Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Bristol City’s Plan B will soon put paid to Ashton Vale

Writers who make grand predictions risk looking like idiots. So here goes: before the year is out, Bristol City will throw in the towel on its tortuous journey to Ashton Vale. As unveiled by the club last week, Plan B – redeveloping Ashton Gate – will soon become its only option.

How do I know this? I don’t. It’s only a hunch, based on four factors.  Firstly, the club has some breathing space. Plans for Ashton Vale are in limbo until October at the very least, with a second inquiry into the site’s supposed ‘town green’ status up for discussion. This doesn’t mean that once a decision is made, all will be plain sailing. The club needs to brace itself for years of legal wrangling.
Which leads me on to my second point. The people who run and finance Bristol City aren’t stupid. More than five years of fighting has surely started to take its toll. Steve Lansdown et al. are rightly making contingency plans. It seems more than likely that they are bracing themselves for another setback. The one later this year, should it happen, could prove fatal.

Thirdly, (and as far as I’m concerned the factor governing all others), is the club’s current league predicament. Still in the bottom three, and still in a relegation battle. Things have certainly improved with the new manager, but everyone else around City has started to improve too. Now seems the perfect time to go public with plans that we’re told have been worked on for the past six months.
It is surely the strong possibility that Bristol city will be relegated that has forced the club to take drastic action. Now of course nobody associated with it would come out and admit this, and I wouldn’t expect them to. This is just my interpretation of events.

I’ve stated my view on these pages before that whilst I wholeheartedly support the move to Ashton Vale, now is the wrong time for such a move to take place. Plan B gives City a get-out clause. And, to quote The Post’s editor, a “very seductive” one at that. In fact, Plan B is so good, and makes so much more sense than Ashton Vale, that I’m surprised is hasn’t been mooted before. Yes, there’d be disruption on match days, but the phased nature of the redevelopment would ensure it would be kept to a minimum.
Finally, it’s revealed that sprucing up Ashton Gate would cost less than half what it would cost to move grounds: £40m versus £92m. That’s some saving; current economic climate and all that.

As The Post’s editor goes on to say, this proposal “puts the club back on the front foot,” and, all being well, in control of its own destiny. Reading what Jon Lansdown, managing director and son of Steve, has said further convinces me that this is more than just a back-up plan:
“Ashton Gate has been the club's spiritual home for more than 100 years and these plans would improve and enhance the facilities in readiness for the next 100 years.

"Modern stadium facilities are a key pillar for the club, closely aligned with our community engagement, youth development, recruitment and financial prudence.
"This redevelopment plan is testament to all of that."

"We need to make sure we have an alternative as, regardless of where it is sited, the club needs a new stadium. We have had many frustrations and difficulties in our attempt to build a new stadium on Ashton Vale.

"These plans for Ashton Gate give us a viable alternative should we be unable to, or choose not to, proceed on Ashton Vale.”
In continuing the good relationship it has with its fans, City have vowed to consult supporters over the possible new design every step of the way, just as they did over Ashton Vale.

A further point, which hasn’t received as much attention, is the club’s announcement that Ashton Gate Mark II (and even Ashton Vale) would offer itself up to trial safe standing. That is, assuming a long list of hurdles are jumped before. It’s great to see the club putting itself at the forefront of the excellent Football Supporters’ Federation’s long campaign to reintroduce safe standing into the top two divisions of English football.
I don’t expect to hear much more until the close season, when the club will submit a formal planning application to the council. Considering Mayor Ferguson has already come out and enthusiastically backed Plan B, I can’t see there being much opposition from councillors. The delays over Ashton Vale look bad on the council and the city. Only a fool would turn this down.

And by the summer, we’ll know which division Bristol City will be playing in come August. If it’s League One, there’d no longer be any need for October’s inquiry. Relegation would be the final nail in the coffin for a ground at Ashton Vale.

This comment piece was first published by thisisbristol on Wednesday 13th February 2013

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