Perhaps it will be a case of third-time lucky after the latest version of plans for a new Anfield were given approval by the city council earlier today.
The need for a new stadium is not in question, Liverpool’s future depends on it being built, and Liverpool’s latest plans are for a stadium that will cost £300m to build, ultimately seating 71,000 fans if later approval is given to build it to capacity. That’s an increase of 26,000 on the current home, the Anfield stadium on the site used by Liverpool since the club was formed in 1892.
For now though the plans are officially for a 60,000-seater stadium, the club choosing that figure to match the capacity of the original version given planning permission. To increase it to 71,000 they will need to convince the planning committee at a later date that they can provide the necessary infrastructure for the additional 11,000 fans. In fact the permission for the 60,000 seats is conditional on certain improvements and measures being put in place to improve the transport infrastructure.
To enable the work to start the current owners included £60m in their refinancing plans back in January, but the funding of the remainder is unlikely to be agreed until the ownership situation is resolved.
The first plans approved were for the stadium known by many fans as the “Parry Bowl”, the stadium that looked similar to Bolton’s Reebok stadium, but with a larger capacity. It was the need to build that stadium that resulted in the club looking for outside investment.
The second plans approved were the ones revealed in July after the owners said that they wanted the club to have a bigger and better stadium than the “Parry Bowl”. Few disputed how much better the Dallas firm HKS’s plans looked, but at a later date costings were done and it was found to have come in at well over the expected £300m cost announced by the club in July. Some reports said it was nearly £150m over the agreed budget, and questions still remain unanswered as to how this could happen. Planning permission was granted in November, but by the time the government confirmed in January that they wouldn’t call the plans in, the owners were in New York with Rick Parry discussing two alternatives.
Of those alternatives, the version designed by the “Parry Bowl” architects lost out to the revised version by HKS. It’s this version that has been approved today.
It’s not fully clear how such massive cost savings were made, although changes in the quantity of the more expensive materials used for cosmetic reasons will help, as will a smaller underground car park and smaller dimensions to the outside of the ground. The wait for planning permission wasn’t going to have any impact on the restoration work to the conservatory and other features in Stanley Park, work having been underway already.
The planning committee considered objections from community leaders and residents amongst others, but like the previous two attempts it was still approved. Today’s plan was approved unanimously by the nine-man committee, headed up by chairman Dave Irving. He visited the site and also looked at the work underway on the listed parts of the park. He said later: “We had a good look at the park and saw the work being carried out on some of the listed buildings. It is quite exciting and will certainly benefit Anfield’s regeneration.”
It’s not just the park that needs regenerating, but certain aspects of the regeneration are tied into the new stadium, which was first announced by the club back in 2002. It’s now expected to open in 2011.
The Club, whoever “the Club” is these days, “welcomed today’s decision by the Liverpool City Council Planning Committee to unanimously approve the revised design of the new stadium in Stanley Park, Anfield.” So it said on the official site.
The statement also pointed out that in addition to the stadium full approval was given for the “Community Partnership Centre, club shop and museum, conference and banqueting facilities and a car park for 970 vehicles.” On top of that is outline planning permission already granted for the Anfield Plaza, details of which will be decided at a later date but are expected to be built around the site of the current Anfield pitch.
The Club speak of the key changes being “a more efficient use of space. The stadium footprint is 25% smaller than the previously approved design and therefore there is an additional .36 hectare/.89 acre of open space around the stadium.” It is still described as a “high quality stadium”.
It also points out how savings will be made by the need for less digging: “The Multi-Use Games areas and tennis courts associated with the Community Partnership Centre are now on a deck over part of the car park on the North side of the stadium with a living wall of plants facing Priory Rd. reducing the amount of excavation.”
As for when work will start, “The Club is committed to take the stadium project forward and start on site as soon as possible and aim for an opening for the 2011/2012 season.”
It is believed that further delays will be inevitable due to the need for the government to confirm the plans won’t be called in. Although expected to be a formality, it could take two to three months to be confirmed. It isn’t clear whether any work could start prior to that.
The club didn’t actually state the cost of the new stadium in their January announcements, but the cost was widely reported at the time as being an expected £300m, and there is no evidence that this cost has actually increased to the £350m widely quoted most recently.
It’s a far cry from 2003 when the club submitted plans for the earlier version of the ground they’d announced in 2002. A Club statement at the time said: “£80 million is being invested in the new stadium but this will have no affect whatsoever on team building. Should Liverpool fill the stadium on a regular basis, the stadium will become self-financing and in approximately 15 years it will have been totally paid for. Everything has been planned down to the tiniest detail. Contractors are already on board, with prices fixed, and the club foresee no problems with rising construction costs.”
Although the £60m to commence the work is said to be in place, and the planning permission has been granted, there is still no formal information as to how long any further delays might be in waiting for government approval. It took two months from the November approval of version two of the stadium until the government decision in January. In addition to have the approvals from a planning point of view, there remains the need for approval of the financing for the rest of the project. George Gillett isn’t interested in staying on at the club and so the next owners will be responsible. Tom Hicks is reported to be trying to find the remaining £240m as part of an overall quest for finance to take the club into his full control. If he finds the finance he then needs to find a way of persuading George Gillett to sell. Meanwhile DIC wait in the wings, waiting to see if their opportunity arrives to persuade Tom Hicks to sell.