SEPTEMBER 28, 2023

By Harry Mottram: It should be a day of celebration as Bath Rugby announced they had submitted their plans for a new stadium to the planners for approval today but there wasn’t universal approval judging by the comments on social media. Fans of the club are universally in favour of a new stadium or a major upgrade – it’s just what it will look like and what it will offer being the only issues. Up until a few weeks ago following the initial consultation period at the end of last season there was a general consensus that the plans on offer were not particularly ambitious but were met with general approval amongst most supporters.

That all changed when by two Bath architects Mark Wilson Jones and Jakub Ryng of Apollodorus Architecture reimagined the new stadium as an oval Roman colosseum, together with a classical rebuild of the leisure centre. Their vision and detailed critique of the club’s own plans caused a stir with the club sticking to its ideas – but the wider public and fan base seeing the positives in the colosseum proposals. It led to a huge amount of comment, and it is fair to say the colosseum plans got a very positive response.

In response to the Apollodorus Architecture’s plans the club were clear when a question was asked if they would consider them: “No. The images are not being proposed by Bath Rugby for The Rec. The visuals are something that have been produced speculatively by a London architect. It is nothing to do with the proposed plans from Bath Rugby and our project team.”

To be fair to the club, the curved ball thrown by Apollodorus Architecture didn’t include any costings – and there lies the problem. This week Jersey Reds who beat Bath only two weeks ago at the Rec – went bust. Players, staff, suppliers, lenders and season ticket holders may not get paid. It follows on the demise of Wasps, Worcester and London Irish – and the financial woes of clubs like Leicester and Newcastle who are tens of millions of pounds in debt.

To build the colosseum stadium complete with a redevelopment of the leisure centre would run up an estimated bill of somewhere north of £100 million pounds. It’s cash the club don’t have – or indeed any rugby union club has. Everton FC are currently building a new stadium at a cost of £500 million plus and in such a sensitive place such as the Rec one can only imagine how costs would spiral. Instead with the rugby top flight in chaos having seen a trio of insolvencies Bath Rugby Club are doing what all sound businesses do and are living within their means – which means a stadium upgrade they can afford – and sell to the city.

On their website they made the following statement having submitted their plans to Bath and North East Somerset:

“A new Stadium for Bath will deliver an exceptional, fit for purpose and modern home for Bath Rugby at the Recreation Ground, the spiritual home of the rugby club for over 125 years. The plans also include the regeneration of the riverside in the heart of the city, the creation of significant sporting and community benefits for all, whilst ensuring that the Club continues to provide a considerable contribution to the city’s economy for decades to come.

“Key highlights of the application include: 18,000 capacity stadium with significantly enhanced accessibility provisions; Contemporary and sensitive design; New hybrid pitch increasing community and amateur use; Regenerated riverside including the new Spring Gardens Walk; Retention of mature trees, as well as further landscaping and bio-diversity measures; A host of sustainability measures to support a target of net zero operational carbon; Riverside café/restaurant, Club shop and museum for non-matchday use.

“There is a statutory planning process which now follows, and which will result in the application being considered by B&NES planning committee in due course.

“Please visit the Council’s website from 9am on Friday 29 September and search for application reference 23/03558/EFUL (full planning application) and 23/03559/LBA (for related listed building consent application).”

Back to the subject of money – Jersey Reds beat Bath on the 16th September by 10-34 – but despite that win and £370,000 in grants from the Jersey Government they went bust this week. Bath Rugby has substantial debts already but by upping the stadium capacity by 4,000 to 18,000 they will see a larger cash injection from the gate money, hospitality and associated sales – as long as they can get back to winning ways. Their plans show how the hospitality section of their operation is vital to the club. Fans come down from London and travel up from as far as Cornwall to see the Blue Black and Whites playing – in what is arguably the most attractive location to watch the game in England. Sell outs have been a feature in recent times so clearly the club feels confident the extra ground capacity will increase revenue.

Of course there’s the issue of the Rec itself as a public green space with the rugby ground’s east stand taking up much of the land – there’s the architectural aspect, the increase in crowds accessing the ground on match days – and a host of other issues – but the plans are published. So now it is up to the planners – and no doubt the citizens of Bath who can make their comments known to the council officials – to decide on the viability of the club’s plans.

Bath Voice Monthly Newspaper is distributed free to thousands of homes and some supermarkets – distributed from the first of the month. Harry Mottram is the News Editor

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Harry Mottram is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Telegram, TikTok and Mobile: 07789 864769