Salford’s stadium an outlandish promise

Outlandish promises are the norm during a General Election campaign, but you can’t but wonder whether any of the manifesto pledges from Brown, Cameron or Clegg are quite as outlandish as Salford City Reds’ announcement of a “New Stadium Party” to celebrate the “commencement” of work on their new stadium at Barton. Yes, that’s right – commencement. Not re-commencement, as you would have expected seeing as we were told building work had begun in February 2008.


Back then, in an article in the Manchester Evening News accompanied by a picture of an orange skip, the Reds declared, “We’re delighted to announce that work on Salford City Reds’ new stadium at Barton has begun on site today”. Well, there are two possibilities: the first is that very little work actually took place, but Salford are less than keen to remind people of that abortive start; the second is that people in Salford just like really late parties, and next month they’ll celebrate winning the 1938 Challenge Cup final. 


The Salford fans express shock that anyone could be so cynical. One fan on the old Last Tackle forums would post every new announcement that the stadium was going ahead from the Reds’ official website, and then get terribly offended when people questioned whether the stadium was going to be built on time. Yet the stadium was first announced nearly ten years ago, in December 2000, when an article on the BBC stated “Salford are set to leave the Willows to move to a new ground in 2003. The club announced they are close to finalising plans for a new 20,000-seater stadium opposite Barton Aerodrome.”


There were no further moves towards completing the stadium until April 2003. This is when the “iconic” image of the stadium appeared in the M.E.N., and it was reported that the stadium would be completed by Christmas 2004. However, if plans were close to being finalised at the end of 2000, why were the plans only unveiled in 2003 – the date give by which the stadium was supposed to have been completed? Despite the Christmas 2004 deadline the club did not apply for planning permission until August 2005. From there the process was pretty much taken out of their hands, but at length permission was given: from Salford City Council in November 2005, from a public inquiry in August 2006, and from the government in November 2006. Work was due to begin in February 2008, and the Reds would move into their stadium in time for 2009.


Work did begin in February 2008 as we have seen, and the new stadium was made very much a part of Salford’s application for a Super League franchise, which was accepted on 22 July 2008. Just a few days later Red City Developments went into administration. It was perhaps timely that the administration only occurred after the RFL’s decision had been made public, but the club was adamant that the stadium was still going to be built, saying, “Due to the changing needs and requirements and the restructuring of the development company we at Salford City Reds look forward to the stadium being delivered to Salford and its supporters on time for 2010.”  In January 2009 Salford’s website announced that the plans had taken a new direction, and that “the main catalyst in pushing forward the new City of Salford Stadium” was to be the newly-formed Salford City College.


Three months later it emerged that due to the oncoming recession the Learning and Skills Council would not be providing any funding for the stadium, meaning that Salford City College would no longer be involved. Apparently though the pulling out of an organisation that was to be the stadium’s “main catalyst” was not an issue; as club CEO Dave Tarry explained, “we still have our main partners”. Reds chairman John Wilkinson stated plainly that “we’ve got to bring a stadium out of that ground in 2010 and that’s what we’ll do” – but by this time it was June 2009. It had taken Salford five years from the initial announcement to apply for planning permission, and once permission was granted it took over a year for any kind of work to commence; did Wilkinson really think a stadium would be pulled “out of the ground” before the end of 2010?


In March this year BBC News published an article reporting that “A £26m sports complex, which will be home to rugby league club Salford City Reds, has been approved by councillors,” adding that “Detailed plans for the development are expected to be submitted by the end of May.” The stadium, now reduced from 22,000 to 15,000 seats, is expected to be completed by the end of 2011. “This announcement removes any lingering doubts surrounding the project”, says Dave Tarry, “and confirms that Salford City Reds will be competing in a brand new stadium by the end of next year – a timeframe which will fit in perfectly with our bid for a Super League licence for 2012-2015.”


Taking all this into account, it hardly seems unreasonable to sound a note of cynicism about Salford’s latest announcement. Despite the fact that delays due to planning permission and the recession are hardly the club’s fault, many delays have been inexplicable. The Reds were allowed to make a new stadium the main plank of their franchise application in 2008, despite the fact that said stadium had been planned since the end of 2000. They will again be allowed to make a new stadium the main plank of their franchise application in 2011, even though that stadium hasn’t materialised in the current franchise period. Perhaps rugby league fans can be forgiven for their scepticism on this occasion.


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