop, food and drink facilities, a fitness suite for FGR, two training pitches and 1,700 parking spaces for cars, coaches and bicycles.
Improving the A419 from Junction 13 of the M5 to Chipmans Platt roundabout is also proposed, and this would see new traffic lights to the site, a pedestrian and cycle crossing, and a combined footway/cycleway linking to the cycle route at Grove Lane.
The Eco Park plans initially included a green technology business hub which could have created up to 4,000 jobs, but this part of the application was dropped because, according to Ecotricity, “the district council weren’t able to support this”.
Explaining why be believes the councillors should give Eco Park the green light, Mr Vince told the SNJ that Forest Green needs a new home in order to grow as a club and attract more than the current average attendance of around 1,700 fans per game.
“Our current location, New Lawn, is poor, hard to get to with very limited parking (150 spaces for a 5,000 capacity ground),” he said. “You wouldn’t get planning for a ground like this in this location if you were starting from scratch – you wouldn’t actually choose to put it there either. The location and access problems are a natural limit on crowd size and our progress as a result.
“On top of that we’re running out of grid power capacity, as we try to expand our catering outlets to cope with increased attendances. And we’re even running out of water – we have a very small pipe (15mm) feeding the whole site and use water tanks as storage, like a battery for water – but we’ve actually run out at several games recently.
“We’re hitting the buffers as to what’s possible where we are.
“Of course we have ambitions to go further, to get into the Championship – that requires far more than is possible where we are now.
“Eco Park can give us this – a far better location, closer to the majority of our fans and visiting clubs, with far better parking and access by public transport and by foot and cycle. And the space to make our own energy and capture more rainwater and generally be more sustainable in that way.”
The Ecotricity founder added: “This is also the chance to start with a blank sheet of paper and do something quite visionary. The centrepiece is a world class piece of architecture from the practice of Zaha Hadid – a beautiful structure and one that will set new boundaries in sustainability – the first sport stadia in the word to be built entirely of wood (since the Romans invented concert anyway), which will give it the lowest carbon footprint possible.
“The reinstatement of the canal is a part of our plan, with the creation of a new wetland area between the canal and the river, along with significant new planting of hedgerows and trees.
“We will increase the biodiversity of the site, significantly over and above where it stands today. Pushing the boundaries of sustainable development, showing that we can build new things and make more space for nature at the same time.”
However, the Eco Park plans have been met with opposition by many residents, and a representative of Eastington Parish Council will speak against the application at this evening’s development control committee meeting.
Explaining why the parish council opposes Eco Park, a spokesman said the size of the stadium would “detract from the setting of a number of historic hamlets in the parish” and that there would be an “unacceptable” level of noise generated by the ground which would have a negative impact on nearby residents.
The parish council spokesman added that “the loss of existing landscaping and ecological value” at the site “is not sufficiently avoided or mitigated” and that “there is acknowledgement from Stroud District Council’s planning officer that local road junctions will fail as a result of this development”.
The spokesman also pointed out that Eco Park is “fundamentally at odds” with the Stroud Local Plan of 2015 and Eastington Neighbourhood Development Plan of 2016, which are the development blueprints for the area.
The SNJ will be reporting live from the committee meeting this evening. Follow us at stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk