James Brokenshire has delivered a big boost to AndArchitects’ mission to build a 23,000-seat stadium for Luton Town Football Club
The communities secretary declined to use his powers to intervene after councillors approved a major mixed-use scheme that is critical to unlocking the arena project.
Brokenshire’s decision is the third positive step for the Power Court stadium proposals this year.
First Luton Borough Council granted consent for the 23,000-seat ground near to the Bedfordshire town’s railway station – more than two years after the application was submitted.
Then the local authority’s Development Control Committee unanimously passed the contentious Newlands Park proposals, which will provide the funding for the long-awaited football ground.
A letter from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to Luton Borough Council this month said the government was ‘committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues’.
It added that Brokenshire was ‘content’ to let the council approval stand on Newlands Park.
Luton Town chief executive Gary Sweet earlier this year warned that the viability of the stadium project rested on the outcome of the 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 outskirts and a football stadium in the heart of the town is counter to recent trends, and opposition to Luton’s plans was fierce.
Historic England objected to the Newlands 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 in a report to the committee ahead of its approval decision, planning officers said the 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 there will be any appeal or review of the decision.
AndArchitects managing director Manuel Nogueira told the AJ last month 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 earlier this year warned that the plot earmarked for the new stadium – which will replace the club’s historic Kenilworth Road home – was ‘a 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 Town are 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