Canterbury City Football Club could see a long-awaited new stadium built after a developer stepped in with a lifeline.
The club – without a base since 1999 – has been offered land in Hersden free of charge and could have a new all-weather pitch and stands constructed by 2018.
But developer Persimmon Homes, which is already proposing 800 new houses in the area, has attached a condition to its offer.
The north Hersden site
It says it would need Canterbury City Council to count the new stadium towards any “green space” requirement imposed on its housing scheme.
Speaking to the Gazette this week, club chairman Tim Clark said: “We’ve been working on this for about a year.
“It’s a viable plan. To put it simply, if it doesn’t happen, then the club’s not coming back to Canterbury.”
Mr Clark said the club was hoping to build a 4G Astroturf pitch, which would form part of Persimmon’s planning proposals for its housing development.
He said he was cautiously optimistic that the developer’s condition might be met by the council.
Vice chairman Kieth Vaughan, Robinson Solicitors’ Sandra Worth and chairman Tim Clark
“I would hope that that’s not going to be a stumbling block,” said Mr Clark.
“Re-homing Canterbury City FC is an objective both in the council’s local plan and its corporate plan.
“I think the biggest hurdle we face is funding.”
Projected costs of the new stadium would be around £1.5 million to £1.6m, said Mr Clark.
He would seek funding from the Kent FA as well as from the city council, either as a grant or loan.
The club’s former home, Kingsmead Stadium, was sold by the council for development in 1999 with the club folding two years later amid poor form and dwindling attendance.
It was not until 2007 that the club was reformed with ambitious plans for a multi-million pound new ground as part of a sports hub at Ridlands Farm.
However, the plans collapsed when projected costs spiralled and the club has been looking for a permanent base since.
Mr Clark said: “For all the disappointment of Ridlands, this is something better, something more commercially viable.
“At Ridlands we would have been paying rent.
“Here, the discussion is about a four-and-a-half acre site, which would be given to us. We’d be paying no rent, we would potentially have security for borrowing.
“I’m confident we can show the mathematics will work. Now it’s about political will.”
Colin Carmichael, the council’s chief executive, said: “You can see that there would be an argument towards counting this as open space. But that’s an issue for planning.”
Speaking at this week’s meeting of the Canterbury Area Member
Panel, Mr Carmichael added that
the club was “hopeful” the local authority would make a financial contribution.
“We’ve made no commitment,” he said. “We would need to see a business plan – running costs, and proper quotes on what it would cost to build.”
Mr Carmichael also said that £1m which had been promised to the club when its former home had been sold was no longer available in the capital budget.
“You could, as members of the council, put it back,” he added.
Mr Clark says Persimmon could have its planning application, which would include the new club, submitted by the end of the year.
If all went well, the new ground could be operating by the start of the 2018 season.