Council sets out framework for timely talks on Oxford United’s stadium proposals – and commits to transparent engagement before its decision
Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet is to be asked to approve the setting up of an agreement with Oxford United to govern open and transparent relations between the two parties while they work to explore the potential for a new stadium for the club on council owned land.
The start of negotiations about land known as “the triangle” near Kidlington were approved at January’s cabinet meeting and have already begun. A memorandum of understanding is proposed for agreement at the 21 March cabinet meeting along with a plan for engaging with stakeholders and local communities over the coming weeks and months.
Councillor Calum Miller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “This is a significant decision for fans of Oxford United, local people in this area and residents across the county so the decision and the process leading up to it needs to be as open and transparent as possible.
“We also know that it is an urgent project for the club, who have outlined their need to find an alternative home before 2026. We are committed to responding promptly to them and to taking decisions in a timely way. That’s why officers were in touch with the club the day after the January cabinet meeting and regular discussions have been taking place ever since.
“At our cabinet meeting on 21 March, we will be asked to approve a timetable for the next stages and a memorandum of understanding with the club on the process in the coming months.
“The first step is for the club to provide further detailed proposals. We know they are working to deliver these.
“We are building into the proposed timetable a period of public and stakeholder engagement that will commence as soon as the club’s proposals have been received. It will focus on whether the club’s proposals address the council’s seven strategic priorities for the use of the land. We are also encouraging the club to continue to undertake their own engagement with local residents and fans as their plans develop.
“We want everyone to be able to share their views with us before we take a final decision. The club’s need to find a new home is well understood, but any decision we take has to be guided by the overarching aim of whether it brings benefit to our community in Oxfordshire.”
What would the memorandum of understanding say?
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would require Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford United FC to agree to:
- Work constructively to allow informed decision-making by the cabinet within an agreed timeframe (recognising that planning processes will inevitably have an impact on the timeframe).
- Recognise that the development and location of the stadium is not without contention, and both parties will seek to engage with stakeholders and promote debate and discussion that is constructive and respectful.
- Approach all discussions with a spirit of honesty, openness and transparency, sharing information freely to progress the decision-making.
- Attempt to resolve any disagreements or differences of opinion constructively, utilising an objective third party if required.
- Note that the county council’s participation in these discussions is predicated on supporting and recognising the community role, legacy and heritage of the club. The council is not offering financial support to the club for the construction of the stadium or the running of the club.
- Undertake engagement with stakeholders and local communities. For OUFC this will ensure community views are taken into account as part of the scheme development; for the county council this will help assess the extent to which the council’s seven objectives for the use of the land (set out below) have been met.
- Recognise the commercial viability and plans of the club are outside the scope of this working partnership and the county council is not inclined to support additional enabling development that is not aligned to the strategic priorities as set out above.
- Recognise the role of Cherwell District Council (CDC) as the planning authority and ensure that communications and engagement undertaken by the club or the county council do not impact on this process. Note that planning engagement with CDC will be undertaken by OUFC as the scheme developer and not Oxfordshire County Council as the landowner.
- Recognise that, in the event of the MOU being broken, either party has the right to walk away from these discussions.
What conditions has the county council already set out?
For Oxford United to receive in-principle agreement from the council to lease or buy the triangle site, their proposal must address the seven strategic priorities set out by the council for the use of the land. It must also meet objectives around mitigating long-term financial risk to the council and obtaining best value for the taxpayer from any transaction. These were agreed at the 24 January cabinet meeting.
The seven strategic priorities are:
- Maintain a green barrier between Oxford and Kidlington
- Improve access to nature and green spaces
- Enhance facilities for local sports groups and on-going financial support
- Significantly improve the infrastructure connectivity in this location, improving public transport to reduce the need for car travel in so far as possible, and to improve sustainable transport through increased walking, cycling and rail use
- Develop local employment opportunities in Oxfordshire
- Increase education and innovation through the provision of a sports centre of excellence and facilities linked to elite sport, community sport, health and wellbeing
- Support the county council’s net zero carbon emissions pledge through highly sustainable development.
The county council’s engagement will focus on the extent to which stakeholders are satisfied that OUFC’s proposals address the council’s strategic priorities set out above. It will be divided into two phases.
- Targeted stakeholder engagement, which is designed to capture early views on how OUFC’s emerging plans meet the council’s objectives. These views will feed into ongoing discussions with the club.
- A small number of ‘listening’ events with invited groups of stakeholders, together with open engagement over a six-week period where anyone can share feedback using an online response form.
Oxfordshire County Council is not the final decision-maker on whether or not the scheme receives planning consent. Any final proposal by the club would need to be put through the planning process at Cherwell District Council, which will include public consultation.