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Monday 12 December 2011
From the Accrington Stanley programme

From time to time we reproduce articles from the programme that haven't been published elsewhere. The following is from the Accrington Stanley game on 10 December.

GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM

Progress is being made on the search for a site for a new stadium, says chief executive Erik Samuelson. But however open the club wants to be with its fans, it’s essential not to give too much away.

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

The Dons Trust AGM was held on Thursday, after I wrote this page, and I’m sure that in the Q&A session I’ll have been asked about progress on a new stadium and our existing one. For those of you who weren’t at the meeting, here’s what I was planning to say.

First, a new stadium. I’ve previously said that we have identified three sites in or near Wimbledon that might fit our needs. Some time ago, Ivor Heller and I went to see Stephen Alambritis, the leader of Merton Council, and two of his fellow councillors to explain the pros and cons of each possible site. As always, they were very supportive.

After that meeting we went away to try to refine our thinking, and we asked our consultants to look hard at whether one site in particular was becoming the obvious choice. This work involved a lot of new and quite innovative thinking about how to make best use of the possible sites, and in due course Ivor and I went to hear their findings. These were that one site was indeed beginning to emerge as the favourite. But (and there is always a “but”) there were specific issues we needed to clear with the council before we felt we could go to the next stage of detail. This wasn’t a surprise to me – it would be very naive to imagine building a new stadium anywhere inside the M25 without encountering major and potentially project-killing hurdles.

So, about four weeks ago we went back to Stephen and his colleagues to brief them on the results and to explain that we wanted, in effect, their confirmation that the hurdles we had identified were not project-killers. After various discussions between the council’s advisors and our consultants the view was that, on the face of it, we could proceed to the next level of detail in evaluating the preferred site (while not casting the other two sites aside – we need a plan B and a Plan C).

So now our consultants are hard at work on the next stage, refining their ideas and calculations to confirm, hopefully, that the project is viable.

I know this sounds rather vague, but we are torn between open reporting to the members – which is what you’d expect, given our ownership structure – and not giving away commercially sensitive information. We have disclosed all the details to the Dons Trust Board and they are satisfied with how things are going. But (another “but”, I’m afraid) though we have made good progress over the past three months or so, there are still all sorts of things that could derail us, from planning issues and obtaining financing in these parlous economic times, to a speculator buying a small piece of the preferred site and holding us to ransom. So please be patient and understand that we have to be cautious about what and how much we say.

Meanwhile, the project for the new Kingston Road stand continues, to meet the Football League stadium criterion of 2,000 seats under cover. The planning application is with Kingston Council and we expect to hear if we have been successful within the next ten days or so. At the same time, detailed design is going ahead – the schedule is too tight to allow us to wait for the result of the planning application – and we are looking at ways of raising the necessary finance.

One matter currently being debated by the Football Club Board is the timing of the work. The project is too long to complete in the close season, so we have a choice: open the new stand part-way into next season, or close the Kingston Road end before the end of this season and aim to complete the work in time for the start of the following season. At the moment we are minded to take the latter option, but it needs more thought before a final decision is made. I’ll keep you informed.