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Hastings United's new ground dream closer to becoming reality?

A new state-of-the-art football stadium in Hastings is still on the agenda despite an apparent lack of progress.

The town's major football club has long been lobbying Hastings Borough Council to help it realise its dream of a new multi-million pound home.

Now, despite a growing frustration at what Hastings United FC sees as a lack of consultation, club chairman Dave Walters is at last confident the ambitious project is moving along - albeit slowly.

It was nearly two years ago, in December 2006, that Mr Walters first approached the Council with plans to leave United's ramshackled home at The Pilot Field.

The Ryman League side then submitted a business plan to the Council who in turn commissioned a report looking at exactly how feasible the proposals are.

Since then a finalised report has been sent back to the Council and plans are due to move into a stage of public consultation early next month.

The club however, has been left somewhat in the dark over the progress.

Mr Walters said: "The only contact I have had from the management consultants was a 10 minute phone call to get some general background.

"They have not been down to the town to talk to me or to look at the existing facilities and potential new sites. They did not have a copy of our business plan and didn't request one.

"We had been led to believe that we would be consulted prior to this but that now looks unlikely."

Despite the reservations though, Mr Walters was pleaded things at least looked to be moving forward.

He said: "I am still hopeful that the project will happen. The need for such a facility in Hastings is surely obvious to everyone."

The basic idea behind Mr Walters' vision is that the Council would sell The Pilot Field and The Firs - the derelict former home of St Leonards FC which neighbours United's ground.

Cash generated from this would be used to fund a new state-of-the-art stadia elsewhere in the town - with sites in Bulverhythe and Queensway early contenders.

Any new ground would include modern facilities and all-weather training pitches and would act as a sporting hub for the town - not just the football club.

According to Mr Walters the new ground would benefit the whole town and help raise the area's sporting profile.

However, there are real concerns that any plans, if not acted upon quickly, could fall by the wayside - especially if the current economic climate continues to worsen.

The most likely buyer of The Pilot Field and The Firs would be someone looking to develop the ground for residential use. If the credit crunch continues to bite and house prices continue to drop this could deter any developer from taking a risk on the land.

There are also fears that residents living near to any chosen site would object to the development. This problem has left Sussex rivals Horsham FC, who have plans very similar to those of Hastings United, homeless despite the club managing to sell their old ground and secure land for a new one.

Any such problems could spell the end of Hastings United according to Mr Walters. He warned supporters: "We can do no more.

"The long term future of the club needs this to happen if we are to survive, let alone thrive."

Council leader Peter Pragnell, moved to reassure supporters. He said: "I know how important the side is to its many fans.

"I can reassure Mr Walters that the consultants were provided with a copy of United's business plan and we are looking to discuss the outcome of their report with Mr Walters and his colleague shortly.

"I'm pleased to say that, in principle, the report supports the idea of a modern stadium and a new third generation all weather, floodlit pitch.

"We are looking forward to discussing the future Hastings United."

The Pilot Field has been home to football since the early 1920s and enjoyed brief stints as speedway and greyhound racing venue.

In 1996 it housed 4,888 people for the visit of Nottingham Forest but in recent years attendances have levelled off nearer the 350 mark.

The plans have received some high profile backing with both local olympian Sean Baldock and Hastings-born former Brighton and Hove Albion captain Dean Hammond publicly offering their support.

 
 
 

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