The club has today released some details about its planned changes to the new stadium. BIAS was informed, in a meeting with the club last week, that they felt it necessary to conduct a de-risking exercise on the Lionel Road stadium plans, with the dual purpose of reducing cost and making construction easier. We now understand that this work started in May 2016.
We are disappointed that this exercise has been carried out without any input from fans, who will be the ultimate users of the stadium, and that no consultation with fans or fan groups has been done as part of developing these changes. We believe that this meant that some important changes to the stadium and the business model that supports it have strayed from the interests of Brentford fans, in terms of the match day experience as well as the future sustainability of the club.
We urge the club, stadium team and Matthew Benham to relook at the changes with a focus on the impact on fans. To be able to do this, fan consultation is needed. BIAS will be participating in a fans forum (we’ll give details shortly), where groups and individuals can put their questions to Brentford Chairman Cliff Crown and discuss the impact of the changes. We should also be able to share notes from the pre-planning meeting at Hounslow Council the previous evening. We would also like to express the need for Conor Hayes, Chairman of Lionel Road Development Ltd to be present so that technical questions can be clearly answered.
Ahead of the forum, the BIAS committee has set out our view on the headline changes to the stadium plans below. This is meant as a starting point for discussions, and we want to hear as many comments, ideas and opinions from fans before and at the fans forum, so we can feed these back to the club before the club’s target for planning approval in early September.
Below are some of the key changes that we understand are proposed:
Reduction in capacity to approx. 17,500 of which 2,850 will be “premium seating”: Premium seating includes hospitality seating, and seating at areas with the best views which will be sold at a higher price. The revenue from this seating is key to the income levels from the stadium, which will have now have no reliance or plans to hold conferences and generate non-matchday income as originally envisaged. This leaves around 14,650 seats to be sold at a standard price. We are concerned that:
- Because of the number and location of the premium seating, non-premium fans who currently sit in those areas, such as around the half-way line, will have to move to less desirable areas.
- The number of standard seats allows very little room for growth or turnover of the regular fan base. While we are not currently hitting those numbers, with some growth, it could be hard in time for fans to bring their children, families etc.
Removal of club shop and club bar (i.e. the Hive) from the stadium, and moving Community Sports Trust offices off-site: Because of the reduction in size, and the rearrangement of the internal space to facilitate broadcast space required to be “Premier League ready”, the club shop will not be part of the stadium, pop up retails units will be used which will not be available outside of match days, there will be no club bar, and the Community Sports Trust office will not be embedded in the stadium. We are concerned that:
- Without a hub like the Hive, there would be nowhere for fans to gather, and nowhere for players to mingle with non-premium fans, i.e. outside of hospitality spaces. While there may be a privately operated bar in the residential area (though this is not assured), there is no clarity on when this might be opened, the size, or if football fans would even be welcome.
- The benefits of bringing the BFCCST into the stadium will be lost, though the club has given assurances the overall facilities available to the trust will not be affected.
Reduction in potential standing area to 1,100 (current Ealing Road Terrace capacity 2,600): While not currently part of the stadium design ahead of an anticipated change in regulations in the next few years, the changes mean that the capacity of the allocated area has been reduced due to reductions in the walkway and circulation space in this area. This means that even if legislation were to allow a standing area to hold more people than a seated area, we wouldn’t be able to increase capacity without removing seating, further reducing non-premium seating.
Removal of potential to expand: The original plans had allowed some futureproofing works to enable one of the stands to be extended without the need to rebuild. This has been removed and the current expansion plan would be to knock down and replace a stand (likely the north stand). While this is not the biggest issue with the plans, coupled with the loss of overall capacity, this causes us some concern, particularly if TV money stops being the sole driving force of football finance in the future. In addition, there are losses to space reserved for expanding conference facilities, which increases the reliance on the success of the premium seating element of the stadium
We do think that there are several of the proposed changes that can be made without disproportionately affecting the fan experience. For example, some reductions in futureproofing space and facilities, simplifying construction by introducing a road to the north of the stadium and by changing the design from a two-tier to a single tier layout, and other smaller amendments.
BIAS understands that any new stadium has to be affordable. We also believe that it needs to be sustainable and right for fans. Once again we urge the club, stadium team and Matthew Benham to reconsider the nature and depth of these changes before they are agreed with the council and the developer, who, as we understand it, is currently liable to deliver the stadium as originally agreed.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to build something that will be our home for not only the current fans but also for many generations to come. No-one can be sure what will happen either on or off the pitch in the medium to long term and we need to ensure that our home is fit for all potential scenarios.
More detail on the changes are available on the Brentford FC Official Site and the Hounslow planning site: