A proposal to build a multi-million pound sports stadium in Oswestry to home the town’s principal football and rugby teams have taken a dramatic step forward.
A team of consultants was called in to see whether the stadium – which could cost as much as £10 million when complete – could fit on land earmarked for it close to North Shropshire College.
And Mike Harris, the multi-millionaire owner of The New Saints, says the result has come back – and it’s good news.
And in a new twist, Mr Harris has said, as an alternative, he would be interested in opening negotiations with Morrisons to see whether it was feasible to build the stadium on the vacant Smithfield site.
He is so interested in developing the proposal that he said he would match pound-for-pound money allocated to the stadium by the Football Trust, local councils and other organisations.
Mr Harris has spent money developing The Venue at Park Hall into a stadium capable of staging Champions League football, but has always wanted to give the club a home closer to Oswestry’s town centre.
He said: “We looked at the space near the college and initially I wasn’t sure whether a stadium would fit there.
“But we got a team of architects and stadium designers in and they have reported that a stadium would, indeed, fit there.
“It needs a fair bit of room because Champions League regulations state we have to have road access all around the pitch, but it could go there. Now we know that, I’m ready to move on to the next stage of negotiations.
“I want to get Shropshire Council and other interested parties around a table and to start proper discussions to see what is possible. Ultimately, I want a stadium capable of seating 8,000 supporters.
“I don’t think it would be feasible to build that straight away – I’m no expert, but I’d expect that to cost in the region of £10m. It’s more likely we’d look at doing it in stages and perhaps first look at something costing £5m or so with about 2,000 or 3,000 seats, and some good-quality terrace areas.
“If, through the councils, the Football Trust and other grants, we could find £2.5m, my companies would find the other £2.5m. I’d match the grants pound-for-pound.”
Mr Harris is also keen to look at what would be possible on the Smithfield site.
It was initially earmarked for a supermarket, multiplex cinema and restaurants but that fell through – and the land remains vacant and overgrown.
Morrisons holds a 125-year lease on the land, which seems surplus to requirements at the moment. The Advertizer understands the supermarket chain would offload the site for about £4m – and if that were the case, Mr Harris would be interested in opening negotiations.
“I think the site would lend itself to a stadium, surrounded by other lesuire entertainment other than football, like restaurants and perhaps a cinema,” he said.
“I’d like to see what is possible – we should explore every avenue. I want to see what is economically feasible. I’m not into building white elephants – in 10 years, we have turned The Venue into a self-sustainable business, and I’d like to see what would be possible with a new stadium.
“Oswestry Town Council is sitting on £4m. Let’s talk.
“I’m very keen to run with this. The businesses I have been involved in have, to a certain degree, been successful and I’d like to see what we could do.”
Shropshire Council’s deputy leader Steve Charmley said the Smithfield site would seem perfect – if Morrisons is interested in negotiating.
“I know Oswestry Town Council has tried to talk to Morrisons on other matters and got nowhere,” he said.
“The site is an eyesore at the moment, which isn’t what we want as an entrance into the town. A football stadium and other facilities would seem to go there very nicely.
“I’d be happy to get Shropshire Council involved if we could get the various parties to discuss the idea.
“There seems to be a willingness in the town for the stadium, and Mr Harris putting in his own money does help with the financial side of things. I think it would be a case of everyone digging deep behind the sofa to see what could be found.”