Last week I had the opportunity to take part in a workshop with a number of people I know pretty well to talk about the concepts we’d like to see in a new design for a decent stadium for Bath Rugby on the Recreation Ground. To be honest, it felt like Groundhog Day because we had run around this course many times before. But there was a positive spirit in the room and I left with quiet confidence that this time the process will deliver the development the club desperately need.
It looks as though a tortuous legal maze may have finally been navigated. That means the principal obstacle now will be getting planning permission, so the style and design of the buildings will be all important and doubtless that’s where the trouble will start.
The club needs to increase the ground’s capacity and improve facilities to bring it on to a par with its Premiership competitors and help make the club a long term sustainable and viable business, usable on many more days than just when a rugby match is on, and capable of handling other activities. Although the footprint of the ground will be slightly larger, there is still bound to be a row about how high the stands need to be to get all the people in to watch the rugby. I suspect there will be a need for compromise by all sides, but with imaginative design surely we can finally pull this off.
My sense is that the majority of people are keen to see a re-developed stadium whilst a small minority will oppose it whatever it looks like. However, within the majority there will be a good number with concerns about the design and we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder so some tricky conversations will lie ahead.
What there is no question about is that the local economy benefits from the club being in the centre of the City. Spectators spend considerably in shops, bars and restaurants on match days, and we can only guess at the enormous value to the tourist industry of those high TV shots over the river towards the Abbey and the historic centre.
Let’s hope this time the process is successful. If it isn’t, in my opinion the owner would need to be a saint not to throw his hand in and move the club elsewhere. That might not matter much to the club, but it would be a tragedy for the City of Bath. When the time comes please be sure to be involved in the consultations to ensure a design is produced which virtually everyone can support.