Posted: Wed 2nd Jun 2021

Updated: Wed 2nd Jun

Racecourse could see new Kop stand built by March 2024 if UK Government Levelling Up Fund bid gets green light

Wrexham.com for people living in or visiting the wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jun 2nd, 2021

Wrexham’s Racecourse stadium could finally see a new stand and associated redevelopment if a UK Government Levelling Up Fund bid gets accepted.

Wrexham Council’s Executive Board are set to rubber stamp a submission of two applications to the UK Government’s “Levelling Up Fund“, which are based around the Wrexham Gateway project and developments in and around Pontcysyllte World Heritage Site.

In March 2021, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £4.8b capital scheme for ‘high value local infrastructure investment’, who explained of the fund: “It is also designed to help local areas select genuine local priorities for investment by putting local stakeholder support, including the local MP where they want to be involved, at the heart of its mission.”

Whilst this is open to all parts of UK, 100 constituencies have been identified as priority, in North Wales the priority areas are Wrexham, Conwy and Denbighshire – with Wrexham in “Priority category 1”.

Two bids for up to £20 million can be submitted for each whole parliamentary constituency. For Wrexham County Borough this includes one for Wrexham and one for Clywd South in partnership with Denbighshire County Council.

Wrexham Council say discussions were held with both Members of Parliament, in accordance with the funding guidance and the priority identified by Sarah Atherton MP for Wrexham, is to secure funding to bring forward key elements of the approved Masterplan for the Wrexham Gateway.

The priority identified by Simon Baynes MP for South Clwyd, is to secure funding for infrastructure developments within the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct and Canal World Heritage Site (WHS), with Denbighshire County Council (more here).

Wrexham Council’s Chief Officer of Housing & Economy Steve Bayley took questions on the application yesterday which will see an ‘ask’ of £18.2m, where we asked if this bid element was specific to the much talked about new Kop stand at the Racecourse stadium or any defined element, as previously announced £25m Welsh Government funding appeared more transport hub based.

Mr Bayley explained: “The requirements is not there, but obviously the bids have both got to be sponsored by the local MP.

“The local MP is very keen to see projects that are discreet, that the UK Government can say ‘we helped to fund that bit’.

“So rather than putting money into a general pot to allow us to develop this over time, we’ve said lets look at if we can do the replacement Kop, lets look at the car park required to support that, create the plateau for the hotel / conference / exhibition facility, lets focus on the western side of the railway – Whereas the Welsh Government stuff is more on the railway station, the offices, residential developments on the eastern side. That’s not to say there won’t be any crossover because that’s in the gift of the partnership to do that.

“But you’re right that was the general focus, so this has helped us initially to get a foothold on the western side. Because the problem with all this is, Wrexham Council has been pushing from day one as the key partner in sorting the Kop stand out, we’ve got to do that for the stadium.”

Mr Bayley went on to articulate the vision behind improving the stadium: “We want to ensure that the local stadium is capable providing us with a venue to host competitive international sport to support the whole of the community in North Wales, not just for Wrexham, this is for North Wales.

“To do that you have to meet certain category three standards which are set out by UEFA. So that’s in excess of what the football club, with respect to Wrexham Football Club in its current position, doesn’t need some of those facilities.

“It may well do, and we will hope that it does need them in the future, but right now it doesn’t.

“The key messages are around the economic impact of attracting people to the town and the investment that brings but also putting us on the map as well, which is really important in terms of inward investment.”

With it now worldwide knowledge that the club is under new private ownership, with the freehold of the stadium held by the university, and the lease held by the Wrexham Supporters Trust, Mr Bayley commented on if that altered anything from a funding point of view.

He said: “The criteria for the grant, and for the overall program are quite technical.

“There will be further challenge around what has replaced state aid and what you can and can’t do in support of investment in private sector partners, but this will all be worked through in terms of the assessment of the bid as we go forward.”

Giving a background to the project that added context to that he said: “The overall Wrexham Gateway project started out life as how to replace the Kop. That’s where the council came from, because we’ve been trying to work out how we do this since it was closed.

“I worked personally on the development of what is now the Hays Travel Stand way back in the 90s and secured the funding for that – that was the first public sector grant to a private sector company in the history of the Sports Council of Wales that gave a million pounds towards that stand, which was incredible.

“We were able to argue that on the basis that this isn’t going to benefit the football club, because if you look at its books it has never made a profit in the history of ever. So this was about creating a facility for the community, a facility that we could showcase international sport, we could encourage participation. If you can showcase international rugby league, or union, or international football, men’s or women’s game, you encourage participation and that’s all about healthy living as well. It’s all about that.

“So it’s not just about entertainment, people coming to watch. It’s all about participation and engagement, which is why we want the stadium. Plus the stadium can be used for other things as we’ve seen.”

We asked if the new owners and now club had similar visions and were aligned with those desires: “They are clearly aligned. I think the statements from the football club owners have been very ambitious, and is aligned to what we’re trying to achieve in the Wrexham Gateway.

“Initial discussions with the owners, or owners representatives, have been aligned to what the master plan is trying to achieve, which is to create a new quarter in town, to link the improvements to the general station.

“We are trying to improve modal shift, active travel, encouraging people to park the car and get on the trains and use public transport to decarbonise. Also, there is opportunities for more residential, office development within that locality. There are opportunities for hotel, conferencing and exhibition spaces linked to the university and the private sector. ”

Mr Bayley explained that it was ‘very early days’ in terms of the project and he would have been more comfortable with several more months work, however ‘the opportunity has arisen now’ and the £4.8bn will be gone by March 2024, “They have said you have got until the 18th of June to put your bid in” noting there will be subsequent rounds, but you ‘still got to spend it by March 2024’.

Picking up on that date along with the precision of Kop funding, we asked if it was not too much of a leap to therefore say essentially, if successful, a new Kop would be delivered by March 2024.

“It has to be if it is part of the funding package, yes. And, that’s the ambition of the football club. It wants to do it now.”

Mr Bayley appeared cautiously positive about the bid: “We are up there. I think there’ll be very few projects of the maturity required in the United Kingdom I think given where we’ve been. The technical notes and the bidding for this is incredible compared to some of the bids we’ve been able to work with.

“The Welsh Government has put £25 million into this project at the end of year, that’s in the coffers ready to support the development. If we can secure this will be a substantial shift in terms of our ability to deliver this project.”

 

Could this be how the Racecourse will look?

Could this be how the Racecourse will look?

Last summer, Welsh Government bought the former Dickens car showroom and surrounding land, and we asked if Wrexham Council were interested in purchasing any freeholds – be it surrounding land or the stadium itself.

Mr Bayley told us: “Honestly, that’s not been discussed in terms of us buying freehold of anywhere. The land, which was formerly the Dickens Garage and the former Countrywide store, has been acquired by the Welsh Government, because this is a partnership between ourselves and Wrexham Glyndwr University, with Transport for Wales also now become a key partner.

“So the cash basically has come from the Welsh Government, because we haven’t had any.”

We asked about the overall price of the project, with £25m committed from Welsh Government and UK Government possibly putting in up to £20m, and what private sector investments could total.

Mr Bayley explained: “The overall investment is estimated between £80 and £90 million. The delivery model determines the public sector investment required.

“The biggest gap funding is obviously in the likes of the stadium stand because that’s not going to generate residential, retail or office return. Which is why it’s always been very difficult to work out how we could support the football club or the trust or anybody to redevelop it.

“This is the best opportunity we’ve had in a generation to sort this project out. If we get it right now, then we can solve that whole quarter of Wrexham, it will really, really start to put us on the map and improve things. That’s why it’s such an important project for us.

“Whilst we are in the top 100, it is a competitive bid so there’s no guarantee we will secure this cash.”

 

 



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