I like a good twist. Think Tyler Durden, Keyser Soze, Charlton Heston kneeling in front of the Statue of Liberty and Hugh Jackman floating in a box at the end of The Prestige. What about Coventry City Football Club moving to the Butts? That would require a suspension of disbelief that even Hollywood would shy away from.

OK, so I am exaggerating to make a point, but the news that a possible move to the Butts Park Arena may still be a possibility has taken everyone by surprise. I’m not sure anyone saw that coming.

Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves a little. All we know so far is that Butts Park Arena land leaseholder Chris Millerchip has agreed to sell to rugby club chairman Jon Sharp – and Jon Sharp is known to be very keen on the idea of a ground share with the football club, perhaps not all that surprising if rumours that Coventry Rugby Club are currently teetering on the edge of financial oblivion are true.

It is early days, and for all we know, the possibility will be put to bed once and for all in the next few days as pressure mounts for Jon Sharp to show his hand. There are certainly questions to be answered as to where this leaves Coventry United, the ambitious Midland Premier League outfit who were set to move to Butts Park Arena at the start of next season.

Let’s put all this to one side for a minute. Let’s assume that the door is nudged open again and these plans are taken forward, that the political minefield is successfully negotiated and a planning application is forthcoming. It is viable? Would it be good for the football club?

The clear answer from a planning perspective has to be yes. There are significant planning challenges, but on the surface at least none of these appear insurmountable.

The principle objections typically centre around the issues of parking, access and space restrictions. The last one is surely an issue that would have been looked at in detail very early on in the process. If planning experts have determined that the site can accommodate a stadium with a capacity of up to 25,000, then I suppose that at this stage (before any of the details are presented) we have to assume that it can.

The parking argument is a largely bogus one. There are other large city centre stadiums with limited on-site parking provision. St James Park in Newcastle has 500 parking spaces within close proximity to the stadium and only 120 on site, around one space for every 500 supporters. It is a similar story at Bramall Lane in Sheffield and many others.

Typically the number of supporters who travel to city centre venues is around 25%, at an average of 2.4 people per car. At Butts Park Arena, for a full house of 25,000 that would translate to 2600 cars. A capacity of 15,000 and this figure falls to just over 1500. Given that are several thousand city centre parking spaces available within walking distance, and that nearby businesses, schools, churches and pubs would cash in by opening car parks on matchday, it is difficult to argue against expansion on the basis of parking provision.

A city centre stadium is by default close to the main train station, and can be accessed from every bus route in the city. There would be park and ride, coach services from outlying areas, and let’s not forget, the ground would be within walking distance of many residential areas including Earlsdon, Spon End, parts of Coundon, Radford, Cheylesmore and Hillfields (although the last two are perhaps pushing it a bit). Traffic could also disperse easily, because by using city centre parking those people would enter and exit the city centre via any one of the nine different ring road exits. The amount of traffic generated would be minimal and would disperse easily over a wide area.

Access, on foot, might be a stumbling block. Following the development of the retirement village behind the old technical college, access to and from the southern end of the site is difficult, but again not a showstopper. Access could be opened up by building a walkway adjacent to the railway line, providing a direct link to Albany Road, and one would think this would be a relatively simple and inexpensive undertaking.

There are significant hurdles to overcome, but these are primarily political because practically, taken at face value, this appears a viable proposition. But is it feasible that this could make it through the planning process given the bitter relationship between the club’s owners and the local authority? Perhaps – and any application has to be considered on its merits and viewed objectively under strict planning laws and guidelines. Still, it might not be all that difficult to make a case against the proposal without veering wildly outside of those guidelines.

We haven’t even begun to consider the reaction of locals residents who might not be too enamored with the idea of a football stadium landing on their doorstep. That said, there is already planning permission in place for expansion to a 12,000 capacity, and there is precious little the locals could do to stop that. Expansion beyond this would cause a stir and a strong NIMBY reaction; if an application is ever forthcoming it would likely be a fraught process.

Another key factor would be the reaction of the club’s supporters. Certainly, a initial capacity of 15,000 would be a tough sell to many who would argue it shows a distinct lack of ambition. Others, who might otherwise support the move given the long term prospect of remaining at the Ricoh Arena as squatters, might find it difficult to lend their support to anything SISU put forward and would object on that basis alone.

We started this piece in the realms of Hollywood fantasy, and perhaps we have come full circle. With SISU at the helm, the prospect of a move to Butts Park remains distant at best. Ironically however, it could be the very thing that hastens their exit. At present, the club is a homeless, assetless basket case – and anyone willing to take it on would have to be insane or stupidly rich (or preferably both). A football club with planning consent in place to build a new home – now that might be a more attractive proposition, and SISU wouldn’t even have to lay a single brick. Perhaps.

If the door to a move to Butts Park Arena has been nudged open, then maybe we should all be should be leaning on it with our full weight. Open it up fully and SISU might be able to turnaround and walk straight back through it. I’m sure they’ll be no shortage of people willing to slam it shut as they do.

Then again, perhaps I just watch too many movies.

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2 Comments

  1. phoenix1043

    October 3, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Interesting article Craig. It’s very insightful, well-written and mostly unbiased yet refreshingly positive 😀

    Speaking of ambition… I do feel that the stadium would have to cater for the hopeful eventuality that Coventry City FC do/may promote to Championship, but what happens if we end up in the Premiership again (longshot but possible)? Are we then looking at yet another move to accomodate more bums, or are we going to sell out a 25k stadium and live with it every week? That doesn’t make any business sense to me. Buying into a Stadium with a limit and then somehow making it back into top flight. Just a thought

    • Craig Woollaston

      October 28, 2016 at 9:53 pm

      Sorry for the (very) belated reply. I think you raise some important questions with regard to capacity. Shortly after the move to the Ricoh the cub were able to pull in crowds in excess of 24-25K on a fairly regular basis. This was in the Championship – and there have been two gates of 30K in the League 1 (albeit in quite exceptional circumstances). In the PL, reaching 25K would not be a difficult undertaking.

      That said, many clubs in the top flight fill their stadiums every week, but they choose not to expand (even though some of them have huge waiting lists for STs) – and there is a lot to be said for having a full ground rather than one where supply always outstrips demand and there are always empty seats. We also have to consider that any time spent in the PL might be fleeting and that any stadium ought to be sized at a level that works in both the first and second tiers, so perhaps 25K is about the right sort of compromise. Tough one!

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