Council leader attempts to allay fears over funding for stadium

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THE leader of York Council has attempted to quell a wave of opposition to controversial plans to finance a community sports stadium through a multi-million pound retail development on the city’s outskirts.

The long-awaited stadium scheme hinges on nearly £15m of investment from private developers behind a hugely contentious expansion of the Monks Cross retail park.

Grave fears have been expressed over the impact the out-of-town shopping centre for showpiece retailers including Marks and Spencer and John Lewis will have on traders in the city centre.

Members of the Campaign For York action group have warned that independent shops already teetering on a knife edge will be driven out of business if the Monks Cross development goes ahead.

But the Labour administration has approved a business case for the operation of the 6,000-seater stadium, which would become the new home of both York City Football Club and the York City Knights rugby league team.

The agreement over the business case is a landmark in ensuring the stadium becomes a reality and comes 15 months after the council made a formal pledge to ensure it is built.

Council leader James Alexander launched a staunch defence of the scheme and claimed taxpayers would reap the benefits as the £19.2m stadium would be built using only £4m of public money.

He said: “The business case sets out a strong case in proceeding with the project. Supporting it was not a hard decision, but an obvious one.

“In this current economic climate, it would be a great achievement to deliver a £20m development project with far reaching benefit with only £4m. This means for every £1 of public money, we are bringing £4 of private investment into the city.”

The Yorkshire Post revealed last week that senior Labour councillors had admitted they have no back-up plans if a community stadium is aborted.

The council’s cabinet member for leisure, culture and social inclusion, Coun Sonja Crisp, hit back at suggestions that a deal has already been done to ensure the sports facility is built. But the Labour administration has made a commitment to creating a community stadium and Coun Crisp admitted there is no alternative plan if the current scheme does not happen.

York City Football Club has already written to the council to stress that it would no longer be able to operate as a full-time professional outfit if the stadium plans are blocked.

The club is planning to relocate from its existing home in Bootham Crescent to the new stadium on the site of the existing York City Knights Rugby League ground. The business case has also called into question the long-term future of both the rugby club and the city’s athletics club if the stadium has to be scrapped.

Coun Alexander maintained yesterday that the final decision on whether the sports stadium will be given the go-ahead rests with the authority’s planning committee.

Wetherby-based Oakgate Limited submitted a planning application in September to build the shopping centre at Monks Cross as well as the sports stadium. Oakgate’s managing director, Richard France, claimed a “number of mistruths” are being circulated and maintained the development will boost York’s economy by at least £12m each year.

As well as the £15m investment from the developers, the council itself would also provide £4m to finance the stadium with a further £350,000 coming from York City FC.

Opposition Tory councillors had claimed more details needed to made public before an informed decision could be made on the business case. The report which was approved by the ruling cabinet on Tuesday evening included 14 associated documents which were not made public due to their commercial sensitivity.