Filling a gaping hole in our lives?

We know we’ve only got three sides; we’re told often enough. But this morning’s news that Taylor Wimpey want to build some flats and with it a new stand, may change all that. Or will it?

Sometimes I gaze out from the South Stand over to the Vue cinema as the drizzle comes down from the slate grey skies and the sounds of haunted men drift into the nothingness beyond the horizon. Time, it seems, is passing.

While it seems like no time at all, we’ve been at the Kassam for more than a decade. There are an increasing number of people who only know it this as our home. That phrase, ‘home’, is still a slap in the maw because it rarely feels anything like that.

The name, of course, doesn’t help – Kassam will forever be a byword for failure; relegation from the Championship to the Conference, the sale of our spiritual home (and most valuable asset) and a move to a hollow shell of a replacement. The gaping open end, a source of tiresome ridicule from other fans, is a reminder that this is no theatre of our dreams; it’s merely the extension of a low grade entertainment complex.

And yet, on this greyest, grimmest day, as we navigated our way around the flooded plains of this and other counties, we were presented with some light. News came through of the possibility of a fourth stand. Is it really right that, to paraphrase Atomic Kitten, Taylor Wimpey’s house building plans will make us whole again?

The idea appears to be formative to say the least, there is little ‘official’ information about it, but the BBC website’s opening word in their coverage speaks volumes. ‘Advice’ is being sought by Taylor Wimpey for a possible residential development around the stadium. Oxvox, who remain understandably neutral on the matter, call it a pre-planning meeting. Advice meaning; talks, a chat, a friendly call. No concrete mixers.

It isn’t difficult to see the attraction of using one of the sites, the overflow car park; it’s a great flat expanse that’s being used for home games, and then, only in part. The corners of the stadium – which has piqued our interest due to the possibility of another stand is a less obvious or attractive option.

Rather than Taylor Wimpey suggesting they build the fourth stand, it appears that it is an Oxford City Council requirement of any planning approval. That stands to reason, but you might reasonably assume that this is just as likely to prevent them from progressing their interest.

I’m no civil engineer, but it seems logical that the stand and flats would need to be integrated and that it would be easier to build them in one go rather than piecemeal. Football stands don’t appear expensive things to build; they are hardly architectural triumphs and the fixtures and fittings needed are pretty limited. If you’re building on the corners of the South and North stands, it would take much to fill in the gap in between.

However, the report quotes an Oxford City council suit saying that any development must not compromise the completion of a fourth stand. That implies that the stand does not need to be integral to the plan or a pre-requisite of its approval. It is more that it prevents Taylor Wimpey from simply building a wall of flats along the west end of the stadium where a stand might one day be built.

Nor do the two sites under consideration appear to be a single plan, it could be one, or both, or neither. As I say, the fourth stand site, the area of most interest to most Oxford fans, would seem the least attractive to the developer.

There are more requirements to ensure approval – there would need to be adequate parking for 15,000+ capacity (which presumably would be the size of a four sided stadium), and the plan would require some provision of shops to serve the new housing.

Where would the cars go? How would the new residents get to their houses, particularly on a match day? Parking restrictions around the ground leave few options; the fields beyond the Grenoble Road are possible, but would need some development, presumably. Then there is the infrastructure required to allow people access to the flats and houses. And then there’s Firoz Kassam, not known as an easy man to work with. You might reasonably wonder whether there are easier ways of building 250 houses than using the Kassam Stadium, and you might think that Taylor Wimpey will think the same.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that this is not going to happen. Someone in the Oxford City planning office received a call from the developer and fed it through to Radio Oxford. The rest spiralled from there. That they are so willing to discuss it, suggests the council are managing the story for some gain – perhaps to chivvy along some development or perhaps for some simple PR and political capital. But, ultimately this is a story which has broken way too early. If I’m reading this right the feeling of desolation from gazing at the Bowlplex logo will be in place for some time yet.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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