Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham
Our nation is one transfixed by sport; be it the climax of the Premier League season, or the impending Rugby World Cup, sport is on a lot of people’s lips at the present time. But have you ever stopped to think about the implications of our great (and not so great!) stadia on their surrounding areas? Sport is complexly entwined with contemporary society, both socially and economically, and the fortresses in which they are played are certainly no exception.
Two examples in the news recently – FC United of Manchester’s proposed new football ground and the Cornish Pirates’ proposal for a rugby stadium – have highlighted the complications of building new sports stadia, and the importance of considering their impacts on the local community. They also ring true with some of the issues raised in Davies’ (2005) article, which, although a decade old, is still relevant today.
Residents living in close proximity to proposed sports stadia often protest, highlighting potential negative impacts; team NIMBY can be tough opposition to beat! Davies (2005) considers the use of sports stadia as catalysts for socio-economic regeneration in declining areas. A sports stadium development brings with it pros and cons. Firstly, there may be positive economic outcomes; jobs may be generated and commercial activity increased, as well as potential for tourism and interest from businesses. There may also be improvements for the community in infrastructure, communications, and transport links. Stadium 1 – 0 NIMBYs. Whether these outweigh the cost of building stadia is, however, often debateable. Stadium 1 – 1 NIMBYs. Secondly, there is potential for positive social impacts; stadia may generate civic pride, increased community identity, and an improved image of the area. Thus, both the external and internal perception of place can be enhanced. Stadium 2 – 1 NIMBYs. On the other hand, there are potential negative social implications, such as traffic congestion, graffiti, vandalism, noise, and litter. Stadium 2 – 2 NIMBYs. Davies’ main focus, however, is on house prices. Contrary to much research previous to her study, Davies argues that sports stadia do not reduce real estate values. In fact, she observed quite the opposite in the cases of the City of Manchester Stadium and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Stadium 3 – 2 NIMBYS. The verdict? A close match, with little separating the two sides; by no means a convincing victory.
Now to turn to current stadium debates. FC United of Manchester’s proposal for a new football ground in Moston was approved by the local council after they received 5,635 letters in support of the application as opposed to 2,226 letters objecting to it. The development is predicted to bring in £4m of investment to the area. The benefits to locals appear to be extensive; the club – itself owned by local fans – has raised £2m from community shares to build the stadium, which will also provide community sports facilities.
On the other hand, the Cornish Pirates’ application for a new stadium is yet to be converted. Initial plans by Cornwall County Council were for a new community stadium on the outskirts of Truro, to be shared by the Cornish Pirates rugby union team, Truro City football team (who themselves have submitted plans for a new ground elsewhere in the city), and the local college. The stadium would provide facilities for concerts, conferences, businesses, and catering, as well as a community sports hub and leisure facilities. Whilst the new stadium would bring jobs and wealth to the county, the local council are not onside, and there are concerns that all the other residential and commercial development that it may bring would be too much for this small city to cope with.
This is clearly a difficult one to call. There are many positive impacts of sports stadium developments for their local communities, although it is not clear whether they outweigh the potential negative impacts and, indeed, the initial financial cost of building them. It seems extra time and penalties may be needed to decide this one!