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Irish tycoon and greyhound racing fan wants to save site
AN entrepreneur who revolutionsed the racing industry in Ireland wants to become the saviour of Oxford Stadium.
Paschal Taggart has announced his intention to buy the empty shell of the stadium so it can continue to run as a leisure facility.
The stadium held its last day of racing on December 29 and site owners the Greyhound Racing Association have emptied it of all its fixtures and fittings.
Now the site is back in the hands of the GRA’s parent company Risk Capital Partners, and Galliard Homes, which has links with the organisation.
Mr Taggart, a former Irish Greyhound Board chairman who last year submitted plans for a £30 million redevelopment of Wimbledon Stadium, said it was the resolve of local people to keep the stadium running which had convinced him to mount a bid to buy the Oxford Stadium site.
He said: “The council seems to be very much against it [redevelopment of the site] and so they should be. I think it’s disgraceful that something that’s been there for a long time as a community facility is being exploited to make money for the owners.
“I don’t see it as a very profitable venture, but it will still support a greyhound stadium. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t.”
He wouldn’t speculate on the exact value of the stadium, but said it would be worth a lot less without planning permission for homes and without its equipment. He said: “I will pay full market value for it. Now it’s up to the council and the campaigners to do the groundwork, because I can’t do that.”
The site is thought to be worth upwards of £6m as it is now, but significantly more with planning permision for homes. An estate agent said it could sell for up to £10m, with a property developer expected to make more than £34m from the sale of the homes.
Mr Taggart said the owners of the site had found a “determined adversary” in Oxford East MP Andrew Smith, who has been co-ordinating a campaign against the re-development of the facility.
Oxford City Council announced it would not support the development of the former facility for housing after a bid to build 225 homes on the site was announced by Galliard Homes last year.
And more than 1,200 people have signed a petition against the redevelopment of the site, according to Mr Smith who said: “Our local community is absolutely determined to save Oxford Stadium, for greyhound racing and other sports.
“It is fantastic news that someone of Paschal Taggart’s standing is seriously interested in the stadium.
“The facilities at Oxford are first-rate, there is massive support from local people, and huge potential for the stadium's future.”
Mr Taggart has confirmed he would also be keen to see Speedway re-introduced at the stadium for the first time since 2008.
The businessman is revered in Irish racing circles. When he took over as chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board in 1995 attendances were around 6,000. His view was that by giving race-goers top-class racing and facilities, the public would support it. When he stepped down 10 years later, attendances stood at 1.4million.
The news of Mr Taggart’s interest has been welcomed by fans, including Ian Sawyer, from the Save Oxford Stadium campaign.
He said: “I’m absolutely delighted. We’ve heard about people being interested in the site, but this is the first time anyone has announced it publicly. We would support him 110 per cent if he did succeed in buying the stadium.”
Oxford City Council leader Bob Price said: “I think it’s good news, but we assume the next stage will be for Galliard Homes to put in a planning application for homes.
“They have refused to speak to people about selling the site, presumably because they want to get planning permission to increase its value. We suspect that until the planning application has been decided, we won’t get very far.”
Mr Price said the council would be happy to hold talks with Mr Taggart and Galliard Homes in order to facilitate a sale of the site.
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