Recommendations will be made to Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet that officers should be authorised to start negotiations on outline legal and commercial terms relating to Oxford United FC’s proposal to lease land to develop a new football stadium.
Discussions to secure information and undertakings that meet the county council’s objectives for the site would continue. Any final decision regarding the leasing of the land would be taken in public at a future cabinet meeting.
The council’s cabinet will discuss the recommendations and make a decision relating to the land – which is east of Frieze Way/south of Kidlington roundabout – at its meeting on Tuesday, 24 January.
The land in question is known as ‘the triangle’ OUFC has provided information at this point consistent with the first stage of the Royal Institute of British Architect’s (RIBA) pathway for developing proposals (stage 0). This means there is still considerable detail to be developed.
The smaller site has the advantage of being closer to Oxford Parkway railway station and the Water Eaton park and ride, which would enable greater walking, cycling, bus and rail use among fans. However, the council remains mindful that it is in the green belt – as with the previously proposed site at Stratfield Brake.
Councillor Calum Miller, Cabinet Member for Finance at Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Officers have made their recommendations, and it is now for us as cabinet members to decide whether or not we accept them.
As the county’s only professional football league club, we know that Oxford United is close to the hearts of thousands of people across this county. We also recognise the opinions and needs of local people who would be affected by the building of a new stadium.”
Should the cabinet agree on 24 January to progress negotiations, the club would be required to provide further information and undertakings before any final agreement was entered into.
Officers recommend that the cabinet requires that any legal agreement with OUFC should be consistent with the county council’s strategic priorities by achieving the following objectives for the use of the Oxfordshire County Council’s land:
As part of this process, the cabinet would ask officers to identify further opportunities for meaningful engagement with stakeholders as the stadium proposal is developed and impacts clearly identified.
Were the cabinet to be satisfied that these objectives had been met and secured through a draft legal agreement, planning permission would be required from Cherwell District Council as the local planning authority.
In early 2022 the council ran a public engagement exercise to better understand the opportunities and concerns relating to the stadium proposal. More than 3,700 people responded from across the county and beyond. Overall, a strong majority expressed support for the council to begin discussions with the club. However, a majority of local residents expressed reservations.
Councillor Calum Miller added: “Discussions have been taking place between the council and the club since late 2021. In March 2022, the cabinet asked officers to seek further information from the club on their proposals. In November 2022, OUFC provided preliminary information consistent with stage 0 of the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) process.
“We have an important decision to make on 24 January. And even if we decide to authorise the start of negotiations with the football club, there are still critical pieces of information that we would require from the club before any agreement could proceed.
“Officers have already taken the results of the engagement exercise conducted in early 2022 into account. These highlighted concerns and challenges associated with the Stratfield Brake site and the scale of OUFC’s proposals to lease 18 hectares of land for the development of a football stadium alongside a hotel, retail and conference facilities, and training/community grounds.
“As a result, officers have now recommended – for the provision of a stadium only – a smaller site of 4.9 hectares separated from Kidlington and Gosford by two major roads. Use of this site would not impact community sports facilities or access to Stratfield Brake and the land owned by the Woodland Trust as a community amenity. We are, however, very mindful that this site is also in the green belt.
“As the club’s proposals become clearer, we would expect there to be regular opportunities for the club to engage with the public about their plans, which the county council would take into consideration. If the negotiations led to a satisfactory conclusion, there would then be a full and transparent planning process led by Cherwell District Council.
“This is not a case of the county council giving the club the green light. Officers are proposing to start detailed negotiations on the terms on which Oxfordshire County Council land could be offered for the purposes of a new home stadium for OUFC.
“These terms would be subject to clearly set out criteria. This is not a final proposal for consideration but is a recommendation to intensify discussions with the club to get to the point where a firm proposal can be considered.”