Why can’t Swindon Town find a training ground within the Borough?
Ron Smith answers the question posed by Lee Power, why can’t Swindon Town find land for a training ground within the Borough?
Lee Power’s hastily arranged press conference last week was a welcome break with the traditional silence. Power’s 45 minutes before the media gave us news of Nathan Thompson’s contract extension, it also provided a glimpse into a realm which I understood he had little interest – the strategic infrastructure surrounding the club – with news the club remain committed to seeking a new training facility.
“We’ve put out a rallying cry. Everyone knows we need a new facility. We’ve knocked on a million doors, we’ve asked the Council but nothing’s come up. I want the under eights, under nines, academy, Football in the Community all to be together because that’s what we’re trying to build here… To get a site costs a lot of money but it’s key to us. If it means having to move half an hour away we’ll do that. We don’t want to. They’re both outside of Swindon, the facilities we’re looking at. If someone’s got one inside Swindon I’d move heaven and earth to move there. We just haven’t been offered one. The places we’re looking at have pitches in place and that’s the major cost, it’s then the building so we can be based like a home. This is an old stadium, we’re sitting here with buckets of water, the roof is dripping. Really, this is only to be used for matchdays – it’s not that well equipped. We’d like to move to a new building where the lads can have the facilities they deserve. I’m happy to do that, it’s just finding that place.” Lee Power 9th October 2014
The issues surrounding the current training base at Liddington are well-documented over recent years. Following the site’s takeover by PGL and operation as a children’s outdoor activity centre the investment potential of the site is severely limited. Moves were afoot last summer to move the training base to the 94 acre Beversbrook facility at Calne. However following planning permission being granted for extensions to the pavilion the club’s plans for exclusivity at the facility angered the Town Council who ditched the deal leaving the club to continue with their tail between their legs claiming they’d actually rather have a site in the Borough.
“They need to satisfy themselves that there is room for them to expand at Beversbrook in the way they envisage the club growing. Equally the town council have to ensure that Beversbrook remains the community facility it is now. The town council cannot offer Swindon Town Football Club exclusivity of any part of the Beversbrook facility, the priorities of Calne’s community have to come first.” Calne Town Council October 2013
So 12-months on and the club’s training facilities remain in-limbo and the supposedly inadequate pitches at Liddington remain in-use. Power’s statement to the media highlights the frustrations the club has encountered over this period to achieve their aim of securing land for a base in the Borough that is rightly the best option for all. However, surely it is obvious that a club with little financial clout would be highly unlikely to deliver on their objective.
Any landowner within the Borough would need to be mad, or benevolent to raise your hand and offer land, sizeable land of up to 100 acres / 40 hectares, to Swindon Town Football Club to construct a bespoke training ground, 3G pitches, building complex with changing, training rooms, gyms and physiotherapy.
The nonstop growth of the town in the post-war period has always indicated to landowners that it would only be a matter of time until their land would be developed, primarily for valuable housing. In this economy of residential development land values the land is far in-excess of what the club and Power could ever afford. That’s not to mention the availability of the land in the first place considering the majority is under-option to developers.
Currently the Borough’s programme for growth contained within their emerging Local Plan is only now gaining the seal of the approval from the Inspector. And considering this document plans for growth until 2026 and a review to plan beyond that date will commence almost immediately after its adoption, there understandably remains no appetite from landowners, including the Borough Council, to forgo the opportunity for residential values to come to an agreement with the club.
As an area of search for the club’s training base, the Borough itself is also small, tightly drawn to the boundaries of the town – particularly to the west, which is a quirk of the redrawn boundaries of the late 1970s. The Borough is constrained to the south and east by the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while far beyond Blunsdon to the north is distinctly countryside and unlikely to be appropriate for an ‘urbanising’ training ground with buildings, floodlights etc. So limiting their search within this area was always commendable for the reasons Power has stated, although it was always a tough ask to deliver on that aim.
In response to this article some may imagine the sell-off of playing fields since the 1980s has restricted the available land. While, to a large extent this has reduced the playing field space within communities, the size of the land likely to be sought by the club of approaching 100 acres on a single site is far in-excess of what the town once had available.
Judging by the response of Calne Town Council the issue for Swindon Town is their demand for exclusivity over all or part of the training complex. That then would discount the existing training complex within the Borough at Swindon Supermarine, or a tie with a local school with a significant landholding (if there was one).
Now this club which is reshaping itself at the heart of the community it serves must look beyond our artificially drawn Borough boundaries and hopefully not too far away. But what is a reasonable distance from Swindon for the training ground that “the lads deserve”?
If exclusivity is the key issue then that presumably rules out the excellent Cirencester Arena complex. The new 22 acre Wootton Bassett Sports Association Facility will be shared between the town’s football, cricket and rugby clubs as well as being on the small-side. Further to the south there are exceptional facilities at Marlborough College, however somehow I can’t quite see it working there. Do we even dare consider a location in Oxon..? Wherever the club chooses it won’t be ideal and the community hub dream will not be fulfilled.
So all we can do is hope some landowner in the Borough will listen to Power’s words, gift the club the 100 acres of land they need, however even then it’ll probably be in the most inappropriate location, suffer from plenty of NIMBYs, or the proposal will just be rejected anyway by a Borough Council who remain uncommitted to delivering investment in leisure facilities and taking in lead role in their operation…