Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tague on Tour: Newton’s cradle

Source: Insider News

As Ferris Bueller said, life moves pretty fast. It does for FC United of Manchester anyway. Still only five years old, it was only in July that we learnt the club had appointed a design team ahead of a planning application by early September. As general manager Andy Walsh wryly says: “There’s a lot of pressure.”

Planning consultancy Ludlam Associates, assisted by a team including architect Traylor Young and project manager Frank Whittle Partnership will submit an application to build a 5,000-capacity ground at Ten Acres Lane in Newton Heath, the birthplace of Manchester United.

The site (6.3 acres rather than ten) currently houses an indoor sports centre and an all-weather football pitch. It’s still well-used by a local community that is being genuinely listened to over FC’s plans – doors have been knocked on at the 150-plus houses closest to the site, there has been a drop-in session and a family fun day and dialogue is ongoing..

It’s a sight more proactive than most consultations, which are often just box-ticking exercises. The sports centre will remain and be enhanced with new facilities, with more community activities added in. The trees bordering the site will remain as a natural green barrier.

“The main concern people have is over parking, which is understandable,” says Walsh. There is some parking onsite, while highway consultant AECOM is looking at offsite parking. Oldham Road’s “quality bus corridor” (stop laughing at the back) and the new Metrolink stop at Central Park are less than a kilometre away.

Ideally, FC would be in place for the start of the 2011-12 season, but a lot remains to be done. Grants could cover £1.5m of the estimated £3.5m cost, leaving FC to find £2m. The hope is to raise much of £1.5m (although there is provision for bank borrowing) through a community share scheme – an offer document will be issued in the next few weeks – while the club’s development fund will be required to raise £500,000 cash upfront. So far the total stands at £280,000.

Noises from Manchester City Council seem encouraging. “At the moment, the council have to keep investing in the site. We represent an opportunity to enhance it, improve its usability and help the community help itself. Our community schemes do a lot already, but we’ll be able to do even more.”

To see the work in action, we leap into Walsh’s car for the short hop from Ten Acres to Orford Park, where first team manager Karl Marginson, rounders bat and balls of all sizes at hand, is putting kids through their paces. You can’t help but be impressed.

It’s a big ask but there is a no-nonsense nous at FC – board member Scott Fletcher, the ANS Group founder and passionate advocate of entrepreneurial spirit, typifies its approach. And in a world where Yaya Toure’s being given £200,000 a week you’d like to think this can work, for the sake of our sanity if nothing else.