Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet has authorised its officers to start negotiations with Oxford United FC on outline legal and commercial terms relating to the club’s proposal to lease land for the development of a new football stadium.
Discussions to secure information and undertakings that meet the county council’s objectives will continue. Any final decision regarding leasing of the land will be taken in public by a future cabinet meeting based on whether the council’s objectives have been met.
The land in question is east of Frieze Way/south of Kidlington roundabout. It is known as “the triangle”. OUFC has provided the council with information consistent with the first stage of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) pathway for developing proposals (stage 0). This means there is still considerable detail to be developed by the club.
The site has the advantage of being close to Oxford Parkway railway station and park and ride at Water Eaton, 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: “The cabinet has today agreed that the council should open legal negotiations with OUFC on its request for land for a new stadium at ‘the triangle’ site. These will take place alongside the ongoing discussions with the club to get to the point where a firm proposal can be published for consideration.
“Many people have questions about what the new stadium will look like and how matches will be managed for fans and local residents. There will be regular opportunities for the club to engage with the public about their plans as they develop.
“As the plans on which any final cabinet decision would be based are published, sufficient time will be allowed to seek the views of a wide range of stakeholders. The cabinet will take into consideration the results of this engagement as part of its decision-making.
“Oxford United is close to the hearts of thousands of people across this county. We understand how strongly supporters wish to see the club secure a new and enduring home. We will work constructively and openly with the club to help them achieve a long-term home in the county and a sustainable future.
“When it comes to this proposal, it is important to stress that the county council has not today given the club a green light to develop a new stadium. We have agreed to start detailed negotiations on the terms on which Oxfordshire County Council land could be offered.
“The club should be clear from today that the county council has clearly set-out objectives that this development must meet. To receive agreement from the council, the proposal must have a positive impact on the lives of people in Oxfordshire – it needs to bring improvements that will benefit residents in years to come.”
Oxford United will now be required to provide further information and undertakings before any final agreement is entered into.
The decision taken by the cabinet requires that any legal agreement with OUFC should be consistent with the county council’s strategic priorities by achieving the following seven objectives for the use of the council’s land. These are:
- Maintain a green barrier between Oxford and Kidlington
- Improve access to nature and green spaces
- Enhance facilities for local sports groups and ongoing 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 sports, community sports, health and wellbeing
- Support the county council’s net zero carbon emissions pledge through highly sustainable development
Meanwhile, the report to the cabinet also sets out objectives around managing financial risk and obtaining the best value for the taxpayer from any transaction.
Taking account of the recommendations around consultation, the cabinet has asked officers to identify further opportunities for meaningful engagement with stakeholders as proposals are developed and any 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 us 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. We are now adding negotiations on the potential legal and commercial terms to those discussions, but there are still critical pieces of information that we require from the club before any agreement could proceed.
“We 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.
“In response, officers recommended a smaller site of approximately 5 hectares for the provision of a stadium only, which is 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.
“In summary, this is the continuation of a process, not the end of one. There remain clear objectives that the club must prove it will meet before the county council would consider agreeing to provide the land at the Triangle. The county council will seek the views of a wide range of stakeholders before reaching any final decision.”