Liverpool’s hopes of building a new stadium to replace Anfield and increase revenue from matches were given a massive boost today when the city council approved the amended plans. When Tom Hicks and George Gillet Jnr took over the club they quickly set to work in altering the plans, and the pair will be delighted to hear the council have given their go-ahead.
The new stadium will hold 60,000 initially, but is designed in such a way that the capacity can be increased significantly when approval has been granted for the extra seats. The club stuck to the 60,000 figure for the purposes of getting this new approval today. The council would not allow a larger capacity at the moment due to the local transport infrastructure not being able to cope with any more than that number, but the club and council are discussion options to improve that infrastructure. Approval for a larger capacity is actually hoped to be in place in time that the new stadium will actually open with the extra seats.
The plans now are to have the stadium ready for 2011, a year later than originally anticipated.
Liverpool’s chief executive Rick Parry attended the meeting, and after hearing the news informed the owners, before speaking to the official Liverpool FC website about the news: “This is very good news and we’re obviously very happy,” he said. “We got unanimous approval from the planning committee which is very gratifying. Building work will now begin in the spring. I don’t want to be any more specific than that.”
He explained that the application for a larger capacity would follow: “This gives us the ability to build a structure, and that structure would be capable of taking significantly more than 60,000. There will be a follow up application for whatever we decide the capacity could be.”
Asked if it would be the best stadium in the country, he said: “We will be very proud of what we have. Whether it will be the best depends on what other clubs do in the future, but we’re certainly setting our sights high. We want a great team and a great stadium. The message for the fans is it will give us the revenues to make sure we continue to compete on the pitch. That’s the whole purpose of the exercise. It’s not about building monuments; it’s making sure we’re competitive.”
This news has come at a good time for the new owners, who are getting a certain amount of criticism from fans over their decision not to invest any money in team-building. Rafa Benitez had a good budget, but it was made from player sales, ticket sales and TV money – the same or less than the club’s rivals. Once the stadium is built, in another four years, at least it should see more money coming in for players.
Parry said he’d only spoken briefly to Hicks and Gillett about the news: “We’ve obviously let them know and it’s fair to say they are very pleased. We haven’t had time for lengthy discussions yet because this is hot from the press. People are excited by this. All the credit is down to Tom and George. It was their initiative – they decided to stop and draw breath on these plans.”
Although the council have approved the plans, the secretary of state Hazel Blears can still call a halt and call for a public enquiry. Ms Blears is the MP for Salford.
A number of opponents were at the meeting, but their concerns weren’t considered significant enough for the council to refuse the permission. The North West Development Agency are keen supporters of the plans, which will not only see the club get a new stadium but will bring significant regeneration to an area of the city which has been neglected.