Plans for century old ground

THE CHAIRMAN of Hastings United has issued a rally cry for a new stadium following the club’s sensational run in the FA Cup.

David Walters believes the club’s historic march into the third round has demonstrated the huge potential for support for the club.

Mr Walters has a vision to provide a state-of-the-art stadium in playing fields at the back of Church Wood off Queensway to replace the dilapidated century old Pilot Field.

The council owns the land at the Pilot Field ground in Elphinstone Road and leases it to the club, which pays the entire cost of maintaining it.

Mr Walters wants the council to sell the land off for potential housing raising funds to invest in a community stadium.

He said: “The stadium would have space for 6,000 people with the potential to expand. The Pilot Field has a capacity for 4,000 fans but we could have sold twice as many tickets on the day of our game against Harrogate on December 13.

We had virtually sold out of tickets five days before the match and on the day of the game had to turn people away because there was no room which was terrible.

“The FA Cup run has brought the need for a new stadium more into focus and proved people will come to support the club if there is enough reason to. The demand in Hastings is clearly there.”

The club has already sold more than 600 tickets for the third round trip to Middlesbrough on January 5 as cup fever grips the town.

If United could defy the odds and force a replay, the ground would sell out once again leaving many fans potentially disappointed.

The ground is almost 100 years old and despite picking up more than £100,000 in revenue from the cup run, it is not enough to secure a new stadium.

Mr Walters believes the sale of the land could generate several million pounds in revenue.

Access to the new proposed site off Queensway would be easier for fans especially after the completion of the Bexhill Link Road.

The issue of a new stadium was first mooted seven years ago when the club presented a business plan to the council after working with an architect who designed Dartford FC’s new state-of-the art ground.

But the council rejected the plans saying they were not viable.

Mr Walters said: “I suggested to the council that both plots of land (Pilot Field and The Firs) be sold together as it could be used for one big residential development. We got a valuation at the time from Persimmon, which came up with a value of more than £11.5 million. This would have been more than enough to build a new stadium and ancillary sporting facilities so desperately needed in the town.”

“The council just blames the recession and it’s so easy to hide behind things like that. It would not cost taxpayers any money because the land would be sold to developers. Persimmon were looking at just short of 200 homes, which are desperately needed in the town. The expression ‘no brainer’ keeps cropping up.

“The council is refusing to look at this and it needs a change of heart and pressure put on it.”

Council leader Jeremy Birch told the Observer he was happy to meet with Mr Walters and the club’s board of directors to discuss the ground’s long-term future.

He said: “We all understand that maintaining the field increases each year but if you sold the Pilot Field and The Firs it would not raise anything like the cost needed to build a new stadium because the housing market is in a very low ebb. If anything less than a quarter of the £11.5 million quoted would be raised.

“We have also just agreed out Local Development Plan and there was no allocation for potential housing being built on the Pilot Field.

“Any expenditure by the council has got to be against the backdrop of big reductions in council funding from the Government.

“If Mr Walters wants to meet with the council to discuss both the long-term future of the ground and how best the club can use the money earned in the FA Cup run, we would be very happy to meet in the New Year.”