County Council Cabinet to pursue detailed discussions on stadium proposal after more than 3,700 people respond to public engagement
A proposal from Oxford United FC to lease land from the county council to develop a new 18,000 capacity football stadium is set to be discussed by the club, the county council and other stakeholders based on objectives that have been guided by public feedback.
Earlier this year the football club asked the county council to lease 18 hectares/44.48 acres of land at Stratfield Brake in Kidlington for 250 years. In addition to the stadium, the club’s proposal includes facilities such as a hotel, retail, conferencing and training and community grounds.
At its 18 January meeting, the council’s Cabinet concluded it did not have sufficient information to give its approval for officers to enter into discussions with the club and the council’s current tenants on the land.
The Cabinet decided that there should first be a period of engagement with the public and local organisations on the principle of entering discussions and on the council’s objectives for the use of the land. This ran 25 January to 22 February.
At its 15 March meeting approval was given for discussions to begin – with the council’s objectives to be strongly influenced by feedback received from the public.
The Cabinet meeting noted that the county council cannot enter into any lease agreement with the club without the consent of its current tenant, Cherwell District Council, or the sub-tenants, Kidlington and Gosford & Water Eaton Parish Councils. A roundtable approach will therefore be required to share information and establish whether there is support from all the necessary parties for more detailed proposals from OUFC.
Cabinet also asked officers to explore opportunities with neighbouring landowners that might enhance the proposals.
The outcome of discussions will be brought back to cabinet for further consideration.
In the event that the county council ultimately leased the land to the football club the club would then need to apply to Cherwell District Council for planning permission.
What did the public engagement results say?
In January officers were asked to conduct a public engagement exercise to understand better the opportunities and concerns relating to the stadium proposal. A total of 3,740 responses were received. Key detail includes:
- A total of 80 per cent of respondents overall were in favour of the county council entering into discussions with the football club (18 per cent were not and two per cent were not sure).
- Of the 2,910 people who said they were Oxford United supporters, 93 per cent were in favour of the council entering discussions with the club, six per cent were against and one per cent were not sure.
- Of the 783 respondents who said they were not Oxford United supporters, 63 per cent said the council should not enter discussions, 33 per cent said the council should do so and four per cent were not sure.
- Of the 818 local residents who responded 58 per cent were against discussions taking place, 38 per cent were in favour and four per cent were not sure.
- The list of six objectives proposed by the council is generally thought to be good and exhaustive, although some respondents expressed concerns about whether they are realistic or achievable.
More details can be found here .
What objectives will the council seek to achieve in discussions
Taking account of the feedback received, Cabinet has authorised that the council should enter discussions based on the following seven objectives:
- Maintaining a green barrier between Oxford and Kidlington and protecting and enhancing the surrounding natural environment, improving biodiversity, connecting habitats and supporting nature recovery
- Improving public access to high-quality nature and green spaces
- Enhancing facilities for local sports groups and on-going financial support
- Significantly improving the infrastructure connectivity in this location, improving public transport to reduce the need for car travel in so far as possible, and improving sustainable transport through increased walking, cycling and rail use
- Developing local employment opportunities in Oxfordshire
- Increasing education and innovation through the provision of a sports centre of excellence and facilities linked to elite sport, community sport, health and wellbeing
- Supporting the county council’s net zero carbon emissions pledge through highly sustainable development
Cllr Calum Miller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “This is a very significant proposal. There are implications for the people of Oxfordshire in general and residents of Kidlington, Gosford and Water Eaton in particular. We have paid very close attention to what everyone has said to us during the public engagement period. We have noted that a majority of all those who participated and of supporters of OUFC wanted to see negotiations proceed. We have also noted that a majority of local residents were not in favour of the council entering negotiations with the football club.
“We are all grateful to the very large number of people who took part. A great deal of rich information was presented to cabinet as a result of that engagement work. We also heard from a number of speakers, sharing a diverse set of views. This feedback will strongly inform the objectives of the council when it enters discussions with the football club.
“We didn’t want to rush into this in January. We wanted to take stock and gather views from the public. We now want people from all sides of this debate to be absolutely assured that their thoughts will have a real influence during the forthcoming discussions with the club. We will be reflecting people’s comments and concerns.
“A key element of the feedback was that people wanted to see more detail. We agreed. For this reason, we do not think it is appropriate to start formal negotiations at this stage. Instead, cabinet approved the start of discussions to find out more about the detail of OUFC’s plans and why Stratfield Brake is their preferred location. This is not a final decision to go ahead and lease the land. The Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance is committed to participatory, open and transparent decision-making. As such the outcome of discussions with the football club will return to cabinet for decision in full public view.
“We also recognised today that this is not a decision the county council can take alone. Cherwell District Council are our tenants and have a lease on Stratfield Brake out to 2097. Unless they support this proposal, it will go nowhere. The situation is complicated as they are also the planning authority. So we have proposed that OUFC start an early dialogue with them – akin to a pre-application consultation – to find out whether or not Cherwell support the plans.”
Cllr Miller continued: “We are clear that in entering these discussions that our primary thoughts are centred on social value and ensuring that any development has a positive impact on the lives of people in Oxfordshire both in this specific locality and beyond. Any development must bring improvements that local people will be able to feel in years to come.”
How is the land currently used?
Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) purchased part of the land at Stratfield Brake in 1937 to provide a strategic gap between north Oxford and Kidlington – the site is in the green belt. It is currently leased by OCC to Cherwell District Council.
Part of the site is already sports ground. OUFC has proposed that the football club will take responsibility for the cost to replace or mitigate the loss of any community sports facilities at Stratfield Brake.
The county council is not prepared to relinquish its current lease to the Woodland Trust, which has land at Stratfield Brake. It is therefore not part of any proposal being considered