Zaha Hadid Architects has lost a planning battle over the practice’s innovative proposals for an all-wooden football ground in Gloucestershire
Stroud District Council’s Development Control Committee voted to refuse outline consent for the practice’s 5,000-seat stadium for Forest Green Rovers Football Club.
Zaha Hadid Architects won a contest in 2016 to design a sustainable home for the ambitious League Two side, which is chaired by environmentalist Dale Vince, owner of green power firm Ecotricity.
It is claimed the practice’s proposals would have created the first football stadium in the world to be built entirely from wood.
But local authorities including Easington Parish Council and Frampton Parish Council objected, saying the scheme was contrary to the local plan, and raising concerns over loss of green space. Some 500 responses were received to public consultation over the proposals, including initial and revised plans, with ‘more objection than support’. Loss of countryside and impact on transport links were among the concerns.
Planning officers conceded there was a ‘conflict’ between the scheme and the local development plan, but added: ‘On balance, the benefits that the proposals will deliver are considered to outweigh the negatives’.
‘The primary policy objection to the scheme is its location outside the defined settlement limits,’ said officers. ‘While the scheme is in a countryside location … this is not an isolated location and the indicative proposed design, landscaping and planting will help integrate the scheme into the surrounding landscape.’
They said Highways England had no objections, subject to mitigation, and Gloucestershire County Council’s Highways department had confirmed access to the site was acceptable.
But councillors ultimately voted against officer advice and the scheme was thrown out.
Vince told the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting: ‘The fans will be disappointed and devastated. And not just the fans. If you go around the district of Stroud, a lot of people will be disappointed.
‘Maybe we will appeal but that is another year of my life. How hard should I have to try to bring some progress? I do wonder if it is worth the effort.’
Zaha Hadid Architects director Jim Heverin said: ‘We understand the club’s tremendous disappointment not to receive planning. The stadium echoes Forest Green Rovers’ heritage, ambition and environmental vision. With its community and supporters at its core, the design sets new benchmarks in ecologically sustainable and inclusive architecture.’
Even Stroud District Council leader Doina Cornell questioned the decision to refuse permission for the scheme.
’I am disappointed that some councillors did not see all of the bigger picture and voted against it,’ she said. ’A lot of work went in to the report, which recommended approval and explained the benefits of the development for the local area and district as a whole.’
Zaha Hadid Architects, which is also designing one of the five stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, has previously said its concept for Forest Green Rovers combined ‘the latest material research and construction techniques with new design approaches to [create] more ecologically sustainable and inclusive architecture.’
Every seat had been calculated to provide unrestricted sight lines to the entire field of play, maximising matchday atmosphere.
Forest Green Rovers, formerly known as Stroud FC, has been based at the New Lawn stadium in Nailsworth since 2006.
Following Vince’s acquisition of the club at the start of this decade, the venue received a flurry of green upgrades including solar panels, a solar-powered robot grass mower and the world’s first organic football pitch.
Vince said when choosing the Zaha Hadid Architects proposals three years ago: ‘The really standout thing about this stadium is that it’s going to be entirely made of wood – the first time that will have been done anywhere in the world.
‘The importance of using wood is not only that it’s a naturally occurring material, it has very low carbon content – about as low as it gets for a building material.
‘And when you bear in mind that around three-quarters of the lifetime carbon impact of any stadium comes from its building materials, you can see why that’s so important, and it’s why our new stadium will have the lowest carbon content of any stadium in the world.’
The carbon-neutral stadium would have been the centrepiece of a planned £100 million Eco Park next to junction 13 of the M5, straddling the A419 heading into Stroud.