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Saturday, 7 September 2013

Ashton Vale: The beginning of the end?

The reported news that a deal has been struck on the future of Ashton Vale appears to signal the end of Steve Landown's desperate fight to establish a new facility for City, and for the city.  

Whilst I'm sure the club will issue a short, formal statement in due course, talking about covering all options and ensuring there are back-up plans in place, everything now points to the fact that should the Ashton Gate re-development be given a green light, it will immediately revert from being the publicly-intimated Plan B, to the preferred option.  The only option.

I've suggested ever since those revised plans were first announced that the club was on the verge of giving up on Lansdown's Ashton Vale dream and the postponement of the Ashton Vale enquiry, due to start in early October, is almost certainly in no small part due to the legal costs still being racked up by the day, an outgoing that would only have increased exponentially once the hearing got underway.  

It now appears as if the tiny minority of opposition has 'won'. I deliberately put 'won' in inverted commas because I'm still not certain what they have achieved, other than ensuring an area of waste-land on the edge of the city remains an area of wasteland.  In fact, they might not even have 'won' that.  If the agreement reported is new housing or low-level office-blocks, something that may not be contentious as a "noisy & disruptive" football stadium, then the land could go by the wayside anyway, but that's all for another day.

For many this will be good news.  A significant portion of the supporter base has always resisted a move away from Ashton Gate, and I'm sure we can all understand why. More than 100 years of history and many lifetimes of visits would make it hard for anyone to move.  What struck me about the announcement of the Ashton Gate redevelopment (remember, initially it was indicated this wasn't a suitable option in any shape or form) was that a huge number of fans seemed to sway back from a 'head' decision (Ashton Vale is undoubtedly a more lucrative path to follow) towards a 'heart' decision, and I sensed a majority now feel that the plans we saw are more than adequate.  The fact we stay in the same place, can park in the same spots, go to the same pubs before the match and possibly even stay in the same seats (roughly!), will appeal to many.

But what no-one can argue with is that for the city as a whole, looking at the bigger picture, a trick has been sorely missed.  The opportunity to develop an edge of town area with commercial facilities and new transport links has been wasted. The chance to finally have a venue for events worth it's name gone for now, possibly forever.  Whereas the likes of Cardiff, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool continue to grow their appeal with cultural development and attractions for young, affluent people, Bristol and the West has turned down a golden opportunity to spend money that isn't even the tax-payers' contribution.

On this note, I'd like to share with you something that came across my inbox.  A letter from a certain Mr. P Binning, which was sent to the Evening Post.  Not me by the way, but my Dad - I obviously got the writing bug from somewhere!  A lifelong City supporter and successful entrepreneur himself, having started his own business with his partner from scratch in the 1970's, then growing and developing it ever since.  

He has spotted something I'm sure you'll find interesting about one particular aspect of the blockages we've come across.  I'll leave you all to formulate your own opinions.

"I was recently reading the August/ September edition of the "Business Leader" magazine for the South West and came across an article on business growth. The article was citing the crucial role that entrepreneurs have to play, and the fact that they are essential to restoring growth in the UK economy.

Extracting a few of the appropriate comments the article said that "government debt is a strategic straight-jacket and opponent to wealth creation and entrepreneuraliasm. In a highly competitive global economic environment, it is entrepreneurs in all industries that will be the drivers of change and creators of  prosperity."

What fine and commonsense words these are from a local MP, I thought. Who might that be, you may ask? Well, it's none other than North Somerset MP Dr. Liam Fox! Yes, the same Liam Fox who in an article in the Bristol Post last year, said he would "fight tooth and nail" and "do everything in his power" to stop Ashton Vale Stadium being built. Let's not forget that this development of nearly £100 million and creator of 1000 jobs is to be financed entirely by entrepreneur Stephen Lansdown, with no drain whatsoever on the local public purse.

How gullible do these politicians think we are? Is it any real surprise that ordinary people don't trust them?  I don't think so. What hypocrites! The trouble with the political class of all parties is that they think they are superior to other people and hold the only opinions that matter. Thankfully I do not live in Dr. Fox's constituency but, if I did, I certainly know where my vote would not be going at the next General Election."


I encourage you all to tweet a link to this post to Dr. Fox at @LiamFoxMP, or write to him if that old-fashioned quaintness appeals, to ask his view of this article and why, if he is so keen to drive prosperity and entrepreneurialism, he stood in the way of one of Bristol's most successful businessmen ploughing his own fortune into a new development? Perhaps we should ask how many other £90m investments he has secured for Bristol and the surrounding area since this resistance?

It probably won't make a jot of difference, he will probably be self-congratulating himself on his 'victory', but it might at least make him think, a little, about what the city is about to miss out on.

The net result of all of this is that Lansdown has missed out on his second big target.  We all know how much he's spent on chasing the Premier League dream, but this crusade would also have cost him - I'd be surprised if he hasn't spent more than £1m to date on planning, surveyors, lawyers and all sorts of other highly-paid professionals.  

I constantly worry that one day he'll just walk away, have enough of fighting and throwing more money down the drain.  Every time I look at events at Cardiff, Coventry and the Hull City Tigers, amongst others, I count my blessings that we have a genuine fan as our benefactor and that day is a threat to our club.

The prospect of change at the top at City is frightening.  It shouldn't have been for those making decisions on the new stadium.



The Exiled Robin

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