21st March 2018
By Graham Smith
The prospect of government cash to help build a stadium at Truro appears to have improved this morning (Wednesday) – as ministers seek ways of easing the political damage caused by the Brexit talks over fishing.
Cornwall Reports understands that two of the county’s MPs, Derek Thomas and Sarah Newton, have met chancellor Philip Hammond – who has agreed to study any business plan produced by the stadium’s promoters.
Mr Hammond did not say no to the idea that he might contribute £3 million if Cornwall Council also found £3 million – which together would bridge the £6 million funding shortfall.
Mr Thomas was one of several MPs with fishing interests in their constituencies to have protested to government whips that the Brexit deal announced on Monday appeared damaging to coastal communities. Mr Hammond had also previously appeared to be dismissive of the fishing industry’s contribution to Britain’s gross domestic product and was happy to see it traded with Brussels in return for access to other economic sectors.
Mr Thomas denied there was any linkage between the government's new-found willingness to look at the stadium project and Monday's news about fishing. "£3 million wouldn't be enough to pay for the damage to the fishing industry," he said. "But it is the sort of money the government can find very easily - and so they should.
"I am absolutely furious about the fishing. It's not what we were expecting and I would find it very hard to vote in favour of this if the situation has not changed by the end of the year."
The whips often seek to mollify aggrieved MPs in such circumstances with a promise to “see what we can do” to ease the pain. The Cornish Pirates rugby club, based in Mr Thomas’s St Ives constituency, would be the main beneficiary of a public sector bail-out for the stadium.
Curiously, neither the Department of Culture Media and Sport, nor Sport England, as of last week had received any formal application for financial support for the Truro stadium. Officials told Cornwall Reports that any such applications would have to demonstrate a very robust business case and wider community benefit - particularly to encourage participation in sport, rather than simply increase the number of spectators for the commercial benefit of private clubs.
The political developments of the past few days suggest that the funding jigsaw will remain incomplete until the very last minute. A crucial recommendation going to Cornwall Council’s cabinet next week seeks “delegated authority” for economy director John Betty to prepare a business plan which will go to central government. The recommendation also seeks to make the council the “accountable body” for stadium cash. A final decision rests with a full council meeting on 17th April.
The first phase of the Stadium for Cornwall
project would create a 6,000 capacity stadium with an all-weather multi-use pitch. The 4,200 seat west stand would provide facilities for teams and spectators on match days, but will also be used throughout the week as a centre for education, training, business advice, conferences and functions.
The report to next week’s meeting also seeks to address the concerns of DCMS and Sport England: “In order to maximise the impact of the stadium in encouraging participation in sport and physical activity across Cornwall, the partners have worked with Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) to incorporate a Health and Fitness Centre, which will be open to the public.
“This will also provide the base from which health, wellbeing and community activities will be run by GLL as part of the community outreach programme. In recognition of the experience GLL have in operating these programmes at other stadia and leisure centres across the country, they have now become the fourth partner leading the delivery of the project. In addition, the partners will also establish a community sports fund to improve sports facilities across Cornwall. This will be administered by the Cornwall Sports Partnership.”
The three main political groups at County Hall – the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Independents – are all split on whether to commit public funds to the project. Although the cabinet will obey their officials, and support the request for £3 million of council cash, the decision of the full council appears finely balanced.
Many councillors believe that public funding for the stadium project is an essential component of the officials’ greater ambition to build 1,000 houses on neighbouring land.
Above right and below: parts of the "business case" going to Cornwall Council's cabinet next week. Chancellor Philip Hammond wants more details but has not ruled out £3 million government support for the project