Oxford United has been given approval to start negotiations over the lease of land for the building of a new football stadium. The club plan to build a new stadium with a capacity of 18,000 on ‘The Triangle’. ‘The Triangle’ is a site on greenbelt land, south of Kidlington Roundabout. Council officers will now be able to begin talks on “outline commercial and legal terms.”
Oxford United currently play at Kassam Stadium, in the south of Oxford, and have played there since 2001. However, the licence agreement the club has with the stadium expires in 2026. According to Oxford United, there is no opportunity to extend the lease. Kassam Stadium has a capacity of 12,500.
Plans for a new stadium include building four sides (the Kassam Stadium only has three) which will reduce noise leakage and improve the fan experience. Parking will also be directed to Oxford Parkway, ensuring that minimal noise is generated on site.
Environmental concerns are also at the forefront of designs, with the club keen to implement state-of-the-art methods to reduce the impact of the development and make the ground itself carbon neutral. Potential features include an energy capture centre, like at the Emirates (Arsenal’s stadium), and rooftop and vertical gardens like at Wimbledon.
The final proposal will be subject to a detailed feasibility study, but the club hopes to have a fan zone, boutique business hotel, and community sports facilities. Oxford United have said that public consultation and stakeholder engagement will help to inform the final design, with priority also placed upon creating a family friendly environment. Furthermore, a new community stadium would allow the club to potentially host community events, like disability sports and Christmas markets, unlike at Kassam Stadium, where Oxford United has no control.
The club previously wanted to build their new stadium on 18 hectares of council greenbelt land at Stratfield Brake, near Kidlington, with the plans described above based on this location. However, the council proposed the 4.9 hectare ‘triangle’ as an alternative. The council have said that any agreement they come to with Oxford United on the new stadium must ensure that a green barrier remains between Oxford and Kidlington.
“We are running out of time to save this football club.” – Niall McWilliams, Oxford United’s chief strategy officer.
While a public consultation earlier this year indicated 80% public support for the Stratfield Brake site, the Friends of Stratfield Brake group described the consultation as ‘farcical’ and aimed at football fans rather than local residents.
At the Oxfordshire County Council cabinet meeting where approval to begin talks was given, a variety of opinions were on display. Ian Middleton, a Green Party councillor, called for increased local consultation. However, Riva Casley, from Oxford United Women, said that the new stadium “will allow the women’s and girls’ games to grow even further” as a licence agreement means the women’s team cannot play at the Kassam. Conservative councillor Liam Walker called for “no more dither and delay.”
Harry Millar, cabinet member for finance, said that the council will “seek the views of a wide range of stakeholders before reaching any final decision.”
Oxford United is the only professional sports club in Oxfordshire, and has over 250,000 registered fans. The club estimates that a new stadium would add around 800 jobs to the local economy, in addition to the £10m it already contributes through its economic and social impact. The men’s first team currently plays in League One (the third tier of English football) and were founded in 1893 as Headington United. The club previously played at Manor Ground for over 75 years, before it moved to the Kassam in order to play in an all-seater stadium. Manor Ground has since been demolished and made into a private hospital.
Oxford United said that they will “continue to explore all options available” and that “given the dwindling timeframe available to us […] it is imperative that a decision about a preferred site is resolved as soon as possible.” Planning permission is still required from Cherwell District Council.
Image description: Panoramic view of the Kassam Stadium
Image credit: Nigel Cox, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7296231