9:00am Thursday 3rd July 2014
By Mark Edwards
THE leader of Oxfordshire County Council has said he would back a move which could see Oxford United leave the Kassam Stadium and build a new ground at Water Eaton.
And last night, Ian Hudspeth said it would potentially allow the club’s present home in Grenoble Road to be redeveloped for housing.
As revealed in Friday’s Oxford Mail, U’s owner Ian Lenagan is involved in takeover talks with at least two consortiums, and this newspaper understands any successful negotiations are likely to depend on the club owning their home.
But that might be away from the Kassam Stadium.
While an official approach has not been made for the site, which is located next to the Water Eaton Park-and-Ride and proposed new Oxford Parkway railway station, Mr Hudspeth confirmed informal talks between the county council and United have taken place.
But he warned there would be a number of obstacles to overcome with the land, which falls under Cherwell District Council’s authority.
He said: “I had the idea a few months ago that it might be a potential location and did speak to Oxford United about it, but they were informal talks.
“The county council is not the planning authority. However, as an Oxford United supporter, I am obviously keen for the club to own its own facility.
“Water Eaton might do that.
“However, it is on Green Belt land and there would have to be discussions with Cherwell District Council.”
United have paid rent to landlord Firoz Kassam since moving from the Manor Ground in 2001, which is now believed to be around £500,000 a year.
That burden has hindered the club’s progress, with the U’s posting losses of in excess of £1m for each of the last two years.
Mr Hudspeth believes a move to a new location could suit all parties. He said: “From a transport point of view, it [Water Eaton] would be next to the train station, is on bus routes and there would be car parking, so transport-wise it is a very good location.
“We could then look at the Kassam Stadium, and it might mean that could be redeveloped for housing to assist Oxford City Council to provide the need for homes.
“I am aware that the desire of all Oxford United supporters to own their own ground is great.”
Bob Price, leader of Oxford City Council, said the area would be ideal for such a development.
He said: “If ever you were looking at a site that’s worth developing, then that would be it. It is obviously a viable site.
“The football club and the rugby club [London Welsh have shared the ground since 2012] are very important parts of the community and they serve a wide section of the community.
“We would be happy to take part in any discussions that ensure they both remain viable. We will look at anything that sounds feasible.”
A consortium led by Mark Ashton appear to be favourite to take over the club should it be up for sale, with a team of Oxfordshire businessmen, fronted by Charlie Methven, also interested.
Mr Lenagan and Mr Kassam were yesterday both unavailable for comment.
Cherwell district councillor Michael Gibbard, the cabinet member for planning and the councillor for Water Eaton, said: “This is not something we are aware of and nothing has been put to us yet.
“My immediate thought is that it would be a major visual development in the Green Belt and not one to be encouraged but you could look at whether it is a special case.”
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