CASTLEFORD Tigers’ chief Richard Wright has announced plans to sell the club’s ground for a supermarket development in a deal which would secure the cash needed to build its new multi-million pound stadium.
The club boss told the Express it had signed an exclusive development agreement with Opus Land (North) Ltd, which will work with the top-flight side to redevelop its Wheldon Road home as a “large format food store” and provide “forward funding” for its proposed 13,300-capacity Glass Houghton facility.
The pioneering deal will allow the club to build the new stadium in its entirety instead of phasing it in – but it will not move to the new ground until the 2013 season.
In an open letter to fans, Mr Wright said the Rugby Football League would assess both the Probiz Colosseum and its plans for a new stadium when deciding whether to grant the club a new Super League licence.
He said: “We had hoped to complete the stadium build in time for the 2012 season to commence, but given the unprecedented economic conditions, this has now had to be delayed by a season. I know that this news will disappoint many of our fans who are excited by the prospect of a new facility, but it is my job to make level headed decisions for the long-term future of the club.
“In these testing times, land values are at an all time low and it makes no sense to rush through the sale of our biggest asset at a vastly reduced price when the money released will still only enable us to develop the stadium on a phased basis.
“We have to hold back in order to get the best deal and to be assured of delivering a stadium that meets our long-term goals.”
Mr Wright, who is working to finalise the club’s application for a new franchise before next week’s deadline, confirmed it had started “detailed discussions” with Wakefield Council and major food retailers. Ben Bailey Homes Ltd had purchased an option on the ten-acre site in 2006, but will not be buying the land for a residential development.
Mr Wright said: “Opus Land and its financial partner Palmer Capital have the ability to provide all the forward funding required to support the construction of the new stadium build in a single phase in time for the 2013 season, whereas, the previously proposed sale to Ben Bailey Homes relied on additional council funding that clearly cannot be delivered in the current climate.
“This is therefore a much better deal for Castleford Tigers and the public of Castleford.”
The club chief said it would be working with the council and Castleford Town Centre Partnership to ensure the proposed development would benefit the whole community. He added the club was excited to be part of £50m of investment into the town through a community stadium, new jobs and other associated developments.
But Castleford councillor Tony Wallis said it would be a “balancing act” to make sure the planned supermarket did not have an impact on trade in the town centre.
He said: “On the one hand it’s fantastic news for the Tigers because it’s so important for them to build their new stadium, but we need to make sure a supermarket doesn’t have a negative impact on the town centre. We want the town centre to grow – especially in these tough economic times.”
However, Alison Drake, chairman of Castleford Heritage Trust, said: “I can’t see how this would be detrimental to the town centre. The community is behind the club and wants to see it sell its land and build a new stadium.
“The Tigers’ site is close to the town centre, and with plans for regeneration and new housing along the River Aire it could work hand-in-hand.”
Councillors will decide whether to grant full planning permission for the club’s new stadium during a meeting on Thursday April 7.
Visit www.pontefractand castlefordexpress.co.uk or www.castigers.com to read Mr Wright’s open letter in full.