Councillors have boosted AndArchitects’ protracted attempts to create a new home ground for Luton Town Football Club, approving a related mixed-use scheme that is critical to unlocking the stadium project
Luton Borough Council’s Development Control Committee unanimously passed the contentious Newlands Park proposals, which will provide the funding for the football ground.
Councillors earlier this year granted consent for AndArchitects’ 23,000-seat ground for the Hatters at Power Court near to the Bedfordshire town’s railway station – more than two years after plans were initially submitted.
However, Luton Town chief executive Gary Sweet had warned that the viability of the stadium project rested on the outcome of the club’s separate Newlands Park development on a plot close to Junction 10 of the M1.
Proposals for Newlands Park, also by AndArchitects, include more than 500 homes, a hotel, conference facilities, music venue, retail space and a cinema.
Building retail facilities on the outskirtsand a football stadium in the heart of the town is counter to recent trends, and opposition to Luton’s plans has been fierce.
Historic England objected to the application on heritage grounds, warning it would ‘result in a severe degree of harm’ to country estate Luton Hoo.
Milton Keynes Council objected on the basis that the club ‘may be underestimating the impact of the proposal on shopping centres outside the Luton Borough Council area and the city centre of Milton Keynes’.
Shopping centre management firm Capital & Regional said there was no pressing need for additional retail floorspace in Luton and that the Newlands Park site failed a sequential analysis test required by national planning policy.
But after considering all the issues, planning officers recommended approval subject to conditions.
A report to the committee ahead of last night’s meeting found that the Newlands Park proposals were ‘unlikely to have significant adverse impact upon the vitality and viability’ of local town centres.
It added that the benefits of the scheme outweighed non-compliance with the local development plan and ‘less than substantial’ harm to heritage assets.
Luton FC must now wait to hear whether the communities secretary will intervene or if there will be any official appeal or review of the decision. Nevertheless, delegates from the football club and the practice will fly to the MIPIM property fair today in jubilant mood.
Sweet hit out last February at the ‘unfathomable’ wait for a planning decision for Power Court, urging the council to make a decision before last year’s MIPIM. That didn’t happen but approvals have been secured on both projects just in time for this year’s event.
Plans were submitted for the stadium in the summer of 2016.
AndArchitects managing director Manuel Nogueira told the AJ this week that Luton’s plans could create a blueprint for clubs taking stadiums back into town centres after decades of selling off sites at the heart of communities for their housing values and moving to remote sites.
‘This is the way forward for football clubs,’ he said, ‘creating mixed-use facilities so the stadium can be used by different groups and restaurants can stay open all week and create vibrant town centres. Having the football club as the developer is the key thing because it has a long-term interest in the town centre.’
Sweet said last night’s planning decision was the ‘biggest moment’ in the club’s history, eclipsing both the 1988 Littlewoods Cup victory and returning to the Football League in 2014.
Hailing the role AndArchitects played in getting the scheme through, Sweet added: ‘We’ve got a sports mentality that we take to the commercial market and so, in this case, we studied the opposition in the way that [first team manager] Mick Harford will be with Bradford tomorrow [Tuesday] night.
‘We knew what the arguments were going to be, and we covered all of that with the retail conditions and all of the additional effort that we put into the design.
‘I think we won it two and a half years ago when we submitted the applications. It’s been the same argument that we had back then. It’s been the same designs that we had back then. We’ve used the same people all the way through.
‘We haven’t changed any of those consultants. It’s a team, just like Mick’s taking the team to Bradford, this is a team. Our team is solid, it’s sound and we know what we’re talking about. The designs are fantastic and we are providing Luton with exactly what Luton needs, and that’s why we won the case.’
Sweet earlier this year warned that the plot earmarked for the new stadium – which will replace the club’s historic Kenilworth Road home – was ‘an horrendous site’.
He said in January: ’There’s a lot of contamination; we want to move the river out; we’ve got to remove the substation and do a lot of levelling. So before we even start, the cost of that isn’t far off the cost of a football stadium.
‘So, unless there is something else to fund that process, then it will remain derelict forever. This is why principally we need Newlands to be passed. No developer is going to have that kind of money to unlock that particular site.’
Battersea-based AndArchitects worked with retail specialist Leslie Jones Architects on the stadium plans.
Luton is currently top of League One – the third tier of English football – with high hopes of being promoted to the Championship. The club is particularly keen to get the new stadium built to meet additional demand for tickets if it progresses.
AndArchitects’ Newlands Park scheme in Luton