CASTLEFORD Tigers’ boss Richard Wright has urged fans to support a plan to sell its current ground for a supermarket development, unlocking cash for a multi-million pound stadium.
The chief executive has also revealed how the club’s bid to redevelop its Wheldon Road facility will be “complicated” and “will take time” – but is confident it would be ready to move into its new 13,300-capacity Glass Houghton home in time for the 2013 season.
Last month the Express revealed how the Super League side had signed an exclusive development agreement with Opus Land (North) Ltd, which will help it win planning permission for a supermarket at its current site and provide “forward funding” for its new state-of-the-art home.
Mr Wright said: “I would like to be clear that a planning application for a food store on our existing stadium site on Wheldon Road will be complex and take time, it will not be easy, and we have never said it will be.
“None of us, fans and administrators alike, can take anything for granted. However, if the club works hard and the fans, the community and Wakefield Council give their full support then we will all achieve the goal of top class facilities for this district.”
The Tigers’ chief gave the statement after inviting fans to submit questions to the club’s website.
Here are the questions and answers:
Can you explain the nature of the value of £50m?
As stated in the release a fortnight ago, £50m is the total value of the inward investment into Castleford as a result of the agreement with Opus. Included in this is the development of the food store, the new stadium and other ancillary developments.
However, the real impact will be much bigger than this and the benefits are much wider than merely economics. Moving forward with the new stadium will kick start further development up at Glass Houghton as the new stadium will attract further investment around junction 32 of the M62. The location is ideal and the infrastructure to serve the stadium will open up new areas of land. It will also be a catalyst for the regeneration of the Wheldon Road area and the town centre which is badly needed. Overall it will be a timely boost to the local economy and mean jobs for local people. We are also excited about the social and educational benefits that we can deliver to our community with these top class facilities.
Just to clarify, the club has not received £50m for the PROBIZ Coliseum, but development partners Opus have agreed to fund the new stadium in full on receipt of planning permission for a food store on the site. This is hugely significant and means that we do not have to wait for a food store to agree to buy the land – we get the money we need to build the stadium when planning permission is granted so the way forward is now very much with Wakefield Council.
What is the timing for the new stadium?
We have a time plan which delivers the new Stadium for the 2013 season. The rest of this year is the period where the planning application for our Wheldon Road site is prepared, submitted and then considered by Wakefield Council. Construction is planned for 2012 and will take around 12 months
This start date of early 2012 is achievable with the help and support of Wakefield Council. If the planning application is called in for a public enquiry this could delay things but the St Helens application was not subject to a public enquiry and there are many similarities between the two schemes. In addition, councils are now being given more power to determine outcomes such as these given the extent of local knowledge around the issues.
The planning application for the food store will take time, but if the community and the council fully support it through the process it can be achieved as in the case of St Helens and Warrington. At meetings with the council recently they have committed to giving their full support to us through the planning process and Opus have agreed to fast track the application even though this may cost more than following the normal sequence that these applications are processed. Consult Group are managing the process on the club’s behalf and have a great deal of drive and energy as well as the required experience to make things happen.
Is the funding now in place?
On receipt of the planning consent we will have the funding in place to construct the new stadium. We are confident that the funding will be sufficient but we still need to continue with all of the fundraising initiatives that have been discussed, such as the Buy a Brick scheme. Any funding will be a big help, for example we would like to operate our own catering function which would provide a better return for the club in the future but to do this we would have to fund the cost of all the kitchens and bars. Often these are franchised out and the catering company finances the cost of all the equipment.
Is the stadium dependent on getting a Super League licence?
No. We have made a conscious decision to develop the right stadium for this district regardless of the licence timeline and the stadium project will continue regardless of the licence.
Have we applied for a World Cup game at the new stadium in 2013?
We have applied for a World Cup fixture at the new stadium and attended two preliminary meetings. However, we may not have planning consent in time to meet the RFL’s deadline for confirmation of availability of stadiums which is the middle of this year. The RFL want to confirm venues as soon as possible so it looks like we will be out of time even though we are confident that our new stadium will be operational by the time the World Cup comes around. Of course, should any of the selected venues become unavailable nearer the event then Castleford would be eager to step in and host a game. Further, fans can be assured that we will be looking to host many top flight games and events going forward and really put Castleford on the map as a leisure destination.
How confident are you about getting a Super League License in July?
We are confident that we will get a licence for 2012.
We acknowledge that the stadium is not going to be delivered in the previous 2012 time plan, however we have met with the RFL who have confirmed to us that all aspects of the criteria are important – not just the stadium. Facilities has been the one to make most headlines in the media, but the areas of on field competitiveness and junior development have to be counted as equally important, if not more so. Also finance, business management, commercial, community, all are vital aspects of a successful club and we are stronger now in these areas than the last time we applied. Sponsorships for example are this year at record levels. We have the new executive management board which strengthens the management. And let us not forget that we own our own stadium and this gives us a sound financial base. And above all we have a strong and ever growing base of fans who follow our team home & away and whom we believe are a credit to the competition.
I think the RFL will acknowledge that the economic crisis has been severe and made it difficult for us to deliver the stadium on time, and there are very valid reasons for the delay, reasons out of our control and that could not be predicted back in early 2008 when we last submitted our application. The RFL’s statements on the Crusaders cited the economic conditions so we know this is very much in their minds.
Where are we with recruitment for next year?
The long term objective is to increase the number of club trained players in the squad and ideally we will have three quality overseas players. We are becoming more attractive as a club to players as we grow stronger. It was important to agree a new contract with Craig Huby, I think we all agree he should be in the England squad.
The squad has a good balance now and the new players for this year are all contributing to the good start we have made. We are targeting some players as well as monitoring the juniors. It is still early in the season but we are aiming to improve the squad again next year. It is important that we continually strengthen the team year on year and do not rest on our laurels and fans can be assured that we will support the coaching staff by providing them with as much resource as possible to fulfil their plans.
What has led to this new agreement with Opus for the PROBIZ Coliseum?
We have a responsibility to ensure the continuity of the club over everything else. This means we must maximise the value of our own ground which is the clubs’ primary asset – and it should be noted that there are very few clubs with such an asset. The agreement with Ben Bailey was agreed in 2006 and was at a much higher value than currently applies to residential land at the moment because of the fall in house prices. This meant that Ben Bailey could not move forward with the value in the agreement so we chose to terminate the agreement which has enabled us to move forward with Opus. The food store route is tried and tested and is now one of the more commonly used ways of funding a new Stadium. Both Warrington and St Helens used this approach successfully. Opus are working on similar schemes with Cambridge United and Norwich City and bring with them a vast amount of experience as well as considerable resources.
With Wakefield Council’s support we are confident we can move forward in the timescales outlined. Opus are prepared to commit significant time and money to fast track the application.
With regard to the quality of the stadium, if there is more funding available we will enhance the facilities and get the best possible stadium for the fans and the community whilst providing the best basis for revenue generation to ensure the club is successful and sustainable in the future.
Have you considered redevelopment of PROBIZ Coliseum?
If we are serious about being a force to be reckoned with in Super League then realistically this is not an option. We have little funding for renovation of the current ground and it will be more difficult to survive and succeed in SL in the future at the PROBIZ Coliseum. Practically we have to deliver the new stadium at Glass Houghton and we now have to work with the council to get the planning permission for the food store on Wheldon Road as this is the key that unlocks everything.
How are things going with PROBIZ, have they signed up for the naming rights for the new stadium?
PROBIZ and founder Feisal Nahaboo are welcome sponsors and partners for the club this season. Feisal is determined to grow the PROBIZ brand and he is very creative, enthusiastic and passionate, for example the idea to bring over Adrian Vowles over from Australia for the Wakefield game is excellent. This is good news for the Club and I think the relationship will develop and grow in the months ahead. He has quickly formed a great affinity with the club, the players and the fans and realises the Tigers are a special club. I hope that we in return are giving him good value for his investment with us.
With regard to naming rights for the new stadium we are discussing this with him, in my view it would be an ideal way for him to grow the PROBIZ brand. We plan music concerts and will operate a quality conference centre. It will be hard to find a better way to reach the millions of people that will pass and visit the site. We are also discussing with him ways that he can work with us to develop and grow our business. Nothing is being taken for granted on either side but overall things are going well.
Will there be standing at the new stadium and will there be more concessions?
We shared plans for the stadium with everyone in late 2010. In particular this was to ensure that all fans understood the configuration of the ground. One of the touchline stands will be standing with a capacity of around 6,000. We hope that it will become a noisy and popular place for Cas fans and famous throughout the league. All other stands will be seating.
Is it realistic to achieve a planning consent for a food store in the time scales outlined or are you just building up the expectations of the fans?
I would like to be clear that a planning application for a food store on our existing stadium site on Wheldon Road will be complex and take time, it will not be easy, and we have never said it will be. None of us, fans and administrators alike, can take anything for granted. However, if the club works hard and the fans, the community and Wakefield Council give their full support then we will all achieve the goal of top class facilities for this district. Our development partners Opus are prepared to fund the application costs entirely at their risk, these costs are significant but having experience in this type of application they do not see any unusual circumstances. Both Warrington and St Helens have done it so where there’s a will, there’s a way but we will all have to pull together in the weeks ahead. Fans have told us they want to be actively involved and we have some ideas on how fans can give their support so I would ask them to keep an eye on the website and local papers for developments in this regard