Brushed under the carpet: a closer look at Garth Lane

Cod Almighty | Article

by Richard Hallam

30 August 2016

Consultants SLR have recommended that only the Peaks Parkway site should be assessed for viability, despite the report finding Garth Lane to be more suitable. Richard reviews their reasoning.

On Wednesday afternoon the opportunity for Grimsby Town FC to build a new stadium to be proud of, in a location that significantly benefits the local region, may be taken away. If North East Lincolnshire Council's cabinet takes the advice given in its consultants' report, only the Peaks Parkway option will progress to the next stage.

The consultants, SLR, have measured sites as to whether they are suitable, and separately as to whether they are available. The assessment as to viability comes next.

Garth Lane (Dockside) was assessed as the most suitable site. Peaks Parkway was assessed as the most available site. The consultants have recommended that only Peaks Parkway be assessed for viability.

Consultants' ranking of site suitability showing Garth Lane as number 1

I believe it's a straight choice between the town centre site and the edge-of-town site. The other options are genuinely inferior for a variety of reasons. Blundell Park, at 4.5 acres, is just too small a site to fit a new or redeveloped stadium with a 10,000+ capacity. Additionally there isn't a realistic location for even a modest amount of essential car parking.

More about Garth Lane

In simple terms the potential Garth Lane site consists of four parts. The empty site between the new Grimsby Telegraph building and Haven Mill would be just big enough to fit the new stadium. Then there are the areas currently surrounded by Hartwell Ford, Sainsbury's and Matalan and the old B&Q.

The first reason given for rejecting Garth Lane is that it is in "complex ownership". In other words, there are too many people to ask and get decisions from. Unlike many of the other sites in the report, the consultants didn't even ask the question of the Garth Lane owners.

Garth Lane has also been rejected because of an assumption that the "baseline development" needs to be located next to the stadium. It doesn't

Yet I believe that many of the current tenants and owners might themselves prefer to be relocated to Peaks Parkway. From a planning perspective, in many cases they'd be more appropriate residents there than GTFC. In Stockport and Macclesfield, for example, car dealerships have relocated from similar town-centre positions to the edge of town.

A second reason for rejection is that Henry Boot Construction has an "option" to buy part of the Garth Lane site from ABP and build houses on it. Perhaps Henry Boot should be asked if they'd like to swap that option for one at Peaks Parkway? The land is even worth more in the case of residential property. Interestingly, Henry Boot is involved in the new Stadium for Cornwall project.

Garth Lane has also been rejected because of an assumption that the "baseline development" – which includes three full-size 4G pitches, a health and well-being centre, community facilities for the sports and education trust and commercial workshop space – all needs to be located next to the stadium. It doesn't.

The stadium will fit on the vacant land. And it's highly likely that much of the adjoining land could be acquired through negotiation. Any facilities that space cannot be found for could be located elsewhere. As there is already room for the stadium alone on the vacant land, the project doesn't live or die based on one or two existing occupants refusing to move.

The enabling development might even be more lucrative at Garth Lane than Peaks Parkway. The council has already designated it as an ideal site for a cinema and hotel. Any further enabling residential development that is needed could take place at Peaks Parkway.

More about Peaks Parkway

Some people's enthusiasm for Peaks Parkway seems to be driven more by a desire to build houses there than its suitability for a football stadium. Another factor apparently in favour of Peaks Parkway is time. GTFC have stated that if they don't move within five years, they might go out of business, so a convenient time pressure has been introduced that makes the easy option of Peaks Parkway seem the only choice if the club is to be saved from extinction.

I'd like to see a detailed explanation for this from the club's directors. We've just been promoted, attendances are up, and income is up. The club has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the stadium right. A spurious extinction argument is not a good reason to rush things. The capacity at Blundell Park is 8,200, which is more than ample for now.

Interestingly, there are also several reasons why the Peaks Parkway site might not be considered "reasonably available" – but the consultants seem to use a different logic on this site.

There are several reasons why the Peaks Parkway site might not be considered "reasonably available" – but the consultants seem to use a different logic on this site

Try a protracted battle to move the allotments. This requires the permission of the Secretary of State, and might end up in a court battle, which "could take a number of years to complete", or a restrictive covenant which doesn't permit "any noxious noisy or offensive trade business or purpose".

There is also the fact that "there is a Site of Local Nature Conservation Importance and Value (SNCI) and the emerging plan lists a Local Wildlife Site as being allocated on the site". Far from plain sailing, then – but SLR still concludes that Peaks Parkway is "reasonably available".

What happens next?

One of the key reasons given for favouring Peaks Parkway over Garth Lane is time. Peaks Parkway is presented as being achievable in under five years, while Garth Lane, says the report, would take five to ten years. In reality, both fall into the latter timescale.

The Garth Lane site represents an opportunity to build an iconic stadium and development in a great location. Access from the A180 would be simple and valuable. The main bus and rail stations are within a very short walk. When a Garth Lane stadium is used for football and other events, it would significantly increase business in the town centre. Events would be more successful because of its central location. It could bring Grimsby town centre back to life.

The significance and potential impact of this should not be underestimated. The council's draft Local Plan says of Grimsby town centre:

It also suffers from weaknesses in the range of leisure and social facilities and a limited evening economy offer, which are below what would be expected for a centre of its status. It is therefore important that development which widens the town centre offer is encouraged to ensure the town remains strong and vibrant.

Both local and national planning guidance states that a 'town centre first' approach should be taken. I don't believe that this has happened. The town centre option has not been explored fully. It's about to be brushed under the carpet.

The report advises NELC cabinet that a detailed viability analysis and outline business case should be presented to a future meeting of Cabinet by 30 November 2016. As it stands, that will relate only to Peaks Parkway. I believe Garth Lane should also be fully considered. This viability analysis, and the outline business case, should be independent of the football club.


 

Appendix

I've listed below a few items of particular note from the report. 

In late 2015, before SLR reviewed the sites, Grimsby Town FC conducted its own "sequential assessment" on what it saw as their suitability. As part of their report, the consultants were asked to perform a "Due Diligence Review" on the club's earlier assessment. The review observes:

The assessment fails to clearly identify the methodology and reasoning behind the scoring criteria identified. Indeed, it is unclear as to why some criteria are required and this can lead to misinterpretation of the results, ambiguity and concerns of unfair weighting. An example of this is the ‘local support' criterion which is provided throughout the individual assessments. Whilst local support will be required to promote a scheme going forward, it is not a matter which would make a site more appropriate or sequentially preferable to another when considering the key tests of suitability, availability and viability.

Some apprehension must be raised with the assessment scoring highways access multiple times (under the headings of ‘site access', ‘car access' and ‘road network'). However, given that no commentary is provided on the methodology or the score allocated, SLR is unable to comment as to the need for these separate criteria. Notwithstanding, this approach is unlikely to have ‘skewed' the results of the assessment.

With regard to ‘site area required', it is presumed that this criteria [sic.] is meant to indicate the amount of land requiring purchase to allow the development to proceed. The scoring matrix seems to score all of the sites neutrally (with a score of 5), with the exception of Blundell Park, Western Road and Grimsby Golf Course (Cromwell Road). These three sites all received a score of 0. It is understood that these 0 scores are incorrect and all three sites should have received a neutral score of 5. Again, whilst erroneous, it is considered unlikely that these scoring errors will have skewed the results of the assessment.

The consultants conclude:

With the exception of the elements identified above, it is the considered [sic.] that the assessment uses criteria suitable to assess the suitability, availability and viability of the sequential sites.

They go on to say:

There is no reason to raise doubt on the findings of the sequential assessment undertaken by the Club. However, as outlined above, further justification and explanation is required within the assessment methodology to avoid misinterpretation of the results, ambiguity and concerns of unfair weighting.

With due regard to the requirement to demonstrate flexibility, has the suitability of more central sites to accommodate the proposal been considered? Where the proposal would be located in an edge of centre or out of centre location, preference should be given to accessible sites that are well connected to the town centre. Any associated reasoning should be set out clearly. 


Is there scope for flexibility in the format and/or scale of the proposal? It is not necessary to demonstrate that a potential town centre or edge of centre site can accommodate precisely the scale and form of development being proposed, but rather to consider what contribution more central sites are able to make individually to accommodate the proposal. If there are no suitable sequentially preferable locations, the sequential test is passed.

Notwithstanding, it is duly considered that the Club's sequential assessment has satisfied the above checklist of considerations.

The club's assessment did not consider Garth Lane.

We are keen to hear and present arguments from all sides on the stadium debate. Tell us your views.