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Sunday 31 October 2010
From the Darlington programme - stadium update

From time to time we reproduce articles from the programme that have not been published on this site. The following article was published in the programme for the Darlington game and describes progress to date in finding a new stadium for the Dons.

HOMEWARD BOUND?

Not just yet. But, as Chief Executive Erik Samuelson reports, we have reached the point where we will soon able to approach the owner of a potential site for a stadium.

Good afternoon and welcome to the fans, officials and players of Darlington.

Just over six months ago on this page, I set out the key things we need to get right for a new stadium to happen. These were: defining what we want, finding a suitable site, assessing planning issues, getting council support, carrying out master-planning, finding the finances, identifying a development partner and seeking permissions. And then building it. Now it’s time to bring you up to date. (If you want to re-read the original article, it’s in the Archived Features section of website, dated 21 April.) You can see it by clicking on April stadium update.

Although the leadership of Merton Council changed after the last local elections, the political support for a return to the borough is as strong as ever. Meanwhile, Kingston’s strategic plans for the Hogsmill area (where we currently are) make it clear that they would like us to commit to the borough permanently. Our approach has been that fans will expect us to explore every potentially viable opportunity in Merton first, but continue to explore the possibility of a stadium in Kingston.

In my view, we’ve spent too much time over the past few months looking at various plans and thinking what we might fit into what we have identified as our preferred site in Merton. But we have reached the stage where we have done enough to be able to ask the critical question: is that preferred site a realistic proposition? In other words, is the current owner of the site interested in working with us to develop it?

The only way to find out is to ask. On 22 October we authorised our representative to approach the site owner to see whether they are interested in our ideas. If the answer is ‘no’, then it’s back to the drawing board to try to make the proposition more attractive or, if necessary, look for another site. And let’s be clear – the owners have every right to say ‘no’, however much we want it and however much Merton Council might support us.

If the answer is ‘maybe’, then we can move to the next stages. This will involve Merton’s project team taking the concept plans to the council’s cabinet members for their support in initiating a master plan for the area; seeking a developer to take on the project; and then developing the master plan so that the work we have done can be fleshed out and the costs and likely profits from the project assessed in detail.

The involvement of a developer is critical. One of the reasons we have taken quite a while to get to the current position is that the work so far has been carried out on a pro bono basis by supportive professional firms. Once (and if) we get an expression of interest from the site owner, then the master-planning stage will need some serious money, say £500,000, to be spent by the developer/investor consortium. This will be to develop the design sufficiently for it to be used to promote the needs of all interested parties: the council, the site owner, the developer, the local community and us.

Meanwhile, the council’s project team will prepare the planning document that paves the way for the project to take place. It will help to determine the best uses for the site, and what can be delivered financially.

I said in April that we were in the best position we are likely to be in for many years. I think that is still true, but I stress that we are still at the planning stage of a major multiyear project.

If the answer to the key question is ‘no’, we will have suffered a major (but not fatal) setback. But we’ve made a lot of progress both on and off the field in the past year, and the board is committed to continuing with both.

Enjoy the game.